Paris is one of those incredible cities that you can go to many, many times yet every time I’ve visited I learn lots of new things about the history of the French capital.
I’d been invited to Paris by luxury cognac house, Courvoisier, to find out more about the drink and its links to the Golden Age of Paris with a tour and tastings of the drink. I’d come down just for the day and as soon as I arrived in the city I was whisked away for lunch with Rebecca, Courvoisier’s Global Brand Ambassador.
Lunch was at La Fontaine de Mars, a typical Parisian bistro with classic red checkered table clothes and a menu of hearty French fare.
As we nibbled on some utterly delicious home made bread, Rebecca explained a bit about the history of Courvoisier and the intrinsic link to the city of Paris. For almost two hundred years, the company has crafted beautiful award-winning cognacs using traditional techniques and innovative methods. The master blender, Patrice Pinet, uses only the four best crus in Cognac to create his signature blends meaning Courvoisier is the only cognac to be awarded the Prestige de la France, the highest award for quality.
Fortunately, with France being one hour ahead of the UK it wasn’t too early to try a Courvoisier champagne cocktail…is it ever too early for a champagne cocktail? The story of Courvoisier actually started in Paris in the early 1800s by founders Louis Gallois and Emmanuel Courvoisier and the drink became renowned when Emperor Napoleon III chose Courvoisier as his only supplier of cognac.
We took a brief break from the history lesson for our food; for me was a very hard choice between two of my favourites but in the end my delicious salmon with creamy crushed avocado won out. I did get some food envy as fellow blogger, Ashanti, chose what have been my other choice; fresh asparagus spears and the most perfectly cooked poached egg with a very runny yolk.
There was no food envy for main course as we all chose sea bream with melt in the mouth flesh and perfectly on point seasoning, morel mushrooms and gnocchi.
Finishing our main courses, Rebecca ordered dessert and cheeses as we would be having a special taste test with the Courvoisier XO. Otherwise known as Extra Old, the XO is a blend of fine and well-matured cognac, aged from 11 to 25 years to give the richest of taste and aroma.
Just look at that gorgeous golden liquid and interestingly the bottle is modelled on the skirt of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine.
When the cognac is blended, every care is taken to nurture the aromas and as around 80% of what we taste is actually the scent, the more aromatic a cognac is, the finer it is.
Rebecca produced six scents and explained how sniffing them and then tasting the cognac with our cheese plate would bring out the best flavours. Vanilla, chocolatey and fruity scents were the perfect match with our food.
Finally we paired the cognac with the most delicious, light and fluffy homemade chocolate mousse that had been prepared specially with Courvoisier as one of the ingredients. The drink paired with the chocolate, almond biscuit and cream was just a match made in heaven!
With lunch finished we met with our guide who would be taking us back in time and leading us through the Golden Age of Paris.
The Golden Age of Paris or La Belle Époque was a beautiful period of time just after the Franco-Prussian War and just before the First World War when the city was alight with art, science, fashion and decadence. People came to the Paris to celebrate the incredible creativity and cultural innovations that electrified the city making it one of the world’s most exciting places to be.
The age saw the construction of the Metro, the building of Sacré Cœur and three universal exhibitions around 10 years apart that bought visitors flocking to Paris to find out about the latest commercial and technical innovations. It was the age of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge, Matisse, Zola, Guy de Maupassant, modern dance emerged, technology flourished, and important medical advancements were made. It was an age of wonder and glory. An age of beauty.
The Eiffel Tower became a symbol of the city when it was built in 1889 as the grand entrance for the World’s Fair, built in just over two years. Courvoisier was served at the opening, and it was apparently a drink loved by architect Gustave Eiffel. Amazingly the tower was set to be dismantled in 1909 but instead it was retained to serve as communication tool.
Opposite this perfect view of the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondisement of Paris is the gorgeous facade of the Lavirotte building. Built during the Golden Age, architect Jules Lavirotte was awarded a prize for the most original facade and the building still stands as a perfect example of Art Nouveau architecture in Paris.
Next we took a stroll through the Saint Germain-Des-Pres district, an area associated with the intellectuals, philosophers and artists of the Golden Age.
Our guide pointed out Les Deux Magots, a cafe that was central to Parisian cultural life, with famous visitors such as Piscasso, Hemingway, André Gide, Sarte and Beauvoir. Founded in 1812 it is one of the oldest cafes in Paris and still attracts personalities from around the world.
Directly opposite is Saint Germain de Pres church, the oldest church in Paris, dating back to the 6th Century.
I really was learning so much about this beautiful city, which I already felt like I knew so well. I’d never thought to question why Paris was nicknamed the City of Light, but even before the Belle Époque, Paris glowed with street lighting powered by gas and lit every night by an army of allumeurs. However, one of the most important innovations of the Golden Age was the invention of electric street lights which shone along the Champs-Élysées and other Paris neighbourhoods.
Our final stop on the tour was the Grand Palais and the adjacent Petit Palais, both built for the universal exhibition in 1900 for the site of different shows during the exhibition.
Nearby is the Pont Alexandre III, also inaugurated at the 1900 exhibition. The bridge is one of the most stunning and ornate bridges in Paris and was incredible feat of 19th century engineering.
And across the other side of the side of the bridge I could see the Iron Lady rising in the distance.
Back on the Champs-Élysées, flags were flying and people were celebrating a bank holiday in France, rather perfect for our current celebration of the city.
Hôtel Fouquets-Barrière was the perfect place for a final tasting of Courvoisier. The hotel is the home of legendary restaurant, Le Fouquet’s, open since 1899 it has long welcomed movie stars and celebrities through its doors. You may remember me visiting Fouquet’s in Cannes last year so I was excited to see the Parisian version.
The hotel interior simply oozes decadence and glamour with gold dominating the foyer and plush red velvet accents.
With it being such a gorgeous sunny day we headed up to the bar and outdoor terrace to lap up the sun while we enjoyed our Courvoisier cocktails.
As we enjoyed our cocktails and a cheese platter Rebecca told us a little more about Courvoisier, it’s the only cognac house to control the entire making process; from grape to glass and making the Courvoisier itself is an art form and can only be produced from certain grapes.
After the grape juice is fermented and the wine is distilled, the cognac must be aged for at least two and a half years and then the perfect blend is created. All the different cognacs in the Courvoisier range are created with great finesse and are the perfect drink to celebrate with.
The day in Paris flew past so quickly that when I woke up the next day it felt like it had all been a wonderful dream! What I really loved most about the Paris Golden Age Tour with Courvoisier was that I learnt so many fantastic new things about this beautiful city, a city so rich in culture and history with so many exciting secrets to uncover.
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Booking is available for the Paris Golden Age Tour. Check the website for information about the 3 hour tour.
I was a guest of Courvoisier for this experience.