TRAVEL: Chocolate dreams and magical massages

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* A tour of Baccarat designed by Philippe Starck is a stunning experience. Photo by Claude Weber

It was at Les Bains du Marais, a Parisian style day spa at 31/33 rue des Blancs Manteaux in the 4th Arrondissement in the heart of the historic Marais neighborhood, where I first heard about an American chocolate maven residing in Paris; his name is David Lebovitz and he is an admitted Chocophile. He had confided to a woman I met about his experiences gleaned after his fantasy of spending a week in a chocolate shop was realized. It never ceases to amaze me the conversational topics two perfect strangers can delve into after a brisk Turkish style steam bath and the subsequent invigorating exfoliating massage. It was over sips of mint tea, and a tasting of pastries, that I learned about a dozen pastry and chocolate shops where everything chocolate could be savored, from the macaroons at Laduree (www.laduree.fr)-insiders refer to this as place as macaroon mecca-to dipped chocolates (like citrus with four different crystallized fruits) at Lenotre (www.lenotre.com).

While our conversation moved on to further specialized chocolate havens, a third party chimed in about Richart (www.richart.com), a Lyon-based chocolatier known for very modern chocolates decorated with silk-screened abstract designs. Flavors are too seductive for words; imagine verbena, jasmine and dark chocolates filled with caramel.

These miniature chocolate squares are known for flavors accentuating the season. Richart recently opened a chocolate shop in San Francisco.

The chocolate chatter reached such a pitch we three, just having met, went to cool down, taking a taxi to Berthillon at 31 rue Saint-Louis d’lle for a sampling of their four chocolate ice creams and sorbets. It was there that even more intense chocolate secrets were shared such as the pure flavored ganaches, coated with exquisite thin dark chocolate “couvertures” and hot chocolate so rich and thick you can barely believe the intensity (www.lamaisonduchcolat.com). Since I had a few more days at the Hotel de Crillon, we made plans to meet the next day at Jean-Paul Hevin (www.jphevin.com) near the Metro Tuilleries for the pyramid (layers of chocolate, genois with almond paste, pistachios and bitter chocolate ganache) with a half dozen chocolate-dipped figs. It was then we learned about a special chocolate class Lebovitz would be teaching at Rue Tatin, a cooking school at the home of Sharon Loomis, scheduled for September 25-30. Loomis has various themes throughout the year at her farmhouse, but these days are devoted to chocolate and based on the recipes in Lebovitz’s book. It could mean anything from Chocolat Tarte de Rue Tatin to Deep Dark Chocolate Truffles.

Staying at the Hotel de Crillon (103 guest rooms and 44 suites) was the ideal location for scouting out the chocolate scene. The neighbor to the left is the American Embassy, and to the right, the Rue de Rivoli with more hotels and shops. The view of the Eiffel Tower at night from the Hotel de Crillon is a fantasy of lights never to be forgotten. And that feeling permeates the level of service and attention to detail at this most magnificent hotel, which was once the home of the Duc d’Aumont. After a $25 million renovation of 90 rooms and 57 suites overseen by Sybille de Margerie, an interior designer of note, the overall impact is undeniably one of perfection.

Shimmering fabrics, plasma television screens in many suites, spacious bathrooms with Annick Goutal amenities, bedside reading lights, brightly trimmed sofas, chairs and exquisite silk draperies prevail. Even the mini bars are a hit, a new high with sweet butter cakes from Brittany and five brands of mineral water.

There is canine consideration as well, because the Dog de Crillon program for pampered pets is taken seriously. Yes, the concierge staff is happy to take your poodle for a walk around the Place de la Concorde, and a special custom-sized sleeping basket is yours upon request. For those with a wish to experience the ultimate encounter with legendary crystal, a tour to Baccarat (11 Place des Etats-Unis) can be arranged. Located in the former mansion of Marie-Laure de Noailles, known for her magical parties, this space was redesigned by Philippe Starck to redefine Baccarat’s headquarters.

With startling surprises such as a new campaign reflecting “beauty beyond reason” entrenching Baccarat with the world of femininity, lightness and passion, the world of crystal unfolds. It’s best to stay for brunch, lunch, tea or dinner in the “Cristal Rom Baccarat” where the repertoire of dishes is small and changes every month according to the season.

A tour to Baccarat among other innovative programs can be credited to General Manager Franka Holtman who says, “The biggest luxury today is human contact and sincerity. Insouciance is a thing of the past.”

Contacts:

Hotel d’Crillon Leading Hotels of the World, 800.874.6800 www.reservations@crillon.com; Les Bains du Marais, 011.33.1.44.61.02.02

Pamela Price is the co-author of the forthcoming 3rd edition of “100 Best Spas of the World,” published by the Globe Pequot Press. She can be reached at pamprice@dc.rr.com.