Photo Courtesy of Le MeuriceA five-star hotel is no longer fit for a king when visiting Paris, bien s?r! In France, they have one-up on the hotel ratings called the Palace Distinction. It is earned after achieving the five star requirements, and then some. Le Meurice Hotel in Paris was the first to achieve the discerning distinction, although this emblematic avant-garde Parisian hotel seduced me in other ways.
My stay at the paramount Le Meurice was nothing less than a palatial experience. I desperately tried to coax Meurice into divulging some of his stories of famous personalities, past and present, who have left their notch on his bedposts.
Le Meurice is known as “The Hotel of Kings” for three reasons. The obvious being that it has been the preferred place to stay in Paris for international royalty since the beginning of its establishment in the nineteenth century. Secondly, because the hotel has earned this reputation as the king of all Parisian hotels for its incomparable service, style and savoir-faire in hospitality. Lastly, Le Meurice has been blessed with the official Palace Distinction in hotel establishments by the French government; in the luxury world, that is a step above the blasé five star ones.
If only the walls of Le Meurice could talk, they would whisper to me the secrets I so desperately want to know! The visits from the King of Spain, the Shah of Iran, the Grand Duchess of Russia, and a slew of other aristocrats from all over the world. The stories of patron Mata Hari, the exotic dancer executed for espionage during World War I. I wonder how Ginger Rogers and Elizabeth Taylor would spend their time in Paris while at Le Meurice. Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Coco Chanel, and Picasso are yet a few other majestic names worth mentioning frequently seen at the reputable hotel.
And then, there is Dali! Artist Salvador Dali would take up residence at Le Meurice for an entire month every year, for over thirty years. For this, permanent tributes to Dali grace Le Meurice throughout, starting from the moment you enter the lobby. “The 18th century mirror is an old evocation of Le Meurice history,” Anne Vogt-Bordure, director of communications, explains of the large frozen mirror leaning against the wall upon entrance to the palace. Coolness emanates from the mirror with no reflection. “Frozen because Mr. Dali didn’t drink alcohol at all. He used to drink water, so it is like a historic tribute to the hotel and to Dali.” People often come up and draw their names with their finger in the frost, as did I.
The emphasis at Le Meurice during its renovation in 2007 was in “trying to create some bridges from past to present,” states Vogt-Bordure, “to keep the history, but also to move forward.” I believe the same can be said of Paris as a whole. “We thought Dali was the right person to give a little bit more fun and glamour and humorous image of Le Meurice, to make it a little less serious,” explains Franka Holtmann, General Manager of the palace hotel since 2007. “I still have members of my team that know all the anecdotes of his visits here,” she says of Dali with a sheepish grin.
It was Holtmann who commissioned renowned designer Philippe Starck during Meurice’s makeover as, “I thought he (Starck) was the only one who could conserve the heritage of Le Meurice, and at the same time make it more modern and glamorous.” The innovative and daring French designer Starck has once again accomplished remarkable work. He recreated Dali’s Leda chair and a Dali lamp you cannot miss when you enter the restaurant appropriated named Restaurant Le Dali. Almost immediately, your eyes are captivated by the art draped high above. Ara Starck, the designer’s own daughter, is the artist of the theatrical scene painted on canvas over the entire ceiling in the room.
Near the ancient symbolic mirror frozen in time, prominently stands another piece of art in the lobby. However, this one is contemporary. “The Kiss” by Zoulikha Bouabdellah was the first recipient of the Meurice Prize for contemporary art 2008, a competition established by Holtmann to support today’s French artists. Holtmann also headed the revamping of the hotel in 2007, where, “in only five days and five nights,” the main areas of the first floor were renovated.
“My goal was, in a way, to wake up the sleeping beauty,” Holtmann says of the hotel, which took a total of two years work of renovations. “Le Meurice was always anchored in art and culture. I wanted a timeless hotel but at the same time really create a liaison with the past and to wake it up!” The Kiss has awakened this sleeping beauty.
Royal patrons and stargazing are not only a thing of the past at Le Meurice. During my stay I recognized the Olson Twins, royalty in the world of fashion, seated next to me at Restaurant Le Dali. Visitors are still as eclectic and diverse as the hotel itself. One escorted entourage of well-known hip-hop rappers, made their way through the hotel as confidently as sophisticated nobility.
I must mention that this palace is perfectly located across the picturesque Tuileries Garden, and flanked by Place de la Concorde, The Louvre and Place Vendôme. The rooms and suites are extraordinary, as you would expect of a palace hotel, flaunting marble and the finest of all furniture and fabrics from only the very best craftsman and designers in France to Italy. Head Chef Yannick Alleno, a three star Michelin award winner, of Restaurant Le Meurice states, “my cuisine is like my city, and my city is Paris.” The opulent restaurant houses a wine cellar with over 600 of the worlds finest wines,” Vogt-Bordure boasts.
My stay at Le Meurice came to an unfortunate end, however with an appropriate farewell gift from Vogt-Bordure. A book titled French Genius for the Art of Living (published by Le Meurice Hotel, 2009), which romantically describes the rich fascinating history of the hotel. “To recall the history of Le Meurice is akin to telling the story of Paris,” author Sabine Roux states. “The years and even centuries have passed, and crowned heads, captains of industry and the iconic figures of art and culture from around the world have come and gone at Le Meurice,” Roux illustrates, “adding new legends to its history each time.” And that, my friends, is the art of living ? la française at Le Meurice! Thank you Anne Vogt-Bordure and Franka Holtmann for their grand hospitality, personal tour of Le Meurice and for my gifts! Visit LeMeurice.com to learn more.
"Paris is love, fun, culture and fashion!" -Franka Holtmann