France may be beset by ongoing economic and political malaise and the aftershocks of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but you wouldn’t know it if all you were looking at was the Parisian hotel industry. It’s been on a tear since the government established the ultra-prestigious “palace” category in 2010—a sort of bonus designation for the highest exemplars of luxury and service. Immediately after came a wave of Asian-helmed five-stars (the Mandarin Oriental in 2011, the Shangri-La in 2010, and the Peninsula last year), hoping to provide a familiar name for growing numbers of wealthy Asian pilgrims heading to the temples of Lanvin and Louis Vuitton.
And now in the last three years, a string of legacy French properties—the Ritz, Hôtel de Crillon, the Lutetia, and Hotel Lotti— have temporarily shuttered so stem-to-stern makeovers can bring back some luster. But in the world capital of red tape, their reopening dates keep being postponed. (The Ritz is forecast to open at the end of this year, the Lutetia in 2017, and the Hôtel de Crillon and Hôtel Lotti don’t have opening dates yet.) This shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Paris; just ask Bernard Arnault how long a big dig can take here. He’s been waiting since 2014 to resume construction on his Cheval Blanc hotel in a derelict department store on the Rue de Rivoli. But even with such venerated players on the bench, the rest of the city is not taking a time-out. The last 12 months or so have seen the debut of major new properties and the evolution of well-loved ones. It’s a lot to keep track of. We can help.
Undoubtedly the opening of 2014 was the Peninsula Paris (rooms, from $1,191; 19 Ave. Kléber; 33-1/58-12-28-88; paris.peninsula.com), the Hong Kong brand’s first property on European soil. The high stakes are evident everywhere, from the choice of the venue (in the former Majestic Hotel, a drop-dead palace off the Arc de Triomphe, in a neighborhood that is full of palaces) to the more than four-year restoration of the common areas, including the wood-paneled Bar Kléber, where the Paris Peace Accords were negotiated in 1973. From the bright white lobby, with its soaring high ceiling, to the top floor, the drama contin ues. L’Oiseau Blanc, the clubby seventh-floor bistro under a retractable glass ceiling, looks out onto a replica of the L’Oiseau Blanc airplane that was lost at sea while attempting the first transatlantic flight in 1927. Just off the ground floor, behind a painted fringed curtain, is LiLi, a high-end Cantonese restaurant decorated in 1920s Chinese French op- era style, all swaths of red silk taffeta and cobalt Murano chandeliers. Tang Chi Keung, most recently the head chef of Peninsula Tokyo, was sent over to run the kitchen, and his dishes are delicately prepared and pair elegantly with high-tannin Bordeaux reds or rich Rhône and Burgundy whites. (And, oh, his local fans, heavyweight chefs Alain Dutournier of Au Trou Gascon and Michel Rostang brought their wives to the opening.)
When the Peninsula was finally unveiled last August, outrage was running high against the sultan of Brunei, owner of the Dorchester Collection hotels, who had made homosexuality punishable by death back home. The ongoing avoidance of his properties includes the fashion-industry favorite Le Meurice (rooms, from $875; 228 Rue de Rivoli; 33-1/44-58-10-10; dorchestercollection.com), so when editors and retailers have come for the shows lately, the Peninsula has been only too happy to sweep them up. The hotel was even the site of a party celebrating former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld’s magazine, CR Fashion Book. If the boycott got the fashion public to come over, the amenities—Toto toilets, electric nail dryers, and tablet control centers in all rooms and a cult Biologique Recherche spa in the basement—may just keep them there.
Though the Peninsula’s common areas involved a who’s who of local experts in restoration, with venues like the Louvre and Versailles on their résumés, the contemporary decor of the guest rooms doesn’t feel immediately Parisian, except for the Historic Suite, whose 2,335 square feet includes a juxtaposition of contemporary blown glass and pale upholstery and a sumptuous backdrop of gilt moldings, original marble fireplaces, and an Eiffel-style false glass ceiling in the dining room.
If a hotel could be as eagerly anticipated in 2015 as the Peninsula was the year before, La Réserve (rooms, from $790; 42 Ave. Gabriel; 33-1/ 58-36-60-60; lareserve-paris.com) gets the honor. The Paris outpost of Michel Reybier’s growing elite chain opened in February and benefits from an especially discreet location in the middle of it all, on an incredibly placid tree-lined island of a street practically next door to the Elysée Palace and right between the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and tourist magnet Champs-Elysées, not that you’d know it.
Jacques Garcia toned down some of his more pile-on tendencies for the interiors, which are belle epoque with the volume turned up only slightly. The lobby, with honey-colored Afghan onyx columns, leads to a paneled library with 360 feet of antique-bound French classics and herringbone parquet floors inherited from a château of the same 19th-century vintage. Only guests will be able to visit it, as well as the tiny cigar lounge across the hall. Rooms, with walls covered in Rubelli silk damask and marble bathrooms featuring standalone tubs, retain a traditional feel, but they’re all wirelessly connected, so no need for cables to hook up your machines to theirs. This being a typical Haussmannian hôtel particulier, the first floor has stunning ceiling height; its vast Ambassador Suite doesn’t have a terrace but does have a working fireplace.
There is one thing that separates the sheep from the goats when visiting Paris: whether they can tolerate the Marais, where indie boutiques and new restaurants thrive but, thanks to masses of visitors, peace and quiet does not. The newly opened Hotel Dupond-Smith (rooms, from $400; 2 Rue des Guillemites; 33-1/42-76-88-99; hoteldupondsmith.com) takes the edge off, modeling itself more on a hideaway than a place of coming and going. Set on a tiny side street in the Fourth Arrondissement, it has just five rooms and three suites and a tiny lobby bar that serves breakfast all day. Rooms are filled with original design furniture. The James Jewel Suite, its back wall covered in bright-yellow printed Hermès silk, brings in the outside energy in a most civilized way.
Though civic-minded Parisians were aghast when the derelict Piscine Molitor swimming pool and cabanas was sold and turned into the Molitor Hotel (rooms, from $250; 13 Rue Nungesser et Coli; 33-1/53-70-74-18; mltr.fr), one could argue that only the private sector would put in the investment required to restore the formerly public sports facility to its Art Deco glory. The lobby and rooms are anything but period, but the pool and its original cabanas are a faithful revamp, in ocher and cobalt streamlined moderne. On a sunny day, a spot at the 150-feet Bassin d’Éte feels like the Côte d’Azur, even if you’re really just out in the 16th Arrondissement near Roland Garros. A nail bar with Kure products and a spa by Clarins downstairs are both accessible to locals, but the pool and fitness club only if they’re willing to pay a very unsocialist fee of more than $3,597 a year.
Given the slippery deadlines of most Parisian renovation projects, the Plaza Athénée (rooms, from $1,049; 25 Ave. Montaigne; 33-1/53-67-66-65; dorchestercollection.com) spent a relatively short year completely shuttered, and the results of its unveiling last summer are not revolutionary—but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Le Galerie, just off reception, is still some of the best real estate in town for spotting French-actress grandes dames and the security cordons of visiting heads of state, though it’s now less august and more muted. For the redo of Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Patrick Jouin’s mod chrome-and- eggshell makeover does away with the 1980s-looking champagne-and-crystals decor. The kitchen has been completely rethought, too. In 2012, before the hotel went off-line, Ducasse invited farm-to-table whiz Dan Barber to cook lunch, and the New York–based chef left his footprint. The focus now is on grains, vegetables, and seafood, just the kind of thing that a weary traveler’s touchy digestion craves. Some in the Paris food press wondered at first if this wasn’t just bistro cooking at a highly elevated price tag, but they judged too quickly. Lentils here come with caviar en gelée, light and earthy at the same time; turbot in Champagne butter may be a classic, but it’s served with a dazzling cress bouillon and a sublime salad of wilted radish greens and turbot cheek. Produce comes from, among other places, the gardens of Le Petit Trianon at Versailles.
Though the renovation wisely left the hotel’s blissfully green garden intact, it added a new wing above the Relais restaurant. The standout of its 376,737 square feet are the Eiffel Suites, with a massive picture window framed in hammered silver looking out onto, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
When it opened two years ago after an extensive restoration, the Prince de Galles (rooms, from $489; 33 Ave. George V; 33-1/53-23-77-77; luxurycollection.com) stood alone as Paris’s only truly Art Deco hotel. Pierre-Yves Rochon’s contribution to the interiors—the reception lobby and guest rooms—are heavy on Macassar wood, while Bruno Borrione, formerly a right hand of Philippe Starck, pushed the whimsy in the bar and restaurant.
That eating establishment, La Scène, is helmed by the fast-rising star Stéphanie Le Quellec. In her entirely open marble kitchen, she’s managed to get sous-chefs to execute her orders, from mise en place to plating, wordlessly. Her food is seasonal, local, and full of surprises. Roasted pigeon with sour cream comes with a dash of cool cucumber; raspberry sorbet and fresh fruit is dusted with black olive breadcrumbs. The staff is young, engaging, and relatively informal for that neck of the woods, in the Golden Triangle.
The Hôtel Vernet (rooms, from $286; 25 Rue Vernet; 800-337-4685; designhotels.com) celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, but its interior overhaul by François Champsaur is light, bright, and contemporary. Miró-like carpets, midcentury-feeling lounges in colors that pop, and a stunning bar carved out of Carrara marble in a wave-like formation backed with a folded copper screen are both clean and elegant when set against original moldings and Gustave Eiffel’s restored glass ceiling in the hotel’s restaurant, Le V.
The new raft of Crème de La Mer treatments at the spa at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme (rooms, from $854; 5 Rue de la Paix; 33-1/58-71-12-34; paris.vendome.hyatt.com) is a godsend for those who lament the fact that only a TSA-approved-size bottle of La Mer’s Concentrate fits into a carry-on. Only a handful of sanctioned spas worldwide can dispense undiluted flacons of the kelp- and algae-based Miracle Broth. Book the Miracle Broth facial for 75 minutes of combined acupressure and lymphatic drainage massage, a scrub, a moisturizing mask, and, of course, a straight shot of the good stuff. (For a gentle but firm touch, ask for Stephanie.)
Those who stay in any of the three Presidential-level suites, with their own hammams, Jacuzzi baths, and massage tables, can have the same services performed in-room. Of the three, the Vendôme Suite benefits from positioning on the top floor to have a cozy mansard roof and a glittering view of the Place Vendôme below.
La Mer’s addition is some of the best news to hit the Paris hotel-spa scene since the 2011 opening of the Mandarin Oriental, Paris (rooms, from $1,185; 251 Rue Saint-Honoré; 33-1/70-98- 78-88; mandarinoriental.com), whose spa has seven suites, each with its own shower and steam room. The signature 2 1⁄2-hour body treatment also includes a foot bath and massage and a full body rub using Chinese meridian massage, covering the scalp, face, and internal organs. (For a petite and delicate-looking person, practitioner Yuki is surprisingly strong.) The hotel’s placement on the world’s fanciest high street, the Rue Saint-Honoré, makes the hotel’s spa and other relaxing public spaces, like the lobby courtyard garden, especially welcome.
The chefs who rule the Paris fine-dining scene, so much of it hotel-based, have played hopscotch of late. When Yannick Alléno took over at Ledoyen in September of last year, its three-star chef, Christian Le Squer, went on to do great things at Le Cinq at the Hotel George V (rooms, from $1,423; 31 Ave. George V; 33-1/49-52-70-00; fourseasons.com). (The hotel’s artistic director, floral-design genius Jeff Leatham, was just named a chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters.) Mean- while, in January, Christophe Moret, who earned two Michelin stars at Lasserre, took over L’Abeille at the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris (rooms, from $843; 10 Ave. d’Léna; 33-1/53-67-19-98).
Lastly, two hotels are worth mentioning for proximity to nightlife. How you know they’re not kidding when they say that Pigalle has gentrified: Maison Souquet (rooms, from $369; 10 Rue de Bruxelles; 33-1/48-78-55-55; maisonsouquet.com), a five-star boutique decorated by Jacques Garcia with 20 lavish (if small) boudoir-style rooms, opened in March. And Les Bains Douches has made the journey from private baths to notoriously hedonistic 1970s nightclub (think Mick, Bowie, De Niro) to Les Bains (rooms, from $516; 7 Rue du Bourg l’Abbé; lesbains-paris.com), an arts-based club and a high-luxe hotel designed by Tristan Auer, also of Hôtel de Crillon, and Denis Montel, of the Hermès boutique on the Rue de Sèvres.
Image credits: © George Apostolidis; © Christoph Bielsa; © Gilles Trillard
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