Destination: France: Paris
Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris
This 245-room hotel that dates from 1928 comes as close as any in Paris to getting a solid A. The handsome lobby is decorated with gorgeous arrangements by American-in-Paris floral designer Jeff Leatham, and check-in is all smiles and kid gloves. Smiles and kid gloves sum up this place, too, since the service, a hybrid of courtly old-world charm and North American efficiency, is outstanding. Rooms are spacious and impeccably maintained; the health club, spa and pool are top-notch; and Le Cinq is one of the great restaurants in Paris. The slightly generic French decor of the guest rooms lacks originality and romance—when the hotel was renovated, the furnishings were auctioned off and most were replaced with reproductions—and the location off the Champs-Élysées is less exciting than centre ville or the Left Bank, but this is definitely the address for anyone who wants a nearly flawless luxury experience in Paris. Rooms from $995.
Hôtel Plaza Athénée
Of all Paris’ palace hotels, the Plaza Athénée is the most fashion-centric, which makes sense in view of its location on the Avenue Montaigne, the city’s most famous shopping street. The area has a real la vie en rose atmosphere, too, which makes it popular with the beau monde (suffice it to say the final episode of Sex and the City was filmed here).
Out of its 194 rooms, eighty-seven overlook the Eiffel Tower and after a recent renovation, roughly half of the inventory is Art-Deco in style (mostly on the 7th and 8th floors). The balance remains in Le Plaza’s time-old Louis XIV aesthetic rendering the hotel one of the most authentically Parisian of its counterparts.
Despite notions that the Plaza Athénée caters to Middle Eastern and Russian clientele, its largest customer base is actually American, though guests should not expect the level of handholding service that the George V and Le Bristol offer. While Le Plaza may offer a more intimate and romantic setting than the other palaces, it does cater to families with children; its trademark courtyard turns into an ice-skating rink and outdoor fondue restaurant in the winter months.
Some of the hotels biggest selling points are its three-star Michelin Alain Ducasse restaurant the louche Le Bar, where mixologist extraordinaire Thierry Hernandez dreams up ever-inventive cocktails and Dior Institute spa added in 2008.
Le Bristol Paris
Thanks to a multiyear renovation, the Bristol, with it superb location on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, close to the art galleries and shopping of the 8th and 1st arrondissements, is again one of the top palace properties in Paris. Its owners, who also own the legendary Hôtel du Cap, prefer old-world elegance to New Age glitz. From the uniformed valets who greet you to the delicate china upon which breakfast is served, the Bristol is a model of old-school service and sophistication.
All its 188 guest rooms and suites have been redone, and 26 more added in an adjoining building. (It took close to 20 years to buy the apartments in the annex, but the structures have been merged seamlessly.) Like graceful pieds à terre, the guest rooms all have distinct decors, with Louis XV and XVI furniture; floral fabrics by Rubelli, Pierre Frey and Manuel Canovas; and pink Portuguese marble in the bathrooms. The rooms have been soundproofed, but the French windows still open over the garden or the street if you want some fresh air. The rooms in the new wing have wonderful high ceilings and elegant proportions, and some have views of the Eiffel Tower, but the ones in the original wing have a special charm, including garden views and flower-filled terraces.
The spa facilities at the Bristol were enlarged, updated, and redecorated in the spring of 2012 and now spread over three floors with views onto the hotel’s tranquil interior garden. Featuring products by La Prairie, the spa menu proposes a range of beauty and massage treatments including decadent options like the “Swiss Bliss”—a three-hour scalp-to-toe caviar firming treatment. And because a truly relaxing spa day requires uninterrupted “me” time, Spa Le Bristol has thoughtfully set up a kid’s club. Open from Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.
Among the hotel’s other highlights: the city’s largest hotel garden; an indoor pool with a teak deck designed to feel like one on a Belle Epoque ship; and the Epicure, the hotel’s three-star Michelin restaurant. The “power” bar was so dubbed by L’Express because from one of its couches you can view a who’s who of the city—designers, diplomats, tycoons and art dealers—at work and at play. In addition, 114 Faubourg, the restaurant in the new wing, has become the place to lunch in the neighborhood.
Who Should Stay: Those who appreciate the discreet charm of the Faubourg St.-Honoré and expect polite, impeccable service. The hotel is popular with well-heeled Japanese; Middle Eastern families; press-shy celebrities like Jessye Norman and Claudia Schiffer; and high-powered business who want to keep a low profile.
Who Should Not Stay: Trend seekers who long for Philippe Starck flourishes or media gimmicks. The atmosphere and aesthetic are decidedly old-world French.
Tip: Families can combine a number of rooms to create apartments, including the Panoramic and Penthouse suites. The accommodation with the best city view is the mansard corner room in the new building: from the bed rooms and the living rooms you can see the Eiffel Tower.
Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris
First, a confession: I have never been a huge fan of Philippe Starck hotels. I deeply respect the innovative genius of the designer and the cult brand he has built around himself, but when it comes to hotel rooms, I personally prefer understated comfort to uber-contemporary glitz. But staying at the Royal Monceau, the newly reopened palace hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, thoroughly changed my mind.
The designer himself said that the Royal Monceau, which now belongs to the Singapore-based Raffles Hotel Group, is not a typical Starck hotel, and indeed its creative fusion of old and new showcases a design sensibility not seen in previous Starck properties. Originally opened in 1928 in a tony residential neighborhood close to the Parc Monceau, the Royal Monceau was one of Paris’ most venerable and extremely tired properties when Raffles took over and closed it for an extensive gut renovation in 2006. The new chapter was ushered in with a bang—quite literally—in the form of a demolition party that drew close to 3,000 people, including Starck himself. During this well-publicized event, the designer discovered gorgeous old brick beneath the layers of false walls, which were preserved in the renovation. Now, the red- and grey-hued stones frame the main staircase and are brilliantly lit by stained-glass windows that cast a moody, colorful light throughout the day. Starck also kept the old property’s antique chandeliers, gathering them into one enormous cluster of light, crystal and nostalgia—a surprisingly touching decorative flourish on the ground floor.
While some of the former details have been preserved, this is by no means an old-world property. For starters, there’s a serious collection of contemporary art on view throughout, ranging from photography and painting to ceiling murals, sculpture and installation. When I visited, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s work was displayed throughout the lobby (the artist had recently debuted his film Wasteland in the Royal Monceau’s sumptuous screening room). Starck himself designed everything from espresso cups to furniture, giving the interiors a stunning customized look. It’s the kind of hotel where you cannot help but run your hand across everything—tabletops, walls, curtains—because the textures and materials are all hand-selected and incredible.
This kind of haute quality continues in the 149 guest rooms and suites, which are perhaps the most “typical” Starck while also maintaining the playful whimsy nature of the public spaces. Beds are placed in the center of the room, in front of enormous mirrors that also contain a flat-screen television. Large-scale photographs lean against the walls; the top of the desk shows a map of Paris with some choice highlights (Colette, Charvet, Jardin du Luxembourg); the lamps have Murano-made bases; the massive king-sized beds are covered in linen. Travelers who love a good bathroom will be very happy here: even the smaller rooms come with mirror-clad extravaganzas whose large rain shower is only beat by the egg-shaped bathtub, inviting like a cocoon. Be aware that travelers looking for a knock-out view will be disappointed at the Royal Monceau, as the hotel’s best vistas are of its serene courtyard and of the roof tops of Paris.
What I loved the most were the small, totally Parisian details: the Pierre Hermé macarons in bright colors and even brighter flavors that welcome guests in the rooms (it’s the star pastry chef’s first collaboration with a hotel); the poems of Beaudelaire and Hugo played quietly over a sound system in front of the elevators; the menus at the excellent restaurants that are styled like a designer’s scrap book. Judging by the buzz in the public spaces, locals have embraced the Royal Monceau as a new hot spot. The soaring lobby lounge, brilliantly made to feel intimate with the help of flowing curtains and snug sitting areas, was filled morning through late-night with a good mix of chic Parisians and visitors.
In step with the rest of the property’s only-the-best-will-do philosophy, the Royal Monceau recently opened three, three-bedroom presidential suites (often booked for longer stays); an exclusive “My Blend by Clarins” spa (15,000 square feet with, seven treatment rooms and a twenty-three-meter swimming pool); a boutique curated by iconic L’Eclaireur; and a contemporary art gallery. There is an art curator on the premises, the lovely Domoina de Brantes, who originally hails from Madagascar and who can organize everything from studio visits to off-hour tours of the Centre Pompidou.
Raffles obviously invested millions into the Royal Monceau project, and there are moments when the property strikes notes of excess that feel decadent and out-of-touch with the times. But its heartfelt dedication to art, design and an authentic, destination-specific sensibility give the property depth and a true Parisian soul.
WHO SHOULD STAY: High rollers, design aficionados and return Paris visitors who don’t mind the location, which is a bit removed from the center of the city.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY: Those looking for a bargain and travelers who prefer a more classic, old-world aesthetic.
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