By Patricia Keegan
Take these two words, Gold and Pleasure, and use them as a lantern to explore the cage of Paris. Balzac
To cross the threshold of the Hotel Meurice, which faces the Rue de Rivoli and Tuilieries Gardens, is to enter the world of 'gold and pleasure,' a microcosm of the glory of Napoleonic Paris. A huge dome throws natural light across mosaic floors. Registration is painless. No tedious waiting in line -- a signature in exchange for a key and a bellman escorts you to your room. Security is subtle but reassuring. The key is needed to move the elevator as well as to unlock your room. Interspersed along the hallways are antiques that artfully blend the splendor of the past with the polished sparkle of the new. There is the faint scent of spring blossoms.
When the door closed behind the departing bellman, I sat in a chair in this exquisitely appointed room staring at a dozen yellow roses set against a backdrop of rich blue and gold brocade drapes. The silken tassels loosely tying the heavy fabric into rich folds symbolized for me, the tastefulness of maintaining the interior character of grand hotels in accordance with the architecture and finesse of their birthright. .
My large bathroom was crafted, floor to ceiling, in Arabesscato (white and gray) marble, with glass walled shower, large bathtub, abundant towels and terry bathrobes. Its radiance emanated a welcoming comfort. In upholding the royal tradition and history of a bygone era, designers have struck precisely the right chord.
A History That Resonates
The unique history of this venerable property, which belongs to the Dorchester Hotel Group, began in Calais in 1771. Upper class British travelers on their way to Paris would cross the Straits of Dover at Calais where an enterprising regional postmaster, Charles-Augustin Meurice (1739-1820), welcomed them to French shores. He put them up in his Calais coaching inn, and arranged rides to Paris aboard his coach service. Since it was a 36-hour trip, Meurice decided to build a second coaching inn in Paris in 1871. The hotel’s fame grew. A newspaper clipping from 1855 mentions that Queen Victoria stayed at the Meurice during her visit. After the first renovation in 1907, Alphonse XIII of Spain made regular visits, followed by European royals and the Grand Duchess of Russia. Because of its popularity with the royals, The Meurice went from being dubbed the 'City of London,' because all the staff spoke English, to its new image as the Hotel des Rois, the Hotel of Royals. From 1930 to 1938, Franklin Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, Ginger Rogers and Coco Chanel were guests. The Meurice hosted the wedding of Picasso and Olga Koklova. Salvador Dali was the hotel’s most outrageous guest, spending a month there each year. During one stay he requested a flock of sheep be sent to his room and starting shooting at them with blank bullets.
I was particularly intrigued by one piece of World War II history. Like many hotels in Paris, Hotel Meurice was taken over by German authorities, and in June 1940, the Kommandantur du Gross-Paris was installed here. Hotel services were sustained with personnel who had not been mobilized. General Dietrich von Choltitz, who led all German tactical support in Paris from July 1944, stayed in room 213. He had direct orders to resist until the last man died. He was to destroy Paris monuments with a system of mines the Germans already had in place. However, under the advice of one of his majors, Norman Gunther, who loved the French capital, he spared Paris. On August 25th 1944, General Dietrich von Choltitz surrendered to Force Francaise Interieure, which had come to capture him.
La Belle Etoile Suite
A guided tour of the hotel could easily compete with a tour of one of Paris’ renowned monuments. On the seventh floor is La Belle Etoile Suite with an expansive private terrace. The 3200 square-foot suite, with upstairs and downstairs and four bedrooms has an incredible rooftop terrace of 2700 square feet. The suite and its view are spectacular at any time of the day but, in the evening when the lights of Paris are dazzling, a walk around that terrace, with its 360-degree view of famous landmarks offers another unforgettable memory of a noble city. One should plan a visit at five minutes before the hour when the lights of the Eiffel Tower do their dance, rippling up and down for ten minutes every hour. The 19th-century architectural style of this suite is reminiscent of buildings such as the Petit Palais with lots of steel and glass and a zinc roof that weathers to a green color.
The Epitome of Elegant Ambience
Dining in La Meurice Restaurant is the nearest thing to dining at The Palace of Versailles. The room is filled with ornate gilding, Louis XV-period chandeliers, antique beveled mirrors, and large bay windows framed in rare marble. Landscape paintings adorn the walls and the painted ceiling depicts a blue sky with angels. All were carefully restored during the renovation. There was great attention to detail in the service and quality of this most pleasant dining experience. Attentive waiters respond quickly to every nuance of need by their guests.
Sitting in La Meurice, enjoying the breakfast buffet, surrounded by plush, artistic elegance, provided me with the golden lantern to embark on my exploration of the nearby Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay.
The Spa, located on the mezzanine around a garden courtyard, conveys a simple purity with marble, wood, stone and glass. Besides a well-equipped fitness center, the spa has a Jacuzzi, sauna, and steam bath. The Claudalie Espace de Bien Etre features skin treatments and specially trained masseuses from Les Sources de Claudalie, the world’s first vinotherapie spa.
It seemed to me that Paris would not be Paris without the additional splendor of the Hotel Meurice. A stay at the Meurice is like the gobs of airy, fresh whipped cream that turns a French pastry into a delicious masterpiece.
For reservations, rates, and information contact your travel agent or the hotel directly.
The Hotel Meurice belongs to the Dorchester Hotel Group and is a member of Leading Hotels of the World. (800) 223-6800.