As soon as you walk through the discreet entrance to the Hotel Meurice on the rue de Rivoli, it's impossible not to be struck - and a little overwhelmed by - the orgy of marble, silk, luxurious carpets, gilding and enormous crystal chandeliers that await you inside. It is, without doubt, one of the grandest palace hotels in Paris.
As soon as you walk through the discreet entrance to the Hotel Meurice on the rue de Rivoli, it's impossible not to be struck - and a little overwhelmed by - the orgy of marble, silk, luxurious carpets, gilding and enormous crystal chandeliers that await you inside. It is, without doubt, one of the grandest palace hotels in Paris. However, while it might at first seem a little intimidating, the hotel's relaxed atmosphere helps ease you into the surroundings.
It is such a Paris landmark, that it's a little surprising to learn that the hotel's origins lie in Calais. In 1771, an enterprising postmaster by the name of Charles-Augustin Meurice recognised a gap in the market. Well-heeled British travellers en route to Paris needed somewhere to overnight when they arrived on French shores, so he opened a coaching inn to accommodate them, also offering an onward coach service to the capital.
This was followed in 1817 by a second coaching inn in Paris, which moved to its present location in 1835. Owing to its instant popularity with English travellers, it soon earned itself the moniker the "City of London" and was renowned for its lavish spreads. W M Thackeray said of it, "If you don't speak a word of French, if you like English comfort... do not listen to any of the messengers but with your best British accent cry heartily; Meurice! And immediately someone will come forward and drive you to the rue de Rivoli".
These days the comforts offered are more French in flavour, but the philosophy of catering to guests' every whim remains the same. This was often taken a little bit too literally by one of the hotel's most frequent guests, the artist Salvador Dali, whose requests included one for a herd of sheep to be brought to his room. But perhaps the most bizarre of all was when staff had to capture flies for him in the Tuileries, for which he paid them five francs per fly. Needless to say, all requests were carried out, no questions asked - the Hotel Meurice is that kind of place.
The hotel is also home to one of the most talked-about new restaurants in Parisian gourmet circles, Le Meurice, housed in a ridiculously extravagant dining room. Since taking over in September 2003, its chef, Yannick Alleno, has earned a second Michelin star for the restaurant with signature dishes such as turbot and truffles in a clay crust.
Even by Parisian standards, this is an address to die for. Right in the heart of the chicer-than-chic 1st arrondissement, the hotel lies between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, and is directly opposite the Tuileries Gardens. 228 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France (00 33 1 44 58 10 10; www.meuricehotel.com).
Time to international airport:
Charles de Gaulle airport is approximately a 45-minute drive from the hotel, and the Gard du Nord is a mere €10 (£6) taxi ride away.
ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?
There are 160 rooms, including 35 suites. All were completely renovated in 2000 and are spacious and decorated in styles borrowed from different periods. Beds are huge and linen is pressed to within an inch of its life.
The hotel's Belle Etoile Suite has one of the best views in the whole of Paris from its terrace - uninterrupted 360-degree vistas of the capital, with the gardens and the Eiffel Tower in the background. If your budget can stretch to it, spend a night in the romantic Marco Polo Suite. Tucked into the eaves of the hotel on the sixth floor, it's decorated to resemble a tent, albeit in a very luxurious way, all sloping ceilings, draped fabrics and wooden floors. Bathrooms are an orgy of marble.
Freebies: Penhaligon's Quercus toiletries.
Keeping in touch: each room is equipped with two direct-dial telephone lines, satellite TV, internet access and air con.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start from €650 (£464), excluding breakfast.
I'm not paying that: the Hotel Brighton (00 33 1 47 03 61 61; www.esprit-de-france.com), a few doors down at 218 rue de Rivoli offers double rooms from €119 (£85) per room per night, excluding breakfast.Reuse content