FIT FOR KINGS
LE BRISTOL MEETS ALL THE STRINGENT DEMANDS OF THE ‘PALACE HOTEL’ DESIGNATION, FORMULATED SIX YEARS AGO TO MARK OUT THE BEST OF THE BEST – BUT IT’S THE IDIOSYNCRASIES THAT MAKE IT A STAY TO REMEMBER.
Visitors to Paris have plenty of options when it comes to luxury accommodation. There are ample five-star hotels, many great boutique ones and literally tens of thousands of apartments and houses to rent via Airbnb (obviously not all could be considered luxury lodgings). The online accommodation-sharing marketplace has more listings in Paris than any other city (London is second and New York third) making it a very crowded market. With such a surfeit of places to stay in Paris it’s little wonder the French government in 2011 took the step of coming up with a new way to classify the best of the best – the “palace” distinction. The five-star tag for luxury hotels is perfectly sufficient in other countries but in France, where luxury knows no bounds, it just won’t do.
There had always been a self-appointed, unofficial group of palace hotels – the Ritz Paris, the Hôtel de Crillon, The George V, the Plaza Athénée, Le Meurice and Le Bristol – but when the government decided to make it official, only eight hotels in all of France made the cut, four of them in Paris. They are Le Bristol, Le Meurice, the Place Athénée and – to the choc of many – the decade-old Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme.
The Ritz Paris, for many a byword for luxury, was snubbed and soon closed for extensive refurbishments.
The George V also missed out on being awarded the palace distinction despite being one of the city’s most famous and celebrated hotels. Not long after the slight the hotel embarked on a multi-million-dollar upgrade and was soon added to the official list. The Hôtel de Crillon is currently undergoing a major renovation and will open soon as a Rosewood hotel.
So what exactly is a palace hotel? It must have a storied history, its building must possess a certain grandeur, and there must be a high proportion of suite accommodation, a high staff-to-guest ratio (3:1) and a gastronomic restaurant. It should also have a spa and a concierge service and its standard guestrooms must be generously proportioned. Then there’s the less tangible requirement that the hotel serve to “embody French standards of excellence and contribute to enhancing the image of France throughout the world”, according to Atout France. In total there are more than 200 criteria a hotel needs to meet to be granted palace distinction.
Le Bristol is located just a few steps from a real palace – the Élysée – on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the 8th arrondissement. The hotel first opened in 1925 and is today part of the Oetker Collection of nine hotels, which include Brenners Park Hotel and Spa in Baden-Baden, The Lanesborough in London and the Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc in Antibes on the French Riviera.
Le Bristol was opened by Hippolyte Jammet, who
grew up in the Les Halles district of Paris before moving as a child to Dublin where his father opened a hotel and restaurant in the family name. After working at Le Meurice and the Adlon in Berlin, Jammet decided to open his own hotel in 1919 after his parents bought him the Hotel Bellevue on the Avenue de l’Opéra. In 1922 he sold that hotel to build the hotel of his dreams on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Jammet worked in the hotel until his death in 1964 (which actually befell him in the lobby) and in 1978 it was sold to the Oetker family, the German industrialists best known for cake mix and frozen pizza, who already owned Brenners Park and the Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc. Jammet named it Le Bristol in tribute to Frederick Augustus Hervey, the fourth Earl of Bristol, an avid traveller known for his luxurious tastes and the demands he made of hotels.
The notoriously private Oetkers treat the hotel like one of their homes and have furnished it with antiques and artworks from the family’s private collection. Taking pride of place in the hotel’s newly opened Café Antonia, for example, is a portrait of Marie Antoinette by François-Hubert Drouais, acquired from the Louvre in the 1970s when the museum sold off some works to fund new acquisitions. Artworks at Le Bristol are curated by Countess Bergit Douglas, who designs the Oetker hotels’ interiors and also designed Café Antonia. Her late husband was Swedish count Christoph Douglas, the former head of Sotheby’s in Germany, who helped establish the family’s art collection.
Outside the hotel’s Epicure Restaurant there is a 1500-year-old bust of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, which is also part of the Oetker family collection. Guests may also see a bust of Louis XVI by Augustin Pajou, one of two identical busts commissioned by the king, whose twin resides at the Château de Versailles. Two 18thcentury tapestries by Willem Werniers, based on paintings by David Teniers, hang in the hotel’s lobby. Then there’s the German mirror dating from the 1750s that also hangs in the lobby. The bronze clock above the reception desk dates from the mid-18th century. There’s even an antique soup tureen sitting on top of a chest of drawers by the 18th-century French master cabinetmaker Jean-Mathieu Chevallier.
Part of Le Bristol’s charm is that it isn’t like any other hotel in Paris. It has two resident cats, Fa-Raon and Kléopatre, who have their own room just behind the concierge desks; when they’re not there they are roaming the hotel and its gardens. There is a rooftop pool designed to resemble a ship’s deck, with views to the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur. The hotel still uses oldfashioned heavy keys that guests leave at the concierge desk when they head out. Even the paying the bill is made easy. Of course you still have to actually pay, but the business side is conducted out of sight while your bags are loaded into your waiting transport.
History, grandeur and gastronomy are all very well and good, but it’s the small, personal touches that make a great French hotel a palace.
Clockwise from below, the garden, Epicure restaurant, dining table in the honeymoon suite, the pool, Cafe Antonia, and le Bar du Bristol
A deluxe junior suite