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The Parc Monceau

May 11, 2014 in Your Paris Experience Blog

2014.03.06.14.54.18.HDR.1There is a terrific park in Paris that tends not to make the ‘must see’ list for first time visitors to the City of Light. The Parc Monceau is a wonderful escape in the crush of the high season of tourism in Paris, or any time of year for that matter. To most, this is just a park, but the history surrounding this wonderful space is fascinating.


2014.03.06.14.50.29.HDR.1The Parc Monceau was established by a wealthy society man, Philippe d’Orléans, a.k.a. the Duke of Chartres and cousin of King Louis XVI. In 1778, almost a decade after buying the plot, he decided to create a public park and enlisted a French artist, Louis Carrogis Carmontelle to landscape his legacy. Their goal was to enchant and astound all who would visit these gardens, and that they certainly succeeded. Parc Moneau features an Egyptian pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch windmill & Corinthian pillars. Talk about a merge of cultures!

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In 1860 the city of Paris purchased the Parc Monceau and 1861 saw Monsieur Haussmann get to work transforming the park to make it more luxurious and suited to the City of Light. Alleyways were widened and paved to make the park more accessible for grand horse carriages, and an ornate 8.3 metre fence was installed around the perimeter of the park to make it more secure. To this day the nine gated park entries are monitored by a fifth-generation park watchman who lives above the royal rotunda – which is very handy for the six private residences lining this park whose residents have 24-hour access to the park.

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The Parc Monceau offers all who stroll here the opportunity to relax amongst its true and unique beauty. And…if you visit the Musée Jacquemart André, one of the most beautiful boutique museums in this city, you are just a short stroll away from this serenity.

Wine Tasting in the Loire Valley

March 31, 2014 in Your Paris Experience Blog

I recently had the wonderful invitation to go to the Loire Valley and enjoy a wine tasting day with Cathy and Nigel Henton of Le Tasting Room. I had heard about Cathy and Nigel from two different people – all raving about how terrific their day was – so I was most certainly intrigued and also had high expectations. So, off I went with my husband, Gary, to the Loire Valley for a day of wine tasting. And all I can say is that Le Tasting Room absolutely hits it out of the park with this experience!

Our day with Cathy and Nigel was so entirely focused on the the pleasure of not only drinking amazing wine, but truly learning about it and understanding it – from root to glass – that I found myself in a small slice of heaven. Cathy hosts the morning wine tasting in a well designed tasting room in their very charming and quaint 16th century home. Cathy has that rare gift of being an expert in wine with the ability to communicate her knowledge in a way that is engaging, intriguing and at times jaw dropping to learn such interesting facts about what it really takes to make a great bottle of wine.

I have done so many wine tastings over the years that it is difficult to find one that stands out in exception above the rest. Let’s be honest, how many times can you put your nose in a wine glass and revel in the bouquet? What is so great here is to learn the production side of that glass of wine. We learned about everything from the fact that most of the vines in France are grafted onto American roots due to the Phylloxera devastation of 1862, to the fact that these amazing vines are self-pollinating. Seriously – who knew??

After working our way through tasting six incredible wines that morning we had a bite of lunch, which was excellent by the way. Everything from the food to the wine to the easy conversation at the table was just great. It was honestly just a true pleasure to be in the company of Cathy and Nigel in their home.


The morning went by too quickly and after lunch Cathy and Nigel took us to tour a 15th century chateau that grows and produces its own wine. What an enchanting place this is to wander through imagining centuries past and the people who have walked through the halls. I loved seeing the reception hall in this chateau where you could see people had scratched their declarations of love – or simply their names – on the walls over the years. It is incredible to imagine who they were and what they celebrating that day in 1701, which was the earliest date I could find on the wall.

After touring this incredible chateau (the chapel dates from 1435 and is replicated in the Cité de l’Architecture du Patrimoine in Paris) we walked among the vines with Nigel. The incredible knowledge and talent Cathy has to explain all things wine during the tasting is the exact same gift Nigel has to show and explain all we learned about that morning: pruning, budburst, soil quality. I have to admit I have not spent much time thinking about the physical aspects of wine making…all the days in the hot sun, the people harvesting still mostly by hand, the stress of the producer when the weather does not cooperate. All of these forgotten elements that I have never given attention were vivid to me as I enjoyed tasting the wines produced from the vines we had just walked through.

There is something profound about walking amongst the vines having a bit more understanding about the mystery they have held for centuries. To touch them and have an appreciation for how hard wine makers have to work to produce this beautiful nectar that we all enjoy so much, but rarely take the time to think about. It was an incredible day and a true privilege learn so much. Before we left to head back to the train station I strolled back out to the vines took a quiet moment to feel the life that comes from them, and to truly appreciate the amazing amount of hard work it takes to put all of a wine grower’s passion into a bottle.

Palais Garnier

February 24, 2014 in Your Paris Experience Blog

There is a place in Paris so beautiful, so magical in its timeless detail, that it moves me every time I visit it. The Palais Garnier is a visually stunning building so full of intricate architectural detail and majesty that I simply cannot think of another place in Paris that rivals it.

The Garnier was commissioned by Napoleon III to be built by the architect Charles Garnier. Twelve opera houses came before the Garnier, of which 11 went up in flames and the 12th just didn’t make the cut to be worthy of 19th century France. To make sure this majestic 13th opera house stands the test of time there is now an in-house team of pompiers (french firefighters) on duty and keeping watch over the Palais Garnier 24 hours a day.

When I moved to Paris years ago I visited the Garnier and just could not believe the beauty before me. There is a sense of history and of complete exclusivity that engulfs you when you enter this building. Marble from all over the world, in varying colors, beckons you to reach out and touch the smooth bannisters as you walk the steps of the Grand Staircase. Standing quietly at the bottom of the stairs you can imagine the ladies in their ankle-length evening gowns being very riské lifting their dresses ever so much to reveal their ankles as they climbed the steps to the performance hall…

The Grand Foyer is breathtaking as you stroll through it, losing yourself to the exquisite beauty of every story, person and myth represented on the painted ceiling and gilded light fixtures. And, of course, who can deny the vivid beauty of Marc Chagall’s ceiling perfectly lit by the six ton chandelier Charles Garnier designed himself to illuminate his celebrated opera house perfectly. The entirety of the Palais Garnier is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

It is the exclusivity of the Opéra Garnier that has always intrigued me the most. This mythic place of ballerinas, and the occasional opera, holds its secrets close. Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opéra, which is based on this very opera house, certainly took the mystique to epic proportions. So, just imagine what it was like when I received an invitation to do an exclusive tour – a full on, all-access tour of this one place that I have held in such high regard, and been completely intimidated by, since my arrival to the City of Light.

I have to say what I love about the Palais Garnier is that here you have this world renowned opera house, steeped in tradition and closely guarded secrets of underground lakes and hidden cellars, an institution unto itself … and it just happens to have one of the most forward-thinking, young and dynamic teams I’ve had the pleasure to work with in Paris. I am always about giving my clients the most unique and most exclusive experiences I can come up with. And I certainly cannot do this without the help of the people who hold the keys to places like this! And here at the Palais Garnier it is Flore and Coralie, two exceptional ladies I work with quite a bit now, who hold the golden keys to this kingdom.

When I arrived to tour the Palais Garnier with a few close friends I was like a small child who was getting to see Santa Claus – it was honestly that thrilling to me. Jean-Jacques led us through the backstage area and into the ballerina’s warm-up room and my eyes were wide open with my hands over my mouth trying to conceal my giddiness. To stand on the stage – a stage so much bigger than you could ever imagine – was mind boggling at the scale and exclusivity of it. And then down the stairs we went to the mythical parts of the Palais Garnier…

We saw the rigging used to change the sets back in the day of the 1870’s and it was crazy cool to see when Jean-Jaques explained how the stages were changed – talk about forward thinking! And, of course, to get to see the water reservoir was, quite honestly, the thrill of a lifetime. It wasn’t so much seeing it as it doesn’t really lend itself to what you expect from every Phantom of the Opera movie ever made: it was the simple fact that I was standing at the water reservoir of the Opéra Garnier knowing I was one of so few people who will ever have this amazing experience. And of course, the atelier where they mend, sew, create – you name it — hundreds of costumes, tutus and special accents to the dresses simply cannot be imagined. This whole other entity of the Palais Garnier that exists only to those with access to it is, without a doubt, very magical to see.



This mythical place in Paris known as the Palais Garnier truly does live up to every expectation I had of it, every special secret I hoped to discover should I ever be granted access. Somehow I was invited to pierce the veil of this closely guarded place and see the secrets in a way I never thought I would in my lifetime. It was just the sort of special moment a girl from Wisconsin always dreamed of.

*The photos of the Salle Opéra Garnier, Foyer de la Danse and the Journee des Abonnes are all courtesy of Elisa Haberer.*

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