The Booming Paris Hotel Scene

The interiors of the Hotel du Continent are devoted to the various namesake continents.

The interiors of the Hotel du Continent are devoted to the various namesake continents.

In January, Paris bristled when long-time rival London announced it had nabbed the coveted title of top tourist destination. In response to “boasts” by London Mayor Boris Johnson, Deputy Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo lobbed a barb across the Channel, calling the British capital “a suburb of Paris.” This playful banter at the mayoral level underscores the fact that tourism plays a vital economic role in both countries’ economies. When all the numbers were in, Paris did indeed triumph victorious, holding on to the crown of “world’s most popular city.” (The official statistics counted 32.3 million visitors to Paris in 2013.)

In light of this robust demand, the Paris hotel scene continues to see healthy development across a range of price points. The palace hotels—legendary around the world for their savoir-faire—continue to innovate as competition from new arrivals pushes up the luxury barometer. The most anticipated hotel opening of the year is The Peninsula Paris, which will be the first European property for the prestigious brand. Established destinations (like the Crillon, Ritz, and Hotel Plaza Athénée) are currently closed for big renovations. Representing only 1.7 percent of the available hotel rooms in the French capital, the palace distinction—a league above the ‘five-star’ rating—was established by Atout France to increase visibility internationally.

But the market is not limited to this ultra-luxury niche. A new crop of independent boutique properties is also popping up across the city. Tired of cookie cutter hotels, travelers seeking an authentic experience can take their pick of themed, design-driven hideaways that are simply oozing personality. Whatever your passion, you’ll find a hotel to fit your mood.

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Hotel Eugène-en-ville is a smooth and seamless combination of the industrial and baroque styles.

Hotel Eugène-en-ville is a smooth and seamless combination of the industrial and baroque styles.

A trend to watch: Hoteliers are recruiting French fashion designers to craft interiors that will give their properties an edge over the competition. For example, Vice Versa is the brainchild of lingerie designer Chantal Thomass, with each floor corresponding to one of the seven deadly sins. Famous product designer Ora-Ïto conceived a three-star hotel in the first arrondissement called Hotel O, part of the Elegancia Hotel Group. In September 2013, the Hotel Félicien opened in a residential neighborhood in the 16th arrondissement as a showcase for couturier Olivier Lapidus, who created the custom chairs and sleek decor himself. Like his clothing designs, Lapidus experimented with materials, like optical-fiber fabrics and hand-painted silk. Though it’s far removed from the city center, the Hotel Félicien (another Elegancia hotel) has become a favorite address for the French fashion set. The four-star hotel only has 34 rooms, two of which have panoramic terraces on the top floor with Jacuzzis. There is a jewel-box spa in the basement with treatments by Filorga, fitness equipment, and a small pool.

Buzzworthy among these fashion designer hotels is the Hotel du Continent, which opened in winter 2014 with an enviable location in the 1st arrondissement just steps from the city’s main attractions. Lined with trend-setting boutiques like White Bird and Da Rosa, Rue du Mont Thabor is a lovely street that runs parallel to Rue de Rivoli and the Jardin des Tuileries. Christian Lacroix waved his whimsical wand over the hotel’s interiors, which—as the name implies—are devoted to the different continents. An exuberant celebration of the voyage, the Hotel du Continent showcases a different fantastical style for each of the floors. (Room #64 on the sixth floor is a vibrant tribute to 1950s America, the fifth floor brims with African motifs, and the third flaunts wallpaper patterned with tropical palms and butterflies to evoke Oceania. The second floor, the only one to be carpeted, has a cocooning effect with muted colors and Nordic-style furniture to represent the Poles. Last but not least, the first floor rooms have a classical European style.) Designed in three different categories, the 25 rooms come with Missoni bath amenities and free Wi-Fi. For single travelers to Paris, the small single rooms are a good value for central Paris (125 euros ($172)). (Note that the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, but there is an honesty bar and breakfast room.)

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The Hotel du Continent’s fifth floor is full of African motifs, evoking the mystery of the Dark Continent.

The Hotel du Continent’s fifth floor is full of African motifs, evoking the mystery of the Dark Continent.

One of our new favorites is the Hotel Fabric, which debuted in June 2013 in a converted textile factory in the trendy 11th arrondissement. A welcoming place with a fun vibe, the Hotel Fabric is serious eye candy for design lovers. The hand-picked decor was sourced from flea markets (like the nearby Marché Popincourt), and even includes some fabulous family heirlooms like a vintage sewing machine (from the owner’s grandmother). There’s a Chesterfield leather sofa, Pierre Frey fabrics, a stage spotlight and a giant, illuminated star, once used by a rural village as a Christmas street decoration. This high-design hotel pays homage to its industrial history with original details left intact (think exposed brick and massive steel beams). Spread out over four floors, the 33 light-filled rooms are designed with pops of color, and feature soaring ceilings, Italian rainshowers, L’Occitane bath products, and wardrobes created out of enormous wood transport containers. In addition to the top-floor suite, we like Room #201 and #202 because of the lighting inspired by factory bobbins.

The lobby is an inviting multi-purpose space where guests feel as content gabbing over drinks from the honesty bar as they do working on their laptops at the long oak table. There’s a jukebox where you can make your own playlist, and an iPad for clients’ use. Even the basement is stylishly decorated, housing a gym, hammam, and spa room filled with plants and vintage mirrors. Note: A full room-service menu is available even though there isn’t an onsite restaurant (only breakfast).

Hotel Fabric’s 33 rooms, spread across four floors, have pops of color brightening each one.

Hotel Fabric’s 33 rooms, spread across four floors, have pops of color brightening each one.

The new wave of boutique hotels in Paris also includes literary-themed ones. Not far from the Opera and the Grands Boulevards in the 9th arrondissement, Hotel Eugène-en-ville exudes the dandy spirit of French novelist Eugène Sue. Designers Carole Picard and Virginie Brisset dreamt up a masculine world frequented by an omnipresent Eugène, a gentleman-around-town with impeccable taste and a joie de vivre. (The hotel name is perhaps also a nod to the Baron—Georges Eugène Haussmann—who famously engineered modern Paris.)

Before opening in late 2013, the entire property was gutted and rebuilt from scratch. The four-star hotel is a sleek mélange of industrial and baroque styles with embossed metal panels, trompe-l’oeil wallpaper by Koziel, and a deep-hued color palette (think gray, brown and midnight-blue). Equipped with free Wi-Fi and bottled water, the 66 guest rooms were designed with comfort in mind; the Superior Terrace rooms have access to a sprawling terrace that will soon be decorated with loungers and tables. Note that the Luxe room category rooms are Junior Suites. The hip canteen in the lobby serves shared plates of charcuterie and cheeses paired with French wines. There is also a small massage room and meeting room. Hotel Eugène-en-ville is part of the Châteaux & Hôtels Collection, owned by the Alain Ducasse Group.

Another lovely literary hotel is Le Swann, situated in a quiet pocket of the 8th arrondissement behind Gare Saint Lazare. Franchised as a Best Western Premier, the four-star Hotel Swann is dedicated to famous French writer Marcel Proust. There’s been a hotel in this location for 140 years, but the owners closed it in 2012 for a massive overhaul to raise the property’s profile. A year and half later, at the end of 2013, Le Swann showed off a smart new look. You may be tempted to camp out all day in the lobby, immersed in a Proustian mise-en-scène (chic arm chairs, work tables, contemporary art, and a whole library with volumes by Proust). Adorning the walls are large-scale photos of the author, along with poet Endre Ady, who lived in the hotel at the turn of the century. (A picture of the famous Proustian madeleine cake decorates the ceiling above the sumptuous breakfast buffet, featuring quality products like Mariage Frères tea and Angelina hot chocolate.) The theme continues in the 81 comfortable guest rooms, which are each devoted to a character in Proust’s universe.

The Swann is not just for book lovers; the rooms are loaded with value-added amenities like Nespresso machines, bottle water, free Wi-Fi, and—bien sûr—madeleines. The Junior Suite category has a separate sitting room, and the Executive rooms are also generously sized. We like #511 because you can open the French windows over the inner courtyard. From the sixth floor, you can see the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur.

2014 will continue to see some fabulous new debuts. Design-obsessed hotel aficionados should keep a look-out for two projects from interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel, whose high-profile properties include the Radisson Blu Nantes and the InterContinental Marseille. These talked-about hotels are the MGallery Molitor and Le Cinq Codet. Also of note: IHG’s Hotel Indigo brand will land in Paris this year with a 57-room hotel near the Opera.

Our Restaurant Picks

Hotel Le Swann is dedicated to French writer Marcel Proust and abounds with tributes, like large-scale photos of him on the walls.
 
Hotel Le Swann is dedicated to French writer Marcel Proust and abounds with tributes, like large-scale photos of him on the walls.

There’s no shortage of fine restaurants in Paris, so the challenge is actually narrowing down your choices. Michelin-starred Chef Eric Frechon, of Le Bristol fame, has been making headlines for his updated brasserie concept at the Gare St Lazare. The restaurant, called Lazare, serves expertly executive classic French cuisine in a chic setting. Near Les Halles, the former marketplace that Zola called “the belly of Paris,” Pirouette is a real bargain, considering that Chef Tomy Gousset honed his skills in the famous kitchens at Le Meurice and Daniel Boulud in New York. Speaking of Le Meurice, Alain Ducasse has taken over the reins since Chef Yannick Alléno’s departure, and the gastronomic restaurant continues to steal the show with a focus on extraordinary local produce. In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, two chefs who are judges on Top Chef France have lovely restaurants: Christian Constant’s Les Cocottes and a trio from Jean-François Piège: the gastronomic restaurant, Thoumieux brasserie, and newly opened patisserie for sweet treats.

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