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In 2010, the French Ministry of Tourism decided five-star status simply did not do justice to the country’s most illustrious hotels, properties that offer lavish accommodations and services on par with the palaces French nobility once called home. So, it decided to create “Palaces of France” distinction. The award recognizes hotels with exceptional locations, architectural heritage, and outstanding servic—many of which are American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts properties. Hotels must apply and the criteria are stringent—including multilingual staff, concierge service, a spa and a fitness area, and beauty and massage facilities. Some luxurious French hotels, most notably the Ritz Paris, have opted not to apply.
After awarding the designation to just one hotel in 2018—the Hôtel de Crillon, a Rosewood Hotel—the Palace Commission awarded the distinction to six properties in October 2019, bringing the number of Palaces in France to 31. They also renewed three, including the properties Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, and Hotel Le K2 Palace in Courchevel; even Palace distinction is finite and must be renewed every five years. The newly added properties—joining the ranks of grande dames such as Le Bristol in Paris and Les Prés d’Eugénie in Basque Country—are a mix of impressive hotels in luxurious destinations throughout the country from the French Riviera to the Alps.
Here are the six spectacular new additions:
The Barriere Groupe, a French hospitality company known for luxury casinos, hotels, and the iconic brasserie Le Fouquet’s in Paris, opened its first mountain retreat in 2016 following a two-year-long renovation. Designer Nathalie Ryan took cues from the fairytale-like village of Courchevel 1850. Pine trees and glittering ice inspired the grey and amber color scheme. The guestrooms, including the three-bedroom Les Neiges Penthouse, feature contemporary alpine design: modern white fireplaces, raw edge wood coffee tables, and plenty of windows. Restaurants include the second outpost of Le Fouquet’s and a wood-fire restaurant from three-Michelin-star chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur in Menton, an American Express Global Dining Collection partner.
A gathering place for Paris’ elite artists and writers since opening in 1910, the Lutetia in Saint-Germain-des-Prés—the only hotel on the Left Bank to achieve Palace distinction—was reborn in 2018 courtesy of a renovation by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Wilmotte took great pains to preserve original details uncovered during the renovation such as delicate ceiling frescos and a mosaic tile wall in the courtyard while adding modern touches: brighter public spaces and streamlined leather furnishings. Its lavish spa (covered in rare white marble), Brasserie Lutetia, overseen by three-Michelin-star chef Gérald Passedat) and opulent suites including a penthouse designed by Francis Ford Coppola make it worthy of the Palace moniker.
This hotel in the Riviera hills decided to apply for Palace designation following a renovation of its 45 rooms and suites in 2018. It received a resounding yes due to its extraordinary architecture (once owned by the Knights Templar, parts of the château date back to the 12th century), Michelin star cuisine, and excellent service. Six secluded villas have large balconies and unobstructed views of olive groves. Château Saint-Martin is also a bird sanctuary and nesting boxes for owls and other birds can be found in the property’s trees. Another Oetker Collection property, the wealthy Oetker family, who also own Le Bristol in Paris and Brenners Park Hotel & Spa in Germany, have owned the hotel since 1998.
Cheval Blanc Saint-Tropez
The luxury Cheval Blanc hotel group downsized the former La Résidence de la Pinede to just 30 spacious rooms to create this Tropézien-style maison. Located in a tangle of pine trees on Bouillabaisse Beach, Cheval Blanc Saint-Tropez is walking distance from town and has splendid views of the iconic bell tower. The hotel, also designed by Wilmotte, opened in May 2019 with rooms and suites inspired by the sea, feature pops of deep blue, crisp white linens, and terraces. Other new additions include an infinity pool and a Guerlain spa. The hotel’s three-Michelin-star restaurant La Vague d’Or, led by chef Arnaud Donckele, is one of Saint-Tropez’s best. The seasonal hotel is open May through October.
Located on a pretty peak in Courchevel 1850, the Oetker Collection’s ski in ski out L’Apogée Courchevel has some of the best views in the French Alps. It’s also located just above a historic Olympic ski jump. The 53 guest rooms feel more cozy than contemporary: think plaid floor coverings, luxurious fur throws, and cushy jewel-toned couches. Five chic alpine chalets, each with five bedrooms, are available for larger groups. L’Apogée has a variety of dining options from Japanese fare at Koori to classic French cuisine Comptoir de L’Apogée. Bar de l’Apogée has frequent live music during the winter season.
Villa La Coste
Villa La Coste opened in the middle of a biodynamic vineyard in Provence in 2018 and set a new standard for luxury in the region. The intimate hotel has just 28 villa suites; each with a sitting area, private terraces, and modern furnishings like four-poster beds with gauzy curtains. Pool villas have the added perk of private swimming pools. Dinner could include a causal affair in the hotel library or a firey experience at the winery’s Francis Mallmann-run restaurant. The spa offers treatments that use Provencal products like jasmine, lavender, rose, olive, and apricot, and concierges can arrange anything a guest might desire from a cruise off of Cassis to a helicopter ride over lavender fields.