"When I dream of afterlife in heaven," Ernest Hemingway once said, "the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz." The writer's beloved home-away-from-home and its fellow Parisian palaces are some of the grandest hotels in the world, and many are as legendary as the patrons who were devoted to them. Below, a list of the most famous hotels in the City of Light.
Doors Opened: 1913, the same year the Woolworth Building opened in New York City, construction ended on the Panama Canal, and Cracker Jack boxes got stuffed with prizes for the first time.
Noteworthy Guests: Josephine Baker, Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (months-long Royal Suite residents in 1971).
Claims to Fame: This is where Christian Dior showed his inaugural dress collection in 1947. Seven decades later, the hotel is home to the first-ever Dior Institut. The creme-de-la-creme spa is just one of Athenee‘s top-notch amenities, which also include five restaurants overseen by Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse and the romantic Cour Jardin, Athenee’s interior courtyard blanketed in ivy.
Doors Opened: Ritz Paris was a smashing success from the very beginning. Of the monarchs, business heads, and members of high society who turned up to its 1898 opening night, Madame Ritz, the wife of the original owner, cried, “They came!” One alleged naysayer: Oscar Wilde, who apparently found the electricity jarring and objected to the in-room sink (he wanted his wash basin out of sight when not in use).
Notable Devotees: Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, Coco Chanel, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Jean-Paul Sartre, Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore, Ingrid Bergman, King Alfonso of Spain, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Noel Coward, and Cole Porter, who scrawled the now-famous lyrics, “Even Pekingeses at the Ritz do it. Let’s do it, let’s fall in love,” while sitting at his favored table at the Ritz bar.
Claims to Fame: The Champagne-soaked glamour and legend of the Ritz cannot be overstated. The hotel — the historic gathering place of sultans, maharajas, and kings — has long achieved cultural landmark status, with appearances in Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night,” Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” and, decades later, a trio of Audrey Hepburn films. The Ritz even demanded the respect of the occupying German forces during World War II, who agreed to lay down their arms at the door, not wear uniforms, and to only reside in the Vendome side, allowing civilians (such as Mademoiselle Chanel) to stay on the Rue Cambon side. In the hotel’s Imperial Suite, Princess Diana had her last meal on August 31, 1997. (The Imperial Suite is now a listed national monument.)
The hotel’s founder, Cesar Ritz, introduced many room features that were revolutionary at the time, and now essentially standard, including private bathrooms, in-room phones, king-size beds, wall-to-wall carpeting, and automatic closet lights. After a particular episode involving the portly King Edward VII getting stuck in his bathtub, Cesar ordered extra-large soaking tubs for every room in the hotel.
Doors Opened: Then the Hotel Majestic, this property first opened in 1908. The building’s long history includes being requisitioned by Nazi military forces (an attempt to assassinate Hitler was plotted from a room on the second floor), serving as headquarters for UNESCO, and hosting the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which ended the Vietnam War.
Noteworthy Guests: Marcel Proust, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, and George Gershwin, who wrote the music for “An American in Paris” at the hotel in 1928.
Good to Know: The Peninsula‘s rooftop restaurant, L’Oiseau Blanc, pays tribute to early aeronautics and the French World War I flying aces Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, who vanished while attempting the first Paris-to-New York flight in 1927 (two weeks before Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight). A replica of Nungesser and Coli’s biplane lives just outside of the restaurant’s panoramic windows, which overlook Parisian rooftops and the Eiffel Tower — some of the most beautiful views of any restaurant in the city.
Doors Opened: 1815, at its original Rue Saint-Honore address. Twenty years later, the hotel relocated to its current spot on the Rue de Rivoli.
Noteworthy Guests: Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali (the artist stayed at the hotel one month of the year for three decades), Pablo Picasso (who had his wedding dinner here), Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Bette Midler, and a slew of royals, politicians, and industrial titans.
Crucial Moment in a 200-Year History: It was over a Le Meurice phone line that Adolf Hitler supposedly bellowed, “Is Paris burning?” The question was to General Dietrich von Choltitz, a German commander headquartered at Le Meurice during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Hitler had ordered von Choltitz to destroy the city to rubble, a command which von Choltitz famously defied.
Doors Opened: Originally designed by architect Louis Duhayon, who blended neoclassical, Haussmannian, and Art Nouveau styles, the hotel opened in 1928 and soon became the place to stay in Paris.
Noteworthy Guests: Walt Disney, Omar Sharif, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.
Fun Facts: Around every corner is an interesting curio — a letter from Jean Cocteau, a guitar owned by Jimi Hendrix. And in a hotel full of superlatives, it comes as little surprise that two of its restaurants have been granted Michelin stars (Il Carpaccio is the only Michelin-star Italian restaurant in the city) and its spa is home to the city’s longest indoor hotel pool.
Doors Opened: The 1896 palace of Prince Roland Bonaparte, the grandnephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, opened as the Paris outpost of the Shangri-La brand in 2010.
Celeb Cred: Beyonce resided in (and Instagrammed from) the top-floor La Suite Shangri-La on the Paris stop of the her Formation World Tour in 2016.
Claims to Fame: Many aspects of the hotel are listed monuments historiques, including the facade, foyer, grand marble-and-steel staircase, several first- and second-floor salons, and the Roland Suite. Of the hotel’s three eateries, two are Michelin-starred: the French L’Abeille has two Michelin stars, while Shang Palace is the city’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant. However, the hotel’s doorstep views of the Eiffel Tower are arguably the its most famous feature. (Incidentally, the prince so disliked the wrought-iron icon, he had his private quarters built on the far side of the building, facing away from the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.)
Doors Opened: 1925, at the peak of the Roaring Twenties.
Noteworthy Guests: Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Truman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert De Niro, and Prince, who, legend has it, once left the hotel to perform in Amsterdam, where it was learned that his favorite guitar had been detained at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Prince refused to go onstage without that specific instrument, but Le Bristol‘s head concierge quickly pulled some high-stakes strings to have the guitar released from customs and delivered to Amsterdam, all before the show began.
But perhaps the most famous guest of all is Fa-Raon, Le Bristol’s full-time feline resident. The fluffy white Burmese cat can usually be spotted napping on a Louis XVI- or Louis XV-period lobby chair or curled up in the garden.
Claims to Fame: Truly, there are too many to list. Some highlights: Two Michelin-starred restaurants (including three-Michelin-star Epicure), the regal La Prairie spa (the only one in Paris), an ocean-liner-inspired penthouse pool (designed by the architect of Aristotle Onassis’ yacht) and outdoor sun lounge facing Sacre Coeur, a starring role in the 2011 film “Midnight in Paris,” and the prestige of being the first hotel to receive “Palace” designation, an honor bestowed upon superb hotels by an elite French tourism board.
Doors Opened: What was built in 1854 as a mansion for Napoleon III’s half-brother, the Duc de Morny, underwent meticulous restoration and renovation to become, upon its 2015 opening, one of Paris’ top luxury hotels. The Napoleon III apartments at the Louvre inspired La Reserve‘s fabulously plush and ornate interiors (by Jacques Garcia, the designer responsible for the sensuous “pleasure house” theme at Maison Souquet, below). Thanks to its history, exquisite design, white-glove service, and other qualifications, La Reserve has earned “Palace” distinction. One of the newest members of the club, La Reserve is much smaller and quieter than its fellow Palaces (the Plaza Athenee, Le Bristol, and Le Meurice among them), who tend to attract non-guests to their public spaces to ooh and ahh over their grandeur.
Fab Features: Everything about La Reserve is designed to feel like a private home (that is, the ultra-luxurious private home of a French bazillionaire), but it operates as a full-scale hotel with its opulent, two-Michelin-starred Le Gabriel restaurant, garden-like La Pagode de Cos, two glamorous bars, a luxe subterranean spa, and luxury car service to go anywhere in Paris. Its 40 butler-serviced rooms and suites display damask-silk-lined walls, oak herringbone parquet, velvet drapes, period artwork, and stunning Carrara marble bathrooms, and those on the top floors have Eiffel Tower views.
Doors Opened: Built in 1828, the building opened as L’Hotel in 1967.
Noteworthy Guests: Oscar Wilde lived in the building up until his death in 1900. When L’Hotel opened in the height of the swinging sixties, it attracted Jim Morrison, Salvador Dali, Frank Sinatra, Serge Gainsbourg, and other cultural heavyweights.
Fab Features: Though it only has 20 guest rooms (making it the smallest five-pearl hotel in Paris), L’Hotel offers a cave-like hammam pool surrounded by original stone walls and the Michelin star-rated Le Restaurant; dinner reservations should be made far in advance.
Origin Story: Hotel d’Aubusson sits on Rue Dauphine, one of Paris’ first linear streets, constructed in 1607 by Henry IV. The townhouse that now holds d’Aubusson went up in 1630. In the heart of the bohemian Latin Quarter, the neighborhood feels like old Paris, surrounded by artists, galleries, restaurants, and shops. The oldest-standing bridge across the Seine, the Pont Neuf, is at the end of the street, with the Louvre just across the water.
Noteworthy Guests: The hotel’s Cafe Laurent has been a literary hot spot since 1690, enticing great philosophers and thinkers such as Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Ensuing generations of artists and intellectuals congregated here, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s. To this day, Cafe Laurent hosts weekly literary evenings and live jazz several nights a week.
Doors opened: Hotel Barriere Le Fouquet’s Paris may have opened in 2006, but its legendary brasserie was founded in 1899.
VIP Status: Fouquet’s celebrated restaurant was where 1930s stars like Marlene Dietrich inked movie deals and threw glamorous parties. Other fans were Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Orson Welles, and James Joyce. Today, the historic film-industry haunt holds annual special events for the nominees of the Cesar Awards, the French answer to the Oscars.
Origin Story: Built in 1658 by Louis XIV’s head architect, this property became a hotel at the end of World War I, and was purchased by the upscale Espirit de France chain in the 1980s, when renovation work uncovered a magnificent 17th-century fresco that has since been attributed to the Versailles School.
Noteworthy Guests: Hotel des Saints-Peres has attracted a roll call of artists throughout the years, including painters Francis Bacon and Jean Dubuffet, singer Juliette Greco, and, more recently, fashion designer Tom Ford.
Doors Opened: This neoclassical mansion was built in 1892 to house destitute French scholars, and became the Saint James Club of Paris nearly 100 years later. In 2015, the fairytale chateau became a hybrid members-only club/hotel, where club members and hotel guests have access to the property’s facilities, including the opulent Michelin-starred restaurant, Moroccan-themed Guerlain spa, and fencing club-inspired fitness center.
Noteworthy Guests: Robert De Niro and the Dalai Lama.
Fun Fact: The only chateau-hotel in Paris, Saint James Paris is on the grounds of city’s first aerodrome. The Second Empire hot-air balloon airfield is commemorated throughout the hotel, including by the lobby’s “chandelier of chaos,” 14 stacked chandeliers dangling from the room’s 45-foot high ceiling, and by a trio of Montgolfier balloon dining tents in the hotel’s private garden. The hotel’s eccentric decor comes courtesy of Bambi Sloan, a famed French-American designer known for her reality-meets-fantasy stylings.
Doors Opened: Like the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, Hotel Regina Louvre was built for the 1900 Paris Exposition.
Claim to Fame: The hotel is on the site of the former royal stables, where several French kings learned to ride horses. As the stables were across the street from the palace (then the Louvre), the hotel is steps from the now-famed museum and Jardin des Tuileries. (Some rooms have views of the Louvre or Eiffel Tower.)
Doors Opened: Le Pavillon de la Reine sits hidden away on the Place de Vosges (to many, the most beautiful square in Paris), which was commissioned by Henry IV and completed in 1612. The hotel dates from the same year.
Noteworthy Guests: Sixteenth-century luminaries like Jean de La Fontaine and Moliere preferred Le Pavillon de la Reine as a gathering spot. Flash-forward several centuries: Hollywood stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner picked the hotel as their home base for a 2016 family getaway.
Doors Opened: There’s no mistaking the elegantly ornate facade of the Hotel Scribe — with its intricate wrought-iron railings and neoclassical flourishes — as being the work of the renowned Baron Haussmann. The hotel was built in 1861 as part of the new Opera district and, since its opening, has become one of the most storied hotels in Paris.
Noteworthy Guests: Josephine Baker (who lived permanently at the hotel until the late 1960s), Marcel Proust, and Jules Verne.
Claims to Fame: Two years after it opened, the hotel was selected to house the legendary Jockey Club, the prestigious high-society club. It was here, in 1895, that Louis and Auguste Lumiere presented their cinematograph invention — showing the first motion pictures — thrilling the elite crowd gathered in Hotel Scribe’s Salon Indien. A few months later, the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen introduced X-rays to the world (his invention would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics five years later). During World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave press conferences from the hotel, as it was used as the press office for the Allied forces.
Doors Opened: Established by Le Bon Marche department store, this sprawling Art Nouveau masterpiece opened on the Left Bank in 1910.
Notable Devotees: Charles de Gaulle (who honeymooned here as a young officer), Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim, Josephine Baker, James Joyce (part of “Ulysses” was penned at the hotel), Juliette Greco, Serge Gainsbourg, and David Lynch.
Over the Years: Like the Peninsula, Le Meurice, and many other hotels around the city, Hotel Lutetia was seized by the Nazi command during World War II. After Paris’ liberation in 1944, the hotel was used as a major repatriation center for reuniting those separated during the war. Lutetia soon returned to its luxury-hotel life, becoming a meeting spot for artists and musicians in the 1950s. In early 2014, the hotel closed for a four-year, multi-million-dollar renovation. It reopens this month.
Doors Opened: In 1905, Madame Souquet opened a discreet maison close to entertain the elite members of Paris’ high society after their nights at the Moulin Rouge. Two years later, the property converted to a conventional hotel, and today, the excellently refurbished Maison Souquet allows guests to relive the Belle Epoque.
Claim to Fame: As of this writing, Maison Souquet is the top traveler-rated Paris hotel on TripAdvisor — a major coup in a city with nearly 1,800-plus listed hotels. Though the petite property has only 20 rooms, there’s little wonder why it would achieve such status. The ornate Belle Epoque interiors bring sultry fin-de-siecle Paris to life, the fantastic bar has a creative cocktail menu and seductive atmosphere, and the beautiful underground spa has a pool and private hammam.
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