The Buzz in Paris: Rooftop Beehives, Honey and Urban Beekeeping

The Buzz in Paris: Rooftop Beehives, Honey and Urban Beekeeping

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Beehives of the Musée d’Orsay. Photo © Pierre Torset

What do some of the historic rooftops of Paris have in common with the labyrinthian secret passages below the city? Apiculturist Audric de Campeau knows the answer… because he lives it.

As an urban beekeeper, his work takes him both above and below the city—from combs to combs (honeycombs to catacombs).

His beehives sit atop many Paris monuments, and his honey wine—called hydromel or mead (much like Sauterne)—ages in the dark, damp carrières (quarries) beneath the city.

There are several well-known beekeepers in Paris, but Audric is quickly gaining attention as one of the local experts.

He cares as much about the bees as he does about the honey they produce. He is dedicated to creating a range of quality products from the hard work of his colonies (pure honey, honey nougats, honey candies, and hydromel… with more surprises to come).

Paris Bees: Happy and healthy. Photo © Le Miel de Paris

A Paris History of Bees

Honey hasn’t always claimed headlines in Paris, but bees have been a part of the city’s history for hundreds of years (as a symbol of immortality for French rulers, a sign of agricultural strength, as well as a tribute to honey production).

If you’re a Paris flâneur, you may have walked by the beehives tucked away in the southwest corner of the Luxembourg Gardens. These traditional wooden hives are part of a beekeeping project that began in 1856, followed by a beekeeping school that is still active today.

Historic hives in the Luxembourg Gardens. Photo © Meredith Mullins

You may have also heard of the hives that have thrived on the roof of the Opera Garnier, tended for many years by Jean Pauchton, a former set designer at the opera.

Now, however, bees are all the buzz. In a city such as Paris, where gardens are a tradition and where residents tend to make the best use of vertical space, Paris honey is in.

More than 700 hives exist in Paris, usually removed from well-traveled tourist areas. But you might be surprised to find hives at all these major landmarks (mostly on rooftops):

  • Musée d’Orsay
  • La Monnaie de Paris (The Paris Mint)
  • Opéra Garnier and Opéra Bastille
  • Invalides
  • Grand Palais
  • Assemblée Nationale
  • Institut de France
  • Ècole Militaire
  • Le Bon Marché/Grand Èpicerie
  • Gare Austerlitz
  • Headquarters of the French Communist Party
  • La Défense high-rise buildings

Even hotels and restaurants are jumping on the beewagon. The Tour d’Argent restaurant, the Mandarin-Oriental, and The Westin Hotel (on rue de Rivoli) all have hives that provide an exclusive supply of honey to their chefs.

Institut de France. Photo © Meredith Mullins

Bees seem to love living in Paris (don’t we all). The wide variety of flora, the frequent plantings in the city’s gardens (and private flower boxes), and the lack of pesticides allow bee colonies to prosper—a hopeful sign when bees in the countryside are declining, threatening the pollination that is necessary for agriculture.

Honey in the Blood

Audric de Campeau admits he must have “honey in his blood.”

At an early age, he seemed to know the power of honey. He started as a young farmer (outside of school hours, of course), growing grapes in the Champagne region at his family’s country home. However, he was soon captivated by the magic of bees.

His curiosity and dedication won his parents’ permission to experiment in apiculture, even though his father was allergic to bees. He quickly became proficient at honey production, and, soon, his parents urged him to start selling his products, diplomatically mentioning that they could not keep up the pace of eating a kilo of honey at day.

An “office” in the sky. Photo © Le Miel de Paris

Audric’s love of history and architecture led him to target Paris landmarks for his hives. His understanding of nature informed smart location choices near gardens like the Tuileries, which he calls “a fully-stocked fridge” of diverse nectars and pollens that bees need.

His knowledge of the less traveled paths of Paris (as well as some wild underground escapades as a student), also led him to the catacombs for a dark, damp, vibration-free place to age his honey wine. Every part of his apicultural life has a raison d’être.

In the catacombs for the aging of the Hydromel. Photo © Brice Agneli

He is an original. He eschews the traditional white beekeeper “spacesuit,” in favor of a stylish boater with a custom-designed black face net (and no gloves!)

He is always with his trusty beagle assistant Filou (although Filou smartly keeps his distance from the hives).

Audric and Filou at the Invalides hives. Photo © Meredith Mullins

For Audric, it’s a matter of sensing the mood of his bees. “You have to be quiet and calm when you’re working with a hive,” he says. “If you’re anxious, they feel it . . .  and they might kill you. It’s a good way to keep your stress level down.” 

Audric knows his bees, but he is also a master of marketing, with his beautifully designed black and gold bee-hive like packages for his honey, candies, and hydromel; with his wide distribution of Le Miel de Paris to major museums and shops; and with his insatiable desire to add new and interesting products to his honey line.

The elegance of packaging. Photo © Le Miel de Paris

But most of all, he understands that each hive is its own universe, a treasure that has its own place in nature—a place to be respected.

He gives us a reason to bee-lieve.

Visit Le Miel de Paris to find out more about Paris honey. Also Le Miel de Paris on Facebook and TwitterVisit La Monnaie de Paris for more information about The Paris Mint (now open to the public). Visit UNAF: Union Nationale de l’Apiculture Française to find out more about beekeeping in Paris.

The universe of bees. Photo © Brice Agneli

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2 COMMENTS

  1. On my first visit to Paris in 2002 I toured the Opera Garnier and discovered the opera house honey. I bought a case and shared it with all my friends who thought it was the best honey they ever had. I returned to Paris in the summer of 2016 and made a bee-line (pun intended) for the opera house to get more of that delicious honey. Not only did they not have any, the clerk told me that there will be little coming in as there have been fewer and fewer bees for the first time in many years. She directed me to a shop a few blocks away that only sells honey from various regions of France. While it was good, it wasn’t Opera Garnier Honey (le sigh!) I look at this as just another excuse to return to Paris. Like I really need one. 😉

  2. You can order the honey online from the Opera Garnier internet Boutique. And, you’re right, it tastes like none other. Also try some Miel de Paris. It, too, is very unique (and delicious!).

    All best,

    Meredith

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