A tale of two cities

Just like real siblings, London and Paris are inextricably linked (think Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”) — even if they are not always the best of friends. Politically, they are often poles apart and superficially they disdain each other’s style, while secretly wishing they could be more like the other. Londoners, like all of us, admire Parisian chic and savoir-faire. Parisians love London and all things Cool Britannia, history blended with a healthy dose of iconoclasm.

One thing they certainly have in common, though, is great hotels and here are a handful of my current favorites.

Originally opened in 1910, after a four-year renovation returning it to its former glory, Hotel Lutetia has recently relaunched. This luxury five-star hotel, which in its day has hosted Pablo Picasso and James Joyce — the only “grand” hotel, incidentally, on Paris’s Left Bank — is a haven of comfort and good living. Concierge Xavier knows what you want before you want it. The best florist in Paris? No problem. A racehorse for Christmas?  Of course! (Actually I took a liberty with that one, although I’ve no doubt Xavier could find you a racehorse if that’s what you wanted). The Bar Josephine, with its superbly restored frescoes by Adrien Karbowsky, is already one of the hottest new spots on the Rive Gauche and — in addition to the hotel’s “casual” restaurant, Le Saint Germain — a  top brasserie will be opening shortly. With Saint Germain on the doorstep, the Lutetia’s number needs to go straight in to your speed-dial.

“Paris is always a good idea,” Audrey Hepburn said, and nowhere is it a better idea than Pavillon de la Reine, on the ravishing Place des Vosges at edge of Le Marais. The very word Vosges, with that gorgeous downy z (as in Zsa Zsa Gabor) just rolls off the tongue, giving a hint of the locale. 

Set in a 17th-century building right on the Place, accessed through a private garden, Le Pavillon is like staying in a friend’s very well-appointed house. It is elegant and impressively well-run, the welcome is warm and genuine and the guest rooms, although not especially large, offer every comfort. The intimate ground floor salon boasts a real log fireplace and a small bar based on an honor system, where you help yourself to drinks. And a great addition to Pavillon, opened since my last stay, is its new restaurant, Anne, run by one of Paris’ most talented young chefs, Mathieu Pacaud. There is also a rather wonderful spa by Codage. 

Also on the Right Bank, the delightful Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal, opposite the Palais Royal Garden and just steps from the Musée du Louvre, was recently relaunched following a makeover by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. Considering its central location, it’s an exceptionally quiet hotel, with smart guest rooms that manage the clever trick of being both functional and rather beautiful. There’s a good on-site bar and restaurant, but the hotel’s real jewel is its Moroccan-style hammam, a boon after a heavy day’s sightseeing. And one further, important plus:  In a town where hotel prices (which were never exactly low) have recently gone through the roof, I think Hôtel du Palais Royal offers good value for money.

Across the Channel in London, meanwhile, hotels keep opening like there’s no tomorrow, which is perhaps appropriate considering nobody knows what tomorrow, post-Brexit, may bring. 

Studio Suite at The Hari. Courtesy The Hari, London.

The Hari — snuggled away in that riotously expensive part of Belgravia where the white stucco-fronted houses these days are home to Russian oligarchs and football managers, but where the independent shops along Pont and Walton streets are still a serious shopper’s dream — is not a new hotel but a reworked old one. Owner Aron Harilela is a brilliant hotelier who has stamped his vision on this charming London property. Rooms are not large but they are somehow right, with high-
quality amenities and excellent in-room technology, while the sort of glazed-in balcony, complete with window seat, give the studio suites a great feeling of additional space. The hotel benefits, too, from a terrific Italian restaurant, Il Pampero (try the tonnarello cacio e pepe, prepared in a Parmesan wheel) and an atmospheric, slightly hugger-mugger bar, popular with locals. 

Arriving off the red-eye recently at 45 Park Lane, the Dorchester’s  stylish younger sister (speaking of siblings) on Park Lane, the front-desk manager greeted me thus: “Mr, Wayne, you’ve come from New York. You must be exhausted. And hungry. We’ve left a little bite for you in your room, so you don’t need to go to the trouble of coming down to breakfast or calling room service, if you don’t feel like it.” Now, that’s what I call a welcome. Intuitive, generous and most of all — kind. The little bite turned out to be perfectly chilled fresh orange juice, good hot coffee and the flakiest, butteriest croissant with house-made jams. Why can’t more so-called luxury hotels think this way?, I wondered. 

This contemporary luxury hotel prides itself on personal service. Butler or “host service” is standard, each guest “as unique as a fingerprint with (his or her) own plans, needs and expectations.” So runs the blurb and it’s true: The concierge is among the best informed in London. There’s really nothing legal that this brilliant hotel can’t arrange for you. 45 Park Lane is also home to CUT, an outpost of Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse empire, but here given a modern British twist, not least with its razzle dazzle collection of Damien Hirst art.

The Wellington Arch and horses at the InterContinental London Park Lane. Couresy InterContinental London Park Lane.

Just steps away from 45 is the InterContinental Park London Lane, a hotel I’m drawn back to time and again for its distinct London buzz, its extravagant flower arrangements in the lobby and its two excellent restaurants. (I’ll come to those shortly.) At the InterConti, you feel you practically own the city, especially if you can snag a room with a view of Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. The building opposite you, Apsley House, was once the home of the Duke of Wellington and is affectionately known as Number One London — with good reason I might add. Harrods is just a walk or gentle jog down the street, Hyde Park is opposite you in all its glory, Buckingham Palace is but a hop, skip and a jump away. And, in case that hard-to-score invitation to tea at the palace fails to land on your doormat, each morning, just before 11, you’ll see the horse guards, resplendent in their red uniforms, marching outside your window en route to Buck House for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. 

Back at the hotel, meanwhile, you’ll find slick, InterContinental service at its best. While the rooms are modern and functional, you will benefit from an extended workspace, complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea, evening drinks and canapés and an amazing view if your room type allows you access to the seventh floor Club InterContinental. As for the restaurants mentioned earlier, Michelin-starred Theo Randall at the InterContinental offers some of the finest regional Italian cooking in London, while the year-old Mexican restaurant, Ella Canta, is winning plaudits for its authentic Mexican cuisine — courtesy of Mexican celebrity chef Maria Ortiz. Open weeknights until 1 a.m. (2 a.m. on weekends), full of fun and surprising twists, Ella Canta the restaurant could be a metaphor for London itself. 

For more, visit hotellutetia.com, pavillon-de-la-reine.com, grandhoteldupalaisroyal.com, thehari.com, dorchestercollection.com, parklane.intercontinental.com. 

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