Paris is like a second home to me. Having been there a number of times over the past few years, I could probably direct other tourists around the streets and get myself from A to B without consulting Citimapper. However, like any home, there is always that itch to discover more of what is on your doorstep; discovering a destination through someone else’s eyes.
For this trip, I was in the hands of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. With a portfolio of more than 520 unique and boutique establishments, it came as no surprise to hear that they had plenty of Parisian residences and restaurants to explore. Arriving at Gare du Nord after the short trip from London, we had five of these to check off the list before heading out to the French countryside the following afternoon.
First up, and our accommodation for the night, was the magnificently discreet Pavillon de la Reine. Perched on the doorstep of Place des Vosges, this inconspicuous hotel occupies a traditionally Parisian courtyard. Vine-climbed walls greet you as you enter it’s doors; hiding 56 uniquely designed rooms and suites inside. My suite for the stay was impressive to say the least. Sprawling across a single floor, I even had my own kitchen- complete with coffee machine- which made the whole place feel more like a home. The décor was a fusion of modernity and Parisian detailing and, while I didn’t have a balcony, the views into the inner courtyard offered a real sense of peace and quiet.
After checking in and swiftly filling our bellies with lunch and rose-shaped ice creams, it was time to visit the second hotel. L’Hotel to be precise. If Pavillion de la Reine was boutique, then this hidden gem would arguably be petit boutique; a real Small Luxury Hotel. A tiny exterior leads you into a never-ending atrium that focuses your eyes to the skylight that towers in the distance above you. The whole place is very unassuming from the outside, but as you walk through the hotel there is a sensation of it being imposing but homely at the same time; a bit like Rapunzel in her tower, I guess. As the final French residence of the great Oscar Wilde, it certainly has accommodated some very esteemed characters.
After a tour of the “Princess Room” on the fifth floor and almost an hour snapping those obligatory balcony shots, we headed downstairs to check out the in-house hammam and bar. Everything about this hotel is discreet; each room once again offering a unique décor and a real sense of privacy. After sampling a very well-made variation of a Rum Old Fashioned, it was time to head to Place Vendome for dinner. Via the very famous Chanel door, of course.
Hôtel de Vendôme sits on the southern edge of Place Vendome, an 18th century mansion well-positioned by the Tuileries Gardens. Dinner that evening promised to be an exciting affair; several courses paired with several wines. It would require too much detail to explain every single dish, but the real standouts for me were the fried corn puree that exploded in the mouth like warm popcorn and the unbelievably prepared dessert which involved intricate fruits and mousses. This was French dining at it’s best; every course combining well-balanced flavours with an experimental edge. A good enough reason to head back to the hotel purely for the restaurant.
Sleeping like a well-fed baby that night, we woke early the next morning to get the gratuitous breakfast snaps. The courtyard and balconies of Pavillon de la Reine provided an excellent backdrop for our outfits of the day, croissants and unread copies of the New York Times. The itinerary for that day focused on a pastry-making class in a bakery on the banks of the River Seine; bookended by a trip to two more locations in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World’s portfolio.
Slightly battling against the clock, we first had a brief visit to Hôtel du Petit Moulin; a former 17th-century bakery which claims the title of the oldest in Paris. With an interior design by renowned designer Christian Lacroix, there is a huge variety of colour palettes from room to room and this quirky little hotel certainly does not lack charm.
With the thought of pastries now running through our heads, attention turned to our bellies once again. Having never really learned the art of pastry, or had any ability to do so, I was particularly looking forward to learning a new skill, and we arrived at La Cuisine Paris eager to get stuck in. Cue three hours of kneading, stretching, rolling and shaping; a real eye-opener to just how much love goes into making those pastries I’ll often devour at breakfast. By the end of the session we had genuinely worked up an appetite and we were more than happy to plough through the pastries we had just made, even with lunch at the next location very close on the horizon.
Before heading to Normandy, we were to visit our fifth hotel in the Small Luxury Hotel of the World’s portfolio; Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal, which has one of the most prestigious addresses in Paris. The impressive traditional façade conceals a fairly modern interpretation of Parisian styling and this hotel was markedly different to others in terms of size and feel. After a tour of the hotel, we headed to the in-house restaurant, Le Lulli, a winter garden-esque eatery for lunch. Being in France, it was rude not to opt for a generous portion of foie gras, followed by a delicious pairing of chicken thigh and potato gratin. Just about full enough for the drive to Normandy…