September 02, 2014
One year… yes, believe it or not, it’s been one year since we started working on Parisianist. In the 365 days that have gone by, we have turned Paris inside out to reveal some of the best things to see and do in the French capital. A full year of discovery, taking us to the top of the Eiffel Tower all the way to the depth of the Catacombs or from the riches of the Opera Garnier to the street art of the 13th arrondissement... It wasn’t always easy though: queuing in heavy rain (without an umbrella) for 30mn to cover the Les Impressionnistes en Privé exhibition, braving the stench of the sewer museum or witnessing the nauseating human diseases at the Medical Museum (Musée Dupuytren). No holidays for us, so it was time to take a break and indulge ourselves, and what better way to do that than to go Palace hopping in Paris!
First thing’s first: don’t go thinking that this was for leisure! This was a professional assignment, and we had to pull back from a great dinner with friends just because we needed to “test” a few Parisian luxury hotels… Yes, we do have a difficult job, but I will spare you the tears! The 1st of August 2014 was not randomly chosen by us. As a matter of fact, it might come down in History as a major date in the world of Parisian hotels. Why? Two reasons: the re-opening of the historical Plaza Athénée and the opening of a noticeable newcomer in Europe: the Peninsula. Two major players in the world of luxury accommodation, two iconic names (one in Paris, the other one in Hong Kong), but two very different approaches. In other words, a major date in the War of Parisian Palaces – the Dawn of Old vs. New.
Our first stop was the Plaza Athénée… Located on Avenue Montaigne, probably the most luxurious avenue in Paris when it comes to high end shopping, the Plaza Athénée is one of the most prestigious hotels in Paris. Built as a hotel in 1909 in a very eclectic architectural style, the Plaza Athénée went from being a German commanding post to an American one during WWII. This is also where famous spy/prostitute Mata Hari was arrested in 1917. This Parisian landmark closed its doors on October 1st 2013 for a complete renovation. The beauty of the newly designed bar was revealed on August 1st 2014, so what better way to get to know it than to have a drink?
Parisianist Fun Fact: On October 2013, for its 100th anniversary, a waterproof suitcase was buried under the marble of the Galerie des Gobelins (inner courtyard) holding old objects having a historical bond with the Palace.
The new bar was designed by French architect Patrick Jouin, who had already designed the Plaza Athénée’s previous bar. Needless to say, the overall decoration and design of the bar is a huge success. The inspiration came from the clouds and the air, with a beautiful “cloudish” blue decoration on the ceiling and covering the entire bar in its shades of blue light. The bar and DJ booth are made with transparent glass with abstract waves of white fixed inside, another reference to the aerial theme. After a free glass of champagne (opening day treat), we ordered our drinks. Here’s where it gets tricky: the drink list (VERY extensive) is actually a flash code on a metal coaster. The good side is that it is very trendy and original, but is it really that efficient? We had to download the flash code app, and after flashing the metal coaster, it took a VERY long time to see the list. Although ordering is theoretically possible on the app, it didn’t work, so we had to order the old fashioned way our drinks: A M3 and a B2. Pretty confusing drink names if you ask me (and the waiter, than almost got wrong). But that’s what a soft opening is for, and the service was perfect.
The clock hit 8PM, it was time to leave the Plaza Athénée and head out to discover the new kid on the block: the Peninsula. So, after admiring the inner courtyard and the incredibly beautiful Alain Ducasse renovated restaurant, we set out to the Arc de Triomphe and from there, took Avenue Kleber and reached the Peninsula after a 2mn walk. Set in a magnificent Haussman style building, the Peninsula mesmerizes with its imposing grandeur and its mix of French architecture (moulding on the walls and ceiling) and modernism. After a walk through the main lobby corridor, we headed straight to the top floor for a drink at “l’Oiseau Blanc” bar. The bar was closed unfortunately, but we were welcome to take a peek at the stunning view and the reproduction of the Oiseau Blanc plane that could have been the first airplane to cross the Atlantic, but unfortunately crashed just before reaching the US in 1927.
Parisianist Fun Fact: the 2 Asian lion statues at the entrance of the Peninsula are there for good luck, following ancient Asian beliefs.
Our drink mission on the top floor being a fail, we headed back down to have a drink on the lobby terrace. To our dismay, the area was full. We kept on asking for a place to sit, but the personnel kept on telling us to inquire with their colleague. Admittedly, the timing was awful as just as we were looking for help, a women that had just fallen at the entrance in the rotating doors was getting everyone’s attention. Our Peninsula mission drew to a close, but with the desire to come back quickly, as the Palace is really enchanting.
But we were not going to give up on one last drink on a rooftop! Facing the Peninsula lies another Parisian iconic 5 star hotel: Le Raphaël. And for those who don’t know it, here is a real fact: it’s sure the most amazing rooftop terrace in Paris. From great drinks to perfect service, and offering the most pristine view on the Parisian monuments (and the Peninsula!), the bar is truly a wonderful place. Of course, all this perfection comes at a hefty price (€15 for a small bottle of Coca-Cola, or €27 for a cocktail), which will scare a lot of people away. Yet, there was no better way to finish a professional Palace hopping night than with a glass of wine and the twinkling of the Eiffel Tower at 10pm.
Because it was a soft opening, we could not see any rooms, but keep an eye on the upcoming Hotels section on Parisianist for a closer look at each of the Parisian Palaces! Yet the question remains: Who will win this clash of the accommodation titans, this battle of the Parisian palaces, this war of luxury beauty sleep? Will it be the old iconic hotel institutions that have ruled over Paris’ luxury accommodation since the start of the 20th century, or will it be the new giant with a fresh modern look and approach? I don’t think that it will come down to a fight between the steel swords of the Three Musqueteers and the light sabers of the Jedi, but rather a mano a mano handshake and a draw. Some like the modern bling bling, while others prefer the ambiance and character of old style buildings. Either way, the experience is unforgettable, especially in a city like Paris.