The facade of the Plaza Athénée hotel, Paris, France. Photo / Provided
Courtney Whitaker moves into the Plaza Athenee Hotel on fashionable Avenue Montaigne, Paris
Location: It’s hard to miss this building located in the heart of one of the most fashionable streets in Paris, Avenue Montaigne. This famous tree-lined boulevard is the birthplace of high fashion, and you don’t have to travel far to find some of the world’s top fashion houses.
Perfect for: The ultimate luxury Parisian experience: a honeymoon, a birthday or a party.
Price: Starting at $2600 per night.
Registration: Before even entering the hotel, a minute is needed to marvel at its facade. Bright red awnings adorn the windows and 1900 assorted geraniums spill over the curved iron balconies. This has to be one of the most photogenic buildings I have ever seen. Hairstylist doormen pull our bags out of the taxi and I glance at the Lamborghini in the hotel’s loading area before entering the lobby. Described as “dramatic yet understated,” the lobby’s marble columns and large floral displays certainly hit the mark, and my eye is drawn to the shimmering chandelier at its center. Discretion, I imagine, is found in the cozy seating areas tucked into private corners behind the columns, the inimitable professionalism of the reception staff, who welcome us warmly, and in the mystery that lurks beyond the lobby. I’m struck by an intoxicating smell – it’s woody, musky, masculine – and later told that it’s a scent created especially for the hotel.
Story: Paris is home to some of the most amazing historical monuments in the world, and this building stands proudly among them. Indeed, the architecture of the hotel and the woodwork of the restaurants and bar are on the list of historic places in Paris. The Haussmann-style structure was designed by Charles LeFebvre and officially opened in 1913, with a classic cut stone facade. In 1946, Christian Dior opened his first boutique on Avenue Montaigne and was a regular at the hotel, organizing fashion shows and photo shoots in its rooms. Over the years, the hotel has hosted countless celebrities and is often used as a film set (think Netflix’s Emily in Paris, and while we were there, the HBO series Julia was filming in the lobby). In 2011, the hotel received the exceptional “Palace” distinction (awarded to a handful of 5-star hotels).
Bedroom: Superior suite. Our own “Parisian apartment”, with a separate living room and bedroom, large double wardrobes and French windows with Juliet balconies overlooking the hotel’s leafy inner courtyard. The king bed is large and luxurious in embroidered Beltrami linen, while the living room has an elegant work desk and a stunning marble fireplace under a large wall mirror, which we will discover later is also a television. Beautiful antique furniture, embroidered cushions, elaborate chandeliers and fresh flowers enhance the spacious, traditional French-style suite. Room service and spa menus are all on an iPad, including extensive caviar and champagne menus. An unpacking service is also available. Room options vary, from a classic Single Room, to a Junior Suite, to something a little more special, like the Eiffel Haute Couture Suite — which has views to die for.
Bathroom: Designed in signature marble, with double sinks, monogrammed bathrobes, deep soaking tub and separate shower and toilet. Heated mirrors are a nice touch, as are the gorgeous aromatherapy shower capsules, which create lavender, tea tree, and vanilla scented water. The toiletries are Guerlain Eau Impériale.
Food and drink: Jean Imbert barely had time to unpack his chef’s knives when his new restaurant, Jean Imbert at the Plaza Athénée, was awarded a Michelin star. The Imbert restaurant is an ode to traditional French cuisine in a Parisian brasserie. Everything is marble, chandeliers and gold leaf, and although the restaurant is closed for the summer holidays, we can have breakfast here every morning. Croissants and breadsticks are piled on our table, and we order the Grand Croissant Noisette (Hazelnut Croissant), an oversized specialty pastry filled with a fluffy hazelnut cream. But that’s just a starter: the soufflé omelet with spinach and goat cheese is my choice, and the chef’s specialty, and we’re also very impressed with my husband’s pain perdu (French toast with caramel sauce and a crispy crème brûlée crust). It’s the best French toast we’ve ever had, bar none, and we order it every day. On my last morning, I take the healthy route and opt for the Plaza Avocado, with quail eggs and citrus juice, and enjoy it alfresco in the peaceful La Cour Jardin (courtyard) , with the vines climbing wildly up the walls around me. My dish was balanced, light, and the frame? All simply magnificent.
Facilities: Two things are rare in Paris: elevators and air conditioning, and I’m delighted to report that this hotel has both, which is a relief as we arrived in the heat of the day. In addition to the spa, there are meeting rooms, a stunning ballroom (a popular spot for weddings), and a choice of dining options. In addition to Jean Imbert at the Plaza Athénée, there is the Art Deco Relais Plaza, the long corridor La Galerie, perfect for afternoon tea or a glass of champagne, the sophisticated Le Bar, where you should head to a late-night cocktail, and La Terrasse Montaigne, set outside on Avenue Montaigne under the hotel’s red awnings and sheltered by pretty planters. The hotel also offers a macaron masterclass, etiquette lessons, a workshop with an artist plumassiere (an artist who works with feathers), and perfume workshops. Wi-Fi is free and fast.
Spa: The Dior Spa has treatment rooms, steam rooms, saunas and a well-equipped gym. There are treatments for almost any ailment, pain or skin problem you could think of, including Dior oxygenating masks and de-stressing massages. The spa also offers bespoke Dior makeup consultations.
Supplements: Special mention should be given to the tireless efforts of the concierge team to track down a copy of the New Zealand Herald in Paris. The day after I asked, today’s paper magically appeared on my doorstep and I still wonder how they did it. Cheer!
Style: The epitome of Parisian chic. Levels 7 and 8 have recently been transformed in an Art Deco style, while the other levels are in a traditional French style.
In the neighborhood: Louis Vuitton is across the road and Dior’s newly renovated flagship store at 30 Montaigne is a two-minute walk down the avenue. Next door, the fashion house’s new museum, La Galerie Dior, is definitely worth a visit (the concierge at Plaza Athenee can arrange “skip the line” tickets, which is recommended). Opposite Dior you will find the famous L’Avenue bistro, perfect for spotting celebrities, or strolling a little further will bring you to Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga, Prada, Saint Laurent… you get the idea. If you want to play tourist, the Grand Palace is nearby, as is Avenue George V, which faces the Pont de l’Alma, where tourists still go to pay their respects to Princess Diana. There are also great views of the Eiffel Tower here, and plenty of upscale bistros nearby.
Friendly and family: We saw plenty of families staying here, and the hotel offers “Family Time”: a package that includes a half-price connecting room for the kids, gifts, cookies, daily breakfasts, and, of course, champagne. for the parents.
Accessibility: There are several accessible rooms and, with the exception of La Terrasse, all public areas of the hotel are wheelchair accessible, with wide doors and elevators with Braille buttons. Wheelchairs can also be provided on request.
Sustainability: The hotel is on a mission to reduce emissions, including LED light bulbs throughout the building, recycling bio-waste to generate green electricity, donating used products to charity, and installing systems efficient heating and cooling. In 2012, the hotel was also named “Green Host” by the Paris Tourist Office.
Last word: Leaving was as emotional as a breakup, but a gift made it a little less painful. The staff had remembered my fascination with the hotel’s signature scent and a small spray bottle was prepared for me to take home. One spray and I’m transported to the Plaza Athénée (. . . with a little imagination).