During our last three family trips, my 13-year old daughter wanted to take a food tour. We felt like Paris might be the place to give this a try. Three months before our April trip, I began researching options for tours. My husband’s counter-offer suggestion was a cooking class: How to make macarons, French pastries, bread, etc. I discovered even three months out, most of these classes were both already full, not to mention ridiculously priced for a family of four.
About to give up, I found Le Bon Paris Tours offered a two-hour macaron tour, visiting five different shops learning about the shops and the history of the macaron. Consensus from all: Yes, let’s give this a go!
Between all of our travels, we love to hear about the successes of local brands, turned international superstars. Usually they revolve around wine, champagne, or whiskey, but food is equally as fun. Macarons are quintessential Paris, not to mention super trendy, so we knew this would make for a nice accompaniment to our other tours. The adults and the kids enjoying learning from these businesses—their founders, business story, history, sales strategy, and marketing success.
It seems the history of macarons actually started in Italy. These sweet little delicacies have been produced in the Venetian monasteries since the 8th century A.D. The word macron is derived from the Italian word, “maccherone,” meaning fine dough. During the Renaissance, French queen Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian pastry chefs made them when she brought them with her to France in 1533 upon marrying Henry II of France. According to Larousse Gastronomique, a convent near Cormery created the macaron in 1791. A year later, macarons gained fame when two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum during the French Revolution, baked and sold the macaron cookies in order to pay for their housing. These nuns became known as the “Macaron Sisters.” In these early stages, macarons were served without special flavors or fillings. Of course, now you can find them in almost any flavor and in an assortment of beautiful colors.
Sofia Coppola’s film “Marie Antoinette,” where the Palace of Versailles is decorated with colorful macaron pyramids from Ladurée made the cookie even more popular. Ladurée, of course, created a Marie Antoinette macaron for the occasion: rose with anise.
Macaron Tour: Let the Sweetness Begin
After already spending a day and a half in Paris, our family was stoked for this tour. We joined up with another family from Sweden (who we did’t know) in St. Germain where we began our journey through the narrow streets lined with sweet shops.
For this particular trip, our tour guide Jonny took us toLadurée, Arnaud Larher, Richart, Maracon Gourmand, and Gerad Mulot. As we walked from shop to shop, he gave us basic background on the neighborhood and each of the shops. The tour ended with a taste testing in the Luxembourg Gardens. The cost is €48 per person, kids under 12 are a little less, and that price includes five macarons–one from each shop.
Macaron 101: Just the Basics
What was this tour? It was having a local friend, who speaks perfect English, take you to his favorite shops, stopping along the way with a few little tips or fun facts.
Jonny was very knowledgeable about macarons and the St Germain area, which clearly is a favorite for him. As we stopped into each store, he gave us a quick tour of traditional flavors and those unique to that shop—Orange Blossom, Chocolate Pepper, Rose, Ginger Lime, Vladimir, and Cassis. We choose the flavors to test, and he took care of communicating with the shop owners and making the final purchase. He generously carried them all in a cooler until our final destination where we would taste them all. This was a nice touch.
What do you do need to know: It was not as detailed as other food/drink tours we have taken over the years, and probably a little less detailed than I had expected based on the price. The marketing nerd in me loves to hear the business story behind the shops–how they got their start, how they market, how they differentiate from others, how they make their product. Jonny touched on the ingredients and some macaron basics. This was not a tour to see or really learn how they make them. My guess is you would have to do that in another tour.
For Confection Perfection
For the 48-euros-per-person-price tag (almost €200 for the four of us), I would have to loved to hear a little more about the bakeries or even meet the chefs (artists) behind the scenes. I realize logistics could make that difficult, but the economics of this tour just didn’t leave us feeling completely satisfied.
In the end, the four of us could have purchased the 20 macarons for 40-50 euros. For an extra €150 , I wanted a little more information to sweeten the deal. Perhaps the bakeries could provide a few samples (to be fair Macaron Gourmand did provide us a taste of the crispy top/bottom.) Our family went back to several shops to make additional purchases bringing additional business to the bakeries.
However, that being said, it really depends on your family and what interests them. If you have a macaron lover in the house, then I would do this. If you family enjoys organized activities, this might also be for you.
Overall, we loved the concept of this even down to the tasting sheets that provided a little circle on where to put the macaron. (Super cute!) I loved the spirit of the game and imagine with the right group, the tasting would be lively and fun. It was a good activity with teens and gave us a way to experience a different side of Paris. My only complaint is the price didn’t quite meet with my expectations.
All other photos ©Linda Kerr, TravelTeening