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It was a cold, winter day in January, but Paris was gleaming under a crystalline blue sky when my driver pulled up in front of Hotel Napoleon. To my left was the famous Champs-Elysees avenue, and to my right the looming facade of the La Madeleine Roman Catholic church. It was a good beginning to my stay — and things only got better.
Hotel Napoleon, one of the few privately owned luxury hotels in Paris, is imbued with the spirit of the city’s halcyon days, when guests such as writer Ernest Hemingway, actor Errol Flynn and dancer and singer Josephine Baker were regulars. The property’s decor is unabashedly Empire-style, with dark wood panels and wainscoting and heavy satin, velvet and taffeta drapes in rich colors of burgundy, deep green and gold. The walls are hung with Napoleonic prints and paintings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including some from the owner’s personal collection.
Cafe Bivouac, the bar-restaurant just off the lobby, has a comfortable, private feel that suits equally for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night drinks. Multiple small tables are scattered throughout the space, each with heavily cushioned chairs or a small couch in jewel tones pulled up to them. Eating at Cafe Bivouac — which I enjoyed doing several times — is popular with traveling families and businesspeople alike, and it feels more like dining in someone’s well-appointed and well-loved home than in a public space.
This might be because for many years, Hotel Napoleon was home to Alexander Pavlovich Kliaguine, a rich Russian businessman, and his Parisian wife. The hotel, built in 1923 in the highly fashionable eighth arrondissement, was purchased by Kliaguine as a wedding present for his young French bride in 1928. The spot was a popular see-and-be-seen place for members of the artistic and literary crowds — such as Hemingway and surrealist painter Salvador Dali — as well as for the community of Russian emigres. The Kliaguine family still owns the hotel today.
Hotel Napoleon is reminiscent of eras gone by and is one of only a few privately owned luxury hotels in Paris. // © 2016 Hotel Napoleon
A junior suite at Hotel Napoleon in Paris // © 2016 Hotel Napoleon
Guests can order traditional French fare at the on-site restaurant. // © 2016 Hotel Napoleon
Hotel Napoleon features an upgraded fitness center. // © 2016 Hotel Napoleon
The hotel has 51 guestrooms and 51 suites; the largest room is the Imperial Suite. // © 2016 Hotel Napoleon
The generous spaces and rooms of the property have not been chopped into smaller rooms, as is sadly the case today with many historic buildings and accommodations in Paris and elsewhere. A sense of elegance and ease is retained in the hotel’s 51 rooms and 51 suites. Service — from the moment guests arrive until they depart — is impeccable, yet warm and friendly, and adds to the overall sense of comfort and well-being the hotel exudes.
My room, a junior suite, was exceptionally large. Its floor-to-ceiling windows — decked out with pale-gold taffeta and striped red-and-gold velvet drapes — captured a view of La Madeleine and filled the room with light. The room was well-appointed, with an Empire-style desk and writing chair, as well as a lounge area with a comfortable sofa. A marble bathroom held both a large tub and a shower and its gleaming, new, modern fixtures — furnished with luxurious white towels and L’Occitane toiletries — promised to be more than amenable.
Though when I arrived to my room I wished to give into jet lag and tuck into the inviting king-size bed, I instead opted for a room-service lunch from Cafe Bivouac. Within less than 30 minutes, I was savoring my freshly prepared meal alongside a view of Paris street life.
A few nights later, I was moved to the Josephine Suite, named after Baker. It was like having my own fifth-floor apartment in Paris, complete with a rooftop view, an all-important espresso machine, a bathroom and shower room and a large living room. The hotel’s 24-hour room service makes staying in the suite even more like having one’s own apartment. And at 750 square feet, it’s not even the largest of the suites; that honor goes to the Imperial Suite, which measures about 1,300 square feet.
Newly and thoroughly renovated from rooms to facade, the property includes an updated fitness spa, meeting rooms and technology. Located in the heart of Paris — practically in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe — Hotel Napoleon is near large department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, as well as luxury boutiques and small shops.