Travel

An evening in Paris

Every hotel in this iconic city has a tale to tell. Here’s a peek into some of the most interesting stories in Paris

Hôtel Da Vinci

The Mona Lisa hasn’t always slept at the Louvre. Fancy sleeping where the Mona Lisa spent some nights in August 1911? It’s to 25 Rue des Saints-Pères that a certain Vincenzo Peruggia, having masterminded the theft of the Mona Lisa, absconded from the Louvre with his great booty or beauty. To commemorate the centenary of the Mona Lisa’s return to Paris on January 4, 1914 (two years after its theft) the re-christened hotel reopened, following a thorough renaissance, bestrewn with quirky details recalling Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. The signature suite Chambre de l’Adorateur is where our “painting-purloiner” slept with the world’s most famous woman.

Perhaps, he hadn’t then the voluptuous beds the hotel now dispenses nor bathrooms fragrant with sexy Roberto Cavalli toiletries, so the Mona Lisa’s lover must’ve sojourned somewhat less romantically than if he’d postponed his kidnapping by a hundred years.

What he then had was a little fanlight through which to escape from the roof with his lady if the police arrived. Peruggia didn’t utilise this amenity, for he managed to reach Italy, and was caught only when trying to sell the painting to a Florentine antique dealer two years later.

He was exonerated with a trifling one-year imprisonment, considering the nobility of his mission: he simply wished to repatriate Da Vinci’s masterpiece that Napoleon “thieved” from Italy, where it belongs… Evoking the Chambre de l’Adorateur’s fascinating history, behind the veloured bed board hangs a desolate picture frame, signifying the painting’s theft.

Then you descry a trunk stashed in the room with the Mona Lisa peeping surreptitiously out of its semi-closed top. Brilliant dash of imagination!

Mandarin Oriental, Paris

This address on Rue St Honoré, a street streaming today with luxury boutiques, has had a vibrant and vicissitudinous history — the site was a Capuchin convent in medieval times before becoming successively a hippodrome (1801), the circus Cirque Olympique (1807), a royal equestrian school (1817), the Panorama Valentino (1880) constructed by famous architect Charles Garnier, and in its penultimate avatar, the Ministry of Justice (1970) until, in 2011, it metamorphosed into the Mandarin Oriental Paris. Who’d have imagined that what was at nascence a nunnery would attain the apogee of luxe parisien, conferred the ultimate title ‘Palace Parisien’, a uniquely Parisian designation for hotels and the highest thereof.

The hotel’s ultra-contemporary 2-Michelin-starred restaurant Sur Mesure (meaning made to order, in couture parlance) conjures the quintessentially Parisian world of haute couture, with its walls of fabric, crafted to look like remnants of some sartorial execution. The stark white enclave, whose fabric-flap walls seem to be opening out, also resembles a chrysalis, thus cleverly if inadvertently capturing the very evolution of this address, the metaphor consummated in the ‘Butterfly’ Cage — an enormous white cage stationed on the hotel’s courtyard terrace, with a tumble of stunning-pink flowers over a white oriental bowl-like receptacle embedded with a table, the fantasy Garden Table, a stroke of extravagant caprice. And if the French are historically remarkable for losing their heads, the Mandarin Oriental Paris has found a finer way of doing so with six varieties of champagne, including Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé or Paris’ priciest cocktail 251 (costing €251 and served in a Lalique crystal glass), Marie Antoinette would agree...

Le St James

‘Airy Fairy’ quite captures this abode. It presides over the parks of Paris’ first airport, from where the first hot air balloon launched. Hence the ‘airy’ affiliation. And it’s fairy for it is Paris’ only ‘château’ hotel, conceived by whimsical designer Bambi Sloan as the residence of a fairytale 19th-Century family. Rooms are named after “regular house guests”, including Austrian Empress Sissi and the last Queen of Scotland, imagined to be family friends of the imaginary “family”… In 1892, this place became the Fondation Thiers, commemorating the former French president. For a century, it was a hostel for scholars, until dramatically transforming into an exclusive private club, and now a hotel, Paris’ sole accoutred with its own private parks. Paris’ finest breakfasts happen in splendid rooms overlooking lawns with a hot air balloon for a pavilion, recalling the location’s history. The bar is the erstwhile hostel’s library, showcasing marvellous leather-bound books. Scholars might’ve more enthusiastically imbibed food for thought had they then Le St James’ champagne cocktails as accompaniments!

L’Hôtel

“Either that wallpaper goes or I do,” quoth Oscar Wilde as he lay moribund in Paris. No, he wasn’t referring to the sumptuous wallpaper, some made of handwoven silk from China, that today beautifies L’Hôtel, then Wilde’s last lodgings, now Paris’ smallest 5-Star. L’Hôtel is best known as the place where Oscar Wilde lived above his means and died meanly. It is almost as known as one of celebrated designer Jacques Garcia’s most accomplished works, a masterpiece of Neoclassical grandeur melded with Napoleon III ostentation. It’s little-known as a one-time brothel in then not the seemliest neighbourhood. The receptionist points to the sensational circular atrium, around which the staircase twines, explaining that in bordello times (1828), girls would showcase themselves in the arched openings encircling each floor of the atrium, so clients could from below pick his preferred girl and ascend to the floor she projected herself from, the bedroom door conveniently behind her. Each suite, obscenely opulent, is meticulously conceived, but Oscar Wilde’s suite trumps, if only because Suite Mistinguette boasts the legendary playwright’s original bed, but without the ravishing beauty in it.

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme

Unless you’re unleashing something unprecedented, you don’t open shop near the mighty Paris Ritz. Style icon Park Hyatt, however, created history with its advent, distinguishing itself dramatically from Paris’ frumpy grand hotels with a deliberately minimalist sophistication. The hotel’s architect, Ed Tuttle, revived materials prevalent in the 19th Century, imparted modernity to French classicism and created a unique design sensation that brought a brisk breeziness to Paris’ hotel scene. Although iconoclastically, the hotel yet sustains the tradition of chic associated with the location, standing as it does exactly where once loomed Maison Paquin, celebrated couturiers and monarchs of Parisian aesthete, who dressed Europe’s royalty during the Belle Epoque (1890 to the First World War). The hotel has created history again, this time with designer desserts — Chef Pâtissier Fabien Berteau opened Park Hyatt Chennai, where he incorporated South Indian ingredients (everything from spices to South Indian coffee) into French desserts, but his audacities bewildered locals so he fled Chennai in exasperation. Back in Paris, his creations tinged with exotic South Indian influences have fetched him the title of Best Chef Pâtissier for 2015 by the finical Gault Millau guide. And if you dislike desserts containing apple as I do, after Fabien’s fresh and lively creation, you will appreciate why Eve damned herself and us all eternally over an apple…

Hôtel Lancaster

Burt Lancaster stayed here but he didn’t confer his name upon Hôtel Lancaster, which, were it named after all the celebrities it has hosted, would have a straggling multi-barrelled name concatenating Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable etc. Having been the receptacle of cinematic personalities, the Lancaster must perforce be dramatic and Front Office Manager Christophe Lajoinie narrates the shenanigans staged by Hollywood stars. His favourite scene (in every sense) is how Liz Taylor and Richard Burton fought famously on the hotel’s grand staircase. A converted old 1925 hôtel particulier, the Lancaster has an astonishing collection of antiques and original artwork, including a painting of the Bataille de Fontenoy, whilst a Russian artist, a great lover of beautiful women, according to Christophe, once stayed long at Le Lancaster and paid his bills with 83 paintings of gorgeous women.

Le Bellechasse

In the world’s couture capital, designers have taken to fashioning hotels. Christian Lacroix’s inaugural attempt is a chromatic assault, quite like his vociferous couture creations. Academically interesting if overwhelming!

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 10:33:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/An-evening-in-Paris/article17069042.ece

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