Sometimes plans just slot together perfectly, as if they were meant to be.
We had already booked our side-trip from France to Berlin when Tony was presented with the opportunity to visit a chocolate factory in Northern France (via a contact he made through his patisserie course in Melbourne) and the date of the tour fitted in perfectly with our return flight from Berlin to Paris.
Michel Cluizel chocolate factory is close to Évreux – a lovely French town in Upper Normandy, an hour west of Paris on the train (departing from Paris St Lazare).
We made the most of it and stayed 2 nights at Hôtel de Normandie which lies on the outskirts of the town centre.
Although it was a bit of a hike to get there with baggage in tow, once checked in, it was an easy to walk back into the centre of town for a bit of shopping and sight-seeing.
The spectacular Cathedral of Our Lady of Évreux (Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Évreux) dominates the town…
and is one of the largest cathedrals in France.
The Museum of Art, History and Archaeology is also worth a visit (right next to the Cathedral, with free entry).
And they weren’t the only interesting things to see around town.
But the real purpose of the trip was the guided tour of the Cluizel chocolate factory. Not the public tour, but that which is reserved for those within the industry (even still, some areas remain off-limits, lest their trade secrets get out!)
We were met and chauffeured to the factory in Damville, about 1/2 hour away, along with 2 other visitors from Australia (but who were actually French).
During the course of the morning we learnt how they make their chocolate with total control over every step – right from the bean to final distribution. It was refreshing to hear that the quality of the product is more important to them than profit. These are the things which set this 3rd generation family business apart from the “big players”.
Of course, the tastings were the highlight. It really is quality chocolate – not too sweet, with a taste that lingers in the mouth – and you can distinguish the subtle differences in flavours of the various chocolates, made from cocoa beans grown in different locations – just like in wine tasting.
It was rather exhausting however, especially trying to understand all the French spoken between the others.
Back in Évreux we relaxed over lunch together at Côté Rôtisserie (the number 1 rated restaurant in Évreux on TripAdvisor) – where even more French was spoken as the others lapsed into their native language.
Ah, how I wish I could just lapse into French.
Now there’s something to aspire to!