People have been raving about The Peninsula Paris ever since it opened August 1st, 2014 – a connoisseur par excellence who was there the very first day declared it to be très bien (in France you never exaggerate), and later a 16-year old male sceptic gave it a suitably Italian operatic-aria assessment. The gal had to see this luxury hotel for herself. She never dreamed that she would be greeted not only by the GM, Nicolas Béliard, but by the COO of The Peninsula group, the increasingly pop-up-everywhere Peter Borer.
There has been a building here, at the junction of avenue Kléber and rue Jean Girardoux, since 1908, when this was the Majestic Hotel. Its main high-ceiling ground-floor public rooms have been retained, the rest rebuilt and extended. Now, from avenue Kléber, you look up through a giant, origami-style glass and steel ‘umbrella’, a canopy protecting an outer terrace – reach this, from the street, up seven grey-carpeted steps flanked by two stone lions, in Chinese style. The architect today is Richard Martinet, the interiors are Henry Leung. The hotel is jointly owned by Qatar, which has 80 percent, and by The Peninsula’s owners, who have the other 20 percent.
The main lobby, reached direct from rue Jean Girardoux, is a two-floor-high space, marble and glass, and white paint and stunning white flowers in tall silver urns atop six-foot plinths. Look down through a first-floor inner window and you see some of the 800 clear crystal or gold flying-fish shapes, suspended from the ceiling (like all the modern chandeliers here, they are from my old friends Lasvit in the Czech Republic). Apparently there was a fear some visitors might bump into the flying fish so Peter Borer brought back three giant rocks from Bhutan. They are here, on the floor, and, guess what, someone bumped into them in the first week.
One unexpected challenge is that the hotel has been full since day one. All 200 bedrooms are taken, and I, for one (suite 318) adored the understated colours, the easy-work tablet and the much-vaunted personalised labels, which mean all signage, say for drapes, outside awnings and lights, is in YOUR language – 11 languages are available, programmed by front desk when you check in. I also love having a free mini-bar, with big-sized waters and juices. Public areas are, well, busy (it is quite true that you need to reserve a restaurant table three weeks ahead). Everyone wants to come and see – and IS it true that LVMH boss Bernard Arnault nearly coincided with the red and black striped-hair Stephen Hung? Hung, currently spending $800 million on the 230-room Louis XIII hotel in Macau, was in Paris on his way to Goodwood, in England, to sign the biggest-ever Rolls-Royce purchase, namely 30 bespoke extended-wheelbase Phantoms (two gold-plated, all with Graff diamond-encrusted interior clocks). Back to Paris. This luxury hotel is just so addictive. Walk along the 100-yard marbled gallery from the main lobby, past designer vitrines and a Hobbs store, to the 12-foot fibre-optic curtain that announces LiLi, a new take on a Shanghai-meets-Paris restaurant of the 1930s. You just want to go in…
Simply Sunday. The travelling life can be, well, a bit boring for many – for those who are waiting for something, for all of us delayed by air traffic control and other transport delays. The gal says think, imagine, and dream.
Take this glass carriage. Yes, it really exists. It is the perfect wedding transport. I think it is so clever that Cliveden, the gorgeously palatial country house hotel that I will be visiting in a week’s time, offers this coach – and more – to those clever couples who choose to have their weddings there.
And for those who are already married, think what a simple ride around the estate, driven by a gorgeous pair of shires, would do for any girl’s morale!
Napoleon wanted to make the capital of his empire the most impressive in the world. In 1806 he authorised what is now the Place Vendôme column – next to one of the city’s currently-under-refurbishment luxury hotels, Ritz Paris – and that same year he agreed that architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin, with the help of Jean-Arnaud Raymond, should design an amazing triumphal arch, ‘at the entry to the boulevard by the site of the former Bastille’. The first stone was laid, the gal learns, on Napoleon‘s birthday, August 15th that same year. (The French worked more quickly in those days, pre-EU and other bureaucracy.)
It is gorgeous being back in Paris when the sun shines. I walked and walked. Coming east along rue du Faubourg I got to an area of chic art galleries. There, almost looking directly across at the Elysée Palace, or back side thereof, is Hotel Le Bristol, Paris, a mansion built for Madame de Pompadour, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, 1721-1764, mistress of Louis XV – in 1824 it was extended to take in the former convent of Les Petites Soeurs de la Bonne Espérance, and in 1925 it was turned into a hotel by Hippolyte Jammet, who named it for Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, 1730–1803 – he was known as The Earl-Bishop, as after being Bishop of Cloyne for merely a year he was Bishop of Derry from 1768 until his death. He had time for lots of travel (he was known to walk around Rome wearing a broad-brimmed white hat, many chains and red breeches, possibly an attempt to upstage his Catholic rivals). He also had time to get married and beget seven children.
Today the 188-room hotel is a jewel of the Oetker Collection, and, oh so typically Paris, it has not one but two Michelin-starred restaurants. The face of Bulgari was lunching in Epicure, which has three stars – in summer, you eat in a light and airy glass-walled conservatory looking out at manicured hedges, giant magnolias and an ancient stone fountain. The face of Girlahead, by contrast, was lunching in the lovely 114 Faubourg (one star), looking out at art collectors walking to galleries in rue Matignon and looking around, in the completely full restaurant, at French literati and European personalities, and orange wallpaper with gigantic, like three-foot-high, dahlias. This is a place where work gets done. Each table has an elegant notepad and tiny, beautifully sharpened pencil (and I am sure they had eyeglasses if needed)
GM Didier Le Calvez, who also heads Oetker’s operations in the Caribbean and the Seychelles, and marketing worldwide, says the typical guests at this particular luxury hotel are mostly mid-40s up, with a growing percentage of youngsters who want to discover what real luxury is. The answer? Real luxury has soul. It also includes tradition, sometimes with a modern twist – like the presentation of my steak tartare.