A tale of two (working) cities

If you’re looking for a great hotel for your business trip to London or Paris, now is undoubtedly the best of times. Because at long last hotelkeepers have discovered that work and play are not mutually exclusive and, in these two hardworking European capitals, the best hotels for leisure often turn out to be the best ones for work, too.

In London, may I declare myself a fan of The Beaumont? Situated almost opposite Selfridges (for my money London’s best department store) in a glorious Art Deco building once an Avis car-rental garage, The Beaumont, while new, is old-fashioned in the best sense. (It was launched by the owners of The Wolseley, one of London’s hottest restaurants.) The Beaumont is filled with exquisite antiques, and you don’t need to be Einstein to operate the drapes. But it’s also totally 21st century, with a state-of-the-art spa, a 24-hour fitness center and valet parking (unheard of in London). It also boasts what has become one of London’s very best hotel bars, Jimmy’s, and a restaurant, The Colony Grill Room, where I would sell my grandmother for the omelet Arnold Bennett or indeed the Veal Pojarski.

I’m wild, too, about The Lanesborough at Hyde Park Corner (where you can see into Queen Elizabeth’s backyard from the upper floors), which has just reopened its doors after an 18-month reno. Restored to its Regency grandeur by the late, great Alberto Pinto, the hotel looks spectacular, dripping with gilt and brocades, and with butler service as “standard.” Some standard! Service has been elevated to an art form here and in the hotel’s restaurant, Céleste, executive chef Florian Favario is cooking up a storm, clearly seeking to mirror the success of Céleste’s “sister” restaurant, the three Michelin-starred Epicure at Le Bristol Paris, where he was formerly head chef. Who said sibling rivalry is a bad thing?

If, on the other hand, you want a small hotel with less razzmatazz but still oodles of character, The Zetter Townhouse, newly opened in Marylebone, may be the one for you. Its location near Marble Arch tube station is great for business — you can get to the City (Financial District) in less than 15 minutes — but it’s a treat, too, to return to The Zetter’s canopied beds, its Victorian bedroom knickknacks and an after-work gimlet or martini at its cozy bar, which draws a lively and stylish local crowd.

They say that an Englishman works in town but plays in the country, while in France it’s the opposite. Perhaps that’s why working in Paris never feels quite like work, and my heart always gives a little lift as I step off the Eurostar (recently upgraded, by the way, and soon to have long-overdue free Wi-Fi in all classes), no matter how heavy the schedule ahead may be.

The newly opened, diminutive Maison Souquet, in Pigalle, where I stayed recently, offers everything I want on a short working trip and more — a comfortable bed, wall-plugs in the right places for my devices, a charming hotel bar and even an authentic hammam (Turkish bath) to relax in (off company time).  Bags of character too — the place was once a brothel — and at a price that won’t frighten the horses.

Although not new, a recent Paris discovery for me is the Saint James Paris, an exceptionally beautiful Napoleon III residence a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe and very popular with Americans. Rooms manage the clever trick of being both fabulously grand but also functional (Nespresso machines, first-class technology). There can’t be a more atmospheric spot in the city than the Saint James’ historic Library Bar, with its sumptuous wood paneling and thousands of antique volumes.

I’m a new convert, too, in Paris, to Le Bristol, where everyone, from the gouvernante (housekeeper) to the most junior commis waiter, is utterly devoted to your comfort and enjoyment, and where the cloakroom attendant is so raffinée she would almost certainly have been for the chop had she been around at the time of the Revolution. Suites at Le Bristol are the size of a small country, and as for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Epicure — the whole, crazy seven-course shebang — it is intense and wonderful and delivered with a sweetness and sincerity that outshines even the food.

And, speaking of food, if you’ve had it up to here with airline food, next time you cross the Atlantic for work, do give the new, all-business-class airline La Compagnie a whirl.  The pre-take-off Champagne and cranberry juice cocktail is merely a taste of the delicious treats to come — a superb filet de boeuf and chocolate bombe glacée among them. At fares in line with full-fare coach, you can fly from Newark to London and back from Paris — or vice versa — with no premium, and the flight attendants, 1950s-glamorous in their baby blue uniforms, can’t do enough for you. Entertainment, meanwhile, comes via a personal Samsung Galaxy Pro tablet, with a USB port for your own devices. Did I say entertainment? I did — because as everybody knows, all work and no play makes Jacques a very dull boy.

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