How To: Select a Private Guide

I’ve spoke often about how I place a high value on hiring a personal guide when you want a better insider experience in any place you visit. I’ve never explained how I chose a guide, though, so I thought I would share that with you.

A few years ago, my sister found a steal of deal: 4 nights in Paris with airfare for $399. She paid for herself, my daughter Lisa and me, and it became my responsibility to plan our days there. Joy!!!

After getting a “want to see and do” list from each, I then began to custom plan the 3 full days. I quickly realized that in order to experience what we wanted in that short a time, I needed the help of an insider.

I had looked through the kinds of tours being offered to see if there was anything that could sweep us through the chaff to get to the nuggets of value, but most offered were bus tours. The bicycle tours held my consideration for a short time but eliminated them because of concerns for the weather as well as figuring I would be watching the street in front of the bike, not permitting much enjoyment of the sights being discussed.  So I settled on walking tours.

Nothing grabbed me…nothing said “this is it!”. That is the feeling I aim for, not an “this is ok” acceptance.

Then I googled for “unique tours” and I found a reference to Richard Nahem in someone’s posted blog. I then went to Richard’s website and read it…all of it….and it was THIS post that made me realize that he sees the detail I was hoping for.

The actual location of his blog post was interesting but not on my “need to see” list…..but the fact that he showed Nureyev’s tomb indicated that he has an eye for detail and THAT was the kind of person I could trust to show me the back streets, and so I arranged it and we spent a lot of time with him.

This post is from Richard’s blog I Prefer Paris, and was posted April 8, 2009.

My Excellent Adventure with Mary & Phil Part II: St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery

ST.-GEN-1St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery is a Russian Orthodox cemetery started in 1926 by a group of Russian immigrants who settled in  Chateau de la Cossonnerie. The property  was bought in 1927 by English heiress Dorothy Paget who also set up a retirement home for Russian immigrants.The cemetery is the resting place for more than 10,000 Russian expats including Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin, Princess Irina of Russia, authors Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Zinaida Gippius, painter Kontantin Somov, and philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. Its most famous citizen is Rudolf Nureyev, one of the greatest dancers who ever lived and the main reason for our visit.

Continuing our adventure, we took another RER train to St. Genevieve-des-Bois, a sleepy suburb of Paris. Since Mary and Phil are cemetery enthusiasts, this was the big event that they had been waiting for for months. A bus dropped us off in in what looked like the middle of nowhere and about a quarter of a mile up a quiet road we spotted the cemetery. It was a cool, overcast day with sun fighting to get through and the light was perfect for photos. The cemetery was serene and quiet, smelling of  moss. Many of the graves had Patriarchal crosses that have two cross bars going across horizontally giving the cemetery a symmetry. What was most special was the profuse amount of spring flowers both growing in front of the graves and placed on top. After many fits and starts in Paris, spring was suddenly alive and thriving in St. Genevieve-des-Bois. Of course, Mary and Phil were in seventh heaven, acting like kids in a playground and practically skipping through the aisles of the cemetery.

After a few minutes of exploring, we had no idea where Nureyev’s grave was located, so Mary bought a cemetery map and we hightailed it. The grave was even more magnificent in person than the photos I saw before and the rich color of the gold, red and bright blue mosaic tiles just popped. What was most incredible was that it looked just like a tapestry and the way it was draped and the way the folds fell,  you would swear it was made of cloth. Notice the beautiful gold fringe adorning the bottom. Mary and Phil were so ecstatic about finally hitting the cemetery jackpot, they decided it was the perfect photo op. Notice how serious and somber they are in the photo below. The mosaic was designed and built by set designer Ezio Frigerio and was based on traditional Oriental kilim rugs. Rudolf Nureyev died of AIDS at the age of 55 in 1993.
ST.-GEN-2Mary & Phil: such sad sacks

We strolled around the rest of the cemetery for about another 45 minutes and discovered some unique graves including one with a head stone decorated with colored porcelain flowers, another stunner with a green sculpted face bordered with a ring of gold leaves, and a quirky one crowded with plastic flowers and kitschy objets like a glass cat filled with colored sand and teddy bears with Santa hats.

We left St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery feeling very happy and more than satisfied and we highly recommend visiting. I will be leading tours of St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery and of the Cathedral of the Resurrection and would love to take you.

St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery
rue Leo Lagrange
St. Genevieve-des-Bois



I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.

I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at

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5 Responses to How To: Select a Private Guide

  1. Love it, enjoyed the read. Another great deal found. Boy you are really increasing my interest in traveling.

  2. There are always ways to juggle the experience so you meet the budget but can spring for some higher cost events. One one trip when I was a single mom on a terribly small budget, I alternated lodging…one night at a cheapy motel, the next at some place that was really really neat. My parents had used the “we can’t afford it”
    excuse a lot and I swore I never would do that! If there is some place that requires a higher level of spending, and I want to do that, I cut back somewhere else.

  3. Thank you great tip. Now that the boys are college bound. My husband and I are attempting to develop a plan for short mini trips first perhaps local until I can get the nerve to fly. I’ve flew to NY, Hawaii, San Fran. but each flight was an experience but, I did love the all 3 areas. I’ll get there. Thanks

  4. Dubrovniklady says:

    Thank you for taking the time to research, you did your job prior to your Paris trip. How often tourists only go to travel forums to select restaurants, hotels, sites to visit from other tourists. Often guests who have only spent a few hours visiting a town, such as the cruisers, seem to believe their short 4 hour duration makes them “experts”. If one is going to spend the money to visit a foreign country or even another state, perhaps learn how to use “search” on the computer first. A great post, good insight and thought provoking.

  5. Most people, as you know, go to the Louvre because it is on a list of things to see and do and never admit they have no interest in going to see an art museum. They go to Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and then they are generally stuck. They do NOT research what might suit their interests. That is what most people do and you know what? They have a great time and that is okay. My kind of trip planning is for people who want a bit more than the same old same old. They want to make sure they discover something very special about the place they will visit. That takes a lot of time to research and if they do not have that time or inclination, I can provide that service to them at a very low cost, about 10% of their trip budget. The difference in their experience will be amazing!!

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