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Hotel Meurice

Listed under Best Hotels in Paris, France.

  • Photo of Hotel Meurice
  • Photo of Hotel Meurice
Photo of Hotel Meurice
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Paris, for me, is a city to be lazy in. I want to wake up in my Louis Quattorze bed or my rooftop garret and walk out of the door and boom, I’m in the thick of it - either around St. Germain on the Left Bank or somewhere super-prestigious. The rue de Rivoli? Why not? The Louvre is a few hundred metres away, the Tuileries are across the road, the Champs Elysees start to the right, and you can walk to the department stores around the Opera - via the foodie stores of the Place de la Madeleine, of course.

The Hotel Meurice has one great, overwhelming advantage. It has a Rue de Rivoli address. It's not a pretty road, the traffic races past, but the position relative to what you want to see is unmatched. A few years ago the whole place has undergone a massive renovation and it has been much written up in the press, with the PR agency given carte blanche and the style magazines going into overdrive. Here’s what they've written in the room brochures: 'Open the door. Look at nothing. Go straight to the window. Admire Paris. As you turn back, acknowledge the surrounding decor. The curtains. The bed. The sofa. The extraordinary furnishings. The marble bathroom. This bedroom is home. Some find it difficult to experience a place so perfect. Close your eyes.' Or this: 'In the Salon Pompadour, under the namesake portrait. So grand. All is well. We welcome your guests... From all angles, questions and compliments fill the room. Contracts are discussed. A prestigious past, a promising future. Even before the presentation has started, it is already a success.' Who writes this stuff? Where did the verbs go?

The Meurice makes much of its heritage as a classic pre-war hotel. Second home of Kings and Presidents it has a good line in Salvador Dali stories, who used to prowl around the lobby being eccentric. The idea of the refurbishment was to bring back the magnificence and opulence of these glory days - some of it has worked, some hasn’t, but at what a cost! They tell me it averaged 400,000 dollars a room, which is mind-boggling. Rates are unsurprisingly pitched at a level that will recoup the investment within 3 years - from around 3900FF, with an average double setting you back a cool 4600FF.

Is it worth it? Room-wise, I couldn't quite make the bill add up to even a half of that - it is very pretty but it shouts interior design, with reproduction desks and expensively manufactured fabrics. To paraphrase the late Alan Clark, it's the sort of hotel that has bought its own furniture, which sits rather askew the Grand Dame image; executed by someone for whom the hotel is a canvas rather than in the service of the hotel. Space wise the rooms are perfectly adequate, considering the handicap most European cities labour under - a chronic shortage - and thankfully the eccentricities of the old lady reassert themselves in the variety of rooms as well as the warren of corridors. The higher up you go, the lower the ceilings become; some are in dark, heavy and severely classical empire style, some a little lighter (there are 30 different decors), some have deep tubs, some shallow, all overlaid with clever technology which prevents the misting of mirrors and under-bath heating which keeps the water warm while you hop out to let room service in. As for room service - they have apparently retained around 40% of their original staff that means it is not quite up to the standard of what these prices should buy. I asked for something not on the menu and it could not be provided. One would have thought that a simple pain chocolat or pain raisin at teatime in the centre of Paris was not too onerous but, no, it had to be lemon cake. At eight pounds a slice. Ouch.

Service elsewhere is faultless. The highly trained front office staff ensure that you get the type of room you want (Americans, who make up roughly 40% of the clientele, apparently like shallow tubs) and greetings on arrival are sincere. But the real triumph of the new Meurice is what happens on the ground floor, with a wonderfully harmonious arrangement of spaces into a massive cube - a small, dark, intimate bar of dark wood and darker brandies (the Fontainbleu - it was formerly a library); a light and welcoming reception area, not too big or overwhelming; a magnificent restaurant, restored faithfully to all its former Rococo glory, with a mosaiced floor, antique bevelled mirrors and huge chandeliers; and the piece de resistance, the Jardin d’Hiver, which takes over the bulk of the space underneath a recently uncovered art nouveau glass dome - a place for tea and madeleines or a light snack before the theatre to the sound of a tinkling piano, done up in the flowery style of Eugenie, empress of Napoleon III - which I discovered to mean blues, golds and greens. The professed aim of the refurbishment was to make the hotel feel more like a home than a hotel, and on the ground floor, architect Jean-Loup Roubert has succeeded fabulously. It has that feeling of the ‘Grand Babylon Hotel’ of literary fame, a place where staff and guests mingle in a revolving series of activities, transactions and, in fiction at least, mishaps. The problem with upstairs is neatly articulated by interior designer Nicholas Papamiltiades, who told one interviewer: "After three years on the project I have to cut the cord. At this point I'm almost afraid to see a guest in one of my rooms". The sooner they become the rooms of the guests and are reclaimed by the hotel, the better.

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Written by  James Dunford Wood.

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