I, like many, love to visit Paris. But I was especially excited to visit Paris this summer – not only because it was my first visit to the City of Lights since the pandemic began, or because the current euro-dollar parity would make Paris a much better value (and my Paris shopping that much more enjoyable). My added excitement this time stemmed from anticipation over my maiden stay at the legendary Hotel de Crillon.
Standing guard over the historic Place de la Concorde, the Hotel de Crillon sits perched at the highest echelon of Paris’ luxury hotels – and arguably at the very top. It is much more, however, than just a beautiful place to stay in a city full of attractions; rather, this iconic hotel is an attraction in itself – as evidenced by the ever-present crowd of curious onlookers typically found outside its front entrance.
The Hotel de Crillon is steeped in history, long, long before Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez chose to stay there on their recent Parisian honeymoon. Originally commissioned by King Louis XV in 1758, the structure’s palace façade is considered a masterpiece of 18th century architecture, built and decorated by the finest craftsmen of the time. It is during this initial period that the building was frequented by Marie Antoinette, who spent afternoons relaxing and taking piano lessons in what was then a mansion, but who would ultimately be beheaded just in front of the structure in what was then called the Place de la Revolution.
The palace served as the private residence of the Duke of Crillon and his heirs until 1909, when it was first transformed into a grand hotel. In its first century-plus year iteration as one of Paris’ leading hotels, the Hotel de Crillon witnessed the 1919 signing of the Covenant of the League of Nations and hosted royalty, heads of state, celebrities and other prominent VIP’s, including Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Charlie Chaplin, Andy Warhol, Leonard Bernstein, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, and Madonna.
In 2013, in need of a makeover, the hotel was closed by its royal Saudi owners, who embarked on a no-expenses-spared full-scale refurbishment of the registered historic landmark property. Overseen by architect Richard Martinet, artistic director Aline Asmar d’Amman, and a group of interior designers (including none other than Karl Lagerfeld), the four-year project is estimated to have cost a whopping $300 million. Highlights of the renovation included the lifting of the lobby ceiling by 3 feet to make the area brighter and more expansive, the transformation of the hotel’s unused courtyard into a lush garden and restaurant (where I was lucky enough to eat my daily breakfast), and the digging down two stories under the existing hotel to allow for the construction of a pool and spa (more on that to come).
Details aside, the overriding goal of the project, according to the hotel’s website, was to “further enhance the majesty and elegance of this exceptional establishment, while conserving the spirit of its prestigious 18th-century edifice.” In other words, the task was to strike a delicate balance between conservation and transformation, to preserve the soul and rich history of the Hotel de Crillon while equipping it with the modern comforts and amenities necessary to maintain its status as one of Paris’ finest hotels as it embarks on its next century. And that they certainly succeeded in doing.
Now a member of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ impressive list of European properties, the Hotel de Crillon’s location in the heart of Paris cannot be beat. While beheadings and revolutions in the Place de la Concorde are now quite rare, there is still plenty to do and see in close proximity to the hotel. The U.S. Embassy, with its heavy security presence, is right next door. Within a 5-minute walk are the Champs Elysees, the Tuileries Garden, and the designer stores of fashionable Rue Saint Honore. The luxury jewelers of Place Vendome are 10 minutes away, while the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay are just 15 minutes away on foot. For those that would rather not walk, there is a metro station just steps from the hotel, as well as the hotel’s chauffeured vehicle which is often available to hotel guests.
The Hotel de Crillon has a way of making all of its guests feel like VIP’s, and that experience began as soon as we arrived. There is no check in desk at the hotel; instead, arriving guests are led into a separate discreet reception room where the check in process is handled by multiple staff. A tour of the hotel followed, including a stop in the stunningly opulent (think lots of gold and marble) Bar Les Ambassadeurs, a Parisian hotspot featuring nightly live music, and L’Ecrin, the hotel’s recently reopened – and very intimate – Michelin-starred restaurant.
The Hotel de Crillon features 10 distinctive and magnificent Signature Suites, including a pair designed by Karl Lagerfeld, and suites named after both Marie Antoinette and Leonard Bernstein. Ours was one of the hotel’s regular Deluxe Suites – though there was nothing regular about it. Decorated in a classic French residential style, our appartement featured a separate living room, spacious bedroom with king-size bed, and large marble bathroom, filled with a mix of antique and bespoke furnishings, artwork, and assorted tasteful knick knacks.
The ridiculously comfortable bed featured the same exquisite Rivolta Carmignani Italian linens that I recall loving so much from my stay at the Rosewood London. And, not suprisingly given the hotel’s refurbishment, our suite featured all the necessary modern trimmings – the bespoke leather-covered Nespresso coffee machine, the Bluetooth sound system, the upgraded dimmable lighting, the large flat screen television with over 100 channels, and not one but two behind-the-mirror bathroom televisions. To cap things off, our suite also came with 24/7 butler service – and I admit to being tempted to test out that service with a middle of the night call (though I ultimately thought better of it).
Certainly among my favorite features of the Hotel de Crillon is the indoor swimming pool that the hotel’s owners went through such trouble and expense to add. Illuminated by a skylight, the underground residential-style pool shimmers with more than 17,000 gold tiles, the work of noted ceramist Peter Lane. The pool, and the salon in which it sits, were just magical.
Service at the hotel was impeccable, and as one might expect given a hotel the caliber of the Hotel de Crillon, there were plenty of special touches that I appreciated during my stay as well – the “C’ imprinted on my breakfast omelette, the white chocolate “C” on top of my breakfast fruit bowl, the Hotel de Crillon-branded cleaning cloths left daily on top of my reading glasses. But I will most remember the personalized monogrammed pillowcase and hand towels that greeted me upon my arrival to my room – now that is how you make someone feel like a VIP!
Paris lived up to my lofty expectations, and so did the Hotel de Crillon. And while the hotel is certainly a splurge, you do leave it feeling like you stayed somewhere extra special. For those considering a stay, there may be no better time than now – because your dollars may never go further in Europe than they do now.