What are the ingredients of an unforgettable trip to Paris? An overnight stay at The Dorchester on Park Lane, before hopping on the Eurostar and arriving at Le Meurice overlooking Jardin des Tuileries in time for lunch, says Paula Lester.
What could possibly be better than staying in a plush suite at London’s historic Dorchester Hotel overlooking Hyde Park? Well, how about having a charming butler called Emmanuel to cater to your every need and the knowledge that, the next morning, you’ll be whisked away to another gleaming jewel in the Dorchester Collection of hotels’ crown: Le Meurice on Paris’s Rue du Rivoli?
As it has stood proud on Park Lane since 1931, The Dorchester — with its sweeping Grade II-listed façade — is one of those fabled London hotels that is as much of a landmark as it is a destination. I’ve never forgotten the first time I walked in as a 19-year-old aspiring journalist attending the Grand National Weights Lunch, and it was just a special when I revisited it more than 30 years later. I guess that is the appeal of The Dorchester — it will be as elegantly timeless in another 100 years.
In 2023, the grand dame of Mayfair, which has headed up the Brunei-owned Dorchester Collection of hotels around the world since 1985, underwent a subtle facelift. The ground floor revamp, including the Promenade, which runs through the centre of the hotel and is famous for its afternoon tea, was unveiled in January. And, last summer, its 241 rooms and suites (decreased from 250 to create more space) reopened, having been reimagined in soft shades (from pale leaf green and rose fog pink, to heather blue and lemon yellow) inspired by an English garden and embellished with hand painted de Gournay headboards and Colefax and Fowler prints. In 2024, its refurbished roof terrace and penthouse suites will be relaunched.
One of the most striking aspects of staying here is that, thanks to triple glazing and considerable sound-proofing efforts when the hotel was first built (including facing exterior walls with cork and lining ceilings with compressed seaweed), guests are not able to hear even a murmur of the hubbub of Hyde Park Corner outside.
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This was certainly evident in my pale lemon and blue accented suite in room 201. After Emmanuel had poured a glass of Champagne and whisked my dresses away to be ironed, I headed downstairs to sample The Grill by Tom Booton (the hotel has five restaurants, including Alain Ducasse, overseen by Jean-Philippe Blondet, and three bars). At 26-years-old, Mr Booton is a tour de force on the gastronomic scene. Known for reinventing classic British dishes, such as the full English breakfast, to new culinary heights, his menu was full of ingenious and flavoursome surprises. I began with a cheeky Tiddly wink cocktail (Whitley Neil blood orange gin, Berkshire botanical sloe gin, rhubarb and rosemary syrup and Champagne), followed by ‘light bites’ in the shape of crispy semolina, Gouda cheese and salami. This was followed by a clever squid bolognese à la Koffman (in which strips of squid were cut to look like pasta), a basil, lobster and cheese tartlet (featuring delicious tomato-infused pastry), with Isle of Wight tomatoes and courgette. Next was melt-in-the-mouth beef fillet, veal sweetbread, turnips, wasabi and a glass of mellow Hungarian red wine, with a delectable ratatouille tart fine, basil (a meal in itself), concluding with chocolate soft serve, marshmallow and fudge and an emerald green tea.
The next morning, before my 8am rendezvous with the Eurostar at St Pancras, I had time for a long bath (reputedly the deepest in London) in the Italian marble bathroom and pack my now smartly pressed dresses so as not to let the side down in Paris later that day. When we rolled up at Le Meurice — a 160-room 18th century gem in the beating heart of the city of light — at 12noon, just in time for lunch, I thanked my lucky stars for getting the chance to stay at such celebrated hotels.
Known as the hotel of artists and thinkers — designed by its first owner, Charles-Augustin Meurice to appeal to British guests — Le Meurice is a pastel-hued paean to the most subtle and tasteful, and yet incredibly spoiling, Parisian hospitality. As we were escorted down pale green wooden panelled corridors, scented with the hotel’s herbe coupée (cut grass) fragrance designed by Herve Gambs to reflect the proximity of the tree-studded Tuileries, I could instantly see why the likes of Picasso (more of whom later), Coco Chanel — who hosted lots of fashion shows and shoots here — and Queen Victoria (for whom the entire first floor was renovated for her visit in 1855) adored it here. In fact, Salvador Dali loved it so much that he returned to the Presidential suite, every year — for a month at a time — for more than 30 years. Even if his pet ocelots used to make the staff wince, as their claws ripped the carpets to shreds.
My room at 301, with a spectacular view of the Louvre to left and the Eiffel tower on the right, was a triumph of white and grey walls with blush-red drapes, an expansive marble bathroom that had obviously been designed by a woman, with a one-touch shower, plenty of room for make-up and its own mini dressing room.
General Manager Franka Holtmann explained that Le Meurice’s aim is to curate comfortable rooms, with modern touches, such as great lighting and USB charging ports that negate the need for an adaptor. ‘We want calm, arts and culture and some French savoir faire,’ she enthuses. ‘You wake up and know you are in Paris, but we have kept things subtle, so as not to detract from the splendour outside.’ As a result, the rooms, which all feature antiques alongside modern touches and furnishings, feel more akin to a Parisian home than a hotel.
In the Pompadour suite, look for the dent on the portrait of Marquise de Pompadour caused by a wayward Champagne cork when Picasso married Russian ballet dancer, Olga Khokhlova, in what was then the ballroom in 1918. And, from the Belle Etoile Penthouse Suite, which comprises three bedrooms and covers 6,674 sq ft, it’s possible to see 18 landmarks via the 360˚ wraparound terrace (as featured in Beyoncé’s ‘A spring afternoon in Paris’ music video) on a fine day.
Eating and drinking
In the mirrored dining room, inspired by the Salon de la Paix at the Château de Versailles, that’s home to ‘Restaurant Le Dalí’, we marvelled at Ara Starck’s tented painted fabric ceiling (in recent years, the hotel has been playfully remodelled by her father, Philippe, with a nod to the Spanish surrealist), while studying the menu. I chose a delicate tomato salad, followed by the sole meunière, which was expertly filleted at the table, before we all exclaimed at the trompe l’oeil sculpted ‘fruits’ crafted by Cédric Grolet — the award winning pastry chef, who runs a pâtisserie at the hotel — which look uncannily like the peaches, raspberries and blueberries they are meant to resemble, but crack open to reveal a mouth-watering, sugar-free dessert.
However, the biggest surprise of the day was an invitation to the chef’s table in the extraordinary two-Michelin-starred ‘Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse’. Located below stairs in a secret sleek black room with a gilded ceiling, where we sat around a gold table, our jaws dropped when, moments into the meal, a secret window onto executive chef Amaury Bouhours’s kitchen brigade — we could see them, but they couldn’t see us — was suddenly revealed. And that was before we were treated to a tasting menu that celebrated a gamut of taste sensations — from sweet to bitter and everything in between—in the most eclectic and theatrical way.
How they’ll keep you busy
The absolute highlight of the entire trip for me, however, was the concierge-arranged two-hour walking art tour ‘Auguste Rodin: Love and torment’ Led by our walking encyclopaedia of a guide, art historian Marta, a graduate of the Louvre and the Sorbonne, we learned all about Rodin’s ground-breaking sculptures (including ‘The Kiss’, which we studied first hand in the Tuileries) and his ill-fated love affair with his talented prodigy, Camille Claudel. Marta’s tour was utterly brilliant, compelling and moving, as well as being highly entertaining. I, for one, cannot wait to go back to Paris so that I can book on one of her other tours, which include ‘Pablo Picasso’s Montmatre’ and ‘Claude Monet’s revolutionary brushstrokes’.
What else to do while you’re there
Descend into the depths of the hotel to the Valmont spa (the only one in Paris where you can experience the sought after Swiss brand’s anti-aging treatments and products). Make use of the sauna, steam room, tepid shower and ice bath or choose from one of the many facials (designed to hydrate, firm, increase radiance or energise) on offer and lie back and let your therapist work magic on your tired face, with a range of massage techniques that will left us looking rested and refreshed.
Who is it for?
Anyone seeking a beautifully appointed hotel with all the trappings, yet is thoughtful, considered and quietly understated, too. It’s perfect for a romantic getaway (after all, Paris is the city of love), but also great for indulgent girls’ trips, too.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor?
Subtlety, good-old fashioned service, bags of historical detail and intrigue, mixed with a playful enhancement of the decor that does not detract from the elegant fabric of the 18th century building. This seems especially apt at a hotel that was so beloved of forward-thinking artists, such as Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
The one thing we’d change
As Le Meurice is as perfect as a hotel can get, I am really nit-picking here. However, as generous as the welcome gifts were in the suite, as a solo traveller, it would have been better if I’d been greeted by a demi bottle of Champagne, as opposed to a full size one. I say this because, as much as I love a glass of bubbles, even I cannot drink an entire bottle before dinner. And so, reluctantly, I left my Moet unopened.
Rooms at The Dorchester from £1,050 a night, including breakfast (020–7629 8888; www.dorchestercollection.com/london/the-dorchester); rooms at Le Meurice from £863 a night, including breakfast (00 33 144 581 010; www.dorchestercollection.com/paris/le-meurice)