NOT everyone who visits Paris has a Carrie Bradshaw moment. That is to say, when fizzing with excitement to have touched down in the City of Light, you fling open the shutters of your Parisian hotel room on to a glittering view of the Eiffel Tower. In my experience, even in a decent three-star, the view is more often than not of a dark interior courtyard smelling very strongly of baguette, than of one of Paris’s many landmarks.
Upgrade by just two stars to the Hotel Meurice, however, and you’ll get ‘em all at once: the Tuilerie Gardens, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the tour Montparnasse, Place de La Concorde, and if you crane your neck out of the window a bit more to the left, Notre Dame herself.
Situated in the arcaded rue de Rivoli, perhaps the city’s chic-est shopping street, Le Meurice, built in 1818, is known to be the first Parisian “Palace” – French for luxury hotel. Everyone who is anyone has stayed there – from Queen Victoria to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Elizabeth Taylor and Salvador Dali, who stayed for at least one month a year. One of the hotel’s more demanding guests, Dali famously requested a herd of sheep be brought to his room, and upon their arrival, he shot them with a pistol (luckily loaded with blanks). Another time, he demanded a horse.
Over its near 200-year existence, Le Meurice has seen four renovations – in 1905, 1947, 1998 and the most recent one, in 2007, by that flamboyant doyen of hotel style, Philippe Starck. While sticking to the hotel’s classical feel – huge mirrors, gilt paintwork, sumptuous fabrics – Starck’s refurb is also inspired by Salvador Dali’s eccentriticies and his inimitable furniture design. Several pieces in the main salon, which also functions as a restaurant, Le Dali, are based on the surrealist artist’s designs. The effect is playful, without being too obtrusively quirky.
Entering the hotel from the busy rue de Rivoli, into the warm tones of cream, gold and pale green, it is easy to see why Dali found it hard to leave. Our room, decorated in the same colour scheme, was by far the largest room I’ve ever stayed in in Paris – the marble bathroom itself was the size of the average garret. (Our room, however, was rien compared to the Belle Etoile Suite on the top floor, which has a 360-degree view of the city, and with its four bedrooms plus butler’s quarters, occupies 2,960 square feet. With a lift of its own, it is also completely secure. No wonder the Queen enjoys checking in when she’s in town.)
Back on the ground floor, Le Meurice has one of the cosiest, most luxuriant hotel bars in the whole of Paris, ideal for a pre-dinner glass of champers (which, at the price, should most definitely be sipped rather than downed). The hotel’s restaurant, a study in belle epoque grandeur – all mirrors and gold – presided over by renowned chef Yannick Alleno, boasts three Michelin stars. It is booked up so far in advance that it can be harder to get a table than a room. Not that I’m bitter – we breakfasted there anyway, enjoying award-winning pastry chef Camille Lesecq’s incredible puffy pains au chocolat, accompanied by cinammon-laced pomme puree and large silver jugs of coffee.
It is notoriously hard to find a taxi in Paris. One can wait for up to an hour at a taxi rank. I have missed several Eurostars in this exasperating fashion. At Le Meurice, it just takes one whistle from the doorman, and a whole fleet pull up. A good tip for the future: say you are staying in the Belle Etoile Suite, and you’ll be at Gare du Nord tout de suite. Le Meurice’s Easter Package offers rooms from €640 per night and includes several choclate surprises, champagne, and a gift. Breakfast included. www.lemeurice.com