The new superstar hotels of Paris

'The Palace Distinction'

To achieve what the French ministry of economy, industry and employment described as 'the palace distinction', hotels must have bigger rooms than five-star properties, more facilities, and higher service standards. But there are qualitive factors involved, too. The ministry charged a 10-member jury with judging the aesthetic quality of aspiring palace hotels, their environmental and social policies, financial performance, and contribution 'to the spread of French culture'.

Though there had long been hotels known as palaces, it was hitherto an unofficial, self-appointed club consisting of the Ritz Paris, the Hôtel de Crillon, the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Le Bristol, the Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice. The last's general manager, Franka Holtmann, once defined membership as denoting a certain history and grandeur, a very high proportion of suites, a staff-to-guest ratio of about 3:1, and a gastronomic restaurant. 

Imagine, then, the consternation when, in May 2011, the official list of government- approved palaces was published, omitting the Ritz Paris, the Hôtel de Crillon and the Four Seasons Hotel George V, and promoting in their place the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, which is less than a decade old. Even François Delahaye, general manager of the Plaza Athénée and director of operations of the Dorchester Collection, which owns it and Le Meurice, was moved to say: 'I have a bitter taste of victory in my mouth. That the Ritz and especially the George V were not on the list removes all credibility from the award.' 

Four months later, the government agency tasked with giving the accolade capitulated and promoted the  Four Seasons Hotel George V, which had just embarked on a €20-million refurbishment of its rooms.  A month after that, Mohamed Al Fayed announced that the Ritz would be closing for 27 months for a substantial renovation. The Hôtel de Crillon, too, has  said it will shut this year to spend €100 million on a refit that will include the installation of an indoor swimming pool. Both hotels presumably hope that they will, in time, gain the palace accolade, something each of the recent openings also aspires to. 

Le Meurice, the Plaza Athénée and  the Four Seasons Hotel George V remain outstanding grand hotels, but what of Le Bristol, once something of the poor relation on the list? Does the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme deserve its elevated status? And are the newcomers palaces in waiting? A chacun son goût, as they say, but how to choose between them?

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Pictured: The view from one of the Eiffel Suites at the Shangri-La Hotel Paris