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Sleep: Paris

Basement spas run by perfume houses, rooftop pools with views of the Eiffel Tower, Michelin-starred brasseries and frescoed walls... If you’re looking for luxury, the palais hotels of Paris have it more than covered

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The Ritz Paris

The Ritz Paris

Palais-Royal

Plum in the centre of Paris — in the 1st arrondissement, and a quick 15-minute taxi ride from the Eurostar terminal at the Gare du Nord — the Palais-Royal area is Paris in a nutshell. As well as the eponymous royal palace, the Louvre and the Tuileries are here, while the Île de la Cité and the Opéra are both short walks away. Ideal for a first trip to Paris, the high-end shops of Rue Saint-Honoré and landmarks such as Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde, are within easy reach.

Best for history: The Ritz Paris
One of Paris’ very grandest of dames, the Ritz is due to reopen in the summer after a four-year, multi-million pound renovation. Restoration rather than innovation has been the design aim — although they’ve added a new brasserie, the world’s first Chanel spa and a retractable roof to turn the winter garden into a year-round patio. The 142 rooms and suites, which now have souped-up bathrooms, have retained their classic empire style: wood panelling, antique furniture and pastel colours — including their well-known peach-coloured towels. Take a peek in the legendary boutique at its exclusive collections.
Rooms: Doubles from €1,000 (£773), room only. ritzparis.com

Best for shopping: Hotel Costes
The Costes is no mere hotel; it’s a lifestyle, as you’ll see from the ladies who lunch in the internal courtyard, after heaving in their spoils from the Rue Saint-Honoré. Parisian designer extraordinaire Jacques Garcia has done a knock-out job in creating a sumptuous, demi-monde feel — all low-lighting, rich colours and fabrics that beg to be touched (even the bannisters are textile-clad). And if you want to take the lifestyle with you, everything from branded toiletries, candles and even roses are for sale — as well as those famous Costes soundtracks that have launched a thousand chill-out CDs.
Rooms: Doubles from €500 (£393), room only. hotelcostes.com

We recommend: Mandarin Oriental Paris
The most unabashedly modern of Paris’ eight palais hotels (a cut above five-star), the Mandarin Oriental — behind its brutal 1930s façade — has an offering as haute couture as its designer neighbours on the Rue Saint-Honoré. The lobby walls are studded with Swarowski crystals in place of mortar, the bar is carved from a single, nine-tonne block of marble and the tables for afternoon tea come with chic privacy curtains. Though an Asian brand, the delicate embroidery on the headboards was done by Maison Lesage, the basement spa is Guerlain and toiletries are exclusively provided by ultra-posh Diptyque. But the real treat is the food — every morsel is overseen by Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx.
Rooms: Doubles from €925 (£726), room only. mandarinoriental.com/paris

Hotel du Petit Moulin

Hotel du Petit Moulin

Marais

One of the oldest areas in Paris — it largely escaped Haussmann’s 19th-century redevelopment — the Marais runs eastwards from the 2nd arrondissement to the Bastille. It’s one of the city’s loveliest areas, with quiet streets and green spaces like the Place des Vosges. Cultural credentials include the Picasso Museum and the Pompidou Centre acts as its unofficial western boundary. First the Jewish area and now Paris’s gay centre, the Marais is as fashionable and trendy as it gets.

Best for party animals: Les Bains

Past lives don’t get much more exciting than those of Les Bains, which started as a bathhouse, became a world-famous nightclub popular with the likes of Kate and Naomi, Bowie and Jagger, then morphed into a semi-abandoned art space before its most recent conversion into a Design Hotel last year. The 39 rooms pair framed album covers with replica sofas from Warhol’s Factory, and there’s work by rotating resident artists on display. Eat in for another taste of the past — restaurant La Salle à Manger retains Philippe Starck’s chequered dance-floor from the 1978 nightclub.
Rooms: Rooms from €432 (£334), B&B. lesbains-paris.com

We recommend: Pavillon de la Reine
The hotel of choice for the likes of Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and Tim Roth, this delectable boutique hides behind an imposing wooden gate on the Place des Vosges. It’s a rare bucolic sanctuary in the heart of Paris: ivy tumbles down the walls and an internal courtyard is decked out as a Japanese garden. There’s a rare intimacy here: with no bar or restaurant, the cosy lounge and library are set up with honesty bars, and breakfast can be served in-room. The 54 rooms channel that sultry, velvety, Parisian style — each is different, so feel free to request what you want.
Rooms: Doubles from €350 (£275), B&B. pavillon-de-la-reine.com

Best for fashionistas: Hotel du Petit Moulin
Beyond the exterior of the oldest boulangerie in Paris, you’ll find a fabulous hotel designed by Christian Lacroix. Legend says Victor Hugo used to buy his bread here, and the beamed ceilings and staircase date back to the 17th century. Each of the 17 rooms is completely unique — floors can be tiled or carpeted, ceilings painted or mirrored, bathrooms with showers or antique claw-footed tubs — but all have stunning feature walls created by the designer. Calling it lively is an understatement.
Rooms: Doubles from €205 (£160), B&B. hotelpetitmoulinparis.com

Le Bristol

Le Bristol

Champs-Elysees

The Avenue des Champs-Elysées is, of course, Paris’s most iconic street: a mile-long boulevard running from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. What used to be one of the best known addresses for luxury shopping is a little more egalitarian these days (there’s even an H&M), but Avenue Montaigne is as exclusive as ever. For classically chic Paris, it doesn’t get better than this.

We recommend: Le Bristol
The first thing to strike you on arrival at Le Bristol is how unstuffy everyone is, given it’s a palais doyenne. The second may well be a cat. In line with the hotel’s familial approach, it’s home to two free-spirited Birmans. The attention to detail is superlative — heated flooring throughout, waterproof bath pillows, memory foam mattresses — and even the brasserie boasts a Michelin star. Rooms are classically styled with a modern sense of fun, like the sixth-floor pool, which looks like an art deco ship en route to the visible Eiffel Tower.
Rooms: Doubles from €750 (£587), room only. lebristolparis.com

Best for couples: La Réserve
Just when you thought you’d got a handle on Paris’s outrageously expensive hotel scene, along comes La Réserve, which opened last year in a Haussmann building specially built for the half-brother of Emperor Napoleon III. It’s intimate — 14 rooms, 26 suites — with an atmosphere of complete privacy. Jacques Garcia is responsible for the sumptuous décor of damask-covered walls, heavy velvet drapes and antique furniture which cocoon the rooms, while there’s a library, smoking lounge and pool if you venture outside.
Rooms: Doubles from €950 (£743), B&B. lareserve-paris.com

Best for value: La Trémoille
It used to be nicknamed ‘the little Plaza Athénée’, since most of its staff were funnelled across from its grand-dame sister a block away. But while the affiliation has ended, most of La Trémoille’s senior staff started out there, meaning the attention to detail is palais standard, even if the prices aren’t. Rooms, with their bold feature walls and original moulded ceilings, are all different, and breakfast-in-bed types will love the hatches that mean food, newspapers and even shined shoes can be delivered without you having to open your door. In homage to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington’s 1960s visit, regular jazz nights are still held here.
Rooms: Doubles from €360 (£284), B&B. tremoille.com

Peninsula Paris

Peninsula Paris

Passy

The ‘arrondissement de Passy’ (aka the 16th) spreads out among the wide boulevards southwest of the Arc de Triomphe down towards the Eiffel Tower. Like the Marais, it’s a residential district — the twice-weekly open-air food market on the Avenue du President Wilson is one of Paris’s nicest — but the locals are seriously monied. Encompassing the Bois de Boulogne and Roland Garros tennis club, it’s great for those visitors happy to forgo sights on the doorstep.

Local hideaway: Saint James Paris
There’s a sense of fun to this outré country-style estate near the Bois de Boulogne. The grand old 19th-century mansion has been touched up with monochrome paintwork on its imposing staircase, a leopard-print carpet in the wood-panelled restaurant, and bold feature walls, including one entirely papered with hot air balloons (this was originally Paris’s first airfield, as the balloon-shaped cabanas in the garden remind you). The colour-clashing rooms are delightfully outrageous, and the bar’s in the old library — complete with some 12,000 books.
Rooms: Doubles from €380 (£300), room only. saint-james-paris.com

Best for swimming: Molitor
It costs €1,300 (£1,022) for annual membership of the Molitor, Paris’s most spectacular swimming pool, which reopened in 2014 after a quarter century of abandonment. Thankfully, rooms come much cheaper at the hotel which has colonised the art deco building around it. History comes to life here: the Molitor opened in 1929, saw the world debut of the bikini in 1946, and became a graffiti magnet after closing in 1989. Hence, the large rooms pair portholes and 1930s-style furniture with street art murals and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking that famous (heated) pool.
Rooms: Doubles from £196, room only. mltr.fr

We recommend: Peninsula Paris
The Hong Kong-based Peninsula group made a splash when it opened its first European outpost last April. Located just past the Arc de Triomphe on Avenue Kléber, the six-year renovation has made its Belle Époque interiors shine once more. The 200 chic rooms are huge by Parisian standards, and provide all the 21st-century comfort you’d expect, including delivery hatches for laundry and newspapers. But the sublime public areas are the real knockout, with their columns gilded, mouldings buffed and frescoes faithfully restored.
Rooms: Doubles from €795 (£628), room only. peninsula.com


Published in the Jul/Aug 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)