In a city like Paris where luxury is deeply steeped in every corner, what distinguishes between the high living and haute living? Fortunately, the French have established an ultra-prestigious classification that goes beyond the conventional five-star hotel rating, if only to justify this level of excessive hedonism. In Paris itself, nine hotels including Mandarin Oriental Paris have been awarded the coveted Palace distinction, an accolade established by the French Minister of Tourism in November 2010, bestowed only to a hallowed group that embodies the French standards of excellence. Among a few of the stringent criteria the hotels must fulfil include an exceptional level of service and gastronomy, spa facilities, spacious rooms, historical heritage and location, multi-lingual staff and environmental policy.
I almost miss the entrance of the hotel, my heart palpitating with excitement not because I’ve just spent the past 10 minutes dragging my luggage across the city, but the sight of the window display in Goyard’s rue Saint-Honoré boutique is enough to make anyone swoon. I spot Emporio Armani across the street and Chloé right next door, beckoning just within an arm’s reach, presenting an insurmountable temptation in this shopping paradise. Thankfully the hotel’s doorman swoops in to reach for my luggage and ushers me into the cool yet contemporary lobby, which overlooks a verdant courtyard planted with blooming camellias, providing a much-welcomed respite especially after a long shopping trip. The lush courtyard serves as the ideal backdrop for a butterfly enclave, as you’ll find hints of butterfly motifs embroidered on the cushions or even on the plush carpeting. It’ll be hard not to miss the 138 Swarovski crystal butterflies floating through the air from the entry doors to the lobby, a tribute to the number of rooms in the hotel.
The building itself is a 1930s heritage-listed building and was formerly a Capuchin monastery, a hippodrome, a royal riding school and an avant-garde circus called Le Nouveau Cirque. Renowned interior designer Sybille de Margerie was enlisted by the hotel to inject haute couture elegance into the decoration, a place where the East meets West theme would resonate with the cosmopolitan guests. One-off artwork designed exclusively for the hotel by French and international names such as Nathalie Decoster, Jean-Baptiste Huynh, Gérard Roveri, Thierry Bisch, Ali Mahdavi and Marcello Lo Giudice is another attraction for art enthusiasts and collectors alike.
The hotel staff certainly know how to extend generous French hospitality the right way, as I’m greeted in my room by two flutes of bubbly. The rooms are some of the city’s most spacious and to my delight, my terrace suite overlooks the serene courtyard to offer temporary seclusion and bliss of mind. The king-sized beds are swathed in luxurious linens and touches of silk throws and cushions are adorned with splashes of bold hues in orange, magenta and plum. It’s all too inviting until I get to the bathroom and resist the urge to lounge in the space, filled with lashings of white marble and mosaic. The his and hers wash basins are a thoughtful touch as I discover a hair straightener and additional toiletries provided on hand, a convenient gesture in case I need to get dolled up for dinner plans at one of the city’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.
Though you’ll never run out of dining options in a city shining with gastronomic stars, a reservation at the hotel’s signature restaurant Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx will serve as an introduction to your very own haute cuisine dining experience. Helmed by Chef Thierry Marx who has earned his stars, the all-white establishment offers a culinary voyage that fuses French traditions with Asian influences. Classics from the chef’s repertoire include the Soya Risotto as well as the Vegetal Ravioli.
Breakfast and lunch are a more casual affair at Camélia where you’ll be served the chef’s special health blend in a shot glass, instantly jolting your senses to life to kick-start the day. Should the weather permits, it’ll be a shame to miss the opportunity to dine alfresco in the camellia garden, as the best seat in the house is a three-storey-tall private dining room on a pedestal in a bird-cage-like setting, ideal for dainty high-teas or a small party of six. Though you’ll be able to savour Chef Thierry’s French-Japanese fusion cuisine at Camélia, the breakfast spread is one to watch out for as the freshly baked buttery croissants and brioches are the sole motivation for me to actually get out of bed. Spread a spoonful of the hotel’s homemade honey harvested from its very own rooftop hive as an extra treat.
If all that gourmandising brings you on a guilt trip, a quick workout at the hotel’s fitness centre and indoor pool will set you on the right track. Else there is always the spa’s signature Guerlain treatment to soothe those aching feet after a day of traversing around Paris. But I forgo all that pampering and step out into the cold once more, this time in pursuit of the city’s very own hidden gem, sometimes found through the illuminated windows if you look closely enough, each holding a tale of its own.