A SECRET LIFE

14 Sep 2016 A SECRET LIFE

Published in Private Edition 33

Le Bristol Paris is all French luxury and refinement, but its history is as rich and intriguing as its guests…
Words DEBBIE HATHWAY

THE WOMAN WEARING THE HAT with a small dog at the end of a leash could easily have been a dowager aunt out of a Brontë novel. They were waiting for the lift, which is fronted by an elaborate wrought-iron grille next to the great staircase inside Le Bristol Paris.

Dogs have been allowed in the hotel since it was founded by Hippolyte Jammet in 1925. Guests who wished to keep their pets in their room were charged 10 francs a day for the privilege – the equivalent cost of a maid’s room at the time.

Since ownership of the hotel changed families for the first time in 1978, Le Bristol Paris has continued to flourish. It is one of only a few establishments that can claim the distinction of being a Parisian Palace Hotel – an honour bestowed by the tourism ministry of the French government in recognition of their facilities, client service and accessibility. This jewel of the Oetker Collection boasts its own feline royalty: Fa-Raon and Kléopatre, thoroughbred Birman cats distinguished by their fine white coats, wild highlights and sapphire-coloured eyes. During my visit, Kléopatre was holding court curled up on an armchair near the three-starred Michelin restaurant, Epicure (the dining facilities are out of bounds for furry friends), while Fa-Raon was keeping a lazy eye on activities from one of his favourite vantage points in the foyer.

Back to the lift… Drawn by the incredible artistry of the design, upon enquiry I learnt that it is part of the legacy of Leo Lerman, a Jewish architect given refuge (and several clandestine work projects) by the hotel founder, Jammet, during World War II. Lerman had worked on extensions and refurbishments for him in 1930, but returned in 1942 to try to escape deportation to the death camps. For three years, he never left the hotel. His room, 106, was removed from the register and any record of his name deleted. But from there he managed to redesign the dining room, and eventually more rooms, under the noses of the occupying German army in a hotel that was never empty. It’s a fascinating story.

Jammet chose the prestigious Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré near the Élysée Palace for the site of his hotel, correctly anticipating that it would attract an esteemed clientele looking for quiet and discretion. Today it stands at the centre of Paris, boasting, among other exclusive attractions, an extensive interior garden seldom seen in the inner city.

The Palace’s excellence can be defined in terms of the size and luxurious fittings of its rooms and suites, its fastidious décor, the faultless service, the Spa Le Bristol by La Prairie (considered one of the best in the world), the exquisite garden, the three Michelin-starred chef Eric Frechon of the hotel’s Epicure restaurant, the award-winning pastry chef Laurent Jeannin, or Le Bar du Bristol (voted best bar in the world in 2013). This year, Le Bristol Paris was voted Best Luxury Hotel in France and Best Hotel for Quality of Service in France in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. What differentiates this hotel from others, however, is the shared passion of the staff and their uncompromising attention to detail that makes so many clients regular visitors.

After only a one-night stay, I found myself hovering in the foyer after checkout, loathe to leave. Noticing my dilemma, the general manager grinned and enquired what had made my experience so special. There were so many… the friendly staff interactions in fluent English; the customised fragrance that filled the air; the hotel design that invites natural light to flood in from every possible angle; the sumptuous 18th-century décor and luxuriously spacious rooms; the fresh flowers arranged daily by three florists with a budget of €30 000 per month, and the realisation that this hotel really does make guests feel at home. It’s a level of intimacy that so many strive for, but fail to achieve. * Visit lebristolparis.com and oetkercollection.com for further information.