Travelling on the Eurostar from London to Paris, in just over 3 hours, is one convenient way to get to the City of Light. But on most occasions getting a taxi at the Gare de Nord may take a time, patience and endurance. However, the driver glowed with enthusiasm, when the mention of the destination was Hotel le Bristol, s’il vous plait. Paris isn’t known for friendly cabbies but so impressed was he that for the 15 minute drive, he talked about the history of the renowned hotel. It’s a legend, a place that has had extreme highs and lows.
At the beginning, it was “a big house on a large marsh, a house with a thatched roof” and interestingly it was purchased with a 13,000 square foot garden which still exists. (It is considered one of the most beautiful in Paris.) Then a magnificent intimate palace- residence was built in the mid 1800s by the stylish patron of the arts, Jules De Castellane. In another persona, it became a cloister of the sisters of Hope, and then the decline, becoming a deteriorating building. But salvaged it was and like a phoenix rising out of the ashes it became the famous bijou of a hotel. Vraiment, Hotel Le Bristol is everything it’s cracked up to be.
Paul Valery once said, “He who will do great things must pay careful attention to detail”. In 1925 when Hippolyte Jammet opened the hotel, these words must have echoed in this mind and continued with the current owner, the Oetker Group. It’s a perfect hotel, in a great location with an atmosphere of elegant times past yet improved and renovated to suit contemporary taste and temperaments. Even ‘arrivistes’ who may have learned from “manners for dummies’- those with big bucks in the nifty nineties and were lucky to hang onto their cash flow, are seen strutting, quietly, through the muted hallways with signature shopping bags.
Joie de vivre, is an apt description of life under the roof of the Bristol so the ever pervasive feeling of being transported to this magnificent mid 1800s is not unexpected.
Even the French stay here- royalty, celebs and big biz types. The management won’t say who visits now, but Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin are on the roster of those who did. The occupancy rate is high, even in these economic strapped times and many are repeat guests. The prices are somewhat lofty but for a special occasion, the once in a lifetime treat, a great expense account, (if those still exist), it’s well worth it for the experience.
First impressions count and the lobby says it all. Hanging from a wall are 18th century Gobelin tapestries, then there’s the collection of fine antique furniture, paintings purchased pre World War II from the Louvre Museum, shimmering chandeliers, bold but graceful pink marble columns, a gilded wrought iron cage elevator ( two modern ones are over to the left).. The style is described as Eiffel but the hotel has been constantly refurbished losing some of the original architecture virtues. Ionic columns, Corinthian pilasters, garlands and much more architectural detailing are featured on the facade. Even the bow windows and polished white stone demurely states “temple of Parisian high style”. Inside, le dernier cri is the hand carved oak wood panel oval room, once the in-house theatre of the original owner Jules de Castellane. It remains intact.
The subtle colour of the rooms is a nice departure from the eye-blinking bouquets of chintz and dusty canopied beds that seem to be rooted in many European hotel’s decor. This is like having a potpourri without the petals. The bathrooms, the largest in Paris, are something to write home about. Carrara marble floors, double sinks set in a large vanity, heated town racks, oversized tub, separate shower and amenities by Hermes complete the inventory of luxe. Most of the rooms and suites in the hotel, they overlook the mammoth camellia treed manicured garden with the symbol of the Bristol, the 19th century Love Fountain, which once took over 300 hours to repair and revive. It still spouts water adding to the already ample ambiance.
It seems there’s nothing the concierge staff can’t do. The head concierge, Wolf Ganzel has stood behind the desk for 38 years. His team includes ten of the most co-operative people. Ask for a reservation at one of the ‘it’ eateries and they manage somehow to procure seating. Anything in the hotel itself, seems like child’s play to this team. And if that isn’t enough, think of a swimming pool which looks like an ocean liner sailing over the Parisian rooftops all glass enclosed. It’s designed by the same architect who created yachts for the two modern day Greek billionaires, Onassis and Niarchos. Also on the 6th floor is a fully equipped Fitness Centre, again with large windows and a view of Paris, non pareil. On the treadmill, forget the TV and just look at the stunning scene. As with most five star hotels these days, there is a spa. Atelier de Beaute Anne Semonin, has a full range of treatments with the entrance next door. What better credentials than it is frequented by Parisians and again, getting an appointment can be a bit difficult. – that is until you speak with the concierge and voila, you’ve got it.
The Salons- Rambouillet, Marly, Malmaison and Elysee, are great for conferences and banquets with the added bonus of overlooking the garden. Moveable partitions, exhibition and audio- visual materials are all available.
The Restaurant Le Bristol, one of the ‘best tables in France’, has a two star Michelin rating and a young chef who recently was voted Chef of the Year. It’s hard to avoid mentioning the Haviland de Limoges porcelain, Christofle silver flatware and the 31,000 bottles of premier wine in the cellar. Just in case you have a penchant for a 75 year old cognac or a bottle of Champagne circa 1865 or perhaps a bottle of 1958 Mouton Rothschild, you’ll find it here.
In the summer, (from May to September), the Restaurant d’Ete, overlooking the garden, is the perfect spot for meals however, weather permitting tables are set outdoors. From October to April, Le Restaurant D’Hiver (the oval oak room), although large, feels cozy. And the large tradition Bar Le Bristol serves tea and light meals along with the great martinis.
Things to Do
Just walk outside and there’s Paris at your feet. Near the Tour Eiffel, the Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, walking distance to the Louvre Museum and Tuillerie Gardens. Posh boutiques and some of the best shopping in France is within a stone’s throw. A 5 minute walk takes you to The Market, a trendy and a gastronomic treat in sharp, minimalism décor.