LE MEURICE, the famed hotel across the street from the Tuileries Garden, is a Parisian legend. Stepping beyond the entryway into the breathtakingly grand dining room of the hotel’s Restaurant Le Dalí feels like entering the time of Louis XVI. Still, there are Surrealist touches, like the painted ceiling, a nod to the restaurant’s namesake, Salvador Dalí, who first visited the hotel in 1950. For the next 30-plus years, he returned for a month each year. These elements remind visitors that tradition can be preserved with a playful twist — and that we are very much in the modern age.
Maintaining a lively repartee between the past and the present is all in a day’s work for Franka Holtmann, who has been the general manager of Le Meurice for more than 15 years. She presides over an institution with a rich history that occupies a unique place in the Parisian imagination. When I meet Holtmann on a recent visit, we pass through the vibrant restaurant and settle into deep, brown-leather armchairs at the adjacent Bar 228, where we sip fresh fruit cocktails and converse over the buttery piano sounds leading a live jazz band.
Holtmann has head of state energy, a mildly intimidating kind of authority conveyed by unerring attentiveness, a structured skirt suit, and a sparkling smile. She appears poised and observant at every moment: these are the skills required, after all, to run a storied institution with a staff of more than 300. But once we get talking, I’m immediately set at ease by her warmth and humor. I’m especially charmed by the way she talks about her chosen city.
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Holtmann was raised in and around Essen, Germany, but her father worked in France for a time when she was growing up, and she developed a love for the culture. “I liked the French way of living,” she says. She knew she wanted to live in France, but in terms of working in hospitality, it was a trip to the seaside Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz with her best friend at age 17 that sealed the deal. She went on to spend time in Nice and Monaco before arriving in Paris in 1980. Holtmann wanted to practice her French while living in the city, and only planned on staying a couple of years, but it didn’t take long for her to think, “I am never going back to Germany.”
Holtmann worked for hotel groups like Hilton and Le Meridien, and was then tapped by The Ritz in 1995 to take over as director of sales and marketing. “The Ritz is a mythic hotel,” she says, and the opportunity was too unique to pass up. She worked there for five “great, great” years before becoming the number two at Plaza Athénée (Le Meurice’s sister hotel) and then number one at Le Meurice.
Here, Holtmann doesn’t keep fixed hours. Depending on what’s happening at the hotel, she might not leave until 11 o’clock at night. But the fluidity keeps things exciting. “What’s so interesting about this job is that you’re working with architects, you’re working with lawyers, and people from finance and sales and marketing and communications. That’s what I love most about it — there is never a routine.”
For as much time as Holtmann spends within the walls of Le Meurice, she also has a broader lens. “I think it’s very important to nourish yourself from outside,” she says. “You can’t always be focused only on your own field; you need to get ideas and inspiration.” Starting to travel again has been particularly gratifying. People tend to think of a hotel as a turnkey operation — “you just put the table here, a telephone, keep the sheets clean,” she says. But there is so much more that goes into maintaining the standard of an iconic property like Le Meurice, into creating enduring positive memories for guests. More than anything, traveling helps Holtmann identify those little details that make a big difference.
She enjoys returning to Paris and sharing these experiences with her own staff at the roundtable discussions she began hosting every six weeks. “Maybe people are scared when they see me because … I’m German,” she laughs. “No, but really, I can be a little tough.” But she doesn’t want anyone to be intimidated, so she began hosting the casual dinners, where staff from all levels and all departments are invited to experience a different side of their manager. “I tell them there’s nothing behind it, we’re just here to get to know each other better and understand what we do every day.”
For Holtmann, running Le Meurice is the culmination of a nearly lifelong romance with the French capital, and she relishes her role as an ambassador of history. One can’t help but collect the hotel’s incredible stories during a visit. For example, it is rumored that in the 1840s, Napoleon III created an underground tunnel from the Tuileries Garden to Le Meurice in order to carry out clandestine visits to his mistress. A Champagne cork popped at Picasso’s wedding is said to have made a dent in a dining room portrait. More recently, the hotel has been a home away from home for an array of super famous guests, from Coco Chanel to Andy Warhol to Beyoncé, who filmed the video for “A Spring Afternoon in Paris” in the hotel’s penthouse.
Less recognizable guests are just as important to Holtmann, who exemplifies the Dorchester Collection’s commitment to service and feels a special responsibility in running the first “Palace” hotel in France (a government designation that recognizes five-star luxury hotels with impeccable service). What do guests want in a five-star hotel? “You want to make people feel at ease, but you want to be elegant,” she says. Elegance lies in service, as well as in “a savvy mixture of different ages, men, women, and children, different backgrounds, different fashions and art. You should never have just one type of guest — that means exclusion.”
Of course, the offerings at Le Meurice are exclusive: Sumptuous rooms and suites evoke Sofia Coppola’s take on Marie Antoinette; there is a Valmont spa on the premises; the lobby, restaurant, and bar were designed by Philippe Starck; Alain Ducasse is at the helm of the hotel’s Michelin-starred culinary program; and master pâtissier Cédric Grolet makes the pastries — guests can purchase his trompe l’oeil–sculpted fruits at an on-site patisserie. But by creating a spirited, happy environment, Holtmann seeks to ensure that Le Meurice continues to evolve and invite new patrons. Here, fancy doesn’t mean stuffy — rather, tradition is creatively reignited.
AMERICAN EXPRESS® CARD MEMBER ACCESS
Fine Hotels + Resorts®
Le Meurice is a Fine Hotels + Resorts property. When you book with American Express Travel, you’ll receive an exclusive suite of benefits including daily breakfast for two, a $100 experience credit that varies by property, guaranteed 4pm check-out, and more. Plus, book on AmexTravel.com and you can earn 5X Membership Rewards® points, or use Pay with Points, on prepaid stays. Terms apply. Learn more here.
Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a senior editor of Departures based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Matthieu Salvaing Photographer
Passionate about people, travel, and the art of living, Matthieu Salvaing’s photography explores reportage, portraits, and lifestyle. He regularly works with luxury brands and international press titles, as well as with publishing houses, to highlight the work of artists and designers. In 2020, Rizzoli New York published a monograph on him, “Voyages Intérieurs,” which takes him to the heart of the most mythical residences he has photographed globally in recent years.