Every time I have been to Fontainebleau in the past it has been crowded. Tourists arrive in bus and train loads to enjoy the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau (which has some great bouldering if you happen to be a hot chocolate drinking rock climber) and of course the historic and impressive chateau de Fontainebleau. But not today. Today it was cold, really cold and wet and just generally miserable. Even the local Belifontains (inhabitants of Fontainebleau are called Belifontains), were hiding, many of them in cafes warming up.
While there was still a bit of sunlight, we wondered into the grounds of the chateau. They were empty except for a small handful of couples walking strollers, or small dogs, or both. There was something so magical about the experience. With the light rain, the huge grounds and the chateau looking over us we imagined what it would have been liked to live here when it had been in use. The chateau has 1500 rooms. I cannot even begin to imagine what one would do with 1500 rooms and, as I have seen on a previous tour of the inside, each is more elaborate than the next. If that isn’t enough space for you the grounds are 130 acres.
After our walk through the grounds we decided that a hot chocolate was in order. We had a lot of choices, as one always does in France because on average they are all good. We decided on Le Delice Imperial, a little café/pastry shop right in the center of Fontainebleau founded in 1889. This little café offered a large selection of delicious looking pastries, hot drinks and some classic French bistro food. The decor felt a little like being in a fairy tale. The walls were a bright red with gold accents. Hanging from the ceiling were these relatively large balls of clouds covered in little houses and people. I could see a lot of people staring up at them with the same confused look as I had.
The hot chocolate was nice, and quite different than I was expecting. It was a lot sweeter than you usually get when you order a hot chocolate in France but since we didn’t order any of their pastries the sweetness was fine. What we needed was something to warm us up inside and out and this did the trick.
Verdict: A nice little spot to rest your tired feet after a walk through the châteauxgrounds. Le Delice Imperial, 1 rue Grande, Fontainebleau, France.
Café de Flor on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris is an institution. One of the oldest and most well known cafes in Paris it was opened in 1885. Its main rival, Les Deux Magot which sits just down the street, was closed for renovations which meant that Café de Flor was very busy even at the early hour we went on a Saturday morning. Inside Parisians and tourists alike were enjoying their coffee with a croissant or demi baguette with strawberry jam. Outside to one side a covered area was full of smokers busy smoking while reading the morning paper and sipping their café au lait. Despite the chilly temperature we decided to sit on one of the tables outside so we could watch the world of Saint Germain go by.
We weren’t in a rush which was good because it took the waiter a good 15 minutes to serve us. ‘Deux chocolat chaud’ or two hot chocolates will set you back 14 euros which may seem steep. But despite the price I would sit here again and again and have over the years. The hot chocolate came in a little white ceramic pot on the side. I love it when hot chocolate is presented in a separate little pot. I have only found places in France do this but it is such a great idea. I filled my white cup to the top and sipped it happily, refilling whenever it got low or the liquid a little cool. It seemed that my little pot of hot chocolate never got low, it seemed never ending. In the end there were a good three cup fulls of hot chocolate for one person in that ceramic jug making it well worth the 7 euros, and probably enough to share with another person, not that I’d recommend sharing it!.
The hot chocolate itself is so nice, the perfect everyday French hot chocolate and the perfect way to start that morning. It was creamy and chocolatey without being too sweet, but still light and airy. Paris was just waking up and there were more and more people walking by, eyeing my hot chocolate jealously. I imagined all the interesting people over the years that must have walked in and out of these doors. The Surrealist Manifesto was set down here and during the German Occupation of 1939-1945 Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir made this café their office. Sofia Coppola the film director uses this café for her production meetings and a literary prize is given here yearly.
Verdict: What can I say, this one is a no brainer – one of my favourites. If the price seems a little high you can always get one for two and share. Try to go early so that you will be surrounded by more locals than tourists. Café de Flor, 172 blv Saint-Germain, Paris, France
Once upon a time, it seems like quiet a long time ago, rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris was my home. I would wake every morning, walk downstairs to buy a fresh baguette and a pain au chocolate. In the afternoons I would walk up and down the street buying cheese from the cheese shop, meat from the meat shop, veggies from the veggie shop. Then in the evening I would meet friends for a glass of wine on one of the many terraces.
This evening while on a long overdue trip back to Paris, we walked up and down Montorgueil again. We bought some cheese, some bread and as we neared the end of the street right next to Les Halles we spotted Charles Chocolatier. I thought I knew every single inch of this neighborhood by heart but it seems I missed this little chocolate spot. I honestly don’t remember it being there. But then again, when I lived here I wasn’t as obsessed with hot chocolate as I am now! This family business has been here since 1993, but has been operating since 1910 making chocolates in the traditional way using, no milk, no butter, no crème, just 100% cocoa butter.
Their hot chocolate, chocolate a l’ancienne (3.80E) is 100% cocao powder, pure cocao butter, a little milk and very little sugar. The hot chocolate was unsweetened but the woman at the counter offered us sugar to sweeten it to taste.. We didn’t add any sugar, since I usually prefer my hot chocolates less sweet, but this was really unsweetened, a little bitter for my taste. With hindsight, I wish I’d tried adding a bit of sugar, as this had the making of a very good hot chocolate. The shop is very small but there are a few seats along the side in sit in and since the hot chocolate is presented in a paper cup you can either drink it in or take it out to enjoy as you walk up and down rue Montorgeuil.
Verdict: If you like your hot chocolate unsweetened this is the place for you. Charles Chocolatier is also known for their delicious looking Buches de Chocolate made from nuts from Piemont region. Charles Chocolatier, 15 rue Montorgueil, Paris, France.
While in France recently, I was browsing through the chocolates at Jeff de Bruges when I noticed they made these sticks with a bulb of chocolate at the end. The idea is that you stir them into a cup of hot milk to create your own hot chocolate using their signature chocolate. They had several flavours but I chose their dark chocolate because dark chocolate in a cup of hot milk always makes me happy. I bought one to try at home. The woman at the store said it was simple, boil some milk put the chocolate in the milk, stir and drink. Voila!
Yesterday I tested this out. This is such a great idea putting chocolate at the end of a stick. I enjoyed dipping it into the hot milk and stirring it until it melted. Despite the heat of the milk, the chocolate melted but never quite mixed with the milk. It clumped up at the top of the glass meaning I had to continually stir it, vigorously. I could taste the little bits of chocolate that hadn’t mixed properly with the milk which left a strange bitter taste in my milk. There were no instructions so perhaps I did it wrong? Who knows, but the chocolate itself was still very nice.
Verdict: Jeff de Bruges chocolates are good, but the chocolate on a stick they sell in the stores doesn’t quite do their chocolate justice. Perhaps they should consider making it in store so customers can taste it the way it is meant to be tasted. Still, what a fantastic idea…chocolate on a stick! Jeff de Bruges, various locations around the world.
Today I was one of over 5 million tourists and pilgrims to visit the town of Lourdes each year. Yes, 5 million. Lourdes is a famous little place because of 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous who, back in 1858, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave (she saw the vision 18 times actually). It then became a centre for pilgrais. Now there are so many visitors each year, that Lourdes actually has more hotels per square kilometre than any place in France other than Paris (270 hotels).
It was obviously low season when we went because not only were we part of only a few dozen people visiting the Sanctuary built over the famous cave, but it seemed that every single café was closed. Parts of Lourdes looked like a ghost down but in the centre where the 15,000 inhabitants do their living, things were more alive.
We chose Brasserie La Belle Epoque right across from the train station. The place was empty and we interrupted the staff drinking coffee together on the terrace out back before the dinner service started. Café Belle Epoque is a wonderful mixture of charming and tacky. Large gold chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Throughout the eating area are clear class columns filled with bubbling water. Each have a white statue of the Greek Goddess Athena in the centre of the column illuminated by multicoloured lights.
They got the hot chocolate right though. This is the type of hot chocolate I could drink every day. It is light with just a touch of chocolate and even came with a little cookie.
Verdict: While visitors to Lourdes must see the Sanctuary and the fort, I would easily add a hot chocolate at Belle Epoque as another must do while in town. Brasserie La Belle Epoque 16 ave de la Gare, Lourdes, France
Opening a café on the main square of any town in France is a no brainer. Today it is 21 degrees Celsius in March and everyone is outside. We grab the only two free seats at Café Europe and order two hot chocolates.
In France unlike many other countries, being a waiter is a respectable profession, one that is taken very seriously. The ones working here today show that it takes a lot of skill. There must be over 50 tables outside with 2-3 chairs per table. The three men carry trays taking and filling all the orders in an impressively efficient manner. They are to the point but still friendly and more than happy to stop and joke. Two minutes after we order our waiter returns balancing a tiny tray covered in drinks; a coke, 2 fruit juices, a few beers, an espresso and our hot chocolates. He tucks the bill under the ashtray on the table and continues on his way.
This is a people watching café. From here you can watch the main square and all its activity. An ice cream truck parked next to the water fountain is serving a line of about seven people, mostly kids. A group of young ladies walks by, all carrying multiple shopping bags. A baby at the table next to us starts laughing. You can also pick up all sorts of bits and pieces of conversations. The young man next to us is speaking to his girlfriend on the phone, wondering why she is late. Another group exchange gossip gathered throughout the day. People have their drinks, pay, leave and are quickly replaced with new people. You could never get bored here.
Verdict: At the end of the day when Pau comes out to play, the terrace of Europe is where you want to be to take it all in…and the hot chocolate is exactly as it should be. Cafe de L’Europe, 17 rue Mar Foch, Pau, France.
I can’t imagine that there are many cafes where you can have a good hot chocolate while watching Olympic level kayakers practice. All this with the Pyrenees in the background.
River Blues is exactly that. Located on the second floor of the building half of this café/bar/restaurant is indoors with windows on three sides and the other half is a covered outdoor terrace with comfy chairs. From here you can watch, depending on the time of day, anything from elite kayakers to absolute beginners (20 euros for a lesson if you are interested!)
The venue is the Stade des Eaux Vives, a beautiful centre where national level elite athletes from around the world come to train on the man made rapids that are visible from the café. Today the kayakers have white jackets with French flags on the shoulders, apparently elite level French athletes. Part of the nearby river is diverted and the water forced down a man made rapid before rejoining the original river a few hundred meters or so down stream.
The hot chocolate was small but excellent. From our seats we could watch the warm up zone just before the training course. A woman who has just finished practicing puts her 3 year old boy into the kayak with her and paddles around the calm water. The boy, all decked out with a helmet and a tiny paddle is smiling ear to ear. A few dozen people are walking around the paths and bridges that circle and cross the rapids. We join them after our stop at the café. One older woman, elegantly dressed stops Rich – “We met at the telethon in December remember?” He looks back at her with a blank stare, “Je ne parle pas Frances” he says before I explain to her that she is mistaken. I could have been jealous if she had been younger, or not there with her husband and grandchildren. Seems Rich has a second life I don’t know about.
Verdict: One of the most interesting hot chocolate stops I have ever had. The location is fantastic and the hot chocolate is excellent. Makes me want to learn how to Kayak, both for the sport and for the hot chocolate. I could treat myself to one every day after practice. River Blues, Stade d’Eaux Vives, Pau, France
Across from a very large church and the courthouse is a pretty green park with a water fountain in the middle. Right next to the water fountain is this little chocolate shop. As I have mentioned before there are lots of chocolate shops around Pau most of which don’t serve hot chocolate. But this one had a few little tables and chairs outside. Promising…
I ask inside and not only do they serve hot chocolate but they serve a whole selection of them and in various sizes. There is the natural hot chocolate but you can also get it flavoured with ginger, cinnamon, local spices, anise and a few other ones I had never heard of before. When I asked them what they were he went to the back room and came back with a bunch of jars full of powders so I could smell the different spices. It was so difficult to choose but we ordered one with local spices and one with cinnamon.
You have a choice, you can enjoy your hot chocolate outside on the terrace with a view of the park or there are also a few comfy booths inside the store where you can sit and be tempted by all the chocolates lining the walls in the store. We sat inside. The hot chocolate comes in a nice bit white mug, with just the perfect amount. It tastes fantastic, rivalling some of the best hot chocolates I have ever had. The cinnamon hot chocolate especially was definitely something worth coming back for. I had two little disappointments though. First they are a just a little pricey, 4.40euros and second the hot chocolate was just not that hot…at all. The man working there was so busy tending to customers that I think he just forgot about it and left it out too long. Such a shame, as it would be near perfect if it were hotter.
Verdict: If you are looking for a truly luscious hot chocolate, and are in Pau, then definitely come here. Simple. deNeuville, 5 Place de la Liberation, Pau, France.