For far beneath the busy metropolis, Parisians hide a dark secret they want you to discover.
My girlfriend and I had travelled to the French capital not for the art galleries, culture and amazing food.
We had come for skulls and bones – and plenty of them.
Embarking on our weird weekend mission, we first took a train down from Leicester to St Pancras to meet the Eurostar.
It really is the only way to travel to our near neighbour. Fast, reliable and a lot cheaper than you’d think, the rail service also relieves much of the stress of getting about these days.
Flying by airplane has become such an horrendous prospect that even the sight of an airport brings me out in cold sweats.
It must have been the time I was stuck at Luton Airport for five hours that did it for me.
No such alarms with Eurostar. After picking up our ticket from a machine, we passed through security with ease and were soon encamped in our seats.
Paris was just two and a half-hours away.
A smooth journey it was, too. We were soon pulling into the architectural wonder that is the Gare du Nord station.
Disembarking right in the heart of Paris is a brilliant experience rather than finding yourself dropped off by a cheap air carrier miles away from civilisation.
In just half an hour or so from our arrival in the city we were checking in to the Les Jardins Du Marais.
A relaxed four-star hotel in the Marais district of the city, it boasted larger-than-average rooms (for Paris) and charming courtyard area where you can relax or take drinks before dinner.
Eating in the hotel is pricey but there is a little café next door where you can have breakfast on the street, and for evening fodder... well, you do have thousands of restaurants to choose from!
But enough about the niceties, I’m going to tell you where the bodies are buried.
I had been to Paris a couple of times before and had been to many of the major tourist traps.
The Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame had all been ticked off the list. So had the Louvre, but we were going to go back because the museum is just so big.
We were also going to pop by Napoleon’s tomb (little man, huge – and I mean huge – casket) before going across the Seine to the Catacombs of Paris.
This is where, putting it bluntly, you’ll find the bones of some SIX MILLION Parisians.
The catacombs were created at the end of the 18th century when the city’s cemeteries ran out of space, causing disease and, probably, a hell of a smell.
The remains were taken from their resting place – a former limestone quarry – at night in convoys of draped carriages of black, accompanied by priests.
As a visitor, you descend 85 feet down a narrow stairwell into a labyrinth of obscure galleries and narrow corridors to discover the bones laid out in a “romantico-macabre” decoration.
Stacks of bones, with skulls arranged to make art.
The philosophical sayings and quotations scattered throughout add to the solemnity and encourage contemplation.
Towards the end of the 1.7-km visit, you can read about the people whose remains, after their executions, were brought directly to the catacombs and laid to rest.
The remains of several famous people of the French Revolution are stored in the Catacombs, including Robespierre and probably Marie Antoinette.
But I only recognised a couple of names on the list of notables buried under the city, one of them Madame Pompadour (thanks to a recent Dr Who episode set in France).
There’s more recent history as well. During World War 2, the French Resistance used the tunnel system, while German soldiers established a bunker in the catacombs
The Catacombs of Paris are well worth visiting, especially as they reveal a macabre, sacred, and silent underground world in stark contrast to the bustling, noisy, and lively action-filled streets of France’s illustrious capital.
It’s an eerie experience, no doubt, but one I would recommend.
I believe it gives you a new insight into death... and life.