Western Europe, smack in the middle of France’s northern half, bisected by the lovely old Seine.
Because any way you cut it, Paris is among the truly great cities. If you’ve got any appetite at all for fashion, food, art, wine, architecture, culture or intellectual history — most everything that makes life worth living — you’ll undoubtedly find yourself drawn into its orbit.
From elsewhere in Europe, rail is by far the most humane option. From farther afield, Charles de Gaulle is among Europe’s busiest airports, directly connected to just about everywhere — it’s not hard to wrangle a Parisian stopover.
Once you’re in town: consider walking. It’s a more compact city than you might think. Though if you’re in a hurry, the Metro, with its distinctive visual style, eccentric manual latched doors and near-silent rubber-tired cars works well, while Vélib’, the public bike-sharing program, is another excellent above-ground option. Just don’t bother with the taxis.
While Paris is known the world over as a city that’s at the very cutting edge of couture, its hotel scene spent many decades as one of the world’s most conservative. Traditional Parisian opulence is, of course, not a bad look; but thanks to a new generation of designers and hoteliers, it’s no longer the only game in town.
And if a change of clothes can bring about a drastic change in outlook, just imagine what a change in décor can do. Give yourself a hotel makeover with these, the most fashion-forward hotels in Tablet’s “Haute Hospitality” collection.
Wild meets genteel at Hôtel Thoumieux, on rue Saint-Dominique, between Les Invalides and the Champ-de-Mars. Here India Mahdavi, an architect whose interiors have always been marked by an air of exoticism, has been entrusted with the design of the entire hotel, from its fifteen bedrooms down to Jean-François Piège’s playful modern restaurant. Though the spaces are confined, the results are larger-than-life, an explosion of Victorian antiques, leopard prints, marble shelves and floral-print drapes. You’ll feel like a well-dressed dandy who’s somehow landed in the midst of a very stylish safari.
It’s pure fantasy at Hôtel Original Paris, an island of enchantment in the middle of Boulevard Beaumarchais, between Bastille and the Place des Vosges. In each of its thirty-eight bedrooms, individually imagined by Stella Cadente, you’ll fall into a different storybook universe, whether it’s that of Alice in Wonderland, some enchanted wood, or a mermaid’s undersea paradise. These aren’t themed rooms so much as inspired rooms — and they wear their inspirations lightly enough to avoid feeling cartoonish. For all the tassels and rhinestones, it’s hard not to sleep well in a bed fit for a princess.
Monochrome is the house style at La Maison Champs Elysées, in the middle of Paris’s Golden Triangle, precisely one block from the Seine and one block from the Grand Palais. Behind the Napoléon III façade of this old mansion, the designers from Maison Martin Margiela were given carte blanche in the seventeen rooms and six eccentrically named Couture Suites. From the Curiosity Case to the Lost Mouldings to the Gilded Lounge, the Maison Champs Elysées is equal parts trompe l’oeil, absence-as-decoration and M.C. Escher–style tricks of perspective.
Turn back the clock at Le Bellechasse and Hôtel Notre Dame, both on the Left Bank, the former a block from the Musée d’Orsay and the latter in the Latin Quarter. Each has been redesigned by none other than Christian Lacroix. Now retired from the world of haute couture, he continues to work his magic on the frontier where fashion and interiors meet. In these colorful bohemian boutiques, Lacroix’s sixty rooms lay out a complete syllabus for Parisian Art History 101 — from Medieval through Renaissance, Directoire and Belle Époque, even extending, for extra credit, into a little bit of Victorian surrealism.
Maximalists thrive at The Five Hôtel and The Seven Hôtel, two design havens situated a hundred meters apart in the Latin Quarter. Designed by architect Vincent Bastie (along with some very creative collaborators), both hotels’ rooms are a plunge into sensory delirium — the Five stimulates the olfactory sense with its menu of custom fragrances, while Seven’s themed suites will make you want to dress up, whether in James Bond’s tuxedo, Marie Antoinette’s elaborate wig or Barbarella’s hip-high leather boots.