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Before I even realized it was raining, a man darted out of the hotel’s entrance with his umbrella pointing toward me. To passersby, our actions may have looked synchronized: The opening of his umbrella perfectly coordinated with my exit from the taxi. Rain be damned — I was at the famous Le Bristol Paris, an Oetker Collection hotel.
Luxury hoteliers talk about preempting a client’s needs, but I had never seen it done in such cinematic detail. The hotel can create experiences that recall scenes from romantic films about Paris where everything is impossibly charming. For example, there was the time head concierge Sonia Papet arranged an intimate riverboat experience on the Seine for her guests. Each time the boat passed under a bridge, a perfectly placed hotel employee dropped a surprise — such as roses or balloons — onto the couple.
There are also requests that go beyond what you might imagine. Forget front-row tickets to the ballet — Papet can get you into a private ballet rehearsal.
And then there’s the practical magic, which I experienced at the valet. When I arrived, I told the attendant I would need to return my rental car the next day. He asked me for the company name and said he would take care of it. The next day, he told me the car had been returned — plus, I received a letter of confirmation.
But great service is not the only reason Le Bristol is a favorite among Americans. The property, which opened in 1925, has our favor in its history: We stayed in the hotel during World War II, and just a few years ago, Woody Allen shot parts of his film “Midnight in Paris” there.
Celebrities are regulars, and Hollywood junkets — such as a recent one for “The Revenant” — are frequently held here. Le Bristol is also loved by the art and fashion crowds, but not just for its chic address alongside galleries and luxury shops on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. Guests visit (and return to) the hotel for its Parisian vibe and decor, which recalls 18th-century France in its furniture and artwork. The hotel’s collection includes a portrait of Marie Antoinette purchased from the Louvre in the 1920s and a gorgeous glass and wrought-iron elevator designed by a Jewish architect who was hidden by Le Bristol staff during WWII.
Despite its classic sense of place, everything is in pristine condition. According to Céline Lavail-Georgin, communications director for the hotel, Le Bristol has spent about $185 million on a gradual seven-year refresh that also included the purchase of the bank next door, which was turned into 21 new guestrooms and the brasserie 114 Faubourg.
The eatery, headed by chef Jean-Charles Cauquil, was awarded one Michelin star in 2013. Now, it only has two more stars to go to catch up to executive chef Eric Frechon’s Epicure, currently the No. 1 Paris restaurant on TripAdvisor. For the finer things, there’s pastry chef Laurent Jeannin, who has figured out the secret to the perfect macaron; and head barman Maxime Hoerth, the first mixologist to receive the Best Craftsman of France award. If guests are unsure whether to splurge for dinner, tell them to test out Bar du Le Bristol, which offers a complimentary amuse bouche cocktail and chocolates, an extensive list of alcohol and a tapas menu created by Frechon. Locals and guests are also fond of Le Jardin Francais, a casual eatery area near the lobby that extends into a peaceful courtyard garden.
About half the guests at Spa Le Bristol by La Prairie are locals, due to brand loyalty and new seasonal treatments that keep clients coming back. Unlike other spas in Paris, spa rooms are above ground and feature natural light and personal terraces for basking in post-treatment glow.
The spa also has a kids’ playroom so that families, who are welcomed here, have one less thing to worry about. Kids also love the hotel’s two resident Burmese cats, Fa-Raon and Kleopatre. Another way to keep parents and kids busy is at the property’s yacht-themed indoor pool and outdoor terrace, which features a killer view of Sacre Couer.
Though there’s quite a bit to tempt guests outside their hotel rooms, clients should make time to enjoy their privacy, particularly if they’re staying in one of Le Bristol’s 92 suites.
Upon waking up in our junior suite, my boyfriend said he felt like he was in one of the Loire Valley chateaus we had been touring the day before. It probably had something to do with the light teal walls, teal furniture and floral-patterned curtains and matching desk skirts facing our bed. Somehow, though, the room doesn’t feel too precious to use; we especially loved the spacious marble bathroom, which comes with a double vanity, an enclosed shower and a Jacuzzi tub. Also adding to the apartment-like feel are the fresh flowers in the bedroom and the bathroom, color-coordinated to match the room’s interiors.
When it was time to check out, a staff member asked how I liked the room’s twin balconies. My Southern California upbringing reared its ugly head — I admitted that the rain prevented me from testing them out. When she expressed her love of the view ever-so-subtly, I beelined back to my room.
Somehow, in the few minutes it took us to get downstairs to check out, someone had opened the bathroom balcony, the rain had stopped, and fresh air was streaming into the room. I walked outside and was surprised to see the Eiffel Tower facing me. Though elegant and discreet, the tower was too grand, too iconic and too beautiful to be missed — just like somewhere else I know.