Less than a minute after we entered our room at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, one of the Dorchester Collection’s stunning properties in Paris, there was an audible whoop of delight from the bathroom. My 18-year-old had shot through the spacious luxury of the suite we had generously been given to experience, past the chaise longue, Hollywood style mirror and table laden with macarons and Champagne. What had provoked such joy was in fact the presence of a Dyson Airwrap, complete with its bag full of hair-enhancing tools.
Travelling with a late teenager, officially an adult, but still with a childlike ability to be surprised and show untrammelled joy, is a wonderful way to see a destination you think you know. I had decided that a quick break to the French capital was just what we both needed; for her to have a bit of indulgence before the slog of A-level exams and for me to decompress after an intense time both personally and professionally. Rather than heading to somewhere too far or adventurous I wanted 48 hours of spoiling and being spoilt in a city where I have briefly lived and often returned to.
A sense of arrival
Arriving at Le Plaza Athénée by car from the Gare du Nord is a kind of distillation of one of the ultimate Parisian experiences. There at the end of the Avenue Montaigne is the Eiffel Tower, a monument that never loses its charm however often you see it. Hôtel Plaza Athénée stands proudly on the city’s world-famous avenue of couture, surrounded by the world’s most luxurious fashion brands. We travelled at the very beginning of April and were blessed by the sun. Getting out of the taxi to the smiles of the doormen on a perfect spring day felt impossibly glamorous, a real ‘pinch-me’ moment.
The Plaza Athénée is a beautiful hotel. The exterior clad in a riot of red geraniums, inside its public spaces are spectacular, with modern decorative elements blending well with more classical ones. The colour palette is rich, the materials sumptuous. Huge bouquets with flowers jetting out adorn the marble columns of the circular lobby, and you cross a cherry-red patterned contemporary carpet to check in. In contrast to the exuberant style of the arrival experience, the team greeted me in an understated, low-key style. No over-the-top gestures of welcome, but warmth and charm.
Clever attention to detail
When you choose a hotel of this calibre, part of an internationally recognised group, at the best address in Paris, its social media feeds brimming with the beautiful, haute couture dressed influencers or celebrities, you cannot help but arrive with more expectations than luggage. It is almost impossible to live up to them, how can anywhere be that perfect? As with everything in life, the devil is in the detail and it’s the smallest things that make the difference. An example, the clever Plaza Athénée team had already equipped some of the French plugs in our suite with adaptors for our British gadgets. I’d not seen that before – a smart move.
Decorated in tones of lilac and a pale taupe, our suite was elegant, light-filled and blessed with a little balcony that gave the teen a perfect setting for countless pouting selfies with Eiffel’s tower as backdrop. The bathroom was top-to-toe marble, with a gloriously deep tub, made for lengthy soaks. Even though the boutiques of the Avenue Montaigne provide world-class window shopping or real shopping if you have deep pockets, it took us quite some time to actually leave the hushed comfort of our suite and make it out. Enjoying doing nothing, lolling and reading, half sunk into the perfumed softness of beautifully laundered bedlinen is a decadence that seems utterly appropriate in this kind of establishment.
When we did venture out it was at golden hour and never has a time been more aptly named. The Seine is five minutes away and the evening sun on the water, on the shining dome of Les Invalides, glittering through the new leaves of the trees bordering the river gave every image we took a shimmering luxuriousness.
Dining with le beau monde
We returned to dine at Le Relais Plaza. A fixture of the Paris scene since the 1930s, its polished interior pays homage to this era, retaining the original frescos by Diane Chasseresse.
The chef at the Plaza Athénée is Jean Imbert, appointed in 2021 after the departure of Alain Ducasse. At the time this ruffled a few Parisian feathers as, sacré bleu, he had risen to fame through a TV competition, collaborated with musician Pharell Williams and was a devotee of social media. Come May, Jean Imbert will also be taking care of all things gastronomy at La Cour Jardin, a beautiful al fresco sunny garden in the heart of Hôtel Plaza Athénée. The brouhaha seemed to have not done the venue any harm as on a Monday evening it was packed, guests being a chic mix of Parisian and international, waiters attentive, smiling – a very positive buzz.
The menu is pleasingly concise, it’s subtitled, ‘La Cuisine de Mamie et Jean’ and is inspired by the dishes Imbert learned at his grandmother’s side. I enjoyed the subtle taste of the sea with a wonderfully fresh seabass tartare contrasted by a crisp vegetable tartlet and a citrussy vinaigrette. A sophisticated start – and actually a rather generous portion, which isn’t always the case in the finest restaurants. My girl indulged for the first time in langoustine, which she worked her way through with more enthusiasm than style but declared it delicious.
My main was simply named lamb chops with green beans and parsley sauce. Tender sweet chops, beans with just the right amount of crunch to the tooth and a sauce that was bursting with richness meant that this was a dish that rose far above its title. My daughter once again sailed into uncharted culinary territory for her by choosing roasted turbot, sorrel gnocchi and grenobloise. The verdict was positive; the slightly acidic sorrel in the buttery grenobloise sauce was a great foil to the turbot that was perfectly cooked.
I have a theory that no hotel can be perfect, but it’s how you handle the tiny little human errors that inevitably happen that is the mark of a great hotel. There was a bit of a mix-up with our wine order over dinner, but it was handled swiftly, and my choice was upgraded to an even better wine. That is the right way to recover, promptly and without unnecessary obsequiousness.
A glamorous start and end to our stay
Breakfast the next day was a glamorous affair. We nearly opted for breakfast in bed, but we were glad we didn’t, instead heading to the main restaurant which is a symphony of gold, pale and rich rose pink. It’s a stunning, grand space. While we ate lightly, everything was beautifully executed, the patisserie a burnished bronze and raspberry tower of flaky deliciousness, the silverware pleasingly weighty and with the patina of age, the coffee packing just the right punch.
Staff here were immaculately attired, as stylish as their customers. There was a confidence and pride in how they worked, and justifiably so. Thus, well rested and well fed, the teen and I headed out into the Paris sunshine with a smile on our lips and that rare and heady feeling one gets after being truly spoilt.
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All imagery courtesy of The Dorchester Collection.