Hôtel Le Bristol, Paris, France
Sophisticated and serene, Paris’ grande dame hotel seduces with regal elegance, discreet service and discerning opulence.
22 June, 2022
So overwhelming is the ambient presence of France's long-removed royalty in this prestigious Parisian pad that guests' encounters with the magnanimous gaze of Marie Antoinette over a breakfast of truffled scrambled eggs comes as no sudden surprise. Drouais' opulent portrait of the Austrian princess is the raspberry atop the millefeuille of monarchist nods in Le Bristol. We'd call the 85-year-old crash pad a French sonnet to the Bourbon aesthetic, with its lengthy facelift, finished a few years ago, having restored its polished aristocratic charm.
Despite Le Bristol's regal whims, the property is decidedly younger than the historic sites that keep it company in guidebooks to the French capital. Forget Les Invalides and La Conciergerie - this hotel is a relic of France's jazz age, marking the return of extravagance. The medley of cherry-picked Gallic history is situated a brisk two minutes' walk down the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré from the Élysée Palace. An icon of French elegance, the hotel's designation as "palace" by the French Ministry of Tourism denotes the perceived embodiment of French excellence found beneath its gilded awning.
Swirl through the regency elegance of the reception (stepping gingerly over the fluffy white hotel feline, Socrate, who hails from a dynasty of Le Bristol cats), ascend to the upper floors via the original 1940s elevator (designed by Jewish architect Léo Lerman, who was hidden within the hotel during the Nazi occupation) and begin exploring this sprawling 190-key stay. Telephones in the corridors nod to the building's maze-like complexity; you can call down to reception for instructions if you're lost, swallowed up by the same Parisian sophistication that enchanted Pablo Picasso, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Salvador Dalí and Princess Grace of Monaco, and that continues to beguile Céline Dion (a regular). It's lush; it's lavish; it's ridiculous. It's oh-so-very French.
Staff coo "enchanté", and work to the Napoleonic motto "impossible n'est pas Français". Rumours swirl of Versailles carriages conjured up for opera-goers seeking an amusing taxi ride. The effortless, oozing French charm of this stately stay? It's all maintained by their discreet, discerning service.
A stay at Le Bristol is a splash-out - but those pretty pennies are worth a night's soirée, if only to feel like a grandee living the Parisian good life.
Vast, sumptuous and some with views of the Eiffel Tower - the kind of extravagance that once caused revolutions. Suites are furnished with a contemporary take on Louis XV and Louis XVI style, borrowing from the pastel colours of a Ladurée macaron selection: raspberry floral curtains, powder-blue chairs, crinoline cream walls and delicate pistachio creme bedspreads. There's no need for silken slippers: carpets are plush. Bathrooms - all marble - feature heated floors, rainfall showers and deep baths.
Some might find it a little l'ancienne, with all the gilded mirrors, toile de Jouy accents and effervescent flower arrangements as dramatic as Marie Anoinette's wig designs, but it never felt fusty to us.
What's for breakfast?
We took our petit dejeuner at the frivolously frilled Café Antonia, under frescoed walls, glinting chandeliers and that prized Drouais portrait of Marie Antoinette (one of several in the Le Bristol private collection). The selection is aristocratic, with continental, American and Japanese morning menus on offer: try the truffled scrambled eggs or opt for the yoghurt, which arrives beneath a silver cloche.
Lunch and dinner?
Ridiculously opulent and ridiculously good - the hotel has four Michelin stars to its name. Chef Eric Frechon's Épicure - Paris' place to be seen - greedily holds three for its en-pointe fine dining. At one-star 114 Faubourg, you'll find a marginally more casual affair, although in true Parisian style, the menu is dastardly rich - think langoustine ravioli, foie gras-blanket pigeon, and a vanilla millefeuille with unctuous salted butter caramel. Parisians are regular diners at both - allegedly enamoured by the daily baked bread and viennoiserie made from flour milled in the hotel's basement.
Is there a bar?
Oui. The crisp-cut Le Bar du Bristol transforms under the cerulean glow of neon lighting into a DJ-led dancehall come nightfall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Take a look inside Paris’ most celebrated hotel...
Swan through the luscious 1,207sq m courtyard garden, which in summer swims with the honeyed scent of blousy orange blossom, or head to the sixth floor to find a fully equipped gym and the famed sailing boat-themed pool, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows offering skyline views you'd normally only spot on tea towels. Designed by the same man who decked out the Onassis' yacht, it's akin to a swim on a Côte d'Azur ketch. There's a light-filled spa, too, offering La Prairie and Tata Harper treatments. In keeping with the opulence, we'd recommend the lifting caviar facial paired with a chef-crafted vitamin cocktail.
What are the hotel's eco-credentials like?
Smart changes here and there. There's a waste-minimising rubbish programme, and the hotel uses a water-only stain-removal system on linens, plus all light bulbs are LED. Rolling up in your electric Porsche? You'll be able to charge it - or your Tesla or BMW - while you stay. In the garden, you might spot a few insect hotels.
What about accessibility?
There are five adapted rooms and the spa has an accessible cabin.
What's the crowd like?
Visitors sport the kind of glow only achieved through regular dermatology appointments. Well-heeled Europeans leave their offspring in the capable hands of the children's club - but they're also welcome in the spa for unique parent-and-child treatments (some of which involve snacks from master pastry chef Pascal Hainigue).
Within a short walk I can find…
Step past the hat-doffing doormen and you might fall into step with President Macron (the Élysée Palace is next door). Otherwise, Paris first-timers will find all guidebook must-sees a stroll away.
Things I should know
Don't bother bringing a book - you'll find plenty of reading material in the suites, including short stories from the literary lord of the jazz age, F Scott Fitzgerald.
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