A haven of luxury, tranquility and elegance in the middle of Paris, Le Bristol’s charm has to be experienced first hand
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: August 1, 2019
LF Says: ★★★★.5
What do celebrities look like when not on show? Well, wearing a black loose hanging tee, black baggy short and similar hued tights over unmatched beige and white trainers – all topped with brick red (or was it carmine) woolen cap. That was how my encounter (a mere passing would be more accurate) with one of the world’s most famous footballers went at Le Bristol, one of Paris’ great hotels, the grand dame of Paris. To put it in perspective, the hotel where David and Victoria Beckham apparently spend their wedding anniversary – every year!
Le Bristol’s claim to fame goes beyond being’s celeb home in Paris though. In 2011, Le Bristol was the first five-star hotel in France to receive the distinction of ‘Palace,’ awarded by the French Ministry of Tourism. Staying here means you are within chatting distance of the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the President of the French Republic, which is just about a hundred metres down Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Within a kilometre radius are Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Avenue Montiagne – where many of the world’s top luxury brands have their flagship stores or headquarters, while Rue du Faubourg itself is home to Hermes, Lanvin, Pierre Cardin, Cifonelli and many more. Also within the radius are the retail havens of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, Jardin des Tuileries with the Louvre on the other side, and of course the Seine. Lovers of classic French elegance would be hard put to find a better address to stay in.
Housed in an 18th century mansion, the hotel has had a storied history. It was inaugurated by then owner Hippolyte Jammet in 1925, after a two-year renovation, as a byword for luxury hospitality. It served as the official residence for US nationals during World War II (yes, the US embassy is around the corner). Acquired by the Oetker Group in 1978, the hotel has over the decades expanded and added new wings and features, including that rarity for buildings in central Paris – a private garden. Today the 190-key inventory includes historic architecture and exceptional interior design, done by the Oetker family itself.
The hidden stars of the hotel are of course the rooms. Befitting a ‘palace’, the rooms reflect the core values of French authenticity. Furniture, paintings, fabrics, mirrors, lights and precious objects: every element is carefully conceived and selected to create an atmosphere that is both welcoming and peaceful. The room sizes vary – from the ‘mere’ 40 square metres to the massive 320 square metre Imperial Suite.
The colour scheme for the rooms is similar - beige, cream or pastel, highlighted with white or an alternating solid colour. Wall hues are light and harmonious, providing an elegant contrast with the colourful patterns of carpets and fabrics. All interiors are distinguished by chintz bouquets, arabesques on bedcovers, chairs in toile de Jouy, geometric damasks on plush sofas, a taffeta quilt, silk tapestries and double-hung curtains in rich velvet. The fabrics are by the most prestigious houses - Manuel Canovas, Colefax, Pierre Frey, Nobilis and Rubelli. Note the dressers, desks and vanities in the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles – adding to the atmospherics in the rooms. Crystal chandeliers and lamps shaded with silk or taffeta envelop the space in a soft glow that enhances the feeling of confidential serenity. The spacious bathrooms are clad in white Carrara marble or pink marble from Portugal.
Expect to find the celebs in one of the several special suites the hotel has. Besides the Imperial Suite, also worth vying for are the Panoramic Suite, amply featured in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, and the Honeymoon Suite, which offers 180° views of the city’s most beautiful monuments including the Eiffel Tower.
It should come as no surprise that the hotel has multiple Michelin starred restaurants. Expect to encounter the classiest Parisians at Epicure, Café Antonia (incredibly, it is named after the eat-cake-if-you-have-no-bread fame Marie Antoinette) and 114 Faubourg Brasserie.
Epicure’s presiding deity is Chef Eric Frechon, who’s dictum ‘I make the food I like to prepare, that I like to eat and love to share,’ is clearly a hit. Expect to find black truffles from Périgord, caviar from Sologne, line-caught whiting from Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, nasturtium flowers, tender asparagus, Normandy butter and wild strawberries. Executed to perfection, his dishes may draw inspiration from a fragrance, a story, or an encounter, but always thrive on a culture of terroir and French culinary heritage. The elegant table settings are very much part of the dining experience, with crystal chandeliers, bespoke tableware and views of the French garden, all of which Chef Frechon helped create.
Café Antonia (it was the name our Marie was familiarly known by – Parisians are clearly a forgiving lot) is a tribute to another era, where you are transported to a world steeped in elegance and charm. Cosy, its look changes over the day. While natural light makes it insta perfect during the day, evenings are suffused with a soft glow of chandeliers. The interior focuses on French 18th-century-style furniture by Maison Taillardat, upholstered with fabrics by Frey, Lelièvre and Etro. Luxurious sofas and armchairs, beneath subtle lighting, seem too dreamy to pass up. Precious artworks include a portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette by François-Hubert Drouais, a court portraitist at the end of the reign of Louis XV.
114 Faubourg’s creative cuisine respects terroir. Witness dishes such as Duck pâté en croûte with pickled vegetables; Artichoke soup with pan-seared foie gras and black truffle emulsion; or Beef tartare with Oléron Marennes oyster cream and yuzu.
Of course, there is a bar par excellence too. The wonderful interiors of Le Bar du Bristol are a tapestry of styles that wow the guest well before the first sip. Oak parquet de Versailles floors echo pale pine panelling; winter fires burn in the Sienna marble fireplace which in turn illuminates a frescoed ceiling depicting a romantic sky. Cosy leopard-print banquettes and bespoke zebra print stools harmonise playfully with a cabinet of curiosities where shelves, designed like jewel boxes, reveal a private collection of rare spirits, vintage books, botanical prints, seashells and contemporary sculptures. A monumental mirror transforms into a screen each night to display videos of cutting-edge contemporary artists. The drinks measure up - the team designs each cocktail using the most prestigious wines, spirits and rigorously-sourced products.
For frequent guests, two oases are the pool and the spa. The pool area, on the sixth floor, resembles the deck of a majestic sailboat from the 1920s, navigating a sunny coastline. The spa has eight single or double treatment rooms, some opening onto a private terrace by the French garden. It’s signature massages and rituals, and body-care treatments have a natural approach to wellness.
In a city dotted with spectacular public gardens, old Paris, however, is cramped with cheek by jowl buildings – grand ones, but with little space for greenery. So it is a special treat to have a private garden within the hotel – made possible when a new wing opened on the site of the former Petites-Soeurs-de-la-Bonne-Espérance convent in 1979. The 1,200 square metre French-style garden is designed in the spirit of Le Nôtre’s Versailles. The garden’s symmetrical lines and lawns trimmed with boxwood hedges are adorned with beds of azaleas and rhododendrons, geraniums, daffodils, tulips, cyclamen and heather, each according to their season.
Flowers make their presence felt right across the hotel, beginning with a huge floral display in the lobby. Each day, a team of three florists cares for the house floral displays, which are presented at the reception and concierge areas, as well as the delicate centrepieces at Café Antonia, the rose-themed bouquets at Epicure restaurant, and the more understated compositions at the 114 Faubourg brasserie. They are customarily composed of three colours, always round in form. Parisian standards!
There is a lot more to appreciate at the hotel. The wrought iron elevator in the main wing stands out. As does Fa-Raon, a Sacred Cat of Burma, who is a permanent guest at Le Bristol Paris and has his own room. Art, whether from the 18th century or more contemporary, is present all over the premises, and could as well be a gallery for the discerning guest. The iconic room keys, specially designed by locksmith Jean-Arthur Fontaine in 1925 would be hard to forgot.
These little touches, the attention to detail, the wonderful world of grandeur and refinement, an apparent simplicity cloaked in sophistication - it’s no wonder that the hotel is home away from home for the discerning.
LF Says: ★★★★.5
Coordinates: 112 Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore, 75008, Paris, France