master suite in hôtel lutetia in paris, france

“Paris is always a good idea,” said Audrey Hepburn. She wasn’t wrong — though it could be said that visiting the regal city when it’s less crowded is the best idea of all. Let’s be frank. The Olympics will throng the City of Lights, clogging it with traffic, merrymakers, athletes and their fans. Lines will snake for miles. Restaurants will bulge at the seams. Paris, in fact, may be so bustling that the monuments you’ve come to admire will be utterly obscured by animated humanity, all abuzz. But, don’t despair — we have good news and advice to share. Go before the Olympics and you’ll find a welcoming, tolerant city, well versed in English, but also willing to let you practice your French. Aflame with cultural pride and enthusiasm, anxious to share, pre-Olympics Paris is the city’s soft opening for the world’s colossal athletic fete. Before the games, you’ll find the City of Lights cleaner than ever, easier to navigate, and brimming with special events geared to appeal to travelers and locals alike. 

Though I’ve visited Paris more times than I can count (100?), it continues to wow me, surprise me, mystify and teach me. I’ve walked Paris’ streets at every age, treading alone, with lovers, parents, toddlers, colleagues, friends, and foes. Each experience has been as rich and colorful as the 15th-century Lady and the Unicorn tapestries on display in the Latin Quarter’s Musee du Cluny. Each visit weaves the city more deeply into my soul. So, when I popped in last month to check out Paris’ only palace hotel on the Left Bank, I did what I always do: relished novel experiences as well as paid homage to old haunting grounds. Paris, if nothing else, is about how the past informs the present.

Hôtel Lutetia

hotel room at hôtel lutetia in paris france with balcony view
Courtesy, Hôtel Lutetia

Travelers obsessed with Paris’ artistic history should treat themselves at Hôtel Lutetia, the only palace hotel on the Left Bank. A vision in off-white, flecked with gold and rimmed with curvy, black-iron-railed balconies, the hotel was erected in 1910 for the founders of Le Bon Marché to house their merchants and clients. Poised in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, it exudes a voluptuous air as if conjured from a song by Josephine Baker or penned in a poem by Gertrude Stein. In fact, these two artists convened here in their heyday, as did James Joyce, Peggy Guggenheim, Albert Camus, Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse, and many more. You’ll feel their presence among the mesmerizing melding of Art Nouveau and Art Deco elements that remain within the hotel’s stunning bones. Ever posh, the hotspot enjoyed a complete redo led by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte who both modernized and restored it. More opulent than ever, Lutetia reopened in 2018. With revived stained glass, mosaics and frescoes aplenty, it now beguiles with lavish upgrades such as insanely hedonistic bath tubs so huge they had to be carved in situ in each suite from two ton blocks of snowy Carrara marble. Suites like the Josephine Baker Suite with Eiffel Tower View Terrace and the Eiffel Penthouse with 360-degree roof terrace views of Paris are simply the stuff of dreams. Enjoy afternoon tea at Le St Germain Restaurant with its colorfully painted ceiling by local artist Fabrice Hyber or “rhythmic” cocktails at Bar Josephine. Swoon to jazz at moody Bar Aristide and nosh classic French fare at all-day Brasserie Lutetia. Recoup from museum and shopping jaunts at the cozy subterranean swimming pool, stellar spa, and state-of-the-art fitness room. Pro tip: Let the able concierges arrange a VIP tour of Le Bon Marché, located just steps from the hotel.

From My Little Black Book

parisian architecture in paris france
Courtesy, Louis Paulin, UnSplash

In Paris, you’ll straddle multiple worlds at once. Act like a runway model and strut through the crowds along catwalk-like Rue De Rivoli — or be oh-so-Catherine Deneuve and tuck into a table at an obscure cafe on the Left Bank for a quiet coffee. 

Wait in an interminable line to do something touristy (but iconic) like ascending to the top of the Tour Eiffel or wander slowly through Saint-Germain-des-Prés’ myriad galleries. (Tip on the Eiffel Tower: no doubt the view from the top thrills, but seeing the monument from a distance might be the real highlight. Be sure to glimpse it at night when its lights twinkle hourly from dusk to 11:45. )

cafe with croissant in paris france
Courtesy, Siebe Warmoeskerken, Unsplash

Nibble your way down Rue du Bac on the Left Bank, an undulating shopping street famous for patisserie.

Take a child to play in Jardin du Luxembourg, where you can ride a vintage merry-go-round, sail nostalgic sailboats, watch a marionette show, and more. 

Get lost along Rue des Rosiers in the Marais’ Jewish Quarter where you can shop while gorging on the best falafel of your life (try L’ as du Fallafel), then cap the afternoon at the nearby Musée National Picasso-Paris. 

aesthetic image of the hotel le meurice 228 bar in paris france
Courtesy, Hotel Le Meurice 228 Bar

For a fancy glass of Champagne, the choices are limitless, but I never miss one at Bar 228 in Hotel Le Meurice, Cafe de Flore or Les Deux Magots. Speaking of drinking, get a reservation at Ritz Paris’ Hemingway Bar for indescribably quaffable craft cocktails served in a room that effuses nostalgic literary gravitas and Hemingway memorabilia. .

Step into Bon Marche, the world’s first department store. Opened and envisioned in 1852 to “thrill all the senses,” the extravaganza of fashion, food, and services can take all day to peruse.

A kind of rite of Paris passage for Anglophone bibliophiles, timeworn (but addictive) Shakespeare & Co has attracted literati galore since 1951. On the banks of the Seine across from Notre Dame, packed to bursting with all manner of books, it served as a salon — even sleeping place —for some of the globe’s most beloved writers. 

Classic French restaurants seem harder and harder to find in Paris as more places embrace global menu items and add items such as poke bowls to la carte — even in a bistro. When you want something traditional — from Burgundy-style snails to foie gras — try Le Tren Bleu, a gilded, transporting Belle Epoque eatery set within Gare de Lyon. 

the bar at hotel lutetia in paris france
Courtesy, Hôtel Lutetia

In Paris, art exists everywhere from the fashion people wear to the various Art Nouveau Metro entrances to elaborate bridges (think Pont Alexandre III). Some favorites: Fondation Louis Vuitton, Musée Rodin, The Centre Pompidou and Musée de l’Orangerie — among other fine collections. 

If you’ve never done it: lunch at a cafe along Place du Tertre in Montmartre — where wunderkinds like Toulouse-Lautrec sketched — and let an artist do your portrait. 

At night time? Dress up and head to Le Montana (a notoriously impenetrable but raucously chic) nightclub or rove the three floors at Pachamama, which boasts a Latin American vibe. More quiet, Poppy Bar at Hotel des Grands Voyageur is a moody, speakeasy-style outpost, rife with masterworks by artists such as Chagall and — mais bien sûr — innovative craft cocktails. 

Best Tour Guide: By far the best guide and driver I’ve had in Paris is Javiar Baez, who owns and operates Javi Transfers and Tours. He’ll pick you up at the airport and whisk you in a luxury vehicle to your hotel — or to an excursion of your choice. Well versed in all of Paris’ top spots and hidden treasures, he also relishes the opportunity to support and chauffeur guests who want to base in Paris but visit other regions, including the Loire Valley (for chateaux), Champagne (for wine tasting), and Normandy (for World War II sites). His suggestions for Instagrammable/TikTok moments in the City of Lights? Place des Vosges (Paris’ oldest square), Trocadero Square (for photos with Eiffel Tower background views), Rue Cremieux (a one-block street of super colorful houses in the 12th arrondissement in the heart of the city), and La Campagne à Paris (a picturesque district that looks like the countryside in the middle of Paris).

Feature image courtesy of Hôtel Lutetia

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