In the first part of our luxury travel views column from the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris
Many hoteliers I respect have told me that the highest priority, when creating a landmark new city hotel, is not the architecture or the name of the chef running the kitchen, but engaging and attracting the local community. A great city hotel should feel like a private club. This is partly so that the public spaces are filled when business travellers and tourists are thinner on the ground, but also because any discerning traveller wants to feel they are going where the insiders go.
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This philosophy drove the success of Ian Schrager’s first boutique hotels in the 1980s, and continues thanks to the panache of today’s hoteliers. It has also driven the world’s great hotels since their inception: what were the original Ritz and Savoy, if not gathering places for the great and good? Urban tribes may have diversified and expanded now, giving a greater spread of aspiration, but the principles remain. Conversely, it is dispiriting to arrive at a new hotel in a new city to find that everyone else there seems to be as foreign and clueless as you are.
All of this brings me to the Plaza Athénée in Paris. You are welcomed into the marble-lined lobby and can take a peek at the outdoor atrium, one of many areas designed by interiors star Bruno Moinard. And you get a frisson that you have truly arrived in Paris because its Le Relais restaurant is the work, play and cutting place of the Parisian elite. If you want to form a new political grouping or gather key players together for a new deal, this is the place where your plan will likely be hatched, matched and dispatched.
Having said all that, arriving in my suite, it wouldn’t have mattered if the hotel had only ever housed tourists. The living room of the suite, on the corner of avenue Montaigne, looks directly down the street, across the river, to the Eiffel Tower. Like the best views, it changes through the day, dusk and night to create a different illusion. By day, the tower is a glowering metallic structure. At night, illuminated and with lasers pointing from it as if it’s a gun turret in an old video arcade game, it feels otherworldly.
The furnishing in the suite is determinedly classical. So much so that it has very much come back into fashion. You have a reception room big enough to hold a cocktail party for 30; there is a baby grand piano in the anteroom and bathrooms for guests of the hotel’s guests.
My favourite moment? After dinner, a glass of Louis Roederer champagne at an outside table on La Terrasse Montaigne. For an evening, at least, I could have been a member of a Parisian “grande famille”, enjoying a nightcap at their local bar. Altogether a priceless experience at the Plaza.
Find out more: dorchestercollection.com/en/paris/hotel-plaza-athenee
This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX