Map of Ancienne chocolaterie Menier à Noisiel
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
When we planned our trip to northern France, I was surprised that this T-list site is so close to Paris, and a second surprise was that they offered guided tours to the Menier Chocolate Factory, every fortnight on Saturday mornings. At least, they did in 2015. But as I checked again the Noisiel tourism website for this review, I noticed that the tour is not offered in 2016. Maybe it's due to stronger safety precautions, but I am not sure.
The meeting point for the guided tour was at the main square, about 40 participants gathered in front of the tourist office. After a short walk we arrived at the Menier factory. The modern town of Noisiel was built in the second half of the 19th century for the workers of the chocolate factory, it is a bit similar to Crespi d'Adda in Italy. The chocolate production in Noisiel has been discontinued in the 1990s, today the factory is the headquarters of Nestlé France who now owns the Menier company. The tour began in the modern entrance building, where our guide explained in detail the history of the Menier company and the workers' settlement in Noisiel. The tour was in French, so I did not understand all the details, but our guide also answered questions in English. The main part of the tour comprises the three historic buildings Le Moulin Saulnier, the Eiffel hall and the ‘Cathedral’. These buildings have been restored and are now used for representative purposes, for festivities and exhibitions. However, the facilities for chocolate production are lost, there are no traces of the original use, just the almost empty buildings.
The most striking building is undoubtedly the Saulnier mill (photo). It is considered the first pure steel framing construction of an industrial building. The construction is supported by four metal pillars standing in the riverbed of the Marne. The frame consists of columns, beams and diagonal struts. The panels are filled with coloured bricks that have no supporting function, but give the building its characteristic appearance. And indeed, it is a little gem. Also the interior has been perfectly restored: stairs, banisters, window frames and floor tiles are original. The Saulnier Mill is the oldest building of the Menier factory, but unfortunately the facilities of chocolate production have not survived, only some turbines and other facilities of power supply have been preserved.
The Eiffel Hall is another example of a steel construction, formerly the building housed machines for tempering the chocolate. It is not exactly known why the building is called Eiffel Hall. Rumours says that it was built for the Paris World's Fair, but this has not been confirmed. Probably it is just because of the construction elements that are reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.
Finally, the Cathedral, the largest building in the Menier factory. It was built in 1906 on the opposite bank of the Marne, as the capacity of the old factory was no longer sufficient. The Cathedral is connected via a conveyor bridge over the Marne with the other buildings of the factory. At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to taste the Menier Milk Chocolate, the trade name was retained because of its high awareness level, but today, the chocolate is produced in Switzerland. It did not taste bad, but I prefer dark chocolate.
Menier introduced several technical innovations and production processes for chocolate, it was the first company that produced chocolate bars as we still know today. The Menier Factory would be a great WHS if the production facilities would have been preserved and the process of chocolate production would still be traceable. But I doubt that the architectural value of the buildings is sufficient to justify an inscription. Moreover, there are no activities by the Nestlé Group to nominate the historic Buildings.
Noisiel is about 20 kilometres east of Paris centre, trains from Gare de Lyon to Noisiel (30 min), then a walk of 25 min mainly through the Noisiel City Park. The front of the Moulin Saulnier can be seen from the street, but it does not make sense to visit the site without a guided tour.
The beautiful building is a turbine hall inside the factory site of Nestle France. This is a strictly private industrial/office area and there is no interest from Nestle to let tourists in.
This magnificent building must be protected but as I see it, not in the form of a WHS as Nestle keeps it so private.