Okay I’ll admit it. Underneath this jaded exterior, there’s a hopeless romantic and every once in a while I find myself longing for echoing hotel lobbies, sofas you can sink into – and something probably none existent in Paris’s renovated luxury hotels – porcelain bathrooms. Still, in the 1970s, some of these porcelain tile bathrooms remained complete with a shower emergency cord to pull if you fell down in the tub. (Being a kid back then, needless to say, I had to pull the cord to see what would happen. The response was instantaneous. A maid knocked at the hotel room door within seconds.)
Here are the essentials for a romantic luxury hotel:
A lobby with presence – and plenty of nooks and crannies where you can sit incognito and watch the parade.
A balcony (or at least a huge window) with a great view framed with sweeping drapes.
A concierge who knows you by name.
Authentic furniture and rugs.
Spacious bedrooms and bathrooms.
Impeccable room service.
In case you haven’t noticed the luxury hotel business has gone through vast changes in the past thirty years. To begin with, very few of the famous hotels are owned by individuals, and even fewer are owned by French nationals.
This wouldn’t be so bad if global perspectives of luxury allowed some room for authenticity. Unfortunately, enthusiastic decorators tend to trash anything from the past – which is really a shame. Hotels absorb a little bit of each era – and a lobby carpet with some frayed edges provides that proof.
One of my most recent disappointments was the transformation of Hotel Vendome lobby at 1 Place Vendome. (I have yet to look at the refurbished rooms) It used to be an extremely good value in an expensive neighborhood with furniture that appeared to be 19th-century. One could almost imagine the ambassador of the Republic of Texas strolling through the lobby. Nowadays, Paris hotel interiors look, for the most part like they were decorated yesterday.
I realize that many hotel guests complain bitterly if they find their rooms to be the slightest bit dated – so one can’t really blame hoteliers for giving guests what they want. But, honestly, when you stay at a hotel famous for its past visitors, it’s easier to commune with their spirits if you can sit on the same sofa or barstool for example where Hemingway may have watched the first Allied troops arrive in Paris. (While Hemingway was busy liberating the Ritz Hotel’s bar).
You will be hard-pressed to find any luxury hotel in Paris that has maintained its original décor – and even more impossible would be finding bedrooms that have kept their original furniture. However, the Concord St. Lazare lobby (formerly Grand Hotel Terminus) near Gare St. Lazare is definitely worth a visit (whether you choose to stay there are not), just to grasp an inkling of the 19th century grandeur.
Meanwhile, that’s not to say that you can’t expect to find some romantic corners in Paris’s top luxury hotels (but expect to pay top Euro for the privilege). If I could wave my magic wand and win a night in a Paris hotel – here are the hotels at the top of my wish list:
The suite at Hotel George V which has a balcony with a view of the Eiffel Tower (you can see this view on the Hotel George V website). (The Hotel George V used to be an American-owned and operated hotel, but no longer).
Hotel Raphael (the room featured in Darjeeling Limited)
Hotel Meurice – the signature suites. A handy place to hang your borsalino – just a hop, skip and a jump from the Tuileries and the Louvre, with a Michelin-star restaurant to boot.
The Ritz – even a junior suite would be nice here – and this is one place where the rooms keep some of their traditional furnishings.
Perhaps two of the least refurbished ‘grand dames’ of the hotel business would be
Hotel Regina, Place des Pyramides, and Hotel Lutetia, Blvd Raspail. Lutetia’s rooms are in the process of being renovated (it’s also part of a hotel chain).
And if anyone knows of any hotel that still has its original porcelain bathrooms (outside of the Versailles chateau ), please let me know!
228 Rue Rivoli
Four Seasons George V
31 Avenue George V
45 Blvd. Raspail
17 Avenue Kleber
Place des Pyramides
Concorde St. Lazare (Grand Hotel Terminus)
108 Rue Saint Lazare
15 Place Vendome
Re: The Marie Antoinette style canopy bed. Romantic, yes, but you can’t find this bed in ANY Paris luxury hotel, not even the Ritz. It’s a one-of-a-kind bed, handcrafted bed. If you’d like to know more, e-mail Parisgirl.