With only four months left to go in Paris, I’m determined to make the most of it by experiencing as many typically (or atypically) ‘Parisian’ things as possible. That’s why when Abby from BonAppetour invited me along to a Cafe de La Culture event, I jumped at opportunity. I was promised an evening with Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau (three famous French philosophers), which is what I got and more.
This event, called Illumination du Siècle des Lumières Salon, took place at a luxurious Champs-Elysees apartment and when I stepped through the door, it really was like I’d been transported back to eighteenth century France. I was one of the first to arrive so I got to have a nose around the apartment before most of the other people arrived. The apartment was truly spectacular and undoubtedly the most lavish I had ever seen in Paris (possibly in my life). When you first enter, you are led into the living area where there are large sofas, lavish decorations and old paintings line the walls. There were live musicians playing traditional baroque music which really set the tone for a classy and sophisticated evening.
There were around thirty people in total at the salon and people continued to peter in over the first two hours so arriving bang on time is not essential. This is a very relaxed evening that can be enjoyed alone of with a couple of friends as you spend the first hour or two drinking and meeting new people. The age range was quite wide with people in their 20s as well as people in their 60s and everything in between. The evening was conducted in English so you don’t need to worry about a language barrier if you’re a tourist, however, most people there spoke both French and English, so equally this is a good opportunity to practice your language skills.
There were four dining tables set up and you were allocated one based on which topic of conversation you chose when you entered. I chose “Do women still need a salon? What would the equivalent be in today’s world?”. This is just to get people talking as the conversation quite quickly moved onto to other topics (mostly less intellectual ones) and I was fortunate to have been seated with a lovely bunch of women.
Once we were settled at our tables, we were served a three course meal with two options for each course (one vegetarian, one non-vegetarian). I opted for a parsnip soup to start, followed by chicken coquilette and for dessert we were served a variety of bite sized desserts. There was nothing particularly fancy about the dinner, which contrasted with the grandiose apartment we were sat in but it was very good all the same. The desserts were super cute and I loved that we got a little taste of everything. There was panacotta, cheesecake, a cupcake and green tea ice cream, all of which were incredible. The latter was from an ice cream artisan who was present at the event with some other small goodies to try.
Whilst we were eating, we were treated to talks about some of France’s most well-known philosophers, Voltaire and Diderot, as well as some less familiar names, such as Emilie du Chatelet. This bit I found particularly interesting because I’ve studied some French philosophy at university and it was interesting to hear about their lives from an expert. Emilie du Chatelet is not a particularly well known name and yet she is actually France’s first female scientist.
In addition to these talks there were also four little scenes that were acted out by four actors, dressed in period costumes. Each actor represented a different 18th century French philosopher and they were imagining that they had been transported to the 21st century. It was both quite funny and informative to hear these four characters discuss the differences between their time and ours.
This is a fantastic way to get an inside look at a real French person’s home so if you are travelling through France, why not pick a place to dine from Bonappetour instead of going to a restaurant? All dinner hosts are tried and tested by Bonappetour so you don’t have to worry about the quality of the food not being up to scratch. This way, you get a real sense of what French people eat at home – it’s not all snails and frogs legs!
The event costs €30 for students and €50 for adults. A little pricey, but this really is a unique experience that you would never be able to experience unless if you attend an event like this. The event ran from 7pm to 11pm onwards so there’s plenty of time to soak up the 18th century French atmosphere and make some new friends.
All in all, I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening with good food, good music and good company. What more can you ask for really? In addition to this, it turned out to be a really informative and educational evening, which I did not expect. I’d highly recommend checking out what other sorts of events like this are on offer in Paris if you’re passing through the city as it is a truly unique way of discovering more about French history and culture.
Thank you to Abby, Kara and Florence for transporting me back to the 18th century for one lovely evening!
Find our more about BonAppetour here.
Find out more about Cafe de la Culture here.
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