American journalist-turned expat Rhonda Richford makes a lavish escape to Paris’ most fashionable new address.
Paris may be called the City of Light, but the City of Luxury would be an equally deserving a moniker. From the fine jewelers that line Place Vendôme to the decadent desserts and rich cuisine that define French food—it is certainly not a city that deprives itself with juice cleanses and kale. It’s the place to pursue the best of the best, from baguettes to Bordeaux, as it has been for centuries. So it’s fitting that the Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotel Group decided to open its first European doors here.
Perhaps more than even New York—if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. A regal spread, the property just emerged from a four-year renovation of the former Majestic Hotel, a BeauxArts structure that lost its luster serving as a succession of government offices for the last eighty years. After opening in August, The Peninsula Paris has become the brightest spot in the city’s luxury landscape.
Mere meters away from the madness of the Arc de Triomphe roundabout, yet secreted away on a side street that is billed as the tiniest avenue in the city, the hotel is an oasis from the tourists trekking up and down the Champs- Élysées. The main entrance opens to the bright and airy lobby with a cascade of gold and glass crystal leaves, perhaps reminding guests that in true French style, sparkle should be subtle.
Paris prides itself on being a city of fashion and not flash. Aside from the I.M. Pei pyramid that’s almost universally despised by Parisians for ruining the sightline from the Tuileries to the Louvre, the city approaches its architecture much like its fashion models—it’s the bone structure that counts. Looking at these bones from above, the building seemingly wraps its arms around the most sought-after patio in Paris at the moment, where a good looking set sip signature cocktails such as the white lotus infused Le Kléber.
Stepping in from the busier Avenue Kléber, guests are greeted by two Chinese lions, traditionally thought to bring good fortune and happiness. Inside these doors is The Lobby restaurant, and if you have the good fortune to dine here, you will certainly leave happy. The restaurant serves a modern mélange of international dishes, as well as a decadent macaron and pastry-filled afternoon tea. It’s one of the three restaurants available to guests (and the locals that are lining up a month or more in advance for dinner reservations). The rooftop L’Oiseau Blanc flies high above the city, offering one of the best views in town, with the open-air bar area bookended by the Eiffel Tower to the south and the Sacré-Cœur to the north. The restaurant offers modern, market-based French fare.
LiLi is the jewel in the culinary crown, led by the group’s Michelin-starred Chef Tang Chi Keung, bringing much-needed upscale Cantonese cuisine to a city where Chinese is mostly microwaved and universally dismal. Keung has elevated the simple dishes here to the level of haute cuisine that suits finicky French tastes. I start with steamed lobster dumplings and spring-bright shrimp and chive dumplings (“har gow” in Cantonese), whose traditionally translucent wrapper is a bright spring green. Both burst with delicate seafood flavors, created by the man I suspect is the world’s first “dim sum ambassador” in Chef Yip Wing Wah, who oversees the small plates. All in, I follow with the clay pot of roasted cod and garlic, which has just enough chili for its spice to surprise the palate and then cool off with the sweet chilled mango cream.
The diversity of room styles exudes disciplined balance and French discernment. Although the Versailles-inspired first floor suite is in traditional Sun King style, the interiors of the standard guest rooms don’t try to outdo the opulence of the common areas and instead have a calm, contemporary design. The palette is a wash of neutrals and greys, with slight Asian-inspired touches as a nod to The Peninsula’s heritage, and each room has a separate dressing suite for an added element of privacy. There is incredible attention to detail—not only in the rooms, but in the technology as well. Each guest room has state-of-the-art tablet control, as well as room service and valet ordering that knows your preferred language out of eleven programmed. It’s designed to make guests from any part of the globe feel instantly at home.
But it is the soothing subterranean spa that is a real retreat. With just eight rooms, there is no crowded feeling of a luxury locker room. In fact, in my hours there I only passed one other guest despite the hotel being at nearly capacity. The two saunas and large rain shower space felt like my own private relaxation room. The pool, too, lay untouched just off the spa, making my evening swim solitary and serene. The spa offers a variety of massage and facial packages, including couples treatments in special double rooms, and features ESPA and Biologique Recherche products. The full-body massage incorporated some pressure point therapy that helped me nod off momentarily.
George Gershwin famously wrote “An American in Paris” here in 1928, and it is The Peninsula in Paris that will keep guests humming.
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