Just after Christmas, this most discreet Parisian hotel reopened fully after a lengthy and much-needed refurbishment.
Constructed as a hôtel particulier in 1924, The Lancaster only started admitting the general public in the 1990s. Before then, it operated as a long-term Parisian pied-à-terre for the well-heeled and well-connected. Marlene Dietrich stayed for several weeks after she left Holly-wood, and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were residents here for several months. Cinema's most glamorous couple had furious rows inside Room 701, which, mercifully for the rest of the guests, had a private staircase. Dietrich was more discreet, moving her daughter Maria to another hotel whenever a new lover was installed.
The Marlene Suite (Room 401) was one of the first to be restored, using a lilac palette based on her favourite colour and new furniture inspired by originals found in her New York apartment. Elsewhere, the original parquet floors have been exposed and lilies placed outside rooms in tribute to Marlene's habit of deluging the hotel with flowers.
More recently, the famous names in the livre d'or include Danny Boyle, Adrian Brody, Claire Danes, Stephen Frears, Ang Lee and Christina Ricci. The Lancaster has always been more of a home than a hotel and the recent wholesale refurbishment has not altered this. "We are the opposite of bling," says the manager, Valentino, who treats both stars and mere mortals with equal courtesy.
The feeling is intimate, with just 46 rooms and 11 suites. Original features – working fireplaces, French windows, chandeliers, parquet flooring and shutters – have been retained, although just about everything has been taken up and relaid for 21st-century levels of comfort. Even the smallest single room combines lofty 1920s ceilings and antiques with modern conveniences such as free Wi-Fi. When The Lancaster was opened by the Swiss hotelier, Emile Wolf, the staff scoured Paris auction rooms for antiques. Every room has something priceless on display. Most are hung with an original painting by Boris Pastoukhoff. He was a penniless Ukrainian artist who fled the Russian revolution in 1917 and financed his decade at The Lancaster by presenting pictures in lieu of payment.
All suites have MP3 docks and DVD players but only the Marlene Suite has all her Josef von Sternberg films on DVD (you can spend a guilty afternoon lying on a reproduction of her Art Deco sofa watching The Scarlett Empress, Morocco, and Blue Angel). Meanwhile, the Dietrich Suite still displays the lady's baby grand piano, an Erard. It looks splendid, although when Vladimir Ashkenazy tried it out recently, some keys stuck.
Food and Drink
There is a small restaurant that looks out on an even smaller courtyard with Zen touches. The restaurant reflects this oriental look with a number of Japanese paintings. With Corinthian columns and large round modern tables, "eclectic" might be the best word to describe the décor.
Dinner can be ordered from two delicious tasting menus or à la carte, grouped under six headings: "zesty", "spicy", "spirit", "green", "sour" and "sharp and bright". Chef Michel Troisgros likes to work with ingredients chosen for their freshness, and slightly sour notes: scallops melba with Osetra caviar, truffles in puff pastry or blackcurrant and chestnut meringue. Three courses cost from around €80 per person without wine.
There is a gym with superb rooftop views of the city. The service is friendly (always an extra in Paris). Later this year, the hotel plans to offer Marlene Dietrich tours.
Children up to 12 stay free in parents' rooms. Small pets are welcome. There are steps up to reception and the dining room; a lift goes up to wheelchair-accessible rooms on the seventh and eighth floors.
Double rooms from €541, room only.
The Lancaster, 7 rue de Berri, Paris, France (00 33 1 40 76 40 01; hospes.es).