The past couple of years have been an exciting time on the Paris hotel scene with several new grand palace hotels either opening or undergoing revitalization projects (the Ritz and the Prince de Galles are both currently under renovation). One of the most hotly anticipated of these new hotels was the Shangri-La Paris, a sumptuous and sophisticated property that opened its doors back in December 2010 just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.
Though Shangri-La is an Asian brand and just opened its Paris hotel (the first Shangri-La in Europe) about 18 months ago, the former palace in which it is situated is actually a historic building dating to 1896.The palace was originally built by Prince Roland Bonaparte, a naturalist and geographer who was the grand-nephew of Napoleon himself, in the refined 16th arrondisement between the Trocadero and the Place des États-Unis with unparalleled views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower (back when the palace was built, it was considered quite gauche to have a view of the iron tower, but now it’s prime real estate). He lived there with his daughter and his mother, taking the wing overlooking Avenue d’Iéna for himself and installing the ladies in the section overlooking the river.
That said, the first thing guests notice after passing through the imposing original iron gates and restored glass porte cochère are two enormous Ming Dynasty-style vases, recalling the Shangri-La brand’s Asian roots. To the right of the entrance is the former billiard room with a fireplace where guests would wait for an appointment, though today they can come and enjoy a cup of tea, a cocktail or small plates. Before heading to the reception desk, be sure to have a look around and see if you can spot the various Imperial insignias and monograms Prince Roland had carved into the marble and stone. Shangri-La took great care to restore the building to its former glory under the watchful eye of architect Richard Martinet since it is a national landmark.
A quick stop at the small reception desk to the left of entrance supplies incoming guests with their own check-in agent who will escort them to their room and take all the necessary information and paperwork there, after pouring a cup of jasmine tea from the welcome pot waiting in their room. The hotel has just 81 rooms including 27 suites, creating an intimate environment where the service is personalized, fastidious and prompt. The rooms were decorated by Brittany-born designer Pierre-Yves Rochon in a style that combines the jewel-toned blue and gold palette and plush fabrics of Empire fashions with the luxurious minimalism of Shangri-La’s Asian origins.
We could look out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the southeast to see the Eiffel Tower and the city. Down a slightly curving grand staircase was the main room of the suite including a gold-toned king bed with overstuffed feather pillows and a duvet, a wall of closets including clothes drawers and an enormous safe, another small sitting area with a sofa, table and flat-screen plus the mini bar, and then an office area with a dark-wood desk stocked with all manner of adapters, office supplies and stationery (plus the customary Shangri-La free WiFi), and a full bathroom with separate shower, tub and WC, two vanities, and the wall-embedded flat-screen plus those fragrant Bulgari products.
Though there were three enormous two-story floor-to-ceiling windows with curtains that all opened out over the glass dome of the hotel’s La Bauhinia restaurant, the last one closes to the work desk actually had a small balcony with an ottoman where we could sit and admire the view. This suite starts at 2,576 euros ($3,227.50) a night in July. The hotel also has three expansive signature suites. The Chaillot Suite is on the fifth floor and was named for the hill upon which the hotel sits. It is 1,650 square feet including one bedroom, a dining room and a wraparound terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The Shangri-La Suite sits atop the hotel with unparalleled views of the city and the surrounding neighborhood.
It is decorated in more of a 1960’s modern style than the rest of the hotel that nonetheless incorporates Empire-style furnishings and Asian touches such as lacquered-wood finishes. This suite is 2,420 square feet with an enormous terrace with sweeping panoramas at the same height as the first platform of the Eiffel Tower. La pièce de résistance, however, is the enormous Impériale Suite, the hotel’s largest, which is located in the former private apartments of Prince Roland overlooking Avenue d’Iéna and occupies nearly 3,000 square feet of living space. It is the only one of the hotel’s rooms to be listed with Paris’s Monuments Historiques, and the beamed ceilings, gilt and decorative carvings are all original and restored (so be sure to admire them along with the 16-foot ceilings).
The hotel has three highly acclaimed restaurants including one of Paris’s only Michelin-starred Asian restaurant. Guests will probably first experience La Bauhinia, the restaurant lounge at the far end of the ground floor, which sits under a glass and iron dome designed by a disciple of Gustav Eiffel from which hangs a breathtaking Murano crystal chandelier. The restaurant takes its name from a type of orchid that is on the Hong Kong flag and pays homage to Prince Roland’s passion for botany – he had a collection of over 2.5 million plant samples.
The jade-colored restaurant seats 80 and features service all day from 6:30 am – 11:00 pm including both Eastern and Western specialties. Be sure to try one of pastry chef François Perret’s hallmark cupcakes based on classic French desserts such as asîles flottantes. Shang Palace is the hotel’s Chinese restaurant, which operates under the stewardship of Chef Frank Xu and a cadre of Hong Kong chefs. It is comprised of oversized tables provided with an ambiance of semi-privacy by wooden screens artfully placed throughout.
The hotel’s signature dining experience, however, is L’Abeille, a 40-seat two Michelin-starred restaurant named after the bee that adorned the Bonapartes’ coat arms. Here executive chef Philippe Labbé prepares a palate-dazzling dinner every night that might include such delicacies as live langoustines poached in sea water lacquered with ponzu-sesame sauce and dressed with ginger essence and shiso emulsion, a pork two-ways—Spanish roasted suckling pig with wild garlic and spring peas, and crisp Basque-style cutlet with garlic flower and grilled cucumber. Each dish is accompanied by a specially chosen wine pairing (though it’s hard to move beyond an aperitif glass of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs).
For a pre-dinner aperitif or a nightcap, the hotel’s bar decorated in the style of Napoleon’s deluxe Egyptian campaign field tent, and is a cozy, half-hidden spot where guests can enjoy the hotel’s signature Pink Lady cocktail (actually, they make several variations of it) named after Lady Mendl, a New York-born interior designer and Paris society doyenne who lived in the building’s private apartments in the 1930’s. Perhaps the best place to get a sense of the building’s history is in the hotel’s events spaces along the first-floor gallery. The Grand Salon was Prince Roland’s principal grand reception space, and is an opulent, light-filled room decorated in the style of Louis XIV and reminiscent of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors.
Every surface is gilt and filigreed – though these days you’ll find a state of the art audio-visual system in place for meetings and events. The room includes a grand marble fireplace, bronze wall appliqués and enormous crystal chandeliers. It was here that Prince Roland’s daughter celebrated her engagement to the Prince of Denmark in 1907. The intimate Salle à Manger was the family’s dining room, and is a much more masculine space with carved mahogany fixtures, hunter-green wallpaper, a bronze bas relief of Napoleon Crossing the Alp and two massive eagle statues drawing all the eye’s attention. The smallest of the rooms is the Salon de Famille, decorated in the Empire style with painted paneled walls and a pastel palette.
The hotel plans to open a spa later in 2012 in the palace’s former stables, complete with a 50-foot lap pool and a small fitness center that is already open. Though its proximity to the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower make it an ideal spot for a romantic first visit to the City of Lights, the hotel’s location is also suited toward Paris habitués who are looking to explore lesser-known sights. Some of these include the nearby Palais de Tokyo, which houses the Museum of Modern Art, the Guimet Museum of Asian Art, the Marmottan Monet Museum and the Quai Branly Museum. It is situated across the river and features an awe-inspiring living wall garden.
Combining the best of opulent French décor and understatedly thorough Asian service, the Shangri-La Paris is a new breed of Parisian palace hotel and one that has already made its mark on the French capital.