All across the rooftops of Paris, beekeepers have been managing hives of bees on top of monuments and balconies, an unexpected industry that has grown steadily over the last 40 years. Kept for their honey and as a hobby, the humble bee has made a huge resurgence in Paris. Famously appearing as Napoleon’s emblem, beehives are set up atop the Opéra Garnier, the Musée d’Orsay, the Notre Dame, all without being noticed! According to a 2015 estimate, there are an estimated 700 beehives scattered across Parisian rooftops. Starting from humble beginnings, Paris honey is one of the best examples of sustainability in the city.
Where Did Paris’ Beehives Come From?
Paris has had beehives since the 19th century, with hives reported in the Jardin Du Luxembourg as early as 1856 (a beekeeping school in the garden, the Société Centrale d’Apiculture, still operates today). As people flocked from the country to the city in search of new opportunities, they brought their hives along with them. It was estimated that over 1000 hives used to sit atop the rooftops of the city of lights, but most of them disappeared following WW2.
The Beehives Of Jean Paucton
The beehive resurgence began in 1981 with Jean Paucton. Paucton began as an amateur beekeeper who studied with the Société Centrale d’Apiculture, looking for a place to set up his first hive. His neighbours were complaining about the bees on his balcony, and he needed a solution. He looked to his workplace, the Opéra Garnier, where he worked with props, and recognised an opportunity to use their rooftops for the bees.
Within a few weeks, his unique idea was captured by famed photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and his photo placed on the cover of magazine Paris Match. Suddenly, the potential for keeping bees in the city was known. Others copied his idea, and the number of beehives in Paris ballooned. Paucton retired in 2013, aged 77, but his legacy remains.
Paris Bees Vs Country Bees
There are several advantages to keeping bees in the city, as compared to the countryside. They are said to be much more productive than their country counterparts, with one city hive producing about 50kg (110lbs) of honey annually, compared to around 30kg (66lbs) in the country.
Why? The answer might lie in the exposure to pesticides. Since the late 90s, Paris has been pesticide-free, while the farmland in rural France is one of the leading users of pesticides in Europe. Paris, filled with gardens, parks and flowers on balconies, also offers a much greater range of flora for bees to source their pollen from. From the Jardin Du Luxembourg, Parc Vincennes, and Bois de Boulogne, there is plenty of nature to roam. By contrast, farmland may be limited to one type of crop.
Those very factors are often blamed for colony collapse disorder, a worldwide phenomena which sees worker bees die off in great numbers. Indeed, many beekeepers estimate their bees die 30% more when living in the countryside.
Rules Of Beekeeping In Paris
Anybody in Paris can become an urban apiarist, as long as they register their hive with the Veterinary Authority, and keep at least 25 metres (82 feet) from hospitals or schools.
Where To Find Paris Beehives
French company Le Miel De Paris (Paris Honey) manages hives at sites such as Les Invalides, L’École Militaire, and La Monnaie de Paris (the Paris Mint). For the beekeepers tending to the hives, sometimes it was as simple as asking for permission to set up; for others, written contracts were put in place outlining the rules.
Beehives are located absolutely everywhere, and while you can’t really visit them, it’s nice to imagine which monument the bee buzzing around you lives on, as you wander through one of Paris’ many parks.
Some of the locations include:
- Notre Dame de Paris – 200,000 bees live atop the cathedral, and the hives miraculously survived the devastating 2019 cathedral fire.
- Le Grand Palais
- Opéra Garnier
- Musée d’Orsay
- École Militaire
- Institut de France
- Gare Austerlitz
- Buildings of La Défense
- Assemblée Nationale
- Above Place Vendôme
- Louis Vuitton Boutique, and many more locations along the Champs Elysée
- And so on!
Where To Buy Honey From Paris Beehives
The best place to start is La Maison du Miel (The House of Honey), on 24 Rue Vignon. They stock fine honeys from France and around the world. Miel de Paris honey products can be purchased from several locations around Paris, such as Fauchon Madeleine, Printemps du Goût – Haussmann, the Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché, and the Musée d’Orsay gift shop. But expect to pay a fairly high price for this limited product: the honey can cost around €122 per kilogram (with standard honey from elsewhere costing €23-€50 per kilogram).
Honey from the Opéra Garnier can be found for sale from the Opéra boutique. Other stores that might stock Paris honey are Les Abeilles (21 Rue de la Butte aux Cailles), Artazart (83 Quai de Valmy), and the Jardin d’Acclimatation Boutique in the Bois de Boulogne. If it’s just a taste you’re after, why not visit Happyculteur. Happyculteur in Paris is a beekeeping workshop, located at 20 Rue Charles Fourier in the 13th arrondissement. They run workshops on beekeeping, information sessions, and do honey tastings too.
Beekeeping on the rooftops of Paris, on top of many of the monuments across the city is a surprising thing to learn. And with the beehives not bothering the pedestrians below, as well as producing organic honey free from pesticides, the Paris beehives is a wonderful example of sustainable produce in France. Make sure you try and track down a jar of this unique honey as a souvenir next time you visit Paris!