One of my many pleasures, when in Paris, is to temporarily forget my sparkling-wine budget and take a sip from the champagne lifestyle of the city’s marvelous palaces of lodging and temples of haute cuisine. A Martini at the Georges V, a chef’s menu lunch at La Tour D’Argent, a cocktail at the Ritz’s Hemingway Bar . . . these are about as close as I get to the Imperial Suite. Yet, as Mr Spock observed to James T. Kirk, “Having is not always as good as wanting.” So I console myself with the small pleasure of “wanting” and track, from a distance, the goings-on at the palace hotels and 3-star Michelin restaurants. It was therefore a special treat on my last visit to Paris to be invited on a two hour close up inspection of the Hotel Shangri La, conducted by its head of Public Relations. The following is a report on my visit to the land of Shangri La..
The two grand dames of Parisian hotels, the Ritz on Place Vendome and Le Crillon, overlooking Place de la Concorde, have both been closed for over two years while multi-million dollar face-lifts are underway. After a top floor fire in January which delayed reopening, the Ritz is now scheduled to reopen sometime this month (The video above is a teaser for the grand reopening). But its lengthy absence and the continuing closure of Le Crillon have created a power vacuum in the heady realm of world class Parisian hostelries. Nature abhors a vacuum and so apparently do the Jet Set clientele who lodge at these legendary palaces.
Enter a new player on the block. Since its opening in 2010, The Shangri La Hotel has steadily built a presence, and in the vacuum created by the Ritz and Crillon, has surged to a place of prominence among its peers like the George V, the Plaza Athénée and the Bristol. Besides the impeccable standards that are synonymous with the Hong Kong based Shangri La family of hotels, its prime location on the slopes above the Seine gives it an added caché that is unique among the the top tier hotels of the city. That location has been a coveted one going back to the days of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon had long had his eye on that bend in the Seine across from the present day Eiffel Tower. In 1811 the Emperor made plans to build a palace for his son, the King of Rome, on the site of what is now the Palais de Chaillot. Sadly for the King of Rome, Napoleon was forced to abdicate 3 years later and the grand plans were shelved.
It would be another 80 years before Napoleon’s great nephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte, would erect a magnificent Hotel Particulier on the slopes of the Butte Chaillot. Completed in the late 1890’s it remained Prince Roland’s home until his death in 1924. In those days the Aristocracy snubbed their noses at the recently constructed Eiffel Tower directly across the Seine, so the mansion’s entrance and the prince’s private apartments were built facing away from the river.
Following the prince’s death, the Beaux-Arts mansion of vanilla-ice-cream colored limestone went through a series of owners, additions and uses until it was purchased by the Shangri La Hotel Group in 2000. This proved to be a fortuitous merger between one of Paris’ most majestic, but aging, properties and a developer with vast resources and an eye for preservation. A decade of meticulous effort, including the registration of the property as a listed Monument Historique brought forth, with it’s opening in 2010, a new gem in the tiara of Parisian palace hotels.
Today, the affluent, mostly American, clientele occupy the hotel’s 100 rooms and suites at rates starting a 995€. Fully one third of the rooms boast a balcony view and rates for these go up proportionately.
Guests and non-guests alike are welcome to experience the 2-star Michelin “L’Abeille” dining room or the “Shang Palace” restaurant; the only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Europe. Master chef Christophe Moret‘s concern for healthy, responsibly sourced and renewable ingredients finds a voice in the novel and delicious vegan afternoon Tea, served each weekend in the glass-domed “Bauhinia” room.
For an aperitif or a nightcap, “Le Bar”, with its Empire décor and accents inspired by Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign, is an elegant setting to start or end the evening.
For health and fitness, the Shangri La’s CHI spa takes its inspiration from the legendary story of Shangri La; a place of peace, enchantment and personal well-being. Signature fragrances add an olfactory stimulation and further enhance a sense of bien-être. The aquamarine blue of the connecting indoor pool, bathed in the light of large view windows, casts an azure iridescence over the pool room and its Italian mosaic tiles. As with the hotel’s dining options, the Spa and pool are available to guests and non-guests on a per use basis.
And what of the Prince’s street-facing private apartments and his disdain for Monsieur Eiffel’s tower?
The Prince’s apartments are now the Imperiale Suite. For a mere $22,000 per night you’re invited to experience the apex of Belle Époque luxury. 14 foot ceilings, egg and dart moldings and over-sized Chinese Blue porcelain vases go wondrously with the periwinkle blue and light butter yellow of the walls, carpets and furnishings. The suite consists of a grand sitting room, dining room, private kitchen and separate service entrance. The walk -through closets are cavernous and done in pecan floor-to-ceiling paneling. The two bathrooms are large with high ceilings and period bathtubs and fixtures. There is a sumptuous master bedroom and a second connecting bedroom can be added as required.
And finally, what Prince Roland considered a 19th century eye-sore, is now the 21st century focus of the hotel’s jaw-dropping Shangri-La Suite. Facing the river, this seventh story eyrie benefits from a contemporary design of floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows and a 40 meter long outside deck. Guests drink in what are arguably the city’s finest views of La Tour Eiffel as well as a breathtaking 270 degree panorama from Montmartre to La Défance. If the $20,000 per night rate is a bit steep, the hotel runs a clever summer promotion in which you can sign up for a lottery drawing to be selected, along with up to 34 others, to be treated to an evening champagne reception on the deck of the suite. Lucky winners will enjoy the experience for a much more modest figure of 150€ per person.
Clearly, The Shangri La Paris compares admirably with the Shangri La group’s other marvelous properties and unquestionably rates membership within the small and exclusive circle of genuine Parisian palace hotels.
. . . We’re fairly certain the Bonaparte’s would approve.
Shangri La Hotel, Paris
Address 10, Avenue d’Iéna, Paris, 75116, France
Tel (33 1) 53 67 19 98
Fax (33 1) 53 67 19 19