Paris, city of highlights
With a new President in the Elysée Palace and a couple of major hotels reopening, it's a good time for luxury travellers to visit Paris
After standing by Paris during its anni horribiles, many of us were thrilled to see the debut of what could be an annus mirabilis (at least better than the alternative) with the blue-eyed "maverick" Emmanuel Macron in the Elysée Palace. Now may be the time to literally stand by Paris. Or, rather, in it.
For luxury travellers, the city offers more than old-school gilt and profiteroles – though there is still plenty of that. You already knew this, of course.
But what's new and where's best? I've collected some favourites.
First, the Ritz reopened last year in Place Vendôme. Now, the Hotel de Crillon off the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where billionaire debutantes came out on the arms of so many mini-Kushners, is staging its relaunch on July 5. It's owned by a Saudi prince but managed now by the smart, urbane Rosewood Hotel Group, with interiors by Tristan Auer, known for a chic nu-deco aesthetic. Karl Lagerfeld designed the suites, which start at $3,100, but with the opening offer, regular king rooms go for $2,000 a night. And the odds of a Macron sighting are high.
To the other side of the Louvre is Maison Albar Hotel Paris Céline, which opened this winter in a classic Haussmann townhouse. It showcases all the gilt, swag and Louis XVI chairs you'd expect, but none of le snob – staffers come off jolly despite the black tie, and the dinner menu features quinoa and tofu. Rooms start at a slightly more reasonable $435, for which you get an indoor pool and a walk-everywhere location.
The pastry game is high stakes in Paris, and Yann Couvreur – an artiste whose fruit tarts defy gravity – bought in last year. His new bakery in the trendy 10th arrondisement faces down unremarkable Avenue Parmentier; you'll know it by the distinctive natural-wood panelling and the round-the-block line. The decor is equally unremarkable, but the smell is not. If the fig tart ($11) is in season, fight for the last one. Or nab one of the more plentiful roulés ($4), handbag-sized brioche rolls with pistachio or hazelnut sprinkles.
Or carry on through the Marais to Popelini, specialist in stuffed choux profiteroles dolloped with pastel-coloured icing ($2.75 each) to match each filling: milk-chocolate, salted-caramel, raspberry. It costs $16.50 for a box of six, like haute Timbits, each one oozing cream after the first bite.
Yes, you can sample Alain Ducasse in New York. And anyway, the year-old Champeaux restaurant is Ducasse in brand alone – the decorated chef has lent his name but not his skills to the kitchen. But go anyway for the bombastic cheese soufflé ($24) by actual chef de cuisine Bruno Brangea, and for the buzzy industrial space under the glass canopy of the revamped Forum des Halles, once a no-go zone. Book at twilight for cinematic views and stay late for the in-house DJ, when diners really loosen up.
There's more of a throwback, Lautrec-ian vibe at Wepler, in Place de Clichy, where art nouveau artwork seems to drip down the walls, and the seafood platters (about $178 for two) captivate like sculpture. The dining room goes on forever, so if you haven't booked anywhere, they'll more than likely find a table for you.
Pigalle may peddle an ironic version of its fabled depravity, and Instagram may cause less-inhibited oiseaux de nuit to curb their impulses, but you'll find local colour and even nudity without much effort.
Les Bains Douches, the francophone Studio 54, recently came back to life as Les Bains, with a ravishing hotel upstairs (Tristan Auer, again) for more louche interactions. Downstairs, old-timers in full Alaia swagger past the velvet rope, rounded out by three-party-a-night models and klub kids. Will they jump in the eponymous pool? Peut-être. Clothed? Find out.
The cozy cabaret Crazy Horse (entry from $160) has gotten crazy expensive, but dare I say it's worth every euro? Say what you want about striptease: The performers (and there are some men in the mix) are gods, their high kicks are off the charts and they déshabille like a boss. Saturdays squeeze in an extra 90-minute show at 11:45 p.m. Take a partner.
Sonia Rykiel was grande dame of the striped Breton top. And this year her ready-to-wear label – sold in boutiques on both banks of the Seine – has a few updated riffs on the classic. There's a cotton-silk striped tricot in French tricolour for $360 and a blue-and-white sweatshirt with billowy sleeves for $600.
But around the time of Rykiel's death last summer, I happened on the new boutique Maison Labiche on rue de Poitou in the Marais, where the marinières have adorable embroidered icons on the breast, such as daggered hearts or wide smiles with one gold tooth. They start at $97.
And for $40 you can wander a block away to Le Slip Français for a co-ordinating pair of marinière culottes.