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.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - W l TIMEPIECES - STORY DAVID MEAGHER

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

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