For the aspiring high-end hotelier, there is no market more impenetrable than that of the French capital. Paris probably has the highest concentration of salubrious places to stay than any other city in the world; some of them so blindingly luxurious they now fall into an official ‘palatial’ league. Keeping the A-class on their toes, buy zyvox antimicrobial drug, this elite A* tier of digs is for international jetsetters who rely on more than a pillow menu and copper-clad bathtub for their kicks.
This destination, then, was an obvious nesting ground for the dauntless Mandarin Oriental group, whose newest outpost – and first opening in France – is situated on the affluent Rue Saint-Honoré. The location alone says this is a newcomer that isn’t messing. Here in the premier arrondissement, occupying the former Palais de Justice, it places guests in the heart of the haute couture district, just a short walk from the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and the pupil-dilating diamonds of the Place Vendôme.
This is the opposite of cosy boutique, with a military-sized outfit of staff and no margin for error, anywhere. Going small-scale in Paris is a risk – a rewarding one, often – but it all depends whether you have it in you to find a cramped studio charmingly authentic (as opposed to irritatingly imperfect for the room rate). At this eight-storey glamazon of a hotel, it’s plain sailing from the moment you walk into the enormous, light-filled lobby. Aficionados will know what to expect from these highly exclusive addresses; no-expense-spared interiors, orchids at every turn and a flawless level of service. So flawless, you’ll forget how to do anything for yourself within hours.
It took four years to transform the 1930s Art Deco building into a distinctively modern and modish Mandarin Oriental. This one is the work of interior designer Sybille de Margerie and successfully fuses the group’s Eastern heritage with references to the golden age of Parisian fashion, without the theme being too heavily enforced. The chic lobby lounge is appointed in feminine berry and soft grey shades, and through the floor-to-ceiling glass you can see the tranquil central courtyard, which is planted with air-cleansing trees and luxe white parasols. A quick check-in will have you out here clasping a flute of Bollinger in no time, eyeing the bird cage, an elevated dining booth that is the most covetable table at the hotel.
There are 138 rooms and suites here, ranging from the supremely plush to the almost comically opulent. Ours fell into the former class and delivered the hoped-for delight with a plump, pillow-piled bed, Bang & Olufsen technology and a lavish bathroom, to which half of the (ample) total space was dedicated. Designed with drama in mind, the in-room spa sanctuary is approached via a marble-floor corridor that reveals a double vanity station, beckoning Frette robes and an array of exclusive toiletries by French fragrance house, Diptyque.
The pièce de résistance is through another door; a wet room with a deep bathtub and sleek, mirror-like TV. The thought of topping up the hot water in here for hours is so beguiling it makes you wish that it was Milton Keynes outside, not Paris, so you wouldn’t feel so obliged to head out and explore.
As it happens, some of the finest drinking and dining in the city can be found on the ground floor, with Bar 8 (eight being a lucky number in the Far East) serving champagne and cocktails from a bar made of a single nine-ton excavation of dark marble. Thierry Marx (Heston’s long-lost French brother) heads up the two restaurants, which comprise of the smart and relatively low-key Camélia and the avant-garde Sur Mesure – set in an all-white, multi-textured room created by duo Jouin-Manku. There’s no express menu at the latter; the experience is a highly-technical six (€165) or nine-course (€195) tasting menu that deserves a good three-hour window and a steady flow of paired wines.
Even if you have dinner reservations elsewhere, you’ll get a taste of the Mandarin kitchen’s absolute perfectionism at breakfast. Those who are a bit of a liability in buffet situations will find themselves in grave danger here, presented with a Grimm-esque assortment of bakes, breads and drizzly honey from the rooftop hives. And every guest can expect the same push-pull of willpower again in the afternoon when the glossy gâteaux in the cake counter start beckoning. There are few more decadent things in life than having a single slice of cake delivered up to a hotel room on a silver platter, with full cutlery service (tip: the amber-glazed number was so delicious it brought me close to tears).
Actually, this is more decadent. Unlike any other property in the global portfolio, the Parisian hotel welcomes dogs – of the frou-frou, short-tailed sort who are accustomed to fillet of beef (€26) and steamed seasonal vegetables (€10) for supper. The only place they mustn’t venture is the spa – along with non-residents and children.
The crowning feature of any Mandarin Oriental is, of course, the spa – unfailingly, a pinch-yourself sanctum designed to out-zen all others. At 900 square-metres, the level of luxury down here is astounding. Despite the size, you won’t be able to complete a lengthy hydrotherapy circuit, as most of the space is admittedly swallowed by the seven spa suites. That said – it’s blissfully empty and dreamily appointed in silver-leaf butterflies (a motif throughout), fluttering projections and beautiful relaxation booths. A few gentle laps in the pH-perfect swimming pool, followed by a steam, an icy drench and a flick through Harper’s Bazaar with a cool tea infusion is more than enough to eliminate tension if you can’t stretch to a treatment.
A night here is expensive – there’s no getting around that. But the outstanding mark of a Mandarin Oriental stay is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. The thrill of checking-in and entering your room is just the first of many discoveries and surprises – from fresh fruit arriving at the door to a turn-down service you’ll want to Instagram immediately. It’s got to be hard to stun when you’re working with an established, pretty-much formulaic approach to luxury – but voilà! They’ve done it.
Rooms at the Mandarin Oriental are available on Secret Escapes Anytime hotels from around €1,200 (£1,014) per night.
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