Le Bristol is without doubt one of Paris's 'Grand Dame' hotels, dripping in old world elegance. Rosie Paterson checked in.
Whoever said that the best things in life are free clearly never tried the hot chocolate — or chocolat chaud — at Cafe Antonia, the fresco-walled, all-day dining establishment inside Le Bristol hotel.
Thick; creamy; decadent; served in a tea pot large enough to cater for three people. It costs 19 euros. But, it could cost double that and I’d still order and drink it on repeat (by myself of course; I have zero intentions of actually ever sharing it with two other people).
The hot chocolate is emblematic of the hotel which also feels decidedly decadent, from the ground floor, marble tiled lobby — home to the plumpest Louis XV wingback armchairs I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting on — all the way up the unique rooftop swimming pool, designed to look like the deck of a wooden sailboat by the architect of Aristotle Onassis’s yacht.
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You’ve got two options if you want to go for a swim — or sit on one of the two terraces that bookend the pool; one with views across quintessential Parisian rooftops and rooftop gardens, all the way to Montmartre, the other to the Eiffel Tower. The first is to take the original 1940s, wrought iron lift to one side of the aforementioned lobby, similar to the lift at the Ralph Lauren flagship store in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The second is to climb the spiral stone staircase on the other side, a very modern light installation that bears an uncanny resemblance to spun sugar tumbling down its centre.
Old meets new, another emblem of Le Bristol, Paris’s undisputed Grande Dame hotel — with a storied history to match. It was the first hotel in the French capital to be awarded ‘Palace’ status after all. But, a Grande Dame unafraid to march forward into the future.
Le Bristol has a multi-national history: purchased by a French man, named after an English one and used by the US Embassy during the Second World War. In fact, it was one of a limited number of Parisian hotels that wasn’t requisitioned by the Nazi’s.
The building started out life as the private mansion of a French nobleman, before it was acquired by Hippolyte Jammet — Jammet risked his and his family’s life to hide a Jewish architect inside the hotel during the War — in order to turn it into a ‘hotel of distinction’.
Jammet named the hotel after Bishop Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, a renowned 18th century traveller. It remained in his family until the 1970s when it was sold to the Oetker family, the current owners (sibling Oetker properties include Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes and Eden Rock in St Barts).
Almost as soon as the doors opened, celebrities flocked to walk through them, including Coco Chanel, her long standing friend and lover Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali. The parties were legendary, the walls soaked in secrets. Perhaps the most famous was one hosted by Josephine Baker in 1975, to mark the 50th anniversary of her Paris debut at the Bobino Theatre. Mick Jagger and Grace Kelly were on the guestlist. Baker (above) wore a pearly white, oversized headband-style-hat that wouldn’t look out of place at a society wedding today. In photographs, she’s immortalised cutting an intricately-decorated, multi-tier cake; a cavernous suite on the seventh floor is named after her.
Even today, the entry-level rooms are big — never a sure-fire thing in Paris. They dressed in a sort of old-fashioned, supremely comfortable grandeur; the ensuite bathrooms are all marble. Downstairs, there’s another Parisian novelty, a large courtyard garden, relandscaped a couple of years ago by English landscape gardener Arabella Lennox-Boyd. It’s well worth carving out some time to sit in it.
The hotel’s comings and goings are presided over by hotel cat Socrate — who took over from his father, a Birman pedigree called Fa-Raon. Socrate has free reign of the hotel — something he chose to rub in my face by evading me for two whole days. Kind staff fed me regular updates and sightings: ‘He was last seen departing from a lobby armchair to patrol the third floor.’ But to no avail. I wish you all better luck.
Rooms at Le Bristol Paris from €1,701 (about £1,498) a night — see the hotel website for more and to book.
What to do in Paris
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- Before you venture too far from the hotel, have dinner in Epicure, Le Bristol’s three Michelin-starred restaurant
- To mark 50 years since the death of Pablo Picasso in 2023, various Parisian galleries — including Musée de Montmartre, Musée de l’Homme-Museum national d’histoire naturelle and Musée national Picasso-Paris — are taking part in a 42 exhibition-eight country collaboration, orchestrated by the French and Spanish Governments
- If you’re visiting in the warmer months, cool off in the Hotel MOLITOR swimming pool. Entry to the Art Deco icon is restricted to Club Molitor members, hotel guests and…luckily…anyone who books a treatment at the onsite Clarins spa (no hardship)
- Paris is something of a Mecca for flea markets — marché aux puce in French. The one at Saint-Ouen was established in 1885, making it the oldest, and the largest, in the world. There’s are more than 2,000 stalls selling clothing, vintage items and antique furniture
Follow Rosie Paterson on Instagram @rosielkpaterson