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From Paris With Love
Ayesha Khan with contributions by Patti Dickey and Beth Weitzman | Photo: Sara Hanna | February 27, 2014
A host of high-end hospitality options invite a discerning class of travelers to experience Paris in a whole new light.
The rumors are true: In Paris, macarons are sweeter; wines are lovelier; and music reaches l’âme. Romance drips from every street lamp in this dreamy destination, but the city rife with pleasure is also full of mystique. Sure, the Eiffel Tower is tops, and the Louvre still a looker, but for a unique Parisian experience, bypass the long lines for a bespoke tour through the City of Light and its grand hotels.
The narrative of Paris’ storied hotels is as full of drama and excitement as an opera performance at the Palais Garnier. Reportedly, when two of the city’s most glamorous properties—the Ritz Paris and the Hôtel de Crillon—were excluded from a government-issued “palaces” list of hotels that exceeded the five-star accolade, they feverishly embarked on updating their interiors. And so it is that The Crillon is in the throes of a $140 million renovation, the result of which is set to debut in 2015 and will include a spa and indoor pool. The Ritz, meanwhile, is boarded up and undergoing a refurbishment that will include more suites and a summer dining venue, complete with sliding-glass roof. Fashioning its own remodel is the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, but it will remain open while its finishes and furnishings undergo an update. And on Avenue Kléber, the Asian hotel movement continues (Raffles, Shangri-La and Mandarin Oriental have all recently built Paris outposts) with the imminent arrival of The Peninsula in August.
Perhaps most akin to the Ritz in opulence is the Prince de Galles, Paris, which recently emerged from its own renovation. Located just steps away from the Champs-Élysées (and a stone’s throw from Louis Vuitton), the hotel’s $100 million overhaul, helmed by renowned French interior designers Pierre-Yves Rochon and Bruno Borrione, pays homage to its art-deco past (Paris’ influential 1925 decorative arts exhibition inspired the property’s original design) with eclectic gold-leafed spheres flanking glass doors and a sleekly serene lobby. The vibrant space and the adjacent bar, Les Heures, have quickly taken over the local scene. Rediscovered during the renovation, the outside courtyard, Le Patio, showcases original mosaic tile lovingly returned to its former glory. Le Patio is centrally located near Les Heures as well as La Scène, a stylish restaurant dressed in white marble and palissandre ebony—the ideal backdrop for chef Stéphanie Le Quellec’s exquisite French fare. The rooms, some of which feature private balconies, are equally resplendent. For a real treat, Appartement Parisien proffers breathtaking panoramas of Paris from the private terrace of a duplex suite.
For a subtler, smaller luxurious hotel in the heart of Paris’ Triangle d’Or (with Dior right up the street), there’s the discreetly chic Hotel Marignan Paris. The brainchild of the equally stylish Nathalie Richard, and modernized by French designer Pierre Yovanovitch, the Marignan is one of few privately owned, five-star properties in Paris. Welcoming English-speaking staff warm the minimalist decor—a modernist mashup of warm oaks, exquisite marble and metallic accents carried throughout the hotel, and in all 50 guest rooms and suites (ask for an Eiffel Tower view—it’s fantastic). Along with contemporary style, high ceilings and plenty of texture come generously sized, meticulously detailed guest rooms with spacious bathrooms featuring deep soaking tubs and rainforest showers. Exclusive toiletries rotate according to season, while fine linens and complimentary minibars round out the amenities. Downstairs, a private 25-seat screening room reinvents small-group viewings of big-occasion broadcasts, while the quaint restaurant serves up three Parisian-inspired meals daily, and a hip lobby lounge brims with both locals and travelers during happy hour.
Across the way, in proximity to the Champs-Élysées, the Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris is Philippe Starck’s art lesson for the bourgeoisie. Here you’ll find embroidered Cocteau sketches on linen pillowcases, surrealist images on coffee cups and the only hotel art concierge in Paris. The hotel also boasts 149 luxurious rooms and suites, including three presidential suites with private entrances—all echoing the rendezvous’ illustrious history, which includes the likes of Josephine Baker and Ernest Hemingway. At the hotel’s two signature restaurants, La Cuisine (French) and Il Carpaccio (Italian), where each dining room recently received a Michelin star, meals are experiences. At La Cuisine, Sunday Royal Brunch is a must, as are cocktails at Le Bar Long. For more stars, head to the hotel’s Katara Cinema—the most modern screening room in Europe. Sunday nights are classic at this 99-seat theater, where Champagne and gourmet popcorn are staples. Among the hotel’s other highlights are the stark-white pool and Spa My Blend by Clarins, which tailors treatments to guests’ specific needs.
And if your inner bourgeois bohemian longs to luxuriate on the Left Bank (close to boutiques, restaurants and the quaint Jardin du Luxembourg), the Hotel Esprit Saint Germain accommodates. Every one of its 28 rooms has been individually designed (many with the building’s original 18th century beams exposed) to invoke a residential feeling. True fashionistas fancy The Suite, featuring a bedroom with a walk-in closet, two bathrooms and a separate sitting area, while hopeless romantics swoon over the Prestige room with private terrace and views of Saint-Sulpice church and the rooftops of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The hotel also serves complimentary drinks in two superbly designed spaces: the fireplace lounge and the library lounge, the latter of which is also the venue for relaxing sunlit Parisian breakfasts.
So whether it is a quiet hotel on the Left Bank or an opulent palace off Paris’ most famous avenue, prospects in the City of Light have never been brighter.
Insider’s Go-To Guide
France is one of the world’s pre-eminent culinary capitals, but if foie gras and escargot don’t please your palate, satiating possibilities are in plentiful supply. Hot newcomer Monsieur Bleu, at the contemporary arts space Palais de Tokyo, offers a brasserie menu featuring a raw bar, classics like roast chicken and steak frites, and a dramatic after-dinner scene with drinks from mixologist Alix Lacloche and gobsmacking views of the Eiffel Tower by way of a private terrace.
Near the Arc de Triomphe, Restaurant Akrame bears the unique distinction of receiving its first Michelin star in its inaugural year. Flaunting stark, monochrome decor (and somewhat peculiar photos of tattooed women), this 20-seat eatery plates a four- or six-course dinner that might produce anything from milk jelly and a smoked potato to a juicy veal medallion accompanied by crunchy root vegetables smothered with grated licorice root.
For the finest in comfort food, the best cheeseburger in Paris is at Ferdi, a small, casual spot that serves plenty of other foreigner-friendly fare, including Venezuelan tapas.
A haven for macarons, Pierre Hermé is a legendary patisserie. Originally a Saint-Germain-des-Prés institution with lines around the block, it’s now ubiquitous in Paris. Hermé himself best explains the pleasure of eating its signature dessert as “enough to leave your senses quivering with pleasure.”
There’s also merveilleux, a centuries-old piece of heaven made popular by Frédéric Vaucamps at Aux Merveilleux de Fred. A beautiful blend of meringue and whipped cream topped with shavings of chocolate or caramelized meringue, these treats truly are marvelous.
Of course, Parisians understand all too well that chocolat is the way to anyone’s heart, and, fittingly, Paris is home to some of the very finest, with La Maison du Chocolat and Richart, two of the world’s top chocolatiers.
One of the most architecturally awe-inspiring sights in Paris is the Musée d’Orsay. A former train station designed to commemorate the 1900 Universal Exhibition, this renovated museum houses collections from 1848 to 1914 and features works by art-world elite like Monet, Degas and Cézanne.
No trip to Paris is complete without leisurely strolling the streets of Montmartre, where, throughout the years, countless artists have sought both inspiration and refuge. Featured in such cinematic fare as Moulin Rouge and Amélie, it is here, in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacré Cœur, that the likes of van Gogh, Picasso, Mondrian and Dalí (look for the sizable gallery of his works) created their most prized pieces. Also atop this hill—the highest point in Paris—is one of the best views in the world.
While Paris’ conventional tourist spots lure lines and crowds, board the luxurious Yachts de Paris. While lunching on gourmet cuisine catered by Lenôtre, passengers are privy to a slew of sights, depending on the itinerary, which ranges from touring city gardens to expert-guided access to contemporary art galleries.
Indulgences of the retail variety are plentiful in Paris, where perusing temples of couture on Rivoli, Royale and Saint-Honoré is a favorite pastime.
Along with a full range of home fragrances, candles and perfumes, bespoke perfumer L’Artisan Parfumeur invites patrons to create and bottle a personalized fragrance (with name, label and all) via its The Scent of Creation course. Along with this tutorial of olfactory fundamentals, pre-prepared and one-of-a-kind scents are available to purchase.
Two of the finest shops for vintage couture are Didier Ludot, where serious shoppers find rarefied creations from the houses of Emilio Pucci, Balenciaga and Chanel; and Mon Amour Vintage, home to, among other treasures, keepers from Saint Laurent.
Finally, Colette, a one-stop shop for au courant cool, features everything from books and fashion to gadgets and hip kicks. It also hosts regular book signings and gallery exhibits, and boasts a water bar with an expansive list of H2O to rival the wine list of Paris’ finest sommelier.