PARIS IS A CITY OF SUPERLATIVES: THE MOST ROMANTIC AND BEAUTIFUL METROPOLIS OF THEM ALL. This is the world capital of gastronomy and fashion, whose citizens have perfected the art of joie de vivre. The city's landmarks—the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night, the Gothic gargoyles of Notre Dame cathedral, the grand boulevard Champs-Élysées, I.M. Pei's glass pyramid in front of the Louvre Museum—ignite imaginations around the world. Layered in history, the City of Light oozes rich cultural heritage at every turn.
Needless to say, Parisian hotels are among the most opulent and elegant in the world, setting the standard for luxury, sophistication and impeccable service worldwide. This month, Travel Agent has scoped out some mid-priced alternatives to the city's grand palace hotels like the Crillon, Plaza Athénée and Meurice. We've chosen fine properties in various neighborhoods, covering the rich, diverse personality of each arrondissement: the winding, cobblestone alleys of the Marais district, the café life of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the gorgeous monuments of the Right Bank in the heart of Paris.
Book your clients at the Renaissance Paris Vendôme(www.renaissanceparisvendome.com), in an enviable location just a hop from the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. While the Meurice has room rates appropriate for "the hotel of kings," the Renaissance is a more affordable option but does not sacrifice luxury. Indeed, the Renaissance is a deluxe, four-star hotel with a fully equipped fitness center, brand-new spa, indoor swimming pool and sauna, and La Pinxo restaurant serving modern French cuisine. Each of the 97 contemporary-style rooms has a flat-screen TV and DVD player, air conditioning, high-speed Internet, alarm clock with iPod connections, minibar and marble bathroom with Bulgari toiletries and heated towel racks.
Keep in mind that high season runs through May, June, September and October, when rooms often fill up months in advance. For your VIPs, book the Corner Junior Suite, which insiders tell us is the most requested premium accommodations. In this romantic, 375-square-foot space, four large windows overlook Mont Thabor street and Rue d'Alger. Or choose one of the hotel's three 410-square-foot suites.
Sales Manager Delphine Bao ([email protected]; 011-33-1-4020-2005) is happy to assist with VIP bookings. After all, the Renaissance has welcomed frequent A-list guests, including Kirsten Dunst, Hilary Duff and Princess Caroline of Monaco.
Fit for Families
The Renaissance Vendôme is a great option for families. Book one of the 10 connecting rooms: a Prestige king or twin room connected to a superior queen-bedded room. The restaurant is very accommodating and will adapt some entrees and desserts to suit kids' tastes. Family DVDs are available at the reception desk, along with coloring books and colored pencils at check-in. Kids will delight at the Bulgari-designed "frog set" in-room, which includes a frog bathrobe and slippers, children's shampoo and soap, washcloth and stuffed frog. The concierge can arrange a slew of family activities in and around Paris: kids' painting and sculpture classes at the Louvre, boat cruises on the Seine, treasure hunts in Montmartre, a day's excursion at Disneyland Paris and Parisian puppet shows.
Indeed, the concierge is known to take care of all manner of requests—from private themed-tours of the Louvre and Paris photography tours to private car service in the Loire Valley and helicopter tours of Paris. Contact David Volet ([email protected], 011-33-1-4020-2008) to arrange two-day museum passes for your clients, theater, cabaret and restaurant reservations prior to their arrival.
Don't miss a meal at La Pinxo, managed by the Michelin two-star chef Alain Dutournier. Designed with black leather chairs, hardwood floors and red and black accents, the French-Basque restaurant features an open kitchen viewed from a black granite bar. Signature dishes include marinated salmon on melba toast with creamy diced granny smith apple horseradish, sautéed baby squid with ginger and sweet pimiento, and golden goose filet with mushroom-stuffed cannelloni.
Across the Seine on the Left Bank, book your clients at the lovely Relais Saint-Sulpice (www.relais-saint-sulpice.com), a charming three-star hotel situated on a quiet lane in the midst of the bustling neighborhood of Saint-Germain, renowned for its cafes and cultural life.
Housed in an 18th-century building with a small courtyard garden, this 26-room hotel is just behind the ancient church of Saint Sulpice, one of the most beautiful monuments in Paris. The Luxembourg Gardens are just a few minutes away. The hotel served as the backdrop for the film The Da Vinci Code, and parts of the movie were filmed here.
Guests can help themselves at the honor bar in the library lounge, decorated with eclectic objects from global voyages, and enjoy breakfast in the atrium salon with its glass roof opening into the verdant courtyard. A sauna is also onsite.
All guest rooms are outfitted with antiques, Provençal fabrics, authentic 18th-century prints, bathrooms with tubs and rain showers, and toiletries by Damana from Provence. Deluxe rooms are the most spacious. For the best views, choose a room overlooking the church (like room 11) or the courtyard.
Contact the sales director, Eva Eriksson ([email protected], 011-33-1-4633-9900) for special assistance with your VIPs. Eriksson is also happy to arrange over-the-top requests (like private dinners with famous local chefs), while the friendly concierge team ([email protected]) can handle tours, limousine service and restaurant and concert reservations.
The hotel is fully booked for the Première Vision salon in mid-February and September. In the lively Marais district, the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais (www.carondebeaumarchais.com) is a fine choice for lower-priced accommodations (under $250) and an Old World ambiance. Not far from Notre-Dame, the Picasso Museum and the Place des Vosges (the most famous square in Paris), the hotel boasts an exceptional location.
With only 19 rooms, the small, family-run hotel is almost impossibly charming. Named for the playwright Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, who wrote The Marriage of Figaro just up the street, the hotel re-creates the ambiance of an 18th-century private townhouse. It is brimming with original antiques, engravings and colorful museum-quality pieces. The ceilings may retain their original wood beams, but this historical hideaway doesn't skimp on the contemporary conveniences like WiFi, satellite televisions, LCD flat-screens and air conditioning.
Alain Bigeard (hotel[email protected], 011-33-1-4272-3412), the manager and owner, is happy to assist with special requests, though keep in mind that the hotel—because of its size—does not pay travel agent commissions, so you would have to add your own fee for a client booking. ?
An Insider's Paris
Dining: Paris has long been the world's epicurean capital, and it continues to be a destination for foodies. The restaurants on offer run the gamut from simple bistros to Michelin-starred establishments. But the best-kept secret in Paris is that many of the swankiest restaurants serve a prix fixe lunch menu, where many of the dinner selections are available for a fraction of the price. For a sublime gourmet experience, suggest a lunch meal at Alain Ducasse's restaurant at the Plaza Athénée (011-33-1-5367-6665, www.alain-ducasse.com) or Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier (011-33-1-4222-5656, www.robuchon.com).
Paris is famous for its cafes, like the Left Bank's Deux Magots (011-33-1-4548-5525, www.lesdeuxmagots.fr) and Café de Flore (011-33-1-4548-5526, www.cafe-de-flore.com), where Hemingway and Sartre ruminated. A cup of thick hot chocolate at Cacao et Chocolat (www.cacaoetchocolat.com) is an absolute must. (They have three locations in the city: Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Marais and on Île-Saint-Louis.) And there are specialty boutiques all over the city where croissants, cheeses, chocolates and wines can be purchased for picnics in the Tuileries or Luxemboug Gardens.
Shopping: The tangle of streets in the buzzing Marais neighborhood is beloved by savvy shoppers like Sofia Coppola for its elegant stores and vintage boutiques. Check out K. Jacques (16 Rue Pavée), specializing in leather sandals. Suggest Vanessa Bruno (100 Rue Vieille-du-Temple) for chic handbags. For prêt-à-porter fashions, recommend Biscote (45 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois).
For the most upscale shopping for which Paris is famous, Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré has it all. Sophisticated brands include Hermès, Colette, Chanel, Goyard, Chantal Thomas, Max Mara, Longchamp and Michel Perry. The Left Bank area of Saint-Germain is dotted with exclusive boutiques: Dior, Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent, Prada, and Christian Lacroix.
For children's clothes, check out Bonpoint (8 Rue Tournon), Natalys (74 Rue de Seine), Baby Tuileries (326 Rue Saint-Honoré) and Petit Bateau (9 Rue du 29 Juillet). Marvelous items can also be found at the world-famous Grand Magasins, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores.