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A Marie-Antoinette Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

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For this holiday season, in celebration of the publication of my book, Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy, we’ve put together a list of fabulous gift ideas honoring France’s most famous queen. Marie-Antoinette was one of the first celebrities: her taste in gardens, porcelains, fashions, and decorative arts continues to inspire fashion designers, film makers and decorators.

 

My New Book: Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy

Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy, The Politics of French Garden Patronage and Picturesque Design, 1775-1867, is the ideal gift idea for those looking for a modern perspective on Marie-Antoinette. My book examines how Marie-Antoinette’s trendsetting garden design at the Petit Trianon, Versailles significantly changed French garden history. Despite the queen’s regicide during the French Revolution, her gardens survived. Inspired by the queen’s legacy, three empresses, Joséphine, Marie-Louise and Eugénie, forged their own garden projects at Versailles and Malmaison. Learn more about the book and acquire a copy here.

Gift Certificate: Exclusive Marie-Antoinette Tours

What’s better than reading about gardens? Visiting them! If someone you know is planning a trip to Paris in the coming year, then there is no better gift than one of my tours. One of my tours is entirely dedicated to the queen at Versailles, where we visit the Petit Trianon and the surrounding gardens.  At the Petit Trianon and Hameau, you will learn how the the gardens became one of most enchanting and misunderstood sites in French history.  Reach out to us here to purchase a gift certificate or arrange a custom tour.

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The Queen’s Chocolates – Debauve & Gallais

Established by the chocolatier and pharmacist of the Queen, this confectionery shop is one of the oldest in Paris. Among their selection of high-quality chocolates are Marie-Antoinette pistoles; thin, round chocolate tablets created by Sulpice Debauve for the Queen. The assortment box comes with pistoles of dark chocolate as well as ones of different flavors such as vanilla, ginger or earl gray. You can purchase them in their various boutiques in Paris or online here.

Marie-Antoinette plate

Versailles Replica Dessert Plate

For anyone who loves French pastries in addition to la Reine, consider purchasing one of these “mise en abyme” porcelain plates. The beautifully-crafted plates reproduce designs from the royal table art collections and are made in the prestigious French porcelain mecca of Limoges. This dessert plate represents les Animal Fabuleux, and is the perfect service dish for a refined Marie-Antoinette tea party. These plates are available on the Musées de France online boutique.

La Savonnerie Royale

For excellent French soaps and candles with a royal twist, peruse the offerings of La Savonnerie Royale. The Official Museum Supplier of le Chateau, this renowned company based in Provence, draws its inspiration from the Palace of Versailles, its history and gardens. Their Pétales d’Eglantine line, made of delicate rose fragrance with musk and woody notes, was created in honor of Marie-Antoinette, who adored roses.

Marie-Antoinette tea

Nina’s Marie Antoinette Tea

Originally specialized in distilling natural essential oils, Nina’s Paris has roots dating back to 1672. Nicknamed the “Magician of Fragrances,” its founder Pierre Diaz began supplying his fragrances to  the Royal Court of Versailles, including Marie-Antoinette favorite, rose. Today the company’s focus is on tea, including le Thé de Marie-Antoinette, the only tea in the world flavored with rose petals and fresh apples from the Royal Gardens of Versailles. To produce this, Nina’s Paris is the exclusive partner of Le Potager du Roi. If you can’t purchase via their website for international delivery, there are some options on Amazon.

Marie-Antoinette Tapestry Pouch

Your giftee can have Marie-Antoinette always with her thanks to this stylish pouch. Inspired by a detail from Marie-Antoinette’s head-board, the design features roses and lilies, tied with a garland of cornflowers. In 1786, when Marie-Antoinette decided to refresh the textiles of the summer furnishing of her royal bedroom and this beautiful design, created by Lyonnais embroiderer Jean-François Bony, was the result. The pattern is the only original element of this refurbishment which survived the Revolution. Purchase it through the Chateau de Versailles at this link.

Happy Holidays and we look forward to seeing you in 2023!

My New Book: Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy

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I‘m very pleased to announce that my book, Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy: The Politics of French Garden Patronage and Picturesque Design, 1775-1867 is now available for purchase.  

Since Marie-Antoinette was crowned queen of France almost two hundred years ago, her exceptional arts patronage has been acclaimed by historians, art critics and connoisseurs. Less well known, is her design of two garden enclaves at Versailles that significantly influenced French history and modern landscape design. She reimagined garden strolling by championing the picturesque style at the Petit Trianon, where S-curved paths encouraged visitors to discover fanciful architecture hidden by flowering shrubberies and sweet-smelling blooms. The queen’s designs were so innovative that despite her regicide, her gardens not only survived the French Revolution, but also inspired three empresses—Joséphine, Marie-Louise, and Eugénie—to forge their own garden legacies in the nineteenth century.

The queen’s and empresses’s gardens were simultaneously public and private spaces, at the symbolic center of court societies, where each consort developed programs that transgressed sociopolitical boundaries. Debunking one of the central tenets of French garden historiography that considers their gardens as sites of excessive ostentation and frivolity, Marie-Antoinette, Joséphine, Marie-Louise and Eugènie emerge as visionary garden patrons who materialised hotly contested issues of power, gender and identity politics through the picturesque experience at Versailles and Malmaison.

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Surprising Stories: Let them Eat Cake… or Not 

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Since Sofia Coppola’s blockbuster movie Marie-Antoinette opened in 2006, influencers, politicians and fashionistas have focused on the queen’s unpredictable destiny as an allegory of contemporary events. One of the most recent examples appeared in Stephanie Grisham’s telltale biography of Melania Trump (2021), where the author described the former first lady as ‘The doomed French queen, Marie-Antoinette, “Dismissive. Defeated, Detached.” Similarly, at the 89th Oscar ceremonies in 2017, The New York Times critic A.O Scott qualified the host Jimmy Kimmel’s decision to flash the cameras on tourists in the audience as “a cringe-worthy moment of Marie Antoinette obtuseness — ah, look, little people!” Marie-Antoinette ‘moments’ have become a cipher for misreading cultural clues, but perhaps it’s time to reconsider this moniker from a new perspective? In the latest edition of our Surprising Stories series we highlight how several of the well-known stories about Marie-Antoinette can be reconsidered, offering new ways to imagine the queen and her legacy. 

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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.

 

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.

 

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

Surprising Stories: Marie-Antoinette at the Hameau de la Reine

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Maison de la Reine and the Tour de Marlborough. Photo: Daderot / Wikipedia

One of the most unexpected visits when touring the gardens of Versailles is the discovery of the Domaine de la Reine where queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned a fake village, called le hameau or the hamlet. Built to resemble vernacular architecture with half-timbered houses, thatched roofs, and stucco walls, the queen entertained friends and family, sometimes impersonating a milkmaid, serving cheeses, milk and creams from her farm. Today’s visitors marvel at the incongruous setting: how did the queen fail to understand that her countrified farm was a parody of most of her subjects’ villages?  This Surprising Story reveals a different interpretation of the queen’s hamlet, suggesting that she built a model village in order to demonstrate her trendsetting good taste and the prosperity of the nation.

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Surprising Stories: A Princely Wager at Bagatelle

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La parc de Bagatelle Photo: Patrick Giraud / CC

Many of the public parks in and around Paris were created over three hundred years ago by the royal family or wealthy aristocrats. These private gardens were designed as places of play and amusement where the owners indulged their tastes for the latest fashions, hiring talented landscape architects who created green lawns, a new innovation, surrounded by exotic flowers, trees and shrubs whose blooms perfumed the air. This week’s Surprising Story takes us to one of the most notorious of these gardens, the Parc de Bagatelle, which was born out of a costly royal bet, between prince and the queen, whose rivalry has left us two of the most remarkable historic gardens in France. Read more