I think the time has finally come for this beekeeper to sit down and write about his trip to Paris, France. It's been almost two months since I hopped on a flight from Hartsfield-Jackson but the truth is I've had a lot of things to do besides bragging about a once in a lifetime experience. This is a busy time of year in the beekeeping world so lay off me! But the fact is it's finally getting done so buckle up.
First off, if you've never been to Paris I'm not going to make you feel bad for it. I hate it when bloggers do that. I get it. I'm in my 30's and this is the first time I have been (Technically, I had an hour-long layover in the airport there a decade ago but c'mon, I think we can all agree that doesn't count). So if you've never been there don't beat yourself up. That being said, if you ever have the opportunity to go, seize it! Seriously, you won't regret it. Being raised in an agriculturally-centered family in the bible belt I never saw myself as someone who would love France. But it turns out I could easily be a Parisian. It suits me.
My beautiful wife and I had an opportunity in February to visit our closest friends in the world who just so happen to live in Germany. It was a whirlwind week that spanned three countries and more Belgian chocolates and fries than I care to admit and included a three day visit to The City of Lights. Knowing that Paris, and the entire country of France, have a rich history in beekeeping I made sure to find opportunities to seek out the beekeeping and honey related points of interest that the city had to offer (hello business expense tax deduction!).
France has a long tradition of beekeeping as old as the country itself. If you have ever seen a photograph of France's stunning lavender fields in the south you will probably be able to see a beehive if you look close enough. Even the logo for Classic City Bee Company is derived from an old French design called the "Napoleonic Bee." However the history of French beekeeping is too deep a subject to expound upon here so I will not attempt to do so.
You may not know it but Paris is a world leader in the burgeoning culture of urban beekeeping. Some might even say it is THE world leader in urban beekeeping. Where it really leaves its mark on the industry is its abundance of rooftop hives. Nestled among the vast expanse of chimney pots across the city you will find hundreds upon hundreds of beehives. More and more, Paris citizens are making use of the picturesque rooftops to supply homes for these amazing pollinators. One inspiring beekeeper even keeps a few hives on the roof of Notre Dame itself.
Unfortunately I was not able to visit any of these hives as it was still the winter and roof access to all of the places I contacted was not permitted.I had hoped to visit one of these famous rooftop hives but didn't want to risk upending centuries of Franco-American relations by trespassing (you're welcome). I guess we will just have to go back sometime when it is warmer. I'm looking for return tickets as I'm writing this.
However, despite the season I was not deprived of the opportunity to visit a French apiary (bee yard) due to the amazing hospitality of the Société Centrale d'Apiculture (The Central Society of Apiculture). Jamie, a member of the Society, responded to my email by inviting me to join the Society as they inspected their apiary in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
It's difficult to describe the Jardin du Luxembourg. Calling it the Central Park of Paris would be an injustice but unfortunately it's the best comparison I can think of. Famed for its calm atmosphere, the Gardens contain an ancient palace, a beautiful fountain, hundreds of statues, and as I learned on my trip. It features prominently in my favorite novel, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, as the location where Cosette, a character which shares the same name as my daughter, meets and falls in love with Marius. As if I didn't need any other reason to love the park I learned it also is home to a peaceful apiary which has housed beehives for over 160 years.
As soon as our train pulled into town we deposited our bags in our Air B&B, marveled at the Eiffel Tower (seriously y'all, it was right outside our window!) and then took off for the Jardin du Luxembourg. After a quick stop at the Sacré-Cœur basilica where I almost died from walking up more steps than I had ever seen in my life we made it to the park where I met my new friends and fellow beekeepers, Jamie and Marie. The Society was out in full force inspecting hives that had spent the winter in the apiary to check on their health and determine what was needed to prepare the hives for the springtime weather which would soon bring new life to the city's dormant blossoms.
Jamie was kind enough to let me borrow a bee veil she had brought with her and Marie, the Queen Bee of the Society, showed me around the apiary. We discussed the differences and the similarities in how we cared for our bees as we searched through the frames of bees. I was surprised at how much more aggressive these French bees were. At home I would have felt comfortable without any sort of protection but as I peered into the hives I was grateful Jamie had allowed me to borrow her veil. But, they had good reason to be so defensive. I was able to sample a bit of honey straight from the comb and it was amazing.
I could have stayed in that apiary for hours discussing beekeeping in Paris and honeybees in general but eventually my wife informed me there was more to the city than a single apiary. I tend to get that way when I am with the bees. So hyper-focused on these amazing creatures I forget about everything else around me. I'm glad I have such an amazing wife who periodically pulls me out of the apiary and back down to Earth. I thanked Jamie and Marie profusely and left them with jars of our Gallberry and Southern Wildflower Honey to show my gratitude. It was so incredibly generous of them to allow a random American beekeeper spend some time with them in such a beautiful place.
As it turns out, Paris has more to offer than just beekeeping (who knew!) and so we delved into the city. A few museums and a half dozen crepes later we found ourselves having to force ourselves to go back home but not before finding the most amazing honey shop tucked away down a quaint Parisian street. But I will go into that more in Part 2. Au revoir!