Surprising Stories: Hot Chocolate fit for Kings and Queens

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De Smaak, Jacob Gole, 1695-1724, Rijks Museum

With the cool airs descending on Paris as winter approaches, there’s no tastier way to warm up than with a thick cup of chocolat chaud. The history of hot chocolate in France began over four hundred years and involves two foreign queens. Digest the delectable history behind French hot chocolate as well as discover the best places for hot chocolate in Paris in the latest instalment of our Surprising Stories series.

Chocolate was first brought to Europe by Spanish Conquistadors and it was appreciated as a delicacy at the Spanish court. The Spanish royalty, who valued its fortifying and aphrodisiac qualities, jealously guarded the new drink as a state secret. When Philippe III of Spain’s daughter Anne of Austria, left for France to marry Louis XIII in 1615, she brought her favorite beverage with her as a wedding gift. The bride met her husband in Bayonne, a port city in the southwest of France, which is still internationally recognized as the capital of gourmet French chocolates.

Chocolate Pot by John Fawdrey, Victoria & Albert Museum

From Bayonne to Paris, chocolatiers would roast the cocoa beans in ovens then, after cooling the beans in canvas bags, they would pound them in to a paste on a heated stone. Before mechanical processes which separated bean from butter, it took up to an hour of pounding before the paste could be rolled into a sausage-like dough. The chocolate roll was then cut into slices and placed into a chocolatiere, a coffee pot with a wooden handle. By adding warm liquid, or heating from below, the brew was whipped with a wooden handle into a more or less homogenous brewage, a frothy hot chocolate.

An eighteenth-century recipe book gives us some idea of how hot chocolate made for kings:

“Place an equal number of bars of chocolate and cups of water in a cafetiere (coffee pot) and boil on a low heat for a short while; when you are ready to serve, add one egg yolk for four cups and stir over a low heat without allowing to boil. It is better if prepared a day in advance. Those who drink it every day should leave a small amount as flavouring for those who prepare it the next day. Instead of an egg yolk one can add a beaten egg white after having removed the top layer of froth. Mix in a small amount of chocolate from the cafetiere, then add to the cafetiere and finish as with the egg yolk.

Source: Dinners of the Court or the Art of working with all sorts of foods for serving the best tables following the four seasons, by Menon, 1755.

Hot Chocolate at the Court of Versailles

While this recipe sounds like a power drink, French confectioners added additional ingredients like coffee, vanilla, and cloves to subdue what must have been a rather bitter taste. When Marie-Antoinette married Louis XVI in 1770, she brought her personal chocolate-maker with her to the French court. The queen was one of the first to add sugar to her chocolate, and her official chocolatier created new recipes combining chocolate with orange blossom or sweet almonds.  Ultimately the queen preferred a dollop of cream—perhaps recalling a Viennese recipe—to help sweeten her drinks.

debauve et gallais marie-antoinette

Debauve et Gallais, Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette

The Queen’s love of chocolate was well known in Paris and Versailles. An enterprising pharmacologist, Sulpice Debauve, established an apothecary in 1778 in the fashionable Saint-Germain neighborhood. Here he experimented with chocolate paste that was like an early bonbon or candy. He mixed a headache remedy with coco butter, which he then offered to the Queen. He baptized these medallions ‘Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette’ and he was awarded the title of the first official chocolatier for Louis XVI. The pistoles are still sold today at the historic boutique rue des Saint-Pères.

Photo: Angelina Rivoli

Although hot chocolate has changed since its arrival in the French capital, there are a number of excellent places to sample modern takes on this historic beverage. Here are some of our favorite places:

  • Angelina: Paris’s most famous venue for hot chocolate, the original tea salon on rue de Rivoli has expanded with different outposts around the city and at Versailles where you won’t have to wait as long in line. Take out and make at home kits available. See all branches here.
  • Un Dimanche à Paris: This tea salon and pastry shop boasts divine hot chocolate and a unique location in the historic lane, down from Paris’s oldest existing café and with the remains of a watch tower from the Medieval city walls. Take out also available. 4-8 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, 75006 Paris.
  • Carette: This chic salon de thé overlooking Place des Vosges has decadent hot chocolate best served with a side of their fresh whipped cream and refined pastries. 5 Place des Vosges, 75003 Paris. They also have a location in Place du Trocadero, near the Eiffel Tower, and a takeaway shop in Place du Tertre in Montmartre.
  • Jean Paul Hevin: This renowned Paris chocolatier sells make at home hot chocolate mix as well as take away usually in winter at his various shops, including one in the north Marais on rue de Bretagne. See all locations here.

Please contact us to book or for further information.

 

A Garden of Scents: Pomades, Pastilles, and French Perfume

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Left: Roses, Jill Wellington / Pixabay. Right: Jasmine, watsilchum / Pixabay

Smell is perhaps the most ephemeral of the five senses. Our noses can detect thousands of odors, which we unconsciously categorize as pleasant or repellent, information which is stored in our minds for the rest of our lives. While we easily identify our favorite scents, we tend to forget that perfumes have their own histories, which are often rooted in gardens. For centuries flowers have provide the source material for a range of products, from pomades to soaps, and they continue to be inspire fragrance creators to this day.

A perfumer in the 18th century. Perfume Foundation.

This fascinating image of a seventeenth century printed personification of a perfumer is a veritable walking cosmetics stand. His wares include vials of essences (scented oils or waters), pomades hailing from Rome and Florence, soaps and savonettes from Naples, and an array of eaux de senteurs, all inspired by a thousand flowers.  Although we don’t have many accounts of how people actually used perfumes—as they were applied to the body, hair, and skin—we can trace how some early perfumes were manufactured.

Pomades were made by pressing flowers into animal fats. Distillation, heating petals to capture the fragrant oils released from flowers from the vapor produced  ‘essences’ such as rose water.  Infused oils were also considered perfumes. In the eighteenth century, treatises gave readers ‘recipes’ that instructed them how to make perfumes. For example, in his recipe for rose water Polycarpe Poncelet recommended that one gather roses ‘two or three hours after sunrise’ and then ’crush them in a mortier’. The crushed petals should then be placed into an alambic to distil them, which would produce a rose water with a ‘marvelous scent.’

Lavender fields. Hans / Pixabay

Perfumers worked like apothecaries, stressing the medicinal role of these early perfume recipes. At a time when unpleasant smells were considered signs of diseases, vinegar and spices were used to try to ward off sickness or clean wounds. Our perfumer sold products to cure bad breath that contained the likes of anise, mint or thyme—antecedents to today’s toothpaste.

Daffodils. SanduStefan / Pixabay

Daffodils. SanduStefan / Pixabay

The emergence of France as a capital of perfume production went hand-in-hand with the creation of French gardens. As Louis XIV expanded his gardens at Versailles, he developed a keen interest in floriculture. In order to supply his gardens in both Versailles and Paris with sweet smelling flowers, he established a botancial garden in Toulon for the importation and acclimation of flowering bulbs from across the Mediterranean, especially daffodils and hyacinths.

While the gardens at Toulon did not survive past the Sun King’s reign, this appreciation of heavily scented flowers gave a boost to the perfume industry. Since the middle ages, the town at Grasse, located not far from Toulon, had developed a local flowers, including roses, jasmine, lavender, myrtle and wild mimosa, into a small industry. The guild of glove perfumers was established in the town and the perfumers began marketing ther most prized asset: their  flowers to the court. Today, Grasse is still considered the center of the French perfume industry.

Perfume Making Workshop in Paris

Today’s trends in aromatherapy and  scented candles can be traced to the connection between gardens and perfumes. If you would like to learn more about the history of flowers and perfume, we offer the following thematic experiences in and near Paris:

  • History of Perfume Tour and Workshop: Our 4-hour  tour focus on how flower gardens have supplied the perfume industry for centuries. We visit two historic perfumeries in the Marais before trying your hand at the art form during a perfume workshop where you can make your own fragrance.
  • Visit to the Osmothèque: Not far from the Palace of Versailles, the Osmothèque (from the Greek word to preserve) isperfume archive that contained over 3,000 perfumes. This living collection of existing or no-longer available perfumes protects the world’s fragrance heritage. Private or group tours can be arranged upon request.

Please contact us to book any of these experiences or to work with us to design a custom Paris perfume experience.

 

Seasons Greetings & Special Paris Tours for the Holidays

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Rue Montorgueil at Christmas

Rue Montorgueil at Christmas

The holiday season is fast approaching and it’s one of the best times in Paris. The festive spirit abounds, particularly on the city’s market streets, bustling with Parisians preparing for their holiday feasts. If you will be traveling to Paris during the holidays, we have some excellent new culinary, perfume and shopping tours, ideal for this time of year. There are also some superb exhibits up through January, however, we recommend booking ahead to not miss out! Not returning to Paris yet and looking for the perfect holiday gift ? Offer them the gift of Paris through our holiday gift certificates. 

Rue Mouffetard in Paris, Gerd Eichmann / CC

Special Culinary Tours

We have launched a new food tour around Les Halles, the former location of Paris’s central fresh food market. Although the market buildings have since been demolished, the area is still one of the city’s food hubs. Our tour includes the history of the district and an exclusive experience at a ‘bean to bar’ chocolate store. For groups of less than ten, we also offer a private tasting with famed French chocolatier, Jacques Genin, combined with a culinary walk of the open air market at the Rue Montorgueil.

Marie-Antoinette Cake by Molly Wilkinson

Marie-Antoinette piece montée by Molly Wilkinson

Culinary Tour + Special Marie-Antoinette Cake

In partnership with Molly Wilkinson, cordon-bleu trained pastry chef, a visit to Versailles can finish with a tasting of the cakes that Marie-Antoinette would have loved, like the above piece montée. Ask us for further details when booking!

L’Officine Universelle Buly, historic parfumerie visited on our perfume tours

Perfume Tour and Workshop

Our 4-hour perfume tour focus on how flower gardens have supplied the perfume industry for centuries. We visit two historic perfumeries in the Marais and then clients attend a perfume workshop where they can make their own perfumes.

Holiday Shopping Tour

For the Christmas season, we have developed a special tour dedicated shopping in Paris. Our tour begins at the Palais Royal visiting boutiques in this chic neighborhood.  We continue to the Passages, the covered streets of the nineteenth century. We then stop for tea in recently re opened Samaritaine, an art nouveau temple of luxury on the Seine.

Botticelli Exhibit at Musée Jacquemart-André

Noteworthy Exhibition Tours: Winter 2021-2022

Botticelli, Artist and Designer – Musée Jacquemart André: This exhibition showcases 40 works by the celebrated Renaissance artist and is combined with a tour of the Jacquemart André house museum’s impressive collection of works by Italian and French masters. Exhibit on through January 24, 2022.

Edmund de Waal interventions at the Musée Nissim de Camondo

Letters to Camondo – Musée Nissim de Camondo: Author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal has curated special interventions at the Musée Nissim de Camondo linked to his new book, Letters to Camondo, a collection of imaginary letters from de Waal to Moise de Camondo. Camondo, a wealthy Jewish banker designed his house museum in memory of his son, Nissim, but de Waal’s exhibition evokes another commemoration, one to the entire family who perished at Nazi war camps during World War II. Our tour of the exhibit and museum is followed by a visit to the Parc Monceau, one of Paris’s oldest parks which borders the museum. Exhibit on through May 15, 2022.

Picturesque Voyages Christmas Gift Certificate

Holiday Gift Certificates

Do you have a friend or family member planning a trip to Paris and are looking for the perfect holiday gift? Consider gifting them a certificate for one of our tours. These can be purchased for a specific tour or for a credit towards the tour of your giftee’s choice, valid for any bookings made until December 31, 2022. Contact us here for further details.

We are wishing you and your loved ones a safe and joyful time over the holidays!

Best wishes,

Susan Taylor-Leduc & the Picturesque Voyages Team

New Exclusive Versailles Tours & Experiences

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Apartments of the King Versailles

Private Apartments of the King Louis XV, Versailles

As an art historian, a specialist on Marie-Antoinette and the gardens at Versailles, I am particularly pleased to lead tours that provide exclusive access to the Private Apartments of King Louis XV or the Private Apartments of the Queen Marie-Antoinette. Learn more about these special Versailles access experiences below.

Private Apartments of the King, Versailles

Private Apartments of the King Louis XV, Versailles

Rococo Splendour: The Private Apartments of King Louis XV

Designed by Louis XIV this suite of ten rooms reveals how Louis XV repurposed and luxuriously decorated rooms for intimate dinners, musical performances and gambling! We will visit the ‘cabinet secret’ where the king met privately with his network of spies. Access to this series of rooms is ideal as an add-on to our main palace tour. 

This VIP experience requires advance booking of 6-8 weeks and may incur additional reservation fees.

Private Apartments of the Queen Versailles

Private Apartments of the Queen Marie-Antoinette Versailles

Private Apartments of the Queen Marie-Antoinette

On either side of Marie-Antoinette’s sumptuous bed in the ceremonial apartments, hidden doors lead to her private apartments. The queen retreated from public life to her library, small salon, and boudoir, where she received courtiers in more intimate settings. This special access tour can be included on a customized half-day tour or a full-day tour of Versailles.

This VIP experience must be booked 3 months prior to your visit and incurs  additional reservation fees.

Versailles

Temple of Love, Petit Trianon, Versailles

The Domaine de la Reine Marie-Antoinette

A special tour entirely dedicated to the queen’s gardens. We begins at the Petit Trianon, where we see how the queen redecorated her villa, developed her English garden, and created her own village and private hamlet. We come to understand how the queen’s gardens became the most enchanting and misunderstood sites in French history.

Please note, there is limited access to the interiors of the Hameau and reservations must be booked at least 3 months in advance.  Please let us know us if you would like to include a visit to the interiors as part of your tour so we can arrange the reservation which will incur additional costs.

Molly Wilkinson Marie-Antoinette pastries

Marie-Antoinette pastries

Let’s Eat Cake!

For those clients passionate about pastry, we also offer a special event  tastings pastries that the queen Marie-Antoinette would have found delicious. In partnership with cordon bleu pastry chef Molly Wilkinson, we discuss gourmet history followed by a tasting of  the queen’s favorite cakes specially prepared for you.

We look forward to sharing these unique Versailles experiences with you. Please contact us to book or for further information.

 

Nature into Art: Same Sky/Même Ciel

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Same Sky/ Même Ciel Installation

The third article in our series dedicated to reappraisals of the picturesque—how nature becomes art—investigates how artists adapted their creative thinking during the Covid-19 pandemic.  In early 2020, Leslie Greene and Duwenavue Sante Johnson scheduled an exhibition of their collaborative works at The Jones Institute in San Francisco. The confinement significantly delayed their exhibition but offered unexpected opportunities.

Read more

The Best Artisanal Ice Cream in Paris

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Bac à Glace

Photo: Bac à Glace / Facebook

With summer upon us and temperatures rising, there’s nothing more refreshing while strolling in Paris than an ice cream. Although it was brought to France from Italy, the French have a great fondness for la glace. It is therefore not surprising to find a number of wonderful glaciers across the city who dedicate themselves masterfully to the art of ice cream. From historic to the avant garde, here’s where you can get the best artisanal ice cream in Paris.

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Surprising Stories: Albert Kahn and his Gardens

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Jardins Albert Kahn

Although his name is not familiar to many today, Albert Kahn was the Bill Gates of early 20th century France; a financial wizard who speculated in international finance, he dedicated his fortune to philanthropy. Kahn inaugurated two exceptional projects, a photographic collection called the Archives of the Planet and his private estate where he designed the Gardens of the World, two legacies that survive today at the Musée Albert Kahn in Paris.

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Where to Buy Art in Paris

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Photo: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

Owing to its world-class museums and artistic heritage, Paris is one of the world’s top destinations for art lovers. It is also a prime destination for art buying, an endeavor which might seem daunting, particularly with the perceived language barrier. Fortunately, there are options for all budgets and English skills are now more widespread, which makes it much easier to buy art in Paris than one would assume. To facilitate your task even more, we’ve brought together this helpful collection of best auction houses and art galleries in Paris to suit various art buying parameters.

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Surprising Stories: The Dazzling Truth about Marie-Antoinette’s Diamond Necklace

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Omar Sy in Lupin, Netflix

In one of the opening scenes of Netflix’s latest hit TV series Lupin, the French actor Omar Sy contemplates a necklace in a glass display case: the audience barely has time to glance at the gems, when Sy cleverly manages to outsmart all the guards and pocket them. Following the suave gentlemen thief, we learn that he covets this particular necklace not only because of the spectacular jewels, but because it belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette. For scholars and Marie-Antoinette fans alike, the references to the queen’s necklace conjures a political scandal that significantly tarnished her reputation. The story about the necklace is so captivating because the queen never wore it, but the fate of the diamonds remains a mystery: was the spectacular necklace prized for its beauty or because it was dissembled, the stones stolen and then sold on the antiques market? We revisit the true story behind the necklace in this issue of our Surprising Stories Series. Read more

Nature into Art: Wax Tulip Mania

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Mona Oren, Wax Tulip Mania

The second of our series dedicated to reappraisals of picturesque—how nature becomes art—reviews an exhibition at the Avant Galerie Vossen entitled From the Tulip to the Crypto Marguerite. The show suggests that art is a constantly fluctuating value, linking today’s bitcoin speculation to the tulip mania that consumed seventeenth-century Europe. While the tulip is the subject of many of the works in the show, including several painted works, Mona Oren’s Wax Tulip Mania project particularly addresses how natural materials morph into digital formats.   Read more