An appreciation for the grande dames of Paris

The living room of a suite at Dorchester Collection's Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
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Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

PARIS -- With the rising popularity of alt-accommodations and boutique properties, it can be refreshing to revisit the grande dames of a city -- especially if that city is Paris, which feels like one open-air museum, and the hotel like an extension of that museum.

Dorchester Collection has two such properties here, the Hotel Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice.

I stayed at the Plaza Athenee, which opened in 1913 and is known for its association with designer Christian Dior, who opened his first boutique on the same street, Avenue Montaigne. He was a regular at the hotel, where he held fashion shows and photoshoots, helping make Montaigne known as the city's "Fashion Avenue." The property's spa is called the Dior Institut and decorated with the fashion house's photos and sketches .

The hotel has long attracted celebrities, as a wall of photos confirms, and has served as a filming location for many movies and television shows, including "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Sex and the City."

Almost all of the Plaza Athenee's rooms offer what the property describes as 18th century Parisian haute couture style, but an addition built atop the hotel offers rooms in a modern, art deco style.

All of the hotel's rooms and suites are meant to feel like Parisian apartments, with varying color schemes and layouts.

My Deluxe Suite was very spacious, with a full, separate living area with a desk, couch and chairs. Every hotel bathroom has a full, marble bathtub. Mine also had two sinks and a separate shower and water closet.

Being in a corner suite, I had lovely views of two Parisian streets. Many rooms have side or full views of the Eiffel Tower, most impressive from the top floor rooms I toured, although I didn't quite shriek like Carrie Bradshaw did from her Plaza Athenee balcony.

Breakfast in La Galerie at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, facing the lovely ivy-covered courtyard, La Cour Jardin.
Breakfast in La Galerie at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, facing the lovely ivy-covered courtyard, La Cour Jardin. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

I loved spending time in La Galerie, which the staff calls the heart of the hotel, a long hallway of cozy chairs and tables and huge windows facing the lovely ivy-covered courtyard, La Cour Jardin. I had my breakfast there one morning and coffee in the afternoon. By lunchtime, La Galerie is full of both guests and Parisians, and stays lively through early evening. The courtyard hosts various art exhibits, currently a series of contemporary sculptures called PietraSanta, organized with the Mark Hachem Gallery of New York.

Alain Ducasse oversees the culinary programs at both the Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice.

The property's Relais Plaza restaurant, designed in 1936 to resemble the Normandie ocean liner's first-class dining room. It naturally has a table named for Dior where he would hold court and it is easy to imagine it being boisterous and smoky.

The property is also home to Ducasse's three-Michelin-star eatery, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, where pastry chef Jessica Prealpato was recently crowned the World's Best Pastry Chef 2019 -- the first woman to ever win the award. In 2018 Cedric Grolet, head pastry chef at Le Meurice, wore the crown.

Le Meurice 

Older sister Le Meurice opened in 1835 and has the distinction of being the first hotel in Paris to install a telephone and put private bathrooms in every room.

The property recently renovated and restored 29 of its rooms including its sprawling penthouse suite. The new look seeks to restore the hotel's 18th century design while adding contemporary Parisian touches.

The bathroom at Le Meurice's 7,000-square-foot Belle Etoile penthouse suite, made entirely of marble with views of Montmartre.
The bathroom at Le Meurice's 7,000-square-foot Belle Etoile penthouse suite, made entirely of marble with views of Montmartre.

The renovated 7,000-square-foot Belle Etoile penthouse suite, atop the hotel, has a 3,175-square-foot landscaped terrace, private cinema, dining room for 10, and bathroom made entirely of marble with views of Montmartre.

Luxury editor Jeri Clausing is on vacation 

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