Paris is back in service. Going back and forth means jumping through all the usual Covid hoops, but boy, it’s worth it.
Restaurants and bars are open – hurray! – shops, ditto, and museums are not only open, but less crowded than the pre-pandemic peak – with a pre-booked ticket, you enter the Louvre in five or ten minutes. Foreign visitors are coming back. The Eurostar is up and running – the civilized way to get to Paris – and the morning train arrives just in time for lunch. Walking down the rue de Rivoli, one had the impression that life has returned to what it should be.
Plus, coming back to Paris this time meant going back to Le Meurice, not just my favorite luxury hotel in Paris, but maybe anywhere.
It is the perfection of a Parisian palace. It is a large building from 1835, with 18th century salons installed in 1907, and a chic mix of old and modern style – design Philippe Starck next to the Madame de Pompadour salon. Janitors belong to that rare breed who combine the skills of a diplomat with the feeling that in reality nothing is too much trouble.
Then there is the location. On the other side of the street, there is the Jardin des Tuileries; behind is rue St Honoré, an elegant shopping street; ten minutes higher is the Louvre; next door is Angelina’s, the cafe with the thickest hot chocolate. At night, I could see the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides, all lit up.
This hotel has seen countless famous visitors – Queen Victoria was one of the many crowned heads to stay here. But he is best known for writers, artists and actors, from Zola to Warhol. Salvador Dali would stay here three months a year, once he ordered a flock of sheep in his room – you can stay in his very suite, with the photos of him in it, on his motorbike. Picasso celebrated one of his weddings here. Ernest Hemingway used to drink here before he got stuck at the Ritz.
But it is the association with Great Britain that marked the place. The original Meurice carried British passengers from Calais to Paris and had the brilliant idea of creating a hotel to accommodate them; the current hotel was built in 1835. Thackeray recommended that British travelers unfamiliar with Paris simply bellow “Meurice!” to a taxi driver, knowing that they would be taken care of. Charles Scott Moncrieff, Proust’s translator, wrote to his mother in the middle of the First World War that he left to relax at Le Meurice.
The rooms – 49 recreated during containment – are fabulously relaxing. There is a unifying elegant light aesthetic to all, and beautiful fabrics, but there is also an interesting individuality. There are real books – often on art related to the region – and good antiques, good pictures and old pieces. Some are positioned, curiously, behind mirrors, which gives them a ghostly appearance. The beds are wonderfully comfortable: I want this mattress at home. As for the bathroom, the tubs are deep, with relaxed light if you like, and – a cool touch – heated mirrors so there’s no condensation. And you might want to know that the toiletries are from Maison Kurkdjian.
There is no swimming pool, but a nice spa, with excellent Valmont products.
The Michelin-starred restaurant here is under the aegis of the legendary Alain Ducasse, who deserves his reputation, although obviously it comes at a price (with joy you get some of his chocolates in your room when you arrive). The olive oil from Provence was green like grass, and I could have eaten it alone with the excellent bread for dinner.
You would expect the sommelier to be familiar with the wine list, but ours also made water – we had a bottle of Versailles followed by a more spirited Corsican spring water – dear ones, quite Napoleonic. The lamb was sensational – tender and grilled under a grill; as for my daughter’s beef tenderloin, it didn’t look good, but it was, she declared triumphantly, the best thing she had ever eaten. My pollock was cooked in fig leaves… the smell! The pastry chef is the famous Cédric Grolet, whose specialty is the replica of white chocolate fruits, with a mousse and intense fruit inside the shell. (Usefully, he also has a pastry shop in rue Castiglione: take a pie home with you (25 euros is enough for two).
He also makes croissants and breads for breakfast. For my Eggs Benedict, the ham came folded around the egg orbs like the petals of a flower. Yum.
A hotel that is just antique can be staid; here, the large decor of the 1907 refit is cut in a contemporary style. Philip Stark decorated the ground floor and his daughter made the ceiling of the dining room, like a two-tone circus tent. The cushions are pieces of modern art, and there is a collaboration with Hermès in the furnishings with their discreet H shapes. But really, it’s the people who make Le Meurice; they make the difference between hospitality which is very good and great.
Like I said, pretty much the perfect fabulously expensive Parisian hotel.
Le Meurice currently offers a superior room from 750-830 euros per night or a suite from 1500 €. dorchestercollection.com
Round-trip Eurostar fares to Paris start at £ 39; all rates are now fully flexible. eurostar.com