Brussels may be the most famous city on earth for chocolate, but Paris surely is the capital of global gastronomy? Here you’ll find the top 10 tips for buying great chocolate in one of tourists’ most favourite short break destinations.
No chocolate tour of Paris would be complete without a list of chocolate shops to visit. I used various sources to find the chocolate shops to visit and I’d only listed the ones near our hotel and had already got up to 22! But there are plenty more of than that! What I didn’t do, however, was spend enough time on their websites working out what sort of chocolate they made or sold. If you have a particular passion for chocolate, I’d spend an hour or so relaxing in front of your computer looking at what sort of chocolate you can buy.
It’s not all picture postcard perfect
Even though I hadn’t visited Paris for about 16 years ago and walked through the streets late at night finding a hostel, I knew not all of Paris was as glamorous as we’re led to believe. But still I didn’t think that some of it would be as unkempt as it was. For instance as we got off the Metro at Place de la Republique to visit the Jacques Genin and De Neuville chocolate shops I was shocked to see the fountain that used to adorn the southern part of it empty of water but full of soiled mattresses, shoes and a torn open suitcase – all opposite the Crowne Plaza Hotel. If you’d prefer not to see that part of Paris just stick around the 1st arrondissement where the likes of Jean-Paul Hevin, Yves Thuriès, Jadis et Gourmande, Foucher Côte de France, Pierre Hermé, Michel Cluizel and Pierre Marcolini can be found.
It’s the view from the top
I’ve never been to the top of Mount Everest but I expect the effort is well worth it. Similarly the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is spectacular but significantly less effort is required. The same can be said with chocolate. Braving the less than salubrious areas of Paris and the cheaper rents for the chocolatiers can often result in finding some great shops. If you were to trek down from Place de la Republique, along Rue de Turenne and right along Rue des Francs Bourgeois you’ll not only come across some delightful clothes shops, you’ll eventually come across the very quaint Chocolats Mussy. If you then step across the small square and turn left along Rue de Rivoli you’ll come across Benoit Chocolats at 75 rue St-Antoine.
I can’t see them
I lost count of the number of times we would walk up and down the streets of Paris looking for a non-existent chocolate shop. Not only does it waste time when you’ve spent the last 10 minutes walking down from a Metro stop, but you could actually be spending your time in a great one. Make sure you do look at the websites you want to visit and check their address. One of the lessons I learned from my chocolate tour of Paris is that you can’t rely on any list to be up-to-date and certainly not rely on Google Maps to point you in the right direction. For instance A la Reine Astrid which is supposed to be on rue de Washington doesn’t actually exist, it’s no more, an ex-chocolate shop if you will, and for Jacques Genin? It was nowhere to be seen.
But they’re all on one place, if you’re there at the right time!
If you are flexible about when you go, and chocolate really is your thing then make sure you’re in Paris about the middle of October and you’ll be able to visit Salon du Chocolat which contains more chocolatiers under one roof than you can possibly hope to meet. If you don’t mind paying through the nose for on-site refreshments then you’ll be rewarded with about 100 chocolate shops all in one place, selling origin chocolate, macarons, pastries, cakes and everything sweet and delicious you could hope for. What’s more, often you’ll be able actually meet the faces behind the names. If you’re a fan of, Pierre Marcolini, for instance, you could have chatted with him and found more about his chocolate.
Chocolate there Isn’t Expensive
You may have heard horror stories about the price of food and drink in Paris – especially for tourists. I often paid over £8 for a pint and if any of your friends have recently come back from the city they would probably have mentioned the terrible exchange rate, but chocolate in Paris is actually very reasonably priced. You certainly won’t have to over budget for your treats at the expense of more traditional tourist activities.
It’s not so easy to get around
Much of Paris is served by an extensive Metro system, but it doesn’t seemingly cater well for people who have mobility issues. Like many cities, you just can’t use it if you’re a wheelchair user or struggle with stairs. What’s more, cars dash through pedestrian crossings and if you’re keeping one eye on your map and one looking out for that illusive shop, you’ll have an interesting time. Just take your time, plan a rough route, take in some other shops just enjoy yourself -there’s no hurry.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – in English
I didn’t meet someone behind the counter of a chocolate shop who couldn’t speak English – usually as a result of my woeful attempts at speaking French. Have a list of words to describe what you’re looking for such as ballotin, rocher, tablette, chocolat noir, Cadeaux, boites de chocolats, couverture and this should serve to fill the gaps in either of your understanding.
Set your budget
Even though chocolate isn’t expensive there, you can still manage to spend a lot as it just all looks so beautiful. I had a load of 10 € notes that seemed to gradually disappear during the day.
Beware the tourist traps
If you love fine chocolate be aware of the chocolate shops which just brand wholesale chocolate. Everyone is different, but if you do a search in Google Maps and see a whole host of that particular chocolate house then you’re probably not going to get the freshest, most delicious bon bons in the city. Leonidas and Jeff de Bruges have plenty of stores around Paris, and I wouldn’t say they’re typically great chocolate.
Remember, Paris is like any other city: it has its good points and its bad. But unlike any other city I know, there’s a whole heap of awesome chocoatiers, patissiers, boulangeries to sample, and if you have enough time you can sample them all!