France: Where to stay in Paris

By Aiofe O'Riordain

A Deluxe Room at Paris' Shangri-La Hotel. Photo / Supplied
A Deluxe Room at Paris' Shangri-La Hotel. Photo / Supplied

SHANGRI-LA HOTEL

You can't help but feel a little frisson of excitement as you pass through the tall iron gates and pull up under the beautiful wrought-iron and glass porte-cochère of the Shangri-La in Paris.

So far, so French. But as you step inside the hotel you're greeted by two giant Ming dynasty-style vases standing sentry at the door, hinting at the provenance of this new address on the Parisian hotel scene.

The Shangri-La was the second of a trio of Asian-based luxury hotel groups to open properties in the French capital in the past 18 months (joining Raffles Le Royal Monceau and followed by Mandarin Oriental).

It is arguably the most romantic and intimate of the three, housed in the Belle Epoque Palais d'Iéna, the former home of Napoleon Bonaparte's grand nephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte. The family coat of arms, lions' heads and antlers can still be seen, carved into the pale stone facade.

Inside, a spectacular sweeping staircase leads to the principal salons on the first floor.

The Grand Salon - all chandeliers, parquet, gilt and mirrors - recalls the grandeur of Versailles and is among several elements of the palace now protected on the list of "Monuments Historiques".

The restoration of the building, which latterly belonged to the French Centre of Foreign Trade, took four years. It involved some additions, which are mercifully subtle.

Gentle hints of the Orient infuse the hotel. For example, delicate Jasmine Chung Hao tea from China's northern province of Fujian is offered when you are taken to your room.

It's no coincidence that the arrival of these Asian hoteliers coincides with an influx of well-heeled Chinese visitors eager to spend their yuan. During my stay, enthusiastic groups were jumping into the hotel's fleet of slick limousines, presumably off to peruse the luxury brands of the nearby Avenue Montaigne.

The Shangri-La's prices reflect this profligacy - you'll need a stiff drink before reading the bar, restaurant and room-service menus.

There are three restaurants. La Bauhinia features a stunning glass cupola uncovered during the restoration, while L'Abeille, the gastronomic French restaurant, takes its name from the Napoleonic bee.

The Shang Palace, which opened last September and was immediately booked solid, is easily the city's most sophisticated Chinese restaurant, serving refined Cantonese cuisine.

Later this year, an indoor swimming pool and spa are due to open in the former stables. The current lack is of little consequence: there are still few more romantic places to stay during Paris's loveliest season.

Location: The hotel clings to the side of Chaillot Hill in Paris's chic, buttoned-up 16th arrondissement. The Shangri-La is just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower and is only moments away from the Trocadero with its views of everyone's favourite landmark.

Several museums and galleries are also a short stroll away: the Guimet Museum, Musée du Quai Branly, Palais de Tokyo and the Marmottan Monet Museum. Perhaps more importantly, the Golden Triangle is a mere Louboutin's totter down the hill.

Comfort: There are 81 rooms and suites divided into five categories. The view that all visitors lust after is the symbol of the city and my room had just that. About half of all the rooms and suites have Eiffel Tower views and it's hard to drag yourself away from the window.

Interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon was tasked with decorating the guest rooms, channelling a Gallic-Oriental fusion with Empire-style furnishings in hues of blue, ecru and white. Apart from some of the more lavish suites, it seems a bit sombre given the opulence of parts of the palace, but maybe that's the point.

Bathrooms are decked in chocolate brown marble and buff limestone with separate baths and shower heads of dinner-plate proportions. There is also a Nespresso machine, kettle, DVD, TV and free WiFi.

The bill: Doubles packages start at €625 (NZ$1000), including breakfast.

Address: Shangri-La Hotel, 10 avenue d'Iéna, 75116 Paris, France (00331 5367 1998).

- INDEPENDENT

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