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Free in Paris



Here we are strolling the elegant Montmartre neighbourhood, laughing with our engaging guide and taking in the Paris eye candy.

Our group can't believe this two-hour walking tour is free.

Yes, free, especially since this is Paris, France — the most-visited city in the world and one that's notoriously expensive.

Of course, nothing's really free.

The guides at Discover Walks hope you are so impressed that you tip generously.

"I never lecture my tour groups," our guide Alexandre Gourevitch says.

"I just wander the neighbourhood with them and give some insight where I can."

The approach works.

Not only is the tour a blast, but the tips flow as we say our goodbyes.

Now let's backtrack a bit.

Gourevitch starts the tour with an explanation that we are in BoBo Land.

What that means is Montmartre's roots may have been edgy, alternative and artsy, but now it is the turf of bohemian bourgeoisie, those that like to think they are artsy, but have executive jobs to pay Montmartre's inflated real estate prices.

PHOTO: STEVE MACNAULL - Montmartre is on a hill making for interesting staired streets and great views.

Montmartre is also where the Moulin Rouge is — the cabaret that in the 1800s was out of town and thus able to offer patrons from Paris to the south the scandalous entertainment of girls doing the can-can and tax-free drinks.

In keeping with the non-stuffy approach, Gourevitch suggests we take a break and sit down at the Relais de la Butte café to people watch and sip Kir Royale (champagne and blackcurrant liquor).

Hint: buy your guide's drink. After all, he or she is doing this for free.

PHOTO: STEVE MACNAULL - Sacré-Coeur Basillica glows at night on the top of the hill in Montmartre.

We also map out the rest of the tour to fit the interests of the group.

That means a swing by the Café Les Deux Moulins, which has become the most photographed café in France because it's where parts of the movie Amélie were shot.

He points out Le Moulin de la Galette where we will return later for dinner.

Trivia point: the restaurant is where Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted his 1876 masterpiece of commoners in a bar Bal le Moulin de la Galette.

A stop at the statue of dead singer-actress-sex symbol Dalida is also a must.

We take turns fondling her breasts (it's the done thing) for good luck and increased sex appeal.

Of course, there's a quick prayer afterward to repent at famous hilltop cathedral Sacré-Coeur.

Seems the free walking tour concept is catching on.

There's also Discover Walks in San Francisco, Barcelona and Prague.

Our group had another Paris ah-ha moment piling out of little classic Citröen 2CV cars at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

We soon find out a 2CV at the world's most famous monument is the double-whammy of retro-cool.

PHOTO: STEVE MACNAULL - The double-whammy of retro-cool: a Citröen 2CV driven by Clea Massiani – at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

People actually take a break from snapping pictures of the tower and turn their attention to capturing pictures of the car.

Of course my driver Clea Massiani is biased, but she calls the tour "the best way to see Paris."

I agree.

The second she picked me up at the hotel, blond hair flowing behind the wheel of the 2CV, I fell in love.

I'm married, but for the next hour-and-a-half, Clea — and her car — will be the objects of my affection.

For those not in the know, the 2CV is the iconic little car that charmed France — and the rest of the world — for the entire time it was in production from just after the Second World War to the early 1990s.

Clea also points out the City of Light's other greatest hits and they are plentiful and resplendent in the sunshine from the River Seine, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the National Assembly and Place de la Concorde to the Alexander III bridge, Champs élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Trocadéro, Louvre and Opera House.

The hour-and-a-half Citroen tour is not free, it costs 70 euros per person and the car can take up to three passengers.

If you go...

Air Transat flies non-stop to Paris from more Canadian cities than any other carriers Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. TransatHolidays.com.

Well-located hotels like the Mercure Sacré-Coeur where we stayed in stylish Montmartre can be packaged with Transat flight.

DiscoverWalks.com has six Paris itineraries.

General information at ParisInfo.com.

Citroen 2CV tour options at www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com.