In May 2011, the French Government announced the winners of the new top category of hotels in France (created in November 2010), the ‘Palace’ Hotel. From the current 5-star hotels, nine were picked. The jury, in typical French style, consisted not of faceless government bureaucrats and anonymous inspectors, but a novelist, television producer, a cinematographer, an architect and heads of various prestigious companies, headed by Academie Francaise member, Dominique Fernandez.
The rating is valid for five years. Included in the criteria to earn this prestigious award are the hotel's location, historical significance, room comfort, personalized service, multi-lingual staff, health and spa facilities.
There were some surprising ommissions, like The Ritz in Paris (but the hotel will close next year for a two-year renovation and will doubtless get the accolade after that), and the Negresco Hotel in Nice. So when you walk past a distinctive new plaque on the façade, you know you will get the very best. It goes without saying that these hotels are amongst the most expensive in France.
Favored by stars like Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Charlie Chaplin and Josephine Baker, and filmed in Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, Le Bristol was always a fantasy building. The first hotel of 1829, The Vogue, was spectacularly rebuilt in the 1920s to open as the Hotel Bristol, named after the grand British traveler, the Count of Bristol.
During World War II, it became the official residence for all American citizens, due to its anti-gas shelter, and position on the Rue St. Honore. Today it has 210 rooms and suites all beautifully decorated in elegant French style, and a spa with a wonderful rooftop pool with a view of Paris.
Epicure, the fabulous 3-star Michelin restaurant overseen by Chef Eric Frechon, now has a terrace and is decorated in a delightfully fresh style.
Address112 Rue du Faubourg St-Honore
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 53 43 43 00
Like all the Four Seasons hotels around the world, the George V epitomizes luxury living. The original 1928 building, now beautifully restored, offers 245 guest rooms, which include 59 suites, 30 of which have a private terrace with great views over the famous Paris skyline. The whole hotel is extremely elegant with 18th-century tapestries adorning the walls and a rich color scheme.
The 2-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Cinq serves impeccable food, using top ingredients, while the smaller La Galerie, with plush seating, is the place for coffee, afternoon tea and a spot of people watching. In summer, the terrace has a view of the Eiffel Tower.
The Spa has a whirlpool in trompe l’oeil gardens and offers all the treatments, including a chocolate wrap.
Address31 av. George-V
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 49 52 70 00
Le Meurice is gorgeous, a jewel of a hotel looking out over the Tuileries Gardens and just near the Louvre Museum. Built in 1817, it is now owned by the Dorchester Collection, which also has the Plaza Athenee in its luxury portfolio.
But Le Meurice is not conventionally gorgeous; the hotel’s public areas were given the Philippe Starck touch, so you come across unexpected items like a mirror that is literally frosted and three-legged tables with fancy shoes. The 160 rooms are more traditional (but stille gorgeous); the Michelin three-star restaurant under Yannick Alléno is rightly famous; Bar 228 has jazz nightly; and there’s a superb spa. The hotel is very family friendly which is an added bonus.
Address228 rue de Rivoli
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 44 58 10 10
You get to the Pur’ restaurant past a wine wall that also doubles as a cheese and cigar cabinet. The restaurant has an open kitchen and offers a Tuscan grill burning vine shoots for an Italian slant. Four or more people can dine at the Chef’s Table here as a particular treat. The more casual Les Orchidees restaurant has a contemporary décor and is a great place for Saturday brunch. Finally La Terrasse is delightful for balmy days and evenings.
There’s a large spa, beautifully decorated, with all the treatments you could wish for, and a whirlpool bath.
5 Rue de la Paix
Tel.:00 33 (0)1 58 71 12 34
It’s touches like the Berluti Service which looks after your shoes and gives you a Berluti kit and the fabulous, predominantly pink and grey Dior Institut that sets the Plaza Athenee apart. This gorgeous hotel, along with Le Meurice, is part of the Dorchester Collection and has been recently renovated in a magnificent opulent fashion.
146 generous rooms and 45 suites have magnificent views, onto the avenue Montaigne, the Cour Jardin, the rooftops of Montmartre or the Eiffel Tower. Choose your décor according to your taste: for regal grandeur go for the Louis XVI or Regency style rooms. Art Deco fans will delight in the beautifully decorated stylish rooms reminiscent of the era.
Dining is tops as well, with one of the world's greatest chefs in charge of Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee serving Michelin 3-star cooking in gorgeous surroundings.
Address25 Avenue Montaigne
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 53 67 65 99
L’Hotel du Palais fits comfortably into the glamorous Basque coast resort that was once the Monte Carlo of the Atlantic coast. The resort was transformed by Napoleon III in the mid 19th century and his wife Empress Eugenie built a palace on the beach, which then became L’Hotel du Palais.
With 122 rooms and 30 suites, this grande dame of the coast is very spacious, elegant and sophisticated with most rooms reflecting the Imperial history of the Palace.
The 1-Michelin star restaurant La Villa Eugenie, is the place for top seafood cooking. The semi-circular, Belle Epoque La Rotonde has great views over the ocean and was the place for grand balls in the past. L’Hippocampe is on the ocean and is perfect for summer dining from the spectacular buffet. The Guerlain Spa has a spectacular indoor swimming pool and treatments to keep everybody young and beautiful.
Address1 ave. de l’Imperatrice
Tel.: 00 33 (0)5 59 41 64 00
High up in the chic mountain resort of Courchevel, the grand Les Airelles has stood the test of time and is now one of the three Palace hotels outside Paris.
As you walk in, you’re enveloped in the warm décor and atmosphere of this fabulous skiing chalet of 37 rooms and 14 suites. The superb apartment on the top floor is perfect for families with children who even have their own hiding place in a tiny room. The Spa Valmont offers all the treatments and has indoor and outdoor whirlpools and a snow cave.
With top chef, Pierre Gagnaire, in charge of the 2-Michelin star restaurant, Pierre Bagnaire pour les Airelles, the dining takes on a new significance with his experimental take on classic dishes. You can eat more traditional local fare in La Table du Jardin, while Le Coin du Savoyard offers a rotisserie. You can also eat from the grand buffet at lunch on the Terrasse looking over the slopes, which are accessible directly from the hotel.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 79 00 38 38
8. Le Chevel Blanc, Courchevel 1850
Owned by Bernard Arnault, head of French luxury group LVMH, Le Cheval Blanc is, as you would expect, the height of fashionable chic. With 28 rooms spread over three floors and a separate chalet, it’s as spacious and roomy as you could imagine. Colors and fabrics of the mountain side predominate –- rich browns and greens with plenty of wool, fur, velvet and leather used. Views are spectacular of course with beds facing the windows in many rooms so you wake up to the view of snowy expanses.
As for dining, the 2-Michelin starred 1947 is sophisticated in both its leather décor and its cooking under chef Yannick Alléno. The new restaurant, The White, is more casual. Looking out onto the slopes, it’s all-white décor is the setting for meals at any time. The White Bar is rather darker, despite its name, but the perfect place for apres-ski cocktails.
The Cheval Blanc Spa is exceptional and includes a shower that changes sounds and lights according to the button you press –- from Russian to American. Using Guerlain, peaceful rooms offer all the treatments. Slopes are of course directly accessible from the hotel.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 79 00 50 50
Overlooking the azure blue Mediterranean, the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat has long been a magnet for celebrities. Opened in 1908 by the Compagnie Hôtelière des Centres de Tourisme Automobile, it has seen statesmen, royalty and stars from the Duchess of Argyll, daughter of Queen Victoria of England to Charles Boyer and David Niven.
The hotel re-opened in 2009 after a 75 million euro refurbishment. The 49 rooms and 24 suites (which include eight with private pools) set in vast grounds, are decorated in calm, pastel shades and have views either over the pine clad surroundings or the Mediterranean.
You can choose to dine either in the main Michelin-starred Le Cap restaurant or out on the terrace where the lights sparkle on a warm summer evening and you’re surrounded by the scents of the Mediterranean. There’s a gorgeous Olympic-sized heated sea-water pool with poolside dining. The Spa offers day passes and all the treatments. It’s a family friendly hotel with an excellent kids club as well.
Address71 boulevard du Général de Gaulle
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 76 50 50