Unpack in Paris

| 07.25.13

Two Top Pre-Cruise Hotels in Beautiful Paris

One of many ways to view Paris: Mandarin Oriental terrace

Ah, Paris. It's the time of year when the City of Lights shines best. It's also when locals skip town and head to the countryside. But who cares? You're here for a riverboat or barge cruise and, no doubt, have planned days on either end of the sail to savor the city. I just returned from Paris, and here are my two new favorites places to call home.

The Splurge:

You'll fork over the euros (about 850 a night in August) for the Mandarin Oriental, Paris, but if you can swing even one evening, you will remember it forever. I spent less than 24 hours here, and despite the city's lures, couldn't resist staying inside this hotel's posh doors.

Mandarin Oriental, Paris opened June 2011, and is a brush with luxury at its most polished, with style found rarely outside dreams. The design and art are so jaw-dropping (were it not gauche), it's possible to feel stunned at every turn. If haute couture were a hotel, it would be MOP.

Even the entrance evokes awe. Walk (or preferably, strut, in designer shoes) past walls ablaze with bright hues of blooming flowers. The scent is intoxicating. I stopped to inhale this exquisiteness of nature - what the most expensive perfumes in the world (even Chanel's new Grand Extrait) - can only pretend to offer.

Just inside, walls are lined with museum-worthy Andy Warhol and Joan Miró originals. And the glam goes on, in an exquisite lobby opening to a camellia garden inner courtyard. The butterfly motif of Mandarin Oriental is subtly reflected everywhere - in silk rugs, on mirrors and crystal sculptures. And of course, in a signature Mandarin Oriental fan, beautifully displayed in the lobby. Everything - even each chair and lamp - is art.

Lobby Garden

Mandarin Oriental, Paris bills itself as a cocoon of serenity and a plush palace. It is both, but its service is more impressive. Not once did I encounter snootiness; only attentive - and even, humble - staff.

Roomy Rooms

There are but 99 guestrooms and 39 suites, among the most spacious in a city known for teensy accommodations. Whether you stay in a regular room or the suites beloved by fashion superstars and celebrities, all accommodations are soundproof and teeming with technology. Your own Nespresso coffee machine. Frette robes. An uncommon pillow menu, including choices like rose petal or coconut milk scent.

Suite Royale Orientale Terrace

Bathrooms are enormous, with deep-soaking tubs facing flat-screen TVs.

Besides hairdryers, baths contain flatirons and individually wrapped amenities stored inside a jewel-worthy box.

I peeked into some suites, imagining the household-name celebrities who stay here. The Presidential Suite stars a terrace with a 360-degree view of Paris's most iconic sights, from the Eiffel Tower to Sacré Coeur.

Haute 'Hood

Paris's renowned fashion houses are just outside. The hotel address, on rue Saint-Honoré, is smack-dab in Haute Couture Land. Stroll past designer-named shops that fill full-page ads in Vogue. Past perfumeries that custom-blend scents for beaucoup bucks. Or avoid temptation by exploring numerous nearby attractions, such as the Tuileries gardens and world-famous Louvre Museum.

Elegant Eats

Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, the hotel's signature restaurant, has earned two Michelin stars (out of three) under the helm of its executive chef and culinary director Thierry Marx. The stark white décor, with white art resembling couture dress folds on white ceiling and walls, is impressive. Nearly otherworldly.

Sur Mesure Par Thierry

It's easy to feel Parisian at Bar 8, where mixologists concoct personalized drinks to suit your fancy, sometimes with honey procured from the rooftop hive. Try a champagne cocktail with edible gold flakes atop.

Camélia, the all-day restaurant, celebrates Thierry Marx's light modern take on traditional French cuisine. During summer, garden tables by the black marble fountain are coveted, particularly La Table du Jardin (the garden table), which seats six inside a private birdcage-like gazebo.

Camelia Butterfly Enclosure

I dined in this relaxed restaurant, eying impossibly chic Parisian couples as I nibbled on blue lobster salad and saffron-glazed John Dory (highly prized delicate European fish). Each dish was eye candy - the colors, shapes, precise plating - and tasted superb.

Come dessert time, like all guests, I paraded to the glass counter of pastries and sweet in The Cake Shop near the restaurant door. Our server explained every supermodel-gorgeous dessert. No mean feat as each involved multiple components.

Paris Cakeshop

First I tried St. Honoré, all puff pastry, cream and caramel - impossibly light, nearly floating above the plate. Then, Le Mandarin, a signature finale of dark chocolate mousse, chocolate cake and so many other elements, it would take the remainder of this article to properly describe. Only one word really necessary: Delicious.

I had to miss Camélia's vast and glorious breakfast buffet due to an early flight. As I eyed the set-up, I nearly wept. Artisan breads. Haute cheeses. Smoked salmon - silkier than Hermès scarves, marbled like Rodin sculptures. My husband had to drag misty-eyed me by the arm and into the waiting taxi.

Reasonable and Chic

Reasonably priced and Paris are words rarely used hand-in-hand. Like in any world-class city, room rates are sky-high. Fortunately, there are now numerous boutique hotels that run from 200-to-400 euros a night (depending upon the season), and Le Pavillon des Lettres is one of them. And, by the way, it's very close to the Mandarin Oriental, Paris.

This hotel is relatively new; it opened November 2010 in a five-story, historical landmark building whose ground floor once housed a bakery. It's family-owned (the Chevaliers also have two well-regarded sister hotels in Paris; Le Pavillon de la Reine and Hôtel du Petit Moulin).

Le Pavillon des Lettres (roughly translates to "house of letters") shines above competitors for several reasons. For one, if you love literature, this is the place to stay. The tiny hotel - with but 26 rooms and suites - celebrates literary genius. Each of the 26 rooms is named for a letter of the alphabet to honor an illustrious writer or poet.

Room for Reflection

And so it goes, from Hans Christian Andersen to Emile Zola. Text from the corresponding author's book, poem or play is painted above the bed. A hard copy of the piece is found on the nightstand. (Terrific for nightly rumination.)

My room was dubbed R for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th century writer, composer and philosopher who influenced the French Revolution. Because of the quirkiness of the old building (typical to Paris), the bathroom was split in two; behind glass doors (extra sink and tub/shower separate) on either side of the bed.

Rooms are small but stylish, and provide many amenities not always typical to this price bracket. Plasma screens with satellite TV. Hairdryer and safe. 24-hour room service and laundry service.

Free high-speed WI-FI, as well, and an iPad for use during your stay. The iPad is loaded with international bestsellers (classic and contemporary) and song playlists from jazz and pop to classical. Air-conditioning - by no means standard in Paris - works well and is a must in summer.

Sheets are soft and towels are thick. A deep tub/shower with good toiletries are welcoming after a long day of walking Paris.

Two top-floor penthouses are, obviously, larger, and offer sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais (stunning building with enormous glass roof; home to museum, exhibition hall).

Luxury for Less

This hotel feels more luxurious than a similarly priced, international chain hotel. And it has way more soul. Le Pavillon des Lettres is filled with details that charm. For instance, I loved the old-fashioned room key, returned to the desk each time you exit the hotel. In a world of plastic throwaway door openers, this Old World ritual endeared.

Le Pavillon des Lettres' design is definitely luxe. It's subtly modern, evoking all the arts, with many references to the pleasures of intellectual reading. The imaginative use of colors, such as copper, eggplant and cognac, calm in guest rooms and lend excitement in the salon.

Read and Sip

In the little library, guests find works of all 26 featured authors and a self-serve Honor Bar stocked with premium liquor and chilled champagne. Simply pour a favorite drink and write down the name with the room number (or rather, letter), to be charged upon checkout.

Croissant Crazy

Breakfast is a pleasurable pastime. It's served in the salon (from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m - lovely for jetlagged late-sleepers), a small comfortable room with chic velvet chairs and tables topped with flowers. Some items, like cheeses, croissants and crusty breads, are displayed on a small buffet. Croissants, by the way, are wonderful. Think flaky and golden outside, with multiple buttery-soft layers inside. Accompanying preserves taste freshly made.


A smiling server will bring an excellent cappuccino (or many) without blinking, and deliver eggs cooked to order. It's a delightful way to begin the day.

On Tap for Dinner

Until late October, the hotel's outdoor-only Z restaurant is open evenings except Sunday. I didn't dine here but I liked the look; slate terrace floor and tables under umbrellas. The bistro menu, specializing in Japanese-Mediterranean cuisine, looked interesting.

Location, Location, Location

Le Pavillon des Lettres has an ideal locale in the 8th arrondisement (neighborhood). It's tucked away on a quiet side street (carry the "12 rue des Saussaies" address when venturing out; few taxi drivers know this hotel). It's steps from the famed Champs-Elysées, considered the world's most beautiful avenue.

Deluxe Room

I spent four nights here and walked nearly everywhere. The hotel is so close to the Tuileries garden and designer shops on famed rue Saint-Honoré. Even when I went to dinner on the Left Bank (the hotel is on the Right Bank), I could easily walk there and back. Besides, Paris at night is breathtaking.

Dining Area

The hotel neighborhood feels particularly secure. It's close to the Ministry of the Interior (gorgeous building) and several embassies, including the United States. Guards are posted everywhere. I liked walking here at night; it felt so safe.


Library seating area

Great Rates

Rates on the hotel web site show August availability beginning at 200 euros. That, my friends, is a real deal. Grab it while you can.

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