An American chain hotel may seem an odd choice for an intimate Valentine's tryst in Paris. But, stay with me, because Starwood, one of the world's largest hotel groups, has managed to sensitively apply its upmarket Westin branding to a quite extraordinary property in the city's first arrondissement.
Built in the late 19th century as the Hôtel Continental, The Westin Paris is a magnificent structure that takes up a whole block of the Rue de Rivoli, with front-row views of the Tuileries Gardens.
It was designed by some of the great names of Napoleon III's Second Empire: the architect Henri Blondel, also credited with the Gare de Lyon, conceived its grandiose shape and spaces, the artists Laugée, Faustin Besson, Luminais and Mazerolle all embellished its interiors, which include the exquisite opulence of the Louis XIV-style Salon Napoleon.
The resulting confection delighted the elite of Europe, who were first accommodated here in time for the Universal Exhibition of 1878. Kings and queens, artists and politicians, movie stars and fashion designers have followed them down the years. If it's good enough for them.
Westin has maintained the integrity of this historic landmark while breathing new life into its communal areas and 440 bedrooms with luxe contemporary styling, allowing guests to admire its original beauty and enjoy the kind of 21st-century comforts demanded of a five-star hotel. The only intrusion is Starwood's insistence of branding every experience; so you don't get any old bed, you get a "Heavenly® Bed". (I can vouch, however, that it is among the most comfortable I've slept in.) Satellite TV, internet access, video on demand and voicemail are also laid on.
The food and drink
Le First Restaurant Boudoir Paris is a suitable setting for a seduction with its purple velvet banquettes and silk cushions. But, when the weather is good enough, La Terrasse woos with its airy elegance. The international dishes are strictly sourced from in and around the city and a three-course set menu, without wine, costs a competitive €35 a head for lunch and dinner. A special Valentine's menu – a feast of foie gras, scallops, truffles and warm chocolate cake – is available on the day itself from €80 per person. Brunch, buffet, well-being – aka b3, another bit of branding – is provided on Sundays between September and June, and afternoon tea – l'Instant Boudoir – is offered daily. For a cocktail before dinner, head for the stylish and cosy Tuileries Bar.
The hotel's Six Senses spa has just opened. It's a luxurious study in well-being, with two single and four double cocoon-shaped treatment rooms where guests embark on indulgent "sensory journeys", for him and her. The spa menu focuses on organic ingredients, including honey from hives on the roof of the Paris Opera.There's a 24-hour gym, too.
While you're out and about, take a romantic stroll through the Tuileries, which are literally just across the Rue de Rivoli. The Eiffel Tower is close by, and there's stellar shopping on the elegant Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. Thinking of popping the question? The hotel hosts weddings, so you could always return for the big day.
Some rooms have been modified for guests with disabilities. Children are welcome and small pets are admitted – in fact, dogs are pampered with a specially designed bed.
The Westin Paris offers a special "Indulge Package" for £304 especially for Valentine's Day. It includes one night's accommodation for two in a superior double room, sparkling wine and strawberries, and breakfast in bed. Kate Simon travelled to Paris with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), which has return flights from £140.
The Westin Paris, 3 rue de Castiglione, 75001 Paris, France (00 33 1 44 77 11 11; westin.com/paris).
WIN! A weekend for two in Lisbon
We've teamed up with Hotels.com – the world's leading hotel booking website – to offer a weekend break for two in Lisbon, Portugal. Enter our prize draw and you could be the lucky winner of two nights' B&B at the four-star Fontana Park Hotel in Lisbon. You'll also win two economy flights from London to Lisbon courtesy of TAP Portugal.
Just email your name, address, and telephone number to firstname.lastname@example.org, putting Hotels.com Prize Draw in the subject line, by noon on Friday 12 February 2010. The winner of the weekend in Dublin was Iris Andrijaszyn of Norfolk.
Please write OPT OUT at the top of your entry if you do not wish to receive promotional materials from INM or our draw partners. The holiday will be subject to availability until 30 December 2010. Entrants must be aged 18 years or over. For full draw rules go to independent.co.uk/legal.