This 100-year-old hotel is still the best in Paris

Is this Paris’ best hotel?

A 100-year-old landmark still shines.

Words by Ute Junker

Photos supplied


Being hard to impress is part of my job description. When you stay in luxury hotels for a living, a critical eye is an essential skill. Any operator with sufficient backing can truck in tons of marble and employ vast fleets of softly-spoken staff, but true luxury sits under the surface. It is an ethos, an approach, a strict attention to the smallest of details that cannot ever be relaxed.

And let’s face it – hotels can get lazy. Some of the grandest houses with the longest histories are prone to coasting, hoping that the magic of their name will do some of the heavy lifting for them.

That is why, before my first stay at the Hotel Plaza Athénée, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. The hotel is a heavyweight. One of a handful of properties in Paris to receive the much-vaunted “palace hotel” designation, the Plaza Athénée has also been recognised by the French government as a piece of living heritage. Its façade, with its bright-red awnings, is a local landmark. After 100 year of service, however, I wondered if the Plaza Athénée might be resting on its laurels?


My fears were quickly allayed – so quickly, in fact, that I hadn’t even made it through the front door. When the doorman opened my car door, he greeted me with “Welcome Ms Junker” – even though this was my first visit. There’s no magic to the process – Google just about anyone these days and you can find out what they look like – but it reveals a dedication to the guest experience that differentiates the crème de la crème from the competition.

Step inside and more pleasant surprises await. The way to your room leads you along La Galerie, a majestic corridor that doubles as a chic see-and-be-seen spot for a coffee or a glass of champagne. I have been upgraded to a junior suite, and it is glorious. The apartment-sized suite is elegant yet homey, with dove-grey walls, magenta highlights and a view into the inner courtyard with its ivy-covered walls. It doesn’t just look good either: every detail has been considered, from the perfectly-positioned power points to the soundproofing and the blackout curtains.


The biggest change at the Plaza Athénée in recent times has been the end of its decades-long collaboration with uber-chef Alain Ducasse. His replacement, young gun Jean Imbert, made headlines not only for his food – scoring a Michelin star just nine weeks after opening – but also for redoing the interiors of main dining-room in grand style. Not everyone will be able to afford dinner there – rates start at 320 euros a person – but breakfast is served in the same dining room. Trust me on this: if you have already invested a not-inconsiderable sum for a room here, you won’t want to miss the chance to start the day sitting at a 12-metre long table of Breccia marble, beneath crystal chandeliers that cast a glow onto the 20,000 gold leaves bedecking the dining room walls.


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