Marie Antoinette had a torrid extramarital affair, history says.
I am standing in her bedroom with flowery draping that the tour guide says the queen rarely shared with Louis XVI, the king of France in the 17th century.
I walk to a large window with delicate moulding in the royal residence and stare outside at the geometric gardens, the distant vineyards and the sculptures.
I am at the magnificent Château de Versailles, a palace with 2,300 rooms, just outside Paris, tracing the footsteps of Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. We started with the royal residence to a village-like house in which she dressed up as a peasant girl to mimic the life of a commoner and entertain her lover.
The famed château is grand. Built on more than 2,000 acres, it depicts an indulgent lifestyle with glittering halls, silk embroidery and decorative arabesques.
The crystal chandeliers, gilded status, the intricate artistry on every door and window, and ceiling paintings are nothing that you have seen on earth. It is sheer frivolous spending and excesses. The decor has been preserved for more than 229 years.
The guides wear medieval clothes and creatively tell tales and role-play the queen’s life, just to add magic to the tour.
At the garden, visitors draw using feather pens, perhaps similar to the ones that a Swedish soldier used to write Marie Antoinette a letter dated October 25, 1791. It read: “My dear and very tender friend — my God, how cruel it is to be so close and not be able to see each other! … I live and exist only to love you; adoring you is my only consolation.”
History also says her ignorance ultimately culminated in her death sentence.
This masterpiece and its tales are what attract nearly 10 million visitors a year.
We are here to also trace the roots of Rémy Martin, whose Louis XIII cognac was named after King Louis XII who hunted game at Versailles.
Versailles, about 45 minutes drive from Charles de Gaulle airport, is intimate. You fall in love with the country life, the rustic architecture, the greenery and the person walking next to you.
At Waldolf Astoria Versailles, located in a dreamy woodlands location, you watch sheep roam in a mini-forest as you eat traditional French breads and cheeses.
The next day, we took a train to Cognac region to trace the paths and tastes of Rémy Martin, from the time the grapes are harvested to when it is ready for bottling.
Cognac, a top producer of wine and cognac, looks like a town cut off the rest of the modern world. It is an untamed jungle, a secluded village where civilisation seems ludicrous.
Overrun by a few windy roads meandering through acres and acres of vineyards, life is slow, just as the ageing of its wine and cognac.
Cognac region has about 20,000 residents. Few relocate, but those that do are quickly lured back by the smell of vineyards and serenity.
One such person is Baptiste Loiseau, the master cellar at Rémy Martin. He had left to work in South Africa’s wine industry but came back to Cognac. His job? To secure the Rémy Martin cognac taste. This means that he is in charge of the thousands of oak barrels ageing cognac at an old house with black mushrooms and cobwebs.
“The spiders in the cobwebs eat small ants that might eat the oak barrels,” said Baptiste, during the tour of the Rémy Martin house.
There are about 150,000 barrels in there, each with cognac at different stages of maturity and alcohol content. One barrel has 53 percent alcohol content, another 47 percent, and all are labelled after the cellar master tests the levels. The cognac is removed from a barrel and bottled when it reaches 40 percent alcohol level.
But these barrels are not enough to quench the growing global thirst. Just like other wine and cognac producers globally, Rémy Martin’s biggest worry is global warming, which is threatening the quality and quantities of grapes.
Three years ago, they got half the harvest due to frost and hail.
“We are now trying out new grape varieties to ensure that in the next 40 to 50 years we have adequate cognac supply,” Baptiste said.
After nosing the barrels and tasting the eau de vie, adding water to some with 70 percent alcohol content and experiencing the magical change in taste to fruity notes, we checked into Hôtel Chais Monnet.
With an early morning drive to Bordeaux, another top producer of wine, before catching a flight to Paris, I had little time to imbibe in the charm of this romantic, luxurious hotel. It is two hours drive from Cognac to Bordeaux. We then flew for one and half hours to Charles De Gaulle Airport.
Now in Paris, I had six hours to while away time before my flight back home. I checked into Hôtel du Louvre. It is perfectly located near many top tourist attractions in France; the Louvre Museum, the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and high-end shops, including Galeries Lafayette which is perfect for bargain-hunters.
From the hotel, I could see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. Who travels to Paris and flies back without visiting these two places? I wondered.
I started walking towards these two tourist attractions, but I never got to them.