TRAVEL: PARISIAN PALACE
Venetia van Kuffeler visits the jaw-dropping surroundings of The Peninsula Paris
Paris wasn’t looking its best.We’d arrived at Gare du Nord on one of those deeply gloomy January days, when the sun never really comes up. We were faced with a queue of around 300 people waiting to get a taxi, with the gilets jaunes’s impending demonstration meaning the Metro and all other public transport were out of action. Bribery and corruption were the order of the day as individuals thrust fistfuls of euros at drivers to jump the queue. We hadn’t chosen our dates well.
An hour or so later, things were starting to look up as we pulled up outside a magnificent nineteenth-century building. Simply jaw-dropping. Just steps away from the Arc de Triomphe and Avenue des Champs Elysées, 19 Avenue Kleber – today home to The Peninsula Paris – was built when the Versailles-obsessed Russian Count Basilewsky fulfilled his dream of building a Parisian palace of his own. In 1908, the building opened as the Hotel Majestic, enjoying years of hosting the rich and famous and world leaders, along with leading lights in the world of arts, literature and music. George Gershwin composed An American in Paris while staying there in 1928. The League of Nations was founded in the hotel in 1919 when it hosted the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference; the building served as the first UNESCO headquarters between 1946 and 1958; and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development was founded there in 1960. Some years later the Paris Peace Accords, negotiated by Henry Kissinger and bringing the Vietnam War to a close, were signed in 1973 in the salon.
Today, The Peninsula Paris occupies this meticulously restored building found within walking distance of many of the capital’s embassies, plus some of the world’s most famous monuments, museums and shopping districts. Steeped in history, the building has been sensitively renovated from the building façade to the interior, with local architects and artisan craftsmen painstakingly working with fine marble, wood panelling and gold leaf. Some 20 stonemasons restored the building’s exterior, installed over 100,000 hand-crafted slate tiles on the roof, and created 800 handblown crystal leaves for the lobby chandelier.
Naturally, these fine surroundings under the Peninsula leadership continue to cater for the great and good. The 200 sumptuous guestrooms have a minimum of 30 square metres space. Our Grand Premier King Room was designed like a true Parisian apartment, with Peninsula signature functionality and flow. A hallway led to the bedroom with a vast bed, desk, comfortable sitting area, and views of the City of Light. Off that hallway, a walk-in dressing room housed a dressing table, and the circular marble bathroom was centred around the bath with a wall-mounted television and a large rain shower, plus his and hers sinks and a separate high-tech toto ‘washlet’ (toilet).
The hotel also houses 86 suites, the highlights of which are the Katara Suite with a 100-square-metre private terrace and garden and the opulent, 318-square-metre Peninsula Suite. Impeccable style aside, all accommodation is also deeply practical for international business and leisure travellers alike, coming with complimentary WiFi, tablet technology in 11 languages, desks with printers/ scanners and fax capability and complimentary international phone calls.
The hotel has six elaborate restaurants and lounges including: LiLi, a temple to Cantonese cuisine; and L’Oiseau Blanc, the sixth-floor French restaurant, whose wraparound glass windows offer stunning views over the monuments of Paris. Guests can enjoy one of the largest covered terraces in Paris at the alfrescoLa Terrasse Kléber, or cocktails in the historic oak-panelled Bar Kléber. There are even rumours of a ‘secret table’ for exclusive rooftop dining, accessible only by private staircase. Hugely romantic, it’s said to be ideal for proposals and special celebrations. Grand dame service matches the surroundings.
Below ground, a swim in the 20-metre pool in The Peninsula Spa allowed us a chance to refresh and revitalise body and mind after a long day on our feet. This tranquil oasis also has separate saunas and aromatherapy steam rooms, as well as an array of Asian, European and Ayurveda-inspired beauty and wellness treatments on offer.
The hotel’s concierge team are the best in the business, and immediately understood our taste and needs, providing two excellent restaurant recommendations. Outside the hotel, the custom Peninsula MINI Cooper S Clubman, and the rare 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II were on display, part of the hotel’s fleet of vehicles of guest transport. One evening we were lucky to be driven in their liveried Rolls Royce Phantom to dinner. We’re told guests can book a romantic Paris by Night chauffeured Rolls Royce sightseeing drive.
So, The Peninsula Paris certainly saved the day during our trip. And it will come as no surprise that it joins a prestigious group of Parisian hotels awarded the ‘Palace’ distinction. Bestowed by the French Tourism Development Agency, the ‘Palace’ status was created to reward hotel excellence and to assist in promoting the French way of life on the international stage.
For now, this palace is the latest and only European property in The Peninsula Hotels collection. But the eagle-eyed among you will be watching the progress of a building project on Hyde Park Corner. The UK outpost of this iconic brand, The Peninsula London, is due to open in 2021. Watch this space…
THE PENINSULA PARIS, 19 AVENUE KLÉBER, 75116 PARIS
T: +33 (0)1 58 12 28 88 E: PPR@PENINSULA.COM
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