In life there is Paris, and then there is Paris – the Paris of literature and poetry and romance. The Paris of Matisse and Hemingway; of Edith Piaf and Marie Antoinette. It’s the Paris you dream of and the Paris you’re in love with. It’s smells like coffee and tobacco and melted butter. It’s slightly grumpy, well-dressed and never in a hurry. It’s Paris, and it’s perfect.
While each and every arrondissement has its charms, none are quite so charming as Saint-Germain-des-Prés. And no hotel is quite so charming as Lutetia. Located on the beautiful stretch of architecture that is boulevard Raspail, the hotel has a story that reads less like a history book, and more like lyrical prose. It first opened in 1910 as a place of respite for important clients of Le Bon Marché (the neighbouring luxury retail haunt). It quickly became a haven for the rich, the famous and the important; the glamorous and the intelligent. A place of art, culture, intellect and romance. It’s seen Picasso take residence and Josephine Baker float down the halls. De Gaulle honeymooned there and François Mitterrand shaped French politics from the dining hall. Many a historical figure have walked the halls, saluted a scotch at the bar, mused for hours on end. Lutetia and seen it all, and now, it was my turn to experience the magic.
The Lutetia I checked in to was the best it had ever been. Back in 2014, it closed its famous doors for three long years and underwent a restoration of grand proportions. Helmed by renowned architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the end result was a magnificent marriage of old Paris and new Paris. Fusing art déco and art nouveau with elements of contemporary design, it has all the heart and soul of the original, but the face of a slightly younger, more spritely Parisian.
From the moment my shoe clicked across the marble lobby, it was love. Love for the concierge who whisked away my bags; love for the well-heeled guests bustling in the lobby; love for the grand proportions and the shiny surfaces; and love for the words “upgrade” as I was handed my keys to the Lutetia castle. But, enamoured as I was, my heart only well and truly skipped a beat when I arrived at my room. A plush bed fit for a king (and I’m sure there’s been plenty), a larger-than-life Statuario marble bathroom and the pièce de résistance: a terrace with uninterrupted views of the Eiffel Tower. Heaven of the highest (French) variety.
One frothy bubble bath, some soft jazz and a flute of the finest French Champagne later, it was off to Bar Josephine for a spot of people watching (the best you’ll ever do). Named after famed former patron Josephine Baker, it’s an intimate, whimsy, theatrical trip back to Belle Epoch France. Sit alone (as I did) or hideaway for an intimate tête-à-tête with friends. My order? One You’re Driving Me Crazy: a lively mix of Tanqueray gin, apricot, plum vinegar, chamomile and Chartreuse – c’est délicieux.
If food is on the agenda, and I’m guessing it is, Lutetia Brasserie and Le Saint-Germaine Restaurant are not to be missed. And for those of us who know the virtues of a stiff drink, sip on a scotch (as Hemingway did) at Bar Aristide. A nightcap never looked so damn good.
And in the spirit of overindulgence, I can’t recommend a swim and sauna the morning after (the carbs) any higher. I clocked in a few laps, but to simply sit and marvel the 17m pool is bliss. Finish with a walk around the neighbourhood – it’s one of the most beautiful in the world. Oh, and take my advice and stop at Angelina at the Luxemborg Gardens for a hot chocolate. It was one of the best I’ve ever had.
In essence, my trip to Lutetia was short, but as sweet as the come. The people, the place, the view: It was all magic. I often refute the idea of perfection, but Hotel Lutetia may very well be it.
Hotel Lutetia is part of Leading Hotels of the World. See here to plan your stay.