Spring is here, and it just has to be Paris
Ready for that seasonal trip to the French capital? We choose three hotel destinations where style and comfort are guaranteed
Sunday 13 March 2005
SMOOTH AS SILK
SMOOTH AS SILK
InterContinental Le Grand
Right next to the Opera House at the top of the Avenue de l'Opéra, one of Paris's grand boulevards, which leads down to the Louvre and the Seine. The InterContinental Le Grand, built in 1862, in the era of Napoleon III, re-opened in 2003 after an 18-month refurbishment designed to place it firmly at the top of the list of Paris's smart hotels. The smell of varnish still lingers on the newly polished doors and banisters while the lobby is full of huge vases of fresh lilies. You enter up a flight of stairs through doors opened by staff in top hats and tails before checking in at the spacious reception. The lobby boasts bentwood furniture and Oriental screens and leads to the cafe and bar, which feature a glass ceiling and a huge chandelier. It's worth walking up and down the grand staircase to examine the classic paintings and soak up the ambience. The internal decor draws heavily on the neighbouring Opera House and pictures of stars of the opera and ballet, including Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, hang on the walls.
Apart from its wonderful location and the fact that some rooms overlook the Opera House? Well, there's also the majestic Cafe de la Paix. The huge chandeliers, glass canopy and delicate sky-blue murals on the ceiling make this the grandest of Parisian grand cafes. Famous names who have supped here include the future Edward VII, Emile Zola and Oscar Wilde, who, so the hotel literature reports, dreamed he saw an angel in the conservatory terrace.
The comfort factor
The hotel has 482 rooms. Mine focused on a king-sized bed so high it's a wonder they don't provide a stepladder to help you climb into it. Above the bed hung a beautiful silk screen while the windows were framed with velvet curtains and regency armchairs. The bar and lobby have huge, comfy sofas and are surrounded by lush palms and foliage.
Sleek lines with separate shower and bath. Soaps and lotions from Audley's of London.
The food and drink
The Brasserie de la Paix offers outstanding food and service in one of the city's loveliest settings. It really is worth treating yourself here. Starters include Shetland Islands smoked salmon with blinis and fresh cream, while among the main courses on offer is grilled turbot with caramelised onions. The prices are bearable, given the standard and location, with dishes starting at around €40 (£29). Drinks are expensive: beer checks in at €8 (£6) and a late-night Viennese hot chocolate at €7 (£5).
A good mix, from international executives, to small, affluent, Japanese tour groups and the odd Indian film star. For everyone else, it's a place to come for that special anniversary celebration.
The Opera House across the road opens its doors for visits and tours. A walk to the Louvre and the Tuileries takes only a leisurely 15 minutes.
There are ramps and elevators for every staircase and ten rooms have been designed for disabled travellers so far, with more under renovation, though they provide wider baths rather than special showers.
Walk-in rates start at a finger-burning €740 (£542), but the hotel is currently offering rates on its website from €370 (£271) per night. Presidential suites are strictly for those readers who picked the right numbers in last night's lottery: the price is €3,270 (£2,400) per night.
InterContinental le Grand, 2 Rue Scribe, 75009 Paris (00 33 1 40 07 32 32; www.paris-le-grand.intercontinental.com).
Tucked behind the Champs Élysées, off the Avenue George V, in the upmarket 8th arrondissement. Do you like your Parisian grandeur to have a contemporary edge? This 19th-century cornerhouse offers exactly that, following an extensive refurbishment by its owner, The Scotsman Hotel Group. Careful attention has been paid to its Haussmann-style façade and to preserving period details inside. Yet the furnishings and decor are thoroughly 21st century, using a fashionable palette of muted colours - browns purples, greys and white - with tactile textiles such as mohair, fake fur and silk.
A cool, intimate retreat in the right part of town. In the Sixties, the hotel was on the jazz scene and film stars such as Tony Curtis and Marlene Dietrich called it a home from home. Today it doesn't feel like a party house, though Hollywood greats, including Richard Gere and Johnny Depp, still check in.
The comfort factor
There are 93 rooms and suites, with satellite TV, DVD and internet access. A clever touch: each room has a hatch that can be opened from outside, so meals can be discreetly delivered.
In sparkling porcelain and marble, ours had a walk-in shower, bath and separate loo, and was supplied with Molton Brown toiletries.
The food and drink
The hotel employed the talents of Sir Terence Conran to design the restaurant and bar, Senso, which serves a French gastronomic menu.
Well-off Europeans - and those stellar guests.
The Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower are within walking distance. The hotel has a small gym, sauna and offers beauty treatments.
Children welcome. Some pets too. Full disabled access.
From €410 (£286) per room per night.
La Trémoille, 14 rue de La Trémoille, 75008 Paris, France (00 33 1 56 52 14 00; www.hotel-tremoille.com).
Kate Simon travelled to Paris with Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com), which offers return fares from £59.
In the immensely posh Rue de la Paix - Paris's equivalent to London's Bond Street - which runs north from the Place Vendôme to the Opéra. A short stroll, in other words, from the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre.
Traditional, with dim lighting and hushed, discreet service. It isn't in the absolute top tier of Parisian hotels, but it falls not far short. In many respects, it still resembles the 19th-century hotel that it once was, with antique carpets, giant flower displays and marble columns in the hall, and flowery bedspreads, heavy drapes, chandeliers and chaise-longues in the bedrooms. Other decorative features in my room included block-print wallpaper, gilt picture frames and period etchings, not to mention a leather-topped desk and an antique bronze clock. The whole place has been refurbished and redecorated to a high standard under Pierre-Yves Rochon.
A more affordable and classy substitute for the Ritz (which is just round the corner).
The comfort factor
A few guests have complained about bedrooms being too small, but otherwise, it's comfortable. Despite the hotel's central location, most of the 100 rooms are almost soundproof. And rooms offer all the facilities of a top-notch hotel, including high-speed internet connections and British newspapers delivered to your door with breakfast.
Lots of marble, and plenty of natural light, with windows overlooking the central garden-courtyard. The beauty products are expensive brands such as Bulgari and Carven. Some of the bathrooms have old-fashioned dressing tables.
The food and drink
This is one of the hotel's best features. Le Celadon restaurant (00 33 1 47 03 40 42), with its damask wall hangings and pale green Chinese porcelain (and decent-sized tables), has a well-deserved Michelin star and is a place to enjoy the meal of a lifetime. A three-course meal from the fabulously creative à la carte menu is unlikely to cost less than £100 per head, including wine, though there is also a superb set menu (called Plaisirs Gourmands) with an oriental aspect for about £45. At the weekend, the restaurant changes its style and its menu, transforming itself into Le Petit Celadon, which is more relaxed and slightly cheaper and simpler; a three-course menu of about £33 is offered, including wine and coffee. Service (in English and French) is flawless.
The Dukes of Westminster, among others, have had a tradition of staying here since the end of the 19th century (the hotel had named itself the Westminster as long ago as 1831, during one of Paris's more Anglophile periods). Other celebrity guests have included footballer Eric Cantona, rock star Prince, and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. More ordinary clientele include British merchant bankers and anybody who prefers discretion to publicity.
You can smoke a cigar and browse an antique book in the Duke's Bar, while admiring its huge gothic fireplace, giant leather furniture and wallpaper resembling green baize. Or, if you don't like the idea of an English gentleman's club in Paris, go up to the Westminster Fitness Club, a workout centre under a glass-ceiling, with a view over the rooftops of the city.
Pets and children welcome. Restricted access for wheelchair users.
Through Great Hotels of the World, small classic double rooms are currently available for about £100. Prices for suites cost up to about £600.
Call Great Hotels of the World on 0800 0324254; www.ghotw.com.
Hotel Westminster, 13 Rue de la Paix, 75002 Paris (00 33 1 42 615746; www.hotelwestminster.com)
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