Tatler Checks Into... Hôtel De Crillon
August 18, 2017 | BY Kim Reyes
The most historic hotel in Paris has finally reopened, and we were among the first to spend the night at this modern-day icon.
In the capital of haute couture and haute cuisine, there’s no dearth of luxury hotels for the discerning traveler to choose from. But the Hôtel de Crillon, one of only a dozen Paris properties to merit “Palace” standing (above a five-star rating), has a rare distinction few can match—a history of over 250 years.
Beginning with King Louis XV commissioning its majestic neoclassical façade in 1755, the hotel is intrinsically linked with milestone moments in Paris history: the 1778 French-American treaty recognising the Declaration of Independence was signed in its Salon des Aigles, and Marie Antoinette, who took piano lessons in the salon which now bears her name, was guillotined in the Place de la Concorde just outside its doors.
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It became a luxury hotel in 1909, hosting countless celebrities and royalty before closing for extensive renovations in 2013. Four years later, the iconic Hôtel de Crillon has reopened with a new look and energy, thanks to over 150 designers and artisans (including Karl Lagerfeld), with an extraordinary attention to detail that celebrates French craftsmanship and savoir-faire.
While the hotel has preserved its historic legacy—both physically in the multiple architectural structures throughout the building that are protected by French conservation law, as well as symbolically in the names of suites and public spaces that are callbacks to the past—the bold, irreverent attitude it inhibits today is unmistakably modern.
“Conservation and transformation” was the key concept driving the four-year renovations, general manager Marc Raffray tells me. “We’re breaking the codes of what it means to be a Palace hotel in the 21st century.”
The result is a compelling blend of the impressive grandeur of an 18th century landmark, the impeccable service of a Palace hotel, and the cutting-edge approach of a hôtel particulier.
The most tell-tale sign that this icon of history has cemented its place in modern-day Paris? It’s already won over the locals, who come for a bite after shopping at nearby Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or Place Vendôme, or for intimate business meetings over a drink at the stunning bar.
“We want our visitors from all over the world to feel Parisian,” Raffray says. Sure enough, a stay at the Hôtel de Crillon gives you a unique glimpse into the heart of Paris—one that beautifully combines the past, present, and future.
The approach to Hôtel de Crillon, located on the north side of the Place de la Concorde, immediately impresses. The hotel’s iconic French neoclassical façade is a registered landmark, and its imposing Corinthian colonnade and Coustou sculptures remain unchanged. After passing through the entrance flanked by multiple doormen, we’re whisked into a cosy sitting area for check-in (there are no archaic front-desk counters here); it’s the first of many signs that this is not a standard-issue luxury hotel.
One of the most striking features of the property is how homely and inviting it feels: public spaces seamlessly transition from one mood to another and are decorated to the hilt with bespoke furniture, fresh flowers, interesting art pieces, coffee table tomes, and precious antiques. It's as if you’re walking through an elegant private mansion rather than a hotel.
Rather than being formal or stiff, the energy here is lively and charming, which is most noticeable in the staff. The hotel has done away with run-of-the-mill uniforms and instead created a wardrobe of 90 chic outfits designed by young French designer Hugo Matha—from lace skirts, silk blouses, and modern le smoking suit for the women, to dapper waistcoats, velvet blazers, cravats, and wide-brimmed fedoras for the men. It can catch you off guard, in a good way, when you’re politely greeted (oftentimes by name) by someone you had just assumed was a smartly-dressed guest.
Do Not Disturb
Prioritising quality over quantity, the recent renovations reduced the number of guest rooms from 147 to 124, and all of them now come with butler service. Most share a design scheme of muted pastels, wooden floors, touches of gold, and marble (40 types were used throughout the hotel). Each room is made all the more inviting by the voluminous ivory bed, draped in fluffy Drouault duvets and pillows.
Our mirrored bar cabinet is stocked with both essentials and more indulgent refreshments—a leather-covered Nespresso machine, Christofle cutlery, Bollinger and Billecart-Salmon champagne, and even custom-bottled ready-to-pour cocktails. We recommend #10 Les Ambassadeurs, named after the hotel’s signature bar, and made with Cognac XO and 20-Year-Old Tawny Port.
In the bathroom, the exquisite apothecary-style toiletries—courtesy of an exclusive partnership with historic Parisian perfumery L’Officine Universelle Buly—include wooden toothbrushes, luxurious bath oils, and shower gels in intoxicating scents like yuzu and heliotrope.
The crown jewels of the Hôtel de Crillon are undoubtedly the 10 signature suites. The legendary Bernstein suite, named after composer and frequent Crillon guest Leonard Bernstein, boasts an incredible wraparound balcony offering breathtaking views of the Place de la Concorde, Eiffel Tower, and Grand Palais. It’s a residence fit for a king (or a literal prince, as the suite was occupied by the hotel’s owner, Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, during our stay).
For a taste of fashionable extravagance, choose one (or both) of Les Grands Appartements, the two suites designed by Karl Lagerfeld. The Chanel designer sumptuously outfitted the suites with bespoke furniture, textured hand-painted walls, baldachin beds, and his own photography. If the two-tonne Carrara marble bathtub doesn’t immediately win you over, the massive walk-in wardrobe—hidden behind a bookcase that slides open with a remote control—certainly will.
The hotel’s multi-million renovation involved digging two floors deep to accommodate a brand new health and wellness area—including the Sense spa, fitness studio, and indoor swimming pool—and the effort paid off in spades.
Below the hustle and bustle of the lobby above, the subterranean pool is a hidden haven of luxury, covered in a mosaic of over 17,000 gilded scales. Only its skylight peeking out into the Cour Gabriel courtyard provides a gentle reminder of the outside world.
Getting ready for a day or night out in Paris is easy with the in-house hair salon by celebrity stylist David Lucas. And for men, there’s a grooming area with a barber and shoe shine lounge, replete with custom-built leather chairs crafted from Aston Martin seats.
The serene oasis that is the Hôtel de Crillon’s first-ever spa uses products from French labels EviDenS de Beauté and Maison Caulières for facial and body treatments. The 90-minute Healing Signature Massage, as explained by my exceptional therapist Sylvie (in perfect English, no less), was designed especially for the hotel, and uses a blend of techniques from Balinese, Esalen, Shiatsu and Breema therapies—ideal for melting away travel-induced tension, jetlag, and stress.
Food & Drink
You’ll have no shortage of options when it comes to dining and drinking at the Hôtel de Crillon. Just to the right of the entrance is Les Ambassadeurs, formerly the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, and now a contemporary cocktail and caviar bar (take note: it also has 100-plus champagnes on the menu) with live music in the evenings. Remember to look up, as the ceiling structure is a listed landmark and has been repainted as a cloud-filled blue sky.
A few steps further is Jardin d’Hiver, where Parisian ladies-who-lunch meet for afternoon tea underneath a gold leaf ceiling and large chandeliers. It’s here that the famed 1878 Baccarat crystal elephant—a fixture of the old hotel—finds pride of place. Also in this room, albeit hidden behind a mirrored door, is the entrance to the intimate restaurant L’Ecrin, helmed by young Michelin-starred chef Christopher Hache. Adding to the exclusivity factor, it seats only two dozen diners. Needless to say, reservations are a must.
The hotel’s other restaurant, Brasserie d’Aumont, is open all day and features a crudo bar that changes with the meals of the day (a fresh juice bar at breakfast, oysters at dinner). A member of the check-in staff recommended their steak tartare, which comes topped with a charred hazelnut powder, and was frankly one of the best I’ve had in Paris. Also worth ordering are the Île Callot oysters, which are exclusive to the Hôtel de Crillon.
Don’t leave without trying one of the creative concoctions by pastry chef and Meilleur Ouvrier de France Jérôme Chaucesse, which are encased in jewel box-like glass displays in the lobby.
While you’ll be tempted by the shops on the Champs-Élysées and Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré just steps away, don’t miss the pair of retail spaces in the hotel. Fashioned like cabinets de curiosités, they carry exclusive items created in collaboration with luxury brands like Roger Dubuis and Thierry Mugler, as well as emerging French artisans and designers.
If you prioritise charm over space, stay in one of the ateliers d’artiste suites on the 7th floor. With slanted ceilings and a balcony facing the Eiffel Tower, it embodies the essence of romantic Paris. And as Raffray describes: “It’s magic.”
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