Unique Hotels – Prince de Galles, Paris

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is, given my frequent travels, to do more hotel reviews. I’ve decided to kick off with the Prince de Galles in Paris, for several reasons. First, you can’t beat the location – in the 8th arrondissement on the Avenue George V (more on that below). Second, it’s one of Starwood’s most elegant properties but beyond that it’s also quite historically significant. Third, it is where Chris and I stayed for our honeymoon and, of course, because of that it’s very special to us.

The Prince de Galles is located just off the Champs-Élysées, and shares its portion of the Avenue George V with the Four Seasons next door. In the neighborhood with the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde, and the Élysée Palace, the Prince de Galles is at the heart of Parisian elegance and romance. We’ve stayed at the Four Seasons as well, and while it’s certainly very glamorous, it can be somewhat formal and stiff. Or, as a slightly inebriated (and slightly too overly-Chanel clad) American guest who was sitting next to us one night at dinner famously declaimed: “It’s such a scene.” And with that pronouncement – which could have been uttered by one of Woody Allen’s more pretentious characters in “Midnight in Paris” – we had to be captivated by the “anti-scene” next door. 

The Prince de Galles and the Four Seasons share many characteristics – plush and decadent lobbies filled with ever-freshened floral arrangements, polished marble floors and acres of shiny brass and silver accents, eternal mirrors and silent but ever-present staff. But where the Four Seasons evokes the establishment and the upper crust of la Belle Epoque, the Prince de Galles exudes insouciant, Art Deco charm. Built in the heyday of the Jazz Age in 1928, the Prince de Galles has also welcomed many famous guests with a certain flair of their own: Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley among them. The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII and still later the Duke of Windsor, also lodged at his namesake on several occasions. A massive renovation in 2013 restored the hotel to something close to the original glorious elegance that he and others would have enjoyed nearly a century ago. The guest rooms are like jewel boxes – less spacious than intimate, more divine than staid. The spa is tiled in hues of blue and green, hidden in a deep, hushed core of the building, where you can forget you are in a busy hotel, much less one of the busiest cities in the world – sensory deprivation, anyone?

We were fortunate to be given a suite of rooms facing several stories up onto the courtyard below where “Le Patio,” a fabulous outdoor bar surrounded by terracing with endless mosaic tiles has held court since the hotel was built. While I didn’t fall for the claim by a staff member – who showed us over the property when we arrived – that Le Patio is UNESCO-protected due to those tiles having been hand-fired and glazed in Morocco, I agree it’s a beautiful and enchanting place. Having a drink under one of the potted palms and stretched on a rattan chaise lounge, you can imagine yourself somewhere between the Right Bank and French Algeria, c. 1934. At night, we opened the window of our bedroom, which faced over the patio and heard the laughter and music from guests below. Even on a cool November night, there was plenty of late-night revelry at Le Patio.

We also loved La Scene – the one Michelin star restaurant at the hotel. Described as a gastronomic experience it does live up to the hype. The food was delicious and rendered even more special as during our meal (late in the even due to full booking that night and others) ended with Chris and me as the only diners left. Our curated dessert of chocolate and figs made it a perfect evening. With a kitchen open on three sides to the dining room, you can also see the chef and team at work, which for foodies like us was another lovely treat.

Full disclosure: the staff did know we were on our honeymoon, and even if they did not they might have guessed from the surfeit of flowers, chocolate and champagne that kind friends and colleagues had delivered to us daily (either that or they might have mistaken us for someone’s entourage!). That said, the service was impeccable and we had no complaints or negative experiences at the Prince de Galles. And if you’re a Starwood points hound – as I am – there are some great deals to be had at this property. Start looking for those, and put the Prince de Galles on your list for a trip to Paris.

Les Bains – New Starwood Property in Paris

On a recent, semi-spur-of-the-moment trip to France, we needed a night in Paris when we first arrived before departing the next day for the Burgandy countryside.  I have a number of hotels that I like in Paris – ranging from the very basic Le Meridien to the very posh George V – but was looking for something different and new to try.

Searching the Starwood site, I found the latest addition to the company’s portfolio there – Les Bains – in the 3rd arrondissement.   Initially it was appealing because of the location (close to the Centre George Pompidou, Saint Chappelle, Notre Dame) and then additionally due to the legendary Haussman architecture that it showcases.  And, sure, it doesn’t hurt that Architectual Digest is also a huge fan.

But when we checked in we learned more about the history of this building and hotel – known now in its marketing and logo by three  distinct milestones in its past: 1885, 1978 and 2015 (more on that below).  To get a feel for why this is a truly unique property (and, by the way, with surprisingly reasonable rates even in the spring in Paris), here is the description from Harper’s Bazaar London in September 2015, noting this as one of “the best places to stay in Paris”:

As the Studio 54 of Paris, in its heyday Les Bains nightclub welcomed everyone from Yves Saint Laurent and Mick Jagger to Kate Moss and Johnny Depp. Since reopening in March, the Marais icon – once a 19th-century private bathhouse [opened in 1885] visited by Marcel Proust – invites you to carry on the party and stay the night in one of its 39 rooms and suites. The grandeur of the Haussmann architecture is enhanced by glorious marble bathrooms, wood panelling and antique furniture belonging to former guests, including a rug once owned by Gainsborough. Public spaces galore – including a bar, lounge, terrace and club – mean you can drink and dance almost anywhere, anytime. Or book into La Salle à Manger restaurant, headed up by Michelin-starred Philippe Labbé, where you’ll find a 15-metre-tall private dining-room in the former water tank of the Bains Guerbois.

Impressed yet?  No?  Then check out the New York Times’ review from June 2015, noting in part:

There were other clubs in that golden age of Paris night life, but perhaps none of them were as era defining. Opened in 1978 on the site of a 19th-century bathhouse in the Third Arrondissement, Les Bains Douches made stars of its designer (Philippe Starck) and resident D.J. (David Guetta), who were unknown at the time. Joy Division recorded a live album in the basement, where Prince performed impromptu and Depeche Mode played years before selling out stadiums. And then there was the crowd. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yves Saint Laurent, Mick Jagger, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss were there, indeed. But it was really about the cross section of clubgoers and creatives, highbrow and low, glamorous and underground, big names and nobodies, all mingling by the mosaic tile pool.

Oh, and by the way, the rooms are awesome – including red velvet sofas modeled on the ones in Andy Warhol’s Factory.  A few pictures below – the product of the 2105 renovation and reopening – showing the very modern sleek bathroom, terrace doors, the oh-so-retro telephone (dial 911 if you need anything at all in service, we were advised – no, seriously, 911, really), and the Marshall radio replica which is now your personal stereo system for the stay.

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Apartment Living

On a couple of trips outside the US this year, instead of staying in a hotel I’ve had the pleasure of instead renting an apartment for the week.  In Paris, we stayed in a wonderful place in the Marais, and in Cernobbio, Italy I found a wonderful garden apartment complete with its own garden facing onto Lake Como.

Many people prefer not to give up the joys of not making your own bed, enjoying room service, and a concierge to meet your every need.  But if you also like to shop at local markets, then a weekly rental can be a great solution.  In Paris, the market was right outside our building, and we enjoyed not only cooking for ourselves but also for friends and family who were also in town.  A few tough moments trying to learn how to operate the cooktop (instructions available only in French!) but eventually we figured it out.  Plus, our apartment faced on the other side onto the courtyard of a church, which was lush with blossoming trees in the early spring and gave us the added bonus of the gentle wake up call of the church bells in the morning.

In Cernobbio, the apartment was my choice over a hotel for a different reason – due to my procrastination, the hotel where friends were staying to celebrate a milestone birthday was completely booked!  After a fair amount of web searching, including the use of Google Maps and Google Earth, I found a lovely building next door (5 minute walk!) that faced onto the lake, for less than $200 per night.  Plus, it offered a kitchen – a good solution to trying to eat healthy that week as part of a cleanse program–, its own pool, an herb garden (fresh basil and tomatoes a huge bonus), and a private terrace garden.  The local grocer was across the street and the weekly market was a short stroll away in town.  Thus, it was easy to make a home away from home for the week.

The other reason to stay in an apartment is that it can be much cheaper in Europe, especially if you are traveling as a family or group requiring more than one room.  My place in Cernobbio came with its own private parking place, and renting a car was in fact cheaper than taking taxis or hiring cars to travel around the region.  Well worth it – and I do miss my private garden!

Laura Flippin

More thoughts on Paris:

The latest in my musings on Paris as one of the world’s great cities:

Charles Dickens is amongst the most English of writers, and and remains even today as one of Britain’s best known novelists. He also traveled to the US and Canada, and penned a collection of his observations on America, as well as including the US as the setting in portions of some of his articles and books.   That said, one of his most famous works, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is set in Paris and London. Dickens spent substantial time in Paris, including with his family, and wrote while there.  One of his works, “Little Dorrit,” was largely written in Paris; the title character is believed to be based on his first childhood love.

Of the city itself, he wrote: “What an immense impression Paris made upon me.  It is the most extraordinary place in the world.”

Thoughts on Paris:

I’m contemplating a trip this spring to Paris, and so have been thinking about some of the lesser known stories and events in this great city.  From time to time I may post a few musings. Here is one I was reading about today:

In 1785, Thomas Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as ambassador to France.  It was Jefferson’s first trip to France; he had longed to travel there as a young man on a grand tour of Europe, but was unable to do so.  When he arrived in Paris in 1785, he was 42 years old and all there was was new to him.  Franklin had been both an incredibly effective diplomat and statesman in France, as well as being very popular socially.  Jefferson initially found it difficult to succeed Franklin, and indeed there were far fewer many affairs of state that required his attention in contrast to his predecessor.  Hence, Jefferson plunged into the social scene in Paris, its arts and aristocrats, its fine food and impressive wines.  When he left Paris in 1789 at the age of 46 as the French Revolution was beginning, Jefferson’s life was profoundly changed despite having only been able to immerse in Paris years after he had initially longed to see it.  His servants learned French cookery in Paris, and were trained to thereafter prepare meals in the French manner both at Monticello and at the White House after Jefferson succeeded to the presidency of the United States.  Jefferson also shipped dozens of pieces of French cookware from France back home to the US when he left his ambassadorial post, at great cost.  Ultimately, he hired a French chef, Honoré Julien, to helm the kitchen at the White House and bring French cuisine to the highest levels of dining in the US.  He also brought with him to the United States books, wine, art and a trove of memories with him from France.  He never traveled there again after he returned to the United States, but remained devoted and in love with its capital city, observing that “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”

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