Luxury Travel Review

Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Treschers Swarzvald Hotel

The Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

While visiting the Black Forest Highlands of southwest Germany we spent two spring weekend nights at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel, part of the Romantic Hotel Group since 2002. The hotel was on the shores of Lake Titisee in the tourist village of Titisee-Neustad 850 meters above sea level. The main highlight of our lakefront Four Star Superior accommodations, 38 kilometers from Freiburg, was the lake view. We could catch a glimpse of the natural lake from the restaurant dining room, our 27 square meter Classic Double rooms and Titinova, the pool and sauna areas on the opposite side of the hotel.

The weather was cloudy and rainy

The weather was cloudy and rainy during most of our stay

Viewing the hotel from the lake

A view of the hotel from Lake Titisee

We experienced rainy and chilly weather for virtually our entire stay. From the sunny blue sky we saw briefly one afternoon to the thunderstorm that serenaded us at dinner and the gray fog enveloping the lake the morning of our departure the lake drew my eyes whenever I was near a window. I loved the lake greenery. Lake Titisee, our tour guide explained, was free from over development, and thanks to a ban on motorboats (only rowboats and electric boats were permitted), especially clean. One of my favorite moments was Saturday night, when from the comfort of my balcony, I watched a short fireworks display from a boat in front of the hotel, part of a wedding celebration taking place onsite.

The standard room had a view of the lake

Our Classic Double Rooms had a small balcony and a view of the lake

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Marion Moninger, marketing manager, and Michael Moninger, hotel manager

The family hotel, the Hansjörg Trescher Michael Moninger families owned the property, was established in 1887. Although pets were not allowed, children of all ages were welcome. There were many families with well behaved children during our stay. There was a collection of valuable mechanical clocks in the lobby and lounge. I appreciated that some of the reception desk and restaurant staff spoke English. Many staff members were friendly and service oriented, especially our servers, such as Maike, at dinner.

The bathroom was nearly the size of the bedroom

The bathrooms were modern

To reach our rooms, 109 and 119, from the reception and lobby we had to pass through an open style restaurant facing the lake. It was there that we had the buffet breakfast between 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. a la carte dinner between 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Lingering food odors, some of them stale, assaulted my nose as soon as we approached the restaurant entrance. The pungent food smells in the main building and restaurant hung in the air at all hours, reaching into the hallways and rooms of our building. It was unpleasant and disappointing, making it challenging to enjoy our time at the property.

The spa featured water pools of varying temperatures

The sauna's central area

The hot salt sauna was a favorite

The Himalayan Salt Sauna was a favorite

Hotel facilities included three restaurants (two open during our stay) that emphasized fresh seasonal products and sourced most produce locally, according to a property spokesperson. There were also: Flaschlehimmel piano lounge, fireplace bar, terrace overlooking the lake, Bellezza Beauty Spa, 72 square meter fitness room (with eight Life Fitness, Kettler and Germania machines), indoor and outdoor pools, Finnish sauna with a panoramic view of the Bärental, steam sauna, Himalayan-Salt Sauna, infra-red twin cabin, plunge pool with a waterfall Kneipp Treatment, gift shop and beer garden.

The indoor pool had two levels of seating

The indoor pool had two levels of seating

The pool had a bar that opened in the afternoon

The pool bar

Given the foul weather a spa visit was especially in order. Although the hotel spa was fully booked, with the owner's assistance, I managed to try the San Vino Facial, one of the facility's signature wine based treatments. My visit was not without challenges as the spa menu was only available in German and the hurried woman at the spa reception spoke no English and showed no signs of wanting to try. On the plus side, my facialist was friendly and welcoming and I enjoyed the gentle treatment.

The spa Facialist

My therapist was friendly and the treatment was worthwhile

The spa features a treatment using local wines

The entrance to the spa featured a display promoting the local wine facial treatment

After making sure I was comfortable, she began the treatment by rubbing a mix of shea butter and grapeseed oil on my hands. She used a cleansing milk and tepid water to prepare my face for the facial, which began with a peeling product. While the mask hardened she massaged my feet. After removing the mask with a warm liquid that smelled of vinegar she applied a day cream followed by eye cream, which for once didn't irritate my eyes.

A plate of black forest hams and sausage

A deli plate including black forest ham and boiled egg was one of my favorite items

Trout with vegetables

Trout with vegetables

Before dinner at the waterfront restaurant, I donned the hotel branded cotton bathrobe and slippers from my room making my way across a long underground passage with automated lights beneath the restaurant to the Titinova on the other side of the hotel, where I spent a short while at the indoor pool, warmed to 31 degrees Celsius, and sauna area. Both had pretty lake views. In the sauna, for adults and children 14 and older, no clothes were worn. There was an ample supply of towels. I started at the Himalayan salt sauna (a favorite) heated to 45 degrees Celsius before moving to the infrared sauna for two heated to 55 degrees Celsius. From there I went to the Finnish sauna, heated to 95 degrees Celsius, before spending a few minutes relaxing on a lake facing lounger. Both had lake views. It was raining and chilly so I gave up my plans to swim in the outdoor pool.

The hotel employed 120 staff and had 155 beds in 82 rooms ranging from Classic to Family Apartments. In June 2016, the property received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Should we return to Lake Titisee we would consider a stopover at the Treschers Schwarzwald Romantikhotel Titisee (Seestrasse 19, D-79822 Titisee-Neustadt, Germany, +49 7651 8050 / +49 7651 8116, http://www.schwarzwaldhotel-trescher.de, info@schwarzwaldhotel-trescher.de).

Seine River dinner cruise a memorable gourmet option for special occasions

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

View of the Eiffel Tower as we cruised by on the Seine

Our view of the Eiffel Tower as we cruised by on the Seine River

Often friends and acquaintances, knowing my fondness for Paris, France ask for dining recommendations. It is a question I never take lightly, especially for first time visitors. One of my top recommendations is Le Jules Verne in the middle of the world famous Eiffel Tower because of the romantic setting, gourmet offerings and spectacular views of the city. It is the type of setting that memories that last decades are made of and the perfect place for special occasions.

Boarding the yacht Don Juan

The boarding area of the yacht Don Juan II

On my most recent visit, I discovered another completely different yet equally romantic, elegant, and memorable venue, the Yachts de Paris Don Juan II (Port Henri IV, 75004 Paris, France, +33 1 44 54 14 71, http://donjuan2.yachtsdeparis.fr/ , reservations.dj2@ydp.fr ), a 50 meter long by 7 meter wide yacht. Aboard the vessel, which could seat 38 guests (far fewer than the famous iconic tower), five staff served an appetizing set menu made from fresh ingredients while the boat cruised 26 kilometers along the Seine River past the Eiffel Tower and back to its departure dock, a stone’s throw away from the Ile Saint Louis in the heart of the city. There were only 12 of us that night, which made the experience ever more intimate and special.

A comfortable spot on deck to enjoy the view

Before our departure we sat on at a comfortable spot on deck to enjoy views of Notre Dame while sipping a bubbly aperitif

The bar was stocked with several types of Champagne

Below deck the bar was stocked with several types of champagne

Despite our early arrival we received a warm welcome by the English speaking staff. We were immediately invited to board. Black rattan furniture with red cushions was spread around the open space atop the Don Juan II. Below deck pretty tables were set and awaiting our arrival. The elegant tableware was designed by Safran and the furnishings were by Pierre Frey. The single stall head was spotless. After a quick tour one of the staff invited us to have an aperitif topside while we waited for the rest of the passengers to arrive.

another yacht passed us just was we pulled out onto the rivier

Another Yacht de Paris vessel passed just as we pulled out onto the river

Moments later, we were sipping chilled champagne and munching on mixed nuts (pistachios, cashews, pecans, walnuts and Brazil nuts) and enjoying views of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Institute du Monde Arab, and the Left Bank as the rest of the guests began to arrive. Francois, an attentive staff member, offered me a synthetic fiber red blanket to ward against the night chill. He brought us bite size morsels of salmon with beetroot, tomato and radish. Greg, the cruise photographer, introduced himself and with our permission took some photos. When it was departure time our server invited us below deck. We headed to our window side table for dinner.

The aft view of the river

The aft view of the river 

From the Port Henri IV we motored past the Ile Saint Louis and Ile de la Cite islands passing many historic buildings such as the Conciergerie, Musee du Louvre, Grand Palais, small Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower (at the top of the hour to see the twinkling lights), the Musee d’Orsay and finally Notre Dame Cathedral. The Don Juan II glided gently along the river most of the way, so that but for the passing scenery and the occasional wake from a fast moving boat we might have forgotten we were on the water.

The tables enjoyed a view from the large windows

We had an outstanding view thanks to the yacht’s large windows

The bread cart

The bread cart was one of several luxury features of the dinner service.

Our five course set menu dinner began with a pre-starter of Crab, white radish pickles, chips and crisps. There were two types of butter, salted and seaweed flavored. A server came by our table to offer us bread from a cart: country, fruit and nut, Italian bread sticks, brioche. Whenever our bread plate was empty she would return to refresh it with our selections. Lobster with fresh greens and creamy nage was next. The main course was Suckling Lamb, roasted and cooked with bay leaf, organic asparagus from the Landes with juice and Parmesano di Reggiano cheese. A Saint-Nectaire cheese course followed. For dessert we had Flower of flowers, lime and strawberry cremeux and juice of an infused hibiscus. Chocolate bites, presented in individual boxes for us to keep, completed the repast. Our meal was paired with a 2012 Louis Jadot chardonnay from Burgundy. We appreciated the souvenir printout of our menus. It included a map of our path along the Seine.

The pre-starter featured bites of crab

The art like pre-starter featured bites of crab

The suckling lamb

The suckling lamb

The photographer took our photos with iconic buildings in the background such as Notre Dame while we were docked and later the Eiffel Tower when we went topside to enjoy the light show during the cruise. At the conclusion of the cruise the photos were available for purchase. Our two favorite photos became a lovely keepsake that enhances our wonderful memories of the evening.

The highlight of the sightseeing, the Pont de Grenelle replica of the Stature of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower

Among the sightseeing highlights were the Pont de Grenelle replica of the Stature of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower

The restaurant, opened March 2003 and managed by François Giroud, was one of eight small vessels owned by Yachts de Paris. The meals were created by Guy Krenzer, executive chef, who was recipient of the recognition Double Meilleur Ouvrier de France and creative director of well known Lenôtre culinary enterprise. The wine and food pairings were selected by Olivier Poussier, recipient of the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 2000 award.

Flower of flowers, lime and strawberry cremeux and juice of an infused hibiscus

The colorful dessert of Flower of flowers, lime and strawberry cremeux and juice of an infused hibiscus

A cart of sweets to wrap up the meal

A cart of sweets to wrap up the meal

In addition to the well presented gourmet dinner we enjoyed and the exacting service, there were a myriad luxury touches, such as the blankets, cloth napkins with our amouse bouche, the orchid on our table, artistic dinnerware like the sea urchin shaped appetizer plates, quality nut snacks, perfectly timed courses to allow us to profit from the best views, and friendly and professional staff who kept us informed during the brief journey, that made the evening special. I would gladly take another cruise aboard the Don Juan II and recommend it to friends living or visiting Paris to celebrate a special occasion or just because.

VIP tour, passionate guide made Versailles visit worthwhile

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Metro stop Invalides in Paris

Our meeting place for the tour was the entrance of Les Invalides metro stop in Paris

Over the years I have visited Versailles, the famous palace established by Louis XIV near Paris, France, several times on my own and with large group tours. While the attraction itself was impressive the crowds were oppressive and the logistics to visit it cumbersome. On my most recent stay in the City of Lights, I tried a new approach. I placed myself in the hands of an organized small group program that started and ended in Paris. When I visited Versailles in the past I had to make my own way there from Paris. This time all I had to do was reach the meeting point in central Paris in the morning, and make my own lunch arrangements. The tour company took care of the rest. At the conclusion of the tour our small group returned to Paris together. I was pleased with the results. I appreciated and enjoyed my visit to the 787 hectare palatial estate much more than on most of my previous visits, and was able to discover areas open only to small escorted groups such as ours.

Stepping off the train at Versaiilles

At the train station in Versaiilles

We met Herve Rudrauf, our English speaking French tour guide, by the entrance to Les Invalides RER train station in the tony seventh arrondissement near the heart of the city early morning on a spring Friday. It was pleasantly chilly. The sky was gray and overcast, threatening rain. We were thrilled to discover there were only four of us in the daylong (eight and a half hours) tour. The other two participants in the Full Day Versailles VIP Behind Locked Doors program, organized by City Wonders Tours (6-9 Trinity Street, Dublin, 1-800-358-1942, www.citywonders.com, Info@citywonders.com) were from the United States.

Herve, our tour guide

Herve Rudrauf, our tour guide, in the palace gardens

Following greetings, introductions, and instructions Herve handed each of us an RER train ticket and we descended the stairs to the station platform. A few minutes later, we boarded a crowded two level suburban train. It was necessary for our group to split up in order to find seats. Once at the Versailles train station, we found each other and walked together to the palace entrance where, thanks to our tour, we skipped the long admission line. We also had special access to select rooms, such as Marie Antoinette's private theater, open only to escorted visitors. A staff person provided our group exclusive access.

The Royal Chapel at Versailles

The Royal Chapel at Versailles

Despite the expedited entry and private visit, the interior of the palace was overcrowded with tourists, sometimes making it challenging for our small group to remain together, hear our guide, take photos and walk from one room to another without being separated. That was not surprising given that some 7.5 million people visit the opulent former royal residence each year, according to a Versailles spokesperson. Although the interior was 63,154 square meters large and the attraction employed as many as 1,000 staff, only 23,072 square meters of the former palace were open to the public, and some of those rooms and halls could only be visited with a guide. A representative from City Wonders indicated that as much as 70 percent of the palace interiors may be visited via an escorted tour.

The Royal Opera at Versailles

Our private visit of the Royal Opera was memorable.

Because of the uncertain and overcast weather it was a relatively quiet day, our guide explained to our surprise when we commented on the number of people all around us. As we made our way within the storied interior the cacophony of noises competed for our attention. Our eyes and imagination wondered. It was easy to become distracted. Thankfully Herve was efficient at keeping a speedy yet comfortable pace (although restroom breaks were limited and there was no time for the gift shop) while at the same time sharing engrossing information about the former royal residence and its famous occupants.

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It was a cloudy and rainy day in the gardens

The palace gardens did not look their best because it was cloudy and rainy.

Anticipating a two hour break for lunch we had made reservations in advance at a gourmet restaurant in the village of Versailles. Unfortunately, by midday we were in the heart of the estate and too far away to return to the village for lunch so we begrudgingly cancelled our booking. Instead we made our way to one of the crowded restaurants within the property. While the service was speedy and efficient lunch was the most disappointing meal we had during that month long trip. We were so hungry after leaving the restaurant we attempted to buy something else at the nearby cafe only to find a slow moving long line and a limited selection of fast food items that appeared no better than what we had already sampled at the restaurant.

Part of what made the tour worthwhile, in addition to our tour guide's knowledge and enthusiasm, was the access our small group had to areas of the former palace reserved for escorted tours such as ours. Despite huge crowds we had a chance to step behind the cordon at the Royal Chapel for a brief look. We had private visits of the Royal Opera in the main building and the Queen's Theater in Le Petit Trianon, among of my favorite sections.

A painting of Marie Antoinete

A painting of Marie Antoinette at Le Petit Trianon

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One of the houses in the Hamlet, part of the Versailles estate

After lunch we walked around the gardens, discovering a hidden grotto where the famous queen was said to spend quiet time alone. We also visited Le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's home away from home while at Versailles; and ambled around the Hamlet, a make believe village within the estate.

Perhaps because before studying to become a licensed tour guide Herve spent several years working as an actor his discussions about life at Versailles were engrossing and entertaining. His interest and passion about French history (he wrote his thesis on the representation of royal power in France), the royal families, and the intriguing stories of inhabitants of the former royal palace were contagious. By the end of the tour, our fellow travelers were asking him for recommendations of books about the history of Versailles and its previous inhabitants.

The ceiling of the Queens Theater

The ceiling of the Queen's Theater at Le Petit Trianon

At the conclusion of the Versailles portion of the tour, a taxi, slightly delayed due to strikes, dropped us off at the Versailles train station where we boarded an RER return train to the city. City Wonders Tours, owned by Simone Gozzi, offered the Full Day Versailles VIP Behind Locked Doors tour Fridays and Saturdays only for a maximum of 15 people. The company won the award for the best Guides and Products in Paris 2016 from Get Your Guide. The highlight of the tour was Herve, our friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide who brought the history of Versailles alive. We especially liked the well orchestrated tour logistics, intimate size of our group, and access to private areas. In the future we would be well inclined to book another tour with the same company and the same guide.

Smithsonian Channel to broadcast fascinating documentary on Queen Mary August 21

By Scott S. Smith

The Queen Mary at dusk

The Queen Mary at dusk from “Mighty Ship At War: The Queen Mary”*

I previewed the Smithsonian Channel’s new “Mighty Ship At War: The Queen Mary,” the engrossing tale of one of the greatest ocean liners favored by celebrities, which became a critical troop transport and Allied command center during World War II. It is now docked in the port of Long Beach, California, as a museum, special events venue, and luxury hotel (also featured prominently in this excellent documentary, produced by STV Productions for the Smithsonian Channel and BBC Scotland). The one-hour special, produced and directed by Matt Pinder to commemorate the 80 anniversary of the ship’s maiden voyage, will premiere Sunday, August 21, at 8 p.m. ET/PT. 

It is a fascinating story of the most famous of the Cunard vessels. The documentary moves at a fast pace, balancing historic film and still photos with interviews of those who sailed or worked on it. Construction in Scottish shipyards in the early 1930s helped many survive the Great Depression. The naming ceremony for the largest and most powerful ship of its kind drew 250,000. It was moved to its home port of Southhampton, England, and sailed to New York City in May 1936 in just over four days. A floating palace with five dining areas, a grand ballroom, and a squash court, it was wildly popular for the next three years, favored by stars like Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich and featuring entertainers such as Bob Hope.

As Nazi Germany became a threat, Jewish families fled Europe on the liner. Its last civilian voyage was in September 1939. Transformed into the largest and fastest troop transport, the 81,000 ton ship could carry up to 16,000, ultimately delivering over one million, including helping with the D-Day invasion. Hitler offered $250,000 to any U-Boat captain who could sink the 81,000 ton vessel. Aboard it Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British high command planned strategy on the way to Allied conferences. As a journalist specializing in World War II, I found this part the most gripping, but no segment lasted too long.

After the war and refitting, the Queen Mary enjoyed two decades of glory, carrying an average of 1,000 passengers per voyage. But in 1965, with competition that could fly from London to New York in hours, it began losing money and its last Atlantic crossing came two years later. Over two million passengers had enjoyed its service as it sailed 3.8 million miles.

Long Beach opened the doors to tourists in 1971 and the Queen Mary has had its ups and downs under various managers. The latest firm recently announced an investment of $250 million in the area (I found the Russian submarine Scorpion and the Battleship Iowa nearby well worth visiting). None of these rough seas in retirement have dimmed the public’s fascination with the legendary vessel, which has attracted 50 million visitors. Among the draws are a chance to stay in the original 346 first-class suites, a five-star restaurant, a spa, special exhibits (currently on Princess Diana), a 4-D theater, and numerous tour options. I rate the documentary and the Queen Mary an A grade for anyone interested in the great ships which sailed through such important moments of our history.

*Photo courtesy Smithsonian Channel

Our excellent gourmet lunch at Paris Marais tea salon

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Marriage Salon in the Marais

The Mariage Frères Marais tea salon entrance

The best tea lunch I have had in Paris, on more than one occasion, was at the famed Mariage Frères Marais tea salon (30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 75004, Paris, France, www.mariagefreres.com, info@mariagefreres.com ). Arriving just before lunchtime on a quiet spring Monday, we had a choice of seats in the 100 square meter two level eatery with a staff of 10. The tables were set very close to each other, which made conversation with neighbors easy and privacy for anything above a whisper scarce. We selected a table beneath the salon’s skylight in the larger and most central of the salon’s two rooms. For a short while we delighted in having the salon to ourselves.

The skylight lens natural light to the room

Natural light filled that section of the dining room through the skylight.

We selected two items with the assistance of Charly Chareyron, director, Food and Beverage, one from the Brunch Menu and the other from the Lunch Menu, and concluded our tasting with two of the salon’s signature desserts. Once we narrowed down the meal choices he recommended a tea to match each of our dishes as well as a shared tea for dessert. Had we preferred we could have picked our own teas from the extensive tea menu and the companion reference guide.

Brunch included a champagne cocktail

The Matcha San Brunch included a sweet champagne cocktail.

We had Snob Salad, a Mesclun seasoned with Parc Royal tea, cured salmon and shrimp, homemade duck foie gras, violet artichoke hearts and haricots verts, turmeric wheat, Matcha toast;  and Matcha San Brunch, a Matcha Salmon, fromage blanc with Poudre de Jade dish, which was accompanied by a sweet champagne cocktail. Although both dishes were outstanding, I far preferred the Snob Salad.

Macha tea served with financier

We loved the Matcha Uji, a traditional whipped green tea from Japan served with raspberry and tea cakes.

Dessert was Étoile Mystérieuse, Luscious cheesecake glazed with Very Beautiful Fruit Tea French meringue polka dots, intense raspberry coulis speckled with 24 karat gold, and Carré d’or, Dark chocolate entremets flavored with Black Magic tea, salted butter caramel and chocolate cake wrapped with 24 karat gold leaf, very sweet red currant coulis.

The Marriage Snob salad

The Marriage Snob Salad, a favorite

The dishes were served on branded ceramic dinnerware custom made for Mariage Frères. The elegant service included cotton tablecloth and napkins, and stainless steel flatware. Our English speaking servers wore refined linen suits in muted ecru.

Salmon prepared multiple ways

The portion of the Matcha Salmon was generous.

Our off the menu teas were Matcha Uji, a traditional whipped green tea from Japan (a favorite despite the its lingering stimulating jolt); Yuzu Temple, a green tea flavored with Japanese yuzu; and Blanc & Rose, a white tea mixed with tender oriental rosebuds. The first two were served in Art Déco Teapots, ceramic teapots with a polished steel globe. Those teapots, used in the company's tea salons since the beginning, were emblematic of Mariage Frères. We liked how well the teapot kept the beverage warm throughout the meal. The delicate and pretty white tea was served in a Cotton Club glass teapot with silver plated handle and lid.

Elegant tea service

The delicate Blanc & Rose was served in a Cotton Club glass teapot with silver plated handle and lid.

The teas paired with our dishes were outstanding. Having said that, the delicate tea flavors could easily have stood on their own. And, the homemade delectable dishes made from all fresh ingredients, clearly chosen with much care, would be enough to draw me back even if I didn’t drink tea. Fortunately I do, making lunch at the tea salon a double pleasure. So much so that later during our stay we returned and both ordered Snob Salads.

Carré d’or (chocolate in gold foil and raspberry)

The Carré d’or was made with dark chocolate wrapped in gold foil and red currant coulis.

When we asked a company spokesperson what made their meal service so special she replied, “French savoir-faire based on a tradition of elegance, refined settings, and an innate sense of festivity. Mariage Frères has created the French Art of Tea with a special care of the preparation method, the quality of the water, correct steeping time, careful selection of the perfect tea and the perfect teapot.”

Cheesecake wrapped in raspberry

The Étoile Mystérieuse cheesecake

I was especially pleased to discover the company continually tests its teas for purity and content, and uses no artificial ingredients or preservatives in its teas. I also liked that some of the dishes were made with organic ingredients such as the smoked salmon, and that there were about 100 organic teas available. An added convenience was the ability to order tea from the shop while dining at the salon, an especially welcome amenity on days when the shop was over busy. The Mariage Frères Marais is at the top of my tea salons list and on my short list of Paris gourmet venues.

Tiny tasting at well known Paris caviar shop

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The blue facade of Prunier

The  eye catching Prunier facade

For caviar and salmon newbies Boutique Prunier Madeleine (15 place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris, France, +33(0)1 47 42 98 98, www.prunier.com/boutique, info@prunier.com), a Paris, France seller of farmed caviar and salmon among other gourmet delicacies, offered a low risk tasting. On our most recent visit to the City of Lights we went to the shop's Place de la Madeleine location to try it. The first thing I noticed before even entering the 40 square meter shop established in 2006 was its eye catching bright blue tile facade. Although there were several gourmet shops in a row on the same street it was the Prunier window where I saw pedestrians browsing.

The window displays a sampling of their wares

The window displayed vodka, salmon, caviar and champagne products

On the day of our appointment, Douchka Papierski, manager, Boutique Prunier, welcomed us with a sunny smile to match the spring weather. She led us to the Maturation Room, a refrigerated space with three glass walls facing the shop entrance. It was in that room where the caviar used to be stored in the past, she explained as we glanced around at the dozens of empty caviar tins that decorated the back wall. In front of us Douchka had set up two mother of pearl caviar spoons atop ice, two single morsels of the house salmon, and two shot glasses with a splash of clear liquid, one for each of us.

The store manager at prunier

Douchka Papierski greeted us at the shop

We each had a single serving of 5 grams of Caviar Prunier Tradition, which she had prepared in advance of our arrival. She chose mother of pearl spoons because, she explained, metal spoons affect the delicate flavor of the caviar. For those who don't own mother of pearl spoons 22 karat gold and plastic, neither of which alters the delicate flavor of the fish eggs, spoons will work just as nicely, according to her.

The tasting was in the old aging room

Our tasting was in the chilled room where they used to age the caviar 

We began with the caviar. As soon as I placed the minuscule fish eggs, from a farm in the Dordogne region of France, in my mouth they melted. The flavor was mild and the texture buttery. It didn't linger long.

The display case shows the varieties of caviar available

The display case shows the varieties of caviar available

Moments later we each tasted the Balik Tsar Filet salmon cube, farmed in Norway and smoked in the Swiss Alps. It too had a mild almost sweet taste and even more buttery texture than the caviar. As with the caviar it seemed easy to eat and we liked it.

The Balik Salmon in several sizes

One of the shop's refrigerators had Balik Salmon in several sizes

Next, Douchka described the single serving in the glasses as she introduced us to Lactalium, an artisan vodka made from milk from the Auvergne region of France. The nose was unlike any vodka I had sampled before. We each tasted the transparent liquid in our glasses. Perhaps because the smell was so distinctive I was it tasted like vodka. As we walked out of the refrigerated tasting area I wondered if the vodka would taste different with the caviar or the salmon or if the delicacies would have been enhanced by the vodka.

Multiple vodkas to accompany the caviar

Another display case at the shop

Caviar House and Prunier recipes

Caviar House and Prunier recipes

The price of the tasting we had, a single serving each of caviar (5 grams) and a similar amount of salmon, was 20 euros per person. The vodka was optional and complimentary "depending on the people, time they have, where they from and what's new at the shop to discover and introduce to clients just like this special vodka of milk," our host explained. As we left she gifted us a copy of Caviar House & Prunier Winter 2015/2016, an intriguing 63-page hardcover color cookbook with caviar, salmon and foie gras photos and recipes from chefs Mauro Elli and Chery Rohner.

"First hand information and photos of outstanding destinations, luxurious accommodations, voyages, products, restaurants, spas and attractions for the discriminating traveler. "

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