Seeking Perfection in Paris

Style meets substance in three hot hotels for the upscale client

By: Joyce Gregory Wyels and Kathy Bryant

PARIS What’s haute and what’s not changes from season to season in Paris as predictably as the couture shows and the Michelin restaurant guide. Lately, hoping to banish Americans’ complaints about small rooms, lack of air conditioning and persistent noise, hotels are spending millions of euros on either upgrading or starting anew. On a hosted trip to the City of Light, I discovered three special hotels that are as stylish as Yves St. Laurent, yet as comfortable as well-worn Levis.

Hotel Plaza Athenee
Currently enjoying a star turn is the 106-room, 81-suite Hotel Plaza Athenee, whose lobby appeared in cameo roles in both the film “Something’s Gotta Give” and HBO’s “Sex and the City.” Located on the tres chic Avenue Montaigne and bracketed by high-end shops Christian Dior, Escada, Valentino, Bulgari, Prada the Plaza Athenee attracts serious shoppers as well as show-biz types. Its proximity to the Champs Elysees only adds to its allure for Americans.

The hotel rooms resemble expensive Parisian apartments, so much so that you almost expect to find Catherine Deneuve sitting on the celadon green silk couch. Yet the modern world resides comfortably here, offering Internet access, separate fax lines, video recorders and stereo/CD recorders along with plasma wall-mounted televisions. Special designer touches include soft floor lighting leading to the bathroom (why don’t more hotels offer this?) and cymbidium orchids, crystal chandeliers, gilded mirrors and those obligatory fluffy robes and slippers.

The two top floors are designed in the art deco style that began in Paris in the 1920s. Lenny Kravitz and Mick Jagger prefer these aeries for the stunning views of Paris.

Celebrated chef Alain Ducasse oversees both the contemporary-looking Restaurant Plaza Athenee and the art deco-style bistro Le Relais Plaza. Le Bar, one of the hottest watering holes in Paris, attracts a crowd that’s fun to watch as the room light changes colors and the illuminated iceberg-like bar heats up.

Services range from chauffeurs and interpreters to the “Parisian Ultimate” a day on the town escorted by a fashion expert.

Of course, all this luxury does not come cheap: rooms begin at about $600 (498 euros) a night, with suites at $960 (792 euros). The hotel pays 8 percent commission on the room rate and 10 percent on package rates.

Plaza Paris Vendome
If Louis XVI furnishings fail to impress, a smart alternative is the contemporary 90-room, four-star Plaza Paris Vendome. A new boutique hotel lodged in a 19th-century building, the Plaza Paris Vendome sits between the gardens of the Tuileries and the Place Vendome, close to the Louvre.

The location attracts both art lovers and fashionistas who frequent the nearby Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. This is also a perfect choice for women traveling alone since the hotel’s all-women top staff emphasizes safety, while the intimate scale of the hotel is both stylish and practical.

In contrast to the Plaza Athenee’s jazzy red signature color, the Plaza Paris Vendome features subdued earth tones. Its minimalist decor lends a Zen-like quality to study, sitting areas and guestrooms. In the bar, however, Chinoiserie terra-cotta statues, bold celadon vases and wall coverings in a Chinese-horseman motif attest to the French love of Asian decor.

Here again guestrooms feature the latest in technology: three telephones, a flat-screen LCD television, CD/DVD player and DSL lines, along with a direct phone line. Soundproofed rooms, double-glazed windows and spacious, well-lighted marble bathrooms cater to the guest’s comfort. The bedrooms themselves tend toward the compact.

Diners can choose small plates or full dinners in the cool black-and-white ambience of Pinxo Restaurant, with modern cuisine designed by Alain Dutournier, Michelin-starred for his nearby restaurant, Carre des Feuillants.

Room rates start at $560 (460 euros) and $850 (700 euros) for a junior suite, all commissionable at 10 percent.

Hotel Meurice
The Paris Plaza Vendome may be the sophisticated new kid on the block, but only a few steps away on the Rue de Rivoli stands a true grande dame. How many hotels can trace their roots to 1835?

If your clients like soaking up history, they’ll find it in every corner of the Hotel Meurice. Here is where Russian composer Peter Illitch Tchaikovsky stayed while giving a concert. Aristocracy dropped in often, from the King of Spain to the Maharaja of Jaipur. Artist Salvador Dali spent at least one month a year here, while other artists, writers and celebrities checked in often.

A two-year renovation has returned the 160-room hotel to its original classic French Palace style. The Restaurant Le Meurice, with its ornate gilding, crystal chandeliers, antique mirrors and bay windows framed in rare marbles, as well as floral patterned chairs and curtains, echoes the nearby Tuileries Gardens. The restaurant is one of the hottest in Paris right now, with executive chef Yannick Alleno recently earning his second Michelin star.

The unique rooftop Belle Etoile Suite offers panoramic views of Paris from the 3,000-square-foot wrap-around terrace, a perfect spot for corporate clients to entertain.

A bonus through Dec. 29 this year is a guaranteed U.S. dollar rate of $580 per night for a single or double superior room and $650 for a single or double deluxe. Commission is 10 percent.

Concierge Corner

By Maryann Hammers

We’ve all heard of celebrity chefs, but why should they get all the attention? In our newest feature, TravelAge West shines the limelight on the top concierges in the greatest cities. We ask these unsung travel experts to share their stories and be our guide as we explore their backyards aided by the kind of tips only a true local would know.

Chief Concierge
Hotel Le Faubourg-Paris

Assuming we’ve all seen the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, can you suggest an attraction we might not find in a guidebook?
Our guests always ask about museums and attractions in the 8th arrondissement [district], but other parts of the city are also interesting. For example, there are the clocks of Dali [at the Espace Montmartre Salvador Dali] in the Montmartre area. And Bercy Village, which is a very old part of town that was used for storing wine, has been completely rebuilt with restaurants, shops and entertainment.

What’s a sure way to have a good time in Paris?
Many of our visitors are not used to walking, but that is the best way to get to know the real Paris, which you cannot see from a bus. When you walk to see one thing, you’ll discover something else even more interesting. Paris is like that. If it is your first time in Paris, I encourage you to begin your trip with a guided walking tour.

Do visitors’ questions ever surprise you?
We sometimes think we’ve heard it all. For example, a lot of people ask me where Harrods is. I reply, ‘Sir, it is in London.’ But one guest did surprise me when he asked that I arrange to have his car cleaned. His car was 100 percent leather interior and exterior! But we found a leather-cleaning specialist and took care of it.