How to follow the footsteps of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu through France, England, and Scotland
Spoiler Alert: If anyone still isn't aware of the best seller's plot, be warned that certain details are about to be revealed
PLACE VENDôME: Chapter 1 begins here with an urgent, middle-of-the-night phone call that rouses Langdon, who is staying at the legendary Hotel Ritz on Harvard's tab. "Squinting at his surroundings he saw a plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed."
Take Note: Place Vendôme was built for the Sun King, Louis XIV, and the gilded face of Apollo with sun beams radiating from his head adorns the window balustrades. The Ritz opened in 1898, and has hosted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Chaplin, and Princess Diana.
BT Tip: Forget the Ritz's overpriced Da Vinci Code package (one night, breakfast, Ritz agenda, embroidered Ritz bathrobe and illustrated copy of the novel from $853/670 euros). Instead, scope out the lobby and public spaces, and splurge on a Lemon Charlie cocktail at their famed Bar Hemingway, $30 (23 euros). Hotel Ritz, 15, place Vendôme, 011-33/43-16-3030, metro stop: Opéra
SAINT-SULPICE: Silas, the self-flagellating albino monk, pays a late-night visit to this parish church in search of the keystone supposedly buried beneath the Rose Line at the base of the obelisk. ("Slicing along the main altar itself the line looked to Silas like a slash wound across a beautiful face."). He breaks the stone floor tiles in frenzied anticipation only to discover he's been duped, and then impulsively murders Sister Sandrine with a giant candlestick.
Take Note: In the novel, Brown claims that Saint-Sulpice was built on the ruins of an ancient temple to the Egyptian god Isis. The church, now beset by tourists, has tacked up messages to set the record straight: The site was never a pagan temple; the brass line running north-south and up the face of the obelisk doesn't correlate with the prime meridian traced through the Paris Observatory; and the letters P and S in the round windows at both ends of the transept allude to Peter and Sulpice, the church's patron saints--not to the Priory of Sion. Well before The Da Vinci Code, Saint-Sulpice was famous for its organ, which continues to shine in concert. The baptisms of the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire and the wedding of Victor Hugo all took place here. Place Saint-Sulpice, 011-33/46-33-2178, free admission, metro stop: Saint-Sulpice
LOUVRE: Much of the drama unfurls in the Grand Gallery, where desperate curator Jacques Saunière rips a Caravaggio canvas from the wall to set off the museum alarm and where, about a hundred pages later, Langdon and Sophie gape at the sight of a message scrawled in blood across the Mona Lisa's face. Sophie then finds a key marked P.S. behind Da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks and threatens to jab her knee through the painting to deter an armed security guard. The Louvre neatly opens and closes the book; its final page finds Langdon by a miniature pyramid that points up at a inverted pyramid, "a breathtaking V-shaped contour of glass."
Take Note: Brown begins with a mini art-history lesson on the Mona Lisa--"painted on poplar wood panel, her ethereal, mist-filled atmosphere was attributed to Da Vinci's mastery of the sfumato style, in which forms appear to evaporate into one another"--and then takes a more controversial stance. "Langdon nodded, 'Gentleman, not only does the face of Mona Lisa look androgynous, but her name is an anagram of the divine union of male and female [Amon L'isa]. And that, my friends, is Da Vinci's little secret, and the reason for Mona Lisa's knowing smile.'" The painting is ostensibly a portrait of "La Gioconda," the young Florentine wife of Francesco del Giocondo, and, as Brown notes, it was Da Vinci's favorite. The gallery's other Da Vinci blockbusters include John the Baptist and The Virgin and St. Anne. While the novel doesn't name a specific Caravaggio, the enormous painting The Death of the Virgin seems likely to have appealed to Saunière (and Brown) since its lifelike, rustic depiction scandalized the church.
BT Tip: The Louvre and most national museums and monuments are free on the first Sunday of the month and on July 14. Tickets are good for admission throughout the day, but arrive early--just before the museum opens at 9 a.m.--for a jump-start on the crowds. Culture vultures should consider purchasing the Paris Pass, which grants entry to more than 70 museums and sights as well as free public transportation within zones one, two and three; one-day, $50 (39 euros); three-day, $126 (99 euros); five-day, $177 (139 euros).
Audio Tour: The Louvre has rolled out its own 50-minute audio tours, "Step Inside the Da Vinci Code," narrated by the novel's tough-as-nails police captain, Bezu Fache (actor Jean Reno). Commentary on 30 major works is mixed with bits of movie dialogue and music. The $13 price tag is less than the cost of Classic Walks and other private tours. Tours can be rented at the museum, but we'd suggest purchasing them in advance online through iTunes or Audible.com--then you can download them onto a portable MP3 player before you go or just listen from your living room. $11 (8.50 euros) museum admission; free for those under 18, with ID, louvre.fr; metro stop: Palais-Royal
CHÂTEAU VILLETTE: Sophie and Langdon flee Paris in a stolen armored truck and head twenty-five minutes northwest to the "sprawling 185-acre estate of Château Villette," the home of British expat Sir Leigh Teabing. Sophie and Langdon settle on a divan in the antiques-laden drawing room. ("The air inside smelled antediluvian, regal somehow, with traces of pipe tobacco, tea leaves, cooking sherry, and the earthen aroma of stone architecture.") Pacing in front of the fireplace, Teabing schools Sophie in the true identity of the Holy Grail and offers controversial interpretations of the roots of Christianity and of the figure to Jesus's right in Da Vinci's The Last Supper.
Take Note: François Mansart, the celebrated architect of Louis XIV, designed the château in 1668 for the Count of Aufflay. Its grounds include gardens fashioned by André Le Nôtre (also responsible for those at nearby Versailles) and two lakes, and earned the moniker La Petite Versailles.
You Only Live Once: The 18-bedroom château is now privately owned, and its Da Vinci Code Tour can be booked at an obscenely expensive price. A five-night stay including lunch at Hotel Ritz, one dinner at top Paris restaurants such as 1728 or Hotel George V, a visit to the Louvre's Grand Gallery, a Da Vinci Code walk, visit to Saint Sulpice, group discussion and video presentation, gourmet meals at the château, taxes, services, and tour transportation is $4,500 per person.
Getting There: Transportation from Paris is provided for those staying at the château; there's no public transportation available. The château has been so overwhelmed by requests for public tours that they now only offer them for groups of more than 15 at the whopping rate of $192 (150 euros) per person.
Big Screen Stand-In: Burghley House in Lincolnshire, England, plays the part of Château Villette in Ron Howard's film. email@example.com, frenchvacation.com/villette.htm
Guided Walking Tour: Paris Walks' two-hour Da Vinci Code Tour includes expert commentary on the Louvre pyramids, the site of the execution of the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, the hunt for the Holy Grail, and other places mentioned in the best-selling book. Meet at metro stop Mabillon, 011-33/48-09-2140, pariswalking/DaVinciCode; $15.40 (12 euros)
MORE SIGHTS: Sophie and Langdon purchase train tickets to Lille at the train station Gare Saint-Lazare (108 rue Saint-Lazare) in an attempt to throw off their pursuers; they flee along the grand, tree-lined boulevard Champs-Élysées toward the American Embassy; and make their way along the Allée de Longchamp--a prostitute pick-up spot by night--to enter the park Bois de Boulogne.
TEMPLE CHURCH: Sophie and Langdon make yet another hasty getaway, this time from the London airport by limo, and with Teabing in tow. They speed along Fleet Street towards the Church. As Brown tells it, "Temple Church had been so named in honor of Solomon's Temple, from which the Knights Templar had extracted their own title, as well as the Sangreal documents that gave them all their influence in Rome. Tales abounded of knights performing strange, secretive rituals within the Temple Church's unusual sanctuary." The trio hopes to find an absent orb on one of the 10 knights' tombs.
Take Note: The church was, in fact, built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century and is known for its "Round," an unusual circular nave instead of the traditional cruciform layout. Temple Church maintains that the site was modeled after Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre. Teabing sees the shape as a tribute to the sun and further evidence of paganism, quipping "they might as well have resurrected Stonehenge in downtown London."
The Da Vinci Code and the Secrets of the Temple: The Master of the Temple, Robin Griffith-Jones, has published a book by that name, and he gives free talks on Fridays, 1 - 2 p.m. Inner Temple Lane off Fleet St., templechurch.com, 011-44/20-7353-3470, free admission; tube stops: Temple, Blackfriars, or Chancery Lane
ST. JAMES'S PARK: The Teacher arranges a meeting with his overly rash accomplice Rémy at this petite royal park for a toast of lethal cognac. He waits for Rémy inside a limo on a foggy morning: "Gazing across the sloping lawns, past the duck pond and the delicate silhouettes of the weeping willows, the Teacher could see the spires of the building that housed the knight's tomb--the real reason he told Rémy to come to this spot."
Take Note: Westminster, Buckingham, and St. James's palaces surround the 52-acre public park. Once used for deer hunting by Henry VIII, it's now overrun by fowl--ducks, geese, and pelicans--and hosts royal celebrations.Middle Temple Lane, royalparks.gov.uk, tube stop: St. James's Park or Westminster
WESTMINSTER ABBEY: Sophie and Langdon arrive at the abbey and make a beeline for the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton, the knight interred by Alexander Pope, as referenced in a cryptic message from Saunière. "Crossing the massive nave on a diagonal, Langdon and Sophie remained silent as the elaborate sepulcher revealed itself in tantalizing increments...a black marble sarcophagus...a reclining statue of Newton...two winged boys...a huge pyramid...and...an enormous orb." A scrawled message instructs them to head to the Chapter House, where Sophie and Langdon find themselves trapped at gunpoint in a dead-end.
Take Note: The enormous, labyrinthine abbey got its start as a Benedictine monastery, and every coronation has been held here since that of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1066. Its alleys and niches house the tombs of blue bloods, including Queen Elizabeth I, enshrined in a canopied sarcophagus. The octagonal Chapter House has huge, glorious stained-glass windows and a vaulted ceiling. Monks met here daily until the King's Great Council began using it for their assemblies in 1257.
Da Vinci Code Facts & Fiction Lecture: The Master of the Temple and the Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey speak about the abbey's role in the novel as part of an evening program with music, a self-guided tour, and wine and canapés in the College Garden. Advance reservations recommended, contact firstname.lastname@example.org; June 5 and July 27 at 6 p.m., $47 (£25).
Big Screen Stand-In: The scenes at Westminster Abbey were actually filmed at the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire. $19 (£10) abbey admission, south side of Parliament Sq., 011-20/7654-4900, westminster-abbey.org; tube stop: Westminster
MORE SIGHTS: Sophie and Langdon make a brief stop at King's College's Research Institute in Systematic Theology, where a database search reveals a key clue; Silas checks into Opus Dei's London headquarters at 5 Orme Court; the National Gallery displays Da Vinci's second--and more pious--version of Madonna of the Rocks, while the original hangs at the Louvre.
ROSSLYN CHAPEL: Sophie and Langdon's hunt for the Holy Grail culminates at Rosslyn, about seven miles south of Edinburgh. "Gazing up at the stark edifice framed against a cloud-swept sky, Langdon felt like Alice falling headlong into the rabbit hole. This must be a dream. And yet he knew the text of Saunière's final message could not have been more clear."
Take Note: Originally named Roslin--a nod to the Rose Line, according to Brown--the chapel was built by the Templars in 1446 and dedicated to St. Matthew. (True to form, Brown also claims that the chapel is on the site of an ancient Mithraic temple and that there's a massive vault below.) Symbolic carvings cover the arched ceiling and every wall, column, and cranny. In response to the upsurge of public interest, the chapel has developed an exhibition on the regalia, amulets, and artifacts of the Masons, Templars, and Rosicrucians as well as Celts and Gypsies.
Getting There: By car, take the Straiton Junction A701 from the Edinburgh bypass to Penucuik/Peebles and then follow A701 three miles to the sign for Roslin Village, where signs will point you to the chapel resting on a bluff. An economy-size manual car rental from the Edinburgh airport starts at $48 per day; an automatic at $71. By bus, you can take either Lothian bus 15A or First Group bus 62. Bus tickets from $1.90 (£1). Roslin, Midlothian,$13 (£7) chapel admission, rosslynchapel.org.uk