The timeless beauty of Paris is reason enough to visit the French capital for the first or the 40th time. However, the city’s allure continues to evolve. A major new museum of contemporary art will open in June, a retrospective of the works of Henri Matisse will be shown throughout the summer, and later in the year the artist Christo will wrap the Arc de Triomphe in one of his signature installations.
Three charming new properties have recently opened on the Left Bank and in the Marais.
Many people travel to Paris just to eat, of course, and the city’s restaurant scene is livelier and more innovative than ever. Young chefs are branching out, the international dining scene is sizzling, and French haute cuisine is being reinvented for the 21st century by making it affordable and enjoyable again.
The hotel scene is similarly dynamic: Three charming new properties have recently opened on the Left Bank and in the Marais. All offer flawless comfort and stylish décors in historic buildings; one of them is among the most romantic hotels we’ve ever stayed at in Paris.
Our first stay was at the Lutetia, which reopened last summer after a five-year renovation that has made it the only five-star hotel on the Left Bank. The project was the work of architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who was commissioned by the Set Hotels, which also owns the Hideaway Report-recommended Conservatorium in Amsterdam, as well as the Hotel Café Royal in London.
With 184 rooms, the Lutetia is a larger property than many of those we review, but it has a fascinating history and has long played a major role in the social and literary life of the Left Bank. Also, since so many people love Saint-Germain-des-Prés but also want a full-service hotel, this property merited our attention.
During the 1920s, it became a Jazz Age favorite and was frequented by the likes of James Joyce and Josephine Baker.
The handsome limestone building with sinuous floral motifs carved into its façade was opened originally in 1910 by the Boucicaut family, founders of Le Bon Marché department store across the street. It offered lodgings to shoppers, with cutting-edge amenities like running hot water in every room. During the 1920s, it became a Jazz Age favorite and was frequented by the likes of James Joyce, Josephine Baker and the writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. After the Germans reached Paris on June 14, 1940, the Lutetia was requisitioned and became the headquarters of the Abwehr, the German counterintelligence service. At the end of World War II, the hotel was a center for returning French survivors of the Holocaust.
On arrival, the welcome from the young desk clerk was warm. However, he failed to remind us that breakfast was included in our room package, the first of several service glitches that indicated the hotel was still a work in progress, almost a year after it reopened. The public spaces are stunning, however. These include Le Saint-Germain, the hotel’s main restaurant with a dramatic stained-glass ceiling; Brasserie Lutetia, a restaurant (under the supervision of Michelin three-star chef Gérald Passédat) with a black-and-white-marble floor and a mezzanine surrounding the central atrium; Bar Joséphine, a spacious, light-filled bar with restored art nouveau frescoes; and the cozy, eucalyptus-wood-paneled Bar Aristide, a cigar bar with leather chesterfield sofas.
Escorted to our room along art deco hallways reminiscent of a 1930s ocean liner like the S.S. Normandie, we arrived at our Eiffel Deluxe Room With Balcony, so named for its distant view of the Eiffel Tower and balconies reached through French doors from the bath and bedroom. Our accommodations had a low-key masculine appearance, with oyster-shell walls, chocolate-brown herringbone parquet floors, sand-colored window veneers and a pair of armchairs with deep indigo cotton cushions. The room struck us as unexpectedly compact for one costing almost $1,100 a night, but the white-marble bath was beautifully finished, well-lit and roomy.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Lutetia’s impressive wellness center, which comprises a large fitness room, a sauna, a steam room, a Jacuzzi and a 55-foot-long indoor swimming pool illuminated by natural daylight. The hotel’s Akasha spa offers a predictably lengthy menu of massages and treatments.
We had planned to have a drink at Bar Joséphine before dinner, but no seats were available — it’s become extremely popular in the neighborhood — so we went on to dinner at Brasserie Lutetia. Since it was a mild night, we were seated in an intimate open-air courtyard off the mezzanine. The romance of this space was considerably enhanced when we noticed the French actress Marion Cotillard having dinner with her partner, Guillaume Canet, at a neighboring table. After some very good oysters, we ordered bouillabaisse and a sea bream flamed in pastis; both were delicious.
The following morning, we asked to see some other rooms at the hotel and concluded that on a future stay we would book a more spacious Junior Suite With Balcony. The Lutetia also offers one of the most alluring signature suites in Paris, the new Saint Germain Penthouse, designed by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, which features a private rooftop terrace with stupendous 360-degree views over the city.
The Lutetia is ideally located at the corner of Rue de Sèvres and Boulevard Raspail, which means it’s an easy walk to one of the world’s best shopping neighborhoods, along with legendary cafés, like the Café de Flore, and some wonderful small museums, such as the Musée Rodin. Overall, the atmosphere of the property successfully distills the worldliness, style and history of the surrounding neighborhood. The service still needs to be better drilled, and many room categories are snug, but the Lutetia is a quietly glamorous choice for those who love the Left Bank and require all the amenities of a luxury hotel.
The superb location in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés; the excellent spa and fitness center; the beautiful public areas.
Service is well-meaning but occasionally sloppy; certain room categories are small relative to their rates.
The Shang Xia shop across the street at 8 Rue de Sèvres is a joint venture between Hermès and designer Jiang Qiong Er. It features high-quality Chinese goods made with a contemporary twist on traditional Chinese aesthetics and crafts.
Since we’ve long admired the J.K. Place hotels in Rome, Florence and Capri, we were curious about the company’s first property outside Italy, the 30-room J.K. Place Paris on the chic Rue de Lille, a five-minute walk from the Musée d’Orsay. This property occupies a mansion that formerly housed the Norwegian Consulate; it opened in November following a three-year renovation.
The greeting offered by the impeccably dressed young receptionist was exceptionally gracious. After minimal check-in formalities, he took us to see the beautifully decorated lounge, the glass-roofed restaurant and the snug bar, where he offered us welcome flutes of Champagne. “J.K. knew that it wanted its first hotel outside of Italy to be in Paris, but it took them five years of scouting to find this location,” he said as he filled our glasses.
The interiors are the work of Florentine interior architect Michele Bönan, who also designed the three Italian J.K. hotels. For the Paris property, Bönan created an eclectic cosmopolitan décor that combines custom-made Italian furniture with one-of-a-kind pieces that he sourced from the Marché aux Puces flea market, including mirrors, statues, Hermès desk lamps and smoky-mirrored consoles.
Upstairs, our spacious J.K. Master Suite came with parquet floors, white moldings, a writing desk, sleek bronze-colored floor lamps, a king-size bed, a decorative gray-marble fireplace and a roomy walk-in closet. French doors hung with damask chintz curtains led to a balcony overlooking Rue de Lille. The white-marble bath came with twin vanities and a walk-in monsoon shower. Our lodgings seemed well-thought-out and elegant but also homey, perfectly lit, quiet and very comfortable.
Although the hotel’s Sisley spa and indoor pool had yet to open at the time of our stay, its Casa Tua restaurant — which has siblings in South Beach and Aspen — was up and running. We tried the filet of beef with foie gras, grilled hazelnuts and leeks and the lobster with green beans, cherry tomatoes and orange sauce. Both were excellent. Breakfast the following morning was exceptionally good, too, and included airy brioche and croissants and delicious poached eggs with spinach.
The J.K. Place Paris is a lovely hotel, and sophisticated travelers will appreciate its suave service, striking décor, excellent location and instinctive hospitality.
The charming service; the stunning décor; the ideal location convenient to the Musée d’Orsay.
The bar should stay open later.
Les Climats, 10 minutes away at 41 Rue de Lille, has one of the best lists of Burgundies in Paris and serves some very good contemporary French food in a pretty Belle Epoque dining room.
After several days on the Left Bank, we crossed the Seine and checked into the new 12-room Cour des Vosges. It occupies a red-brick-and-limestone 17th-century townhouse that overlooks the magnificent Place des Vosges in the Marais. We soon discovered that this property is not for those who want a huge room or an alphabet of services; instead, it provides a very special and intimate experience of Paris that makes you feel part of one of the city’s most storied neighborhoods.
The charming young woman who greeted us couldn’t have been more welcoming or informative. She took us upstairs to our Deluxe Room, a cozy, comfortable and impeccably lit space with a built-in étagère filled with art books and a splendid view over the square. Its centerpiece was a decorative fireplace framed in brushed brass; a table and two chairs were set in front of the dormer window. The large bed was made up in high-quality handkerchief-weight cotton sheets and a big fluffy duvet. And the bath came with a claw-foot soaking tub, a separate shower, double vanities and an opaque oval window that opened to provide a view over the surrounding neighborhood.
To be clear about this hotel, there is no reception beyond a small desk next to the elevator, the only public space is a café on the ground floor, and the only additional amenity is a bain romain, or small wellness space, with a jetted soaking tub. A simple room service menu is offered, but otherwise this place is very like an upscale version of the two-star hotels that were once the bread-and-butter of the Paris hotel scene. However, this reductive assessment spectacularly understates the property’s charm. If you’re looking for a private, stylish, cozy, romantic place to stay, in one of the world’s most beautiful big-city neighborhoods, this could be for you. We loved the night we spent here, because it was so profoundly Parisian and brought back the excitement we felt when we visited this marvelous city for the first time many years ago.
The gracious service; the beautiful views over the Place des Vosges; the romantic atmosphere.
The lack of public spaces aside from the café-tearoom.
Ma Bourgogne, right next to the hotel, is one of the most atmospheric café-bistros in the Marais and a great place for a glass of wine or a simple meal.