By Rory Winston
Ensconced within a muted realm of marble busts and ivory floors, one can still hear the faint sound of muffled tittering and languid sighs. Perhaps, Philippe the First is at it again – still wandering down a nearby corridor in a lady’s dress while watching Antoine Coypel redecorate his palace; or, perhaps, it was only Karl Lagerfeld being hissed at by Choupette after spending too much time with a new male model. No matter; the walls are soundproof but the echo of history is unmistakable. As chartreuse, ecru and lavender spill from gauzed walls, each room is bathed in a smoky glow. Here, reality is no more than a penumbra; and we are soon lost between the subtle and elegant tones of today and the deliciously sensuous hues of an effusive past. This is the world of the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal, a boutique property whose domain is several centuries in length and multiple aesthetic tiers in breadth.
Looking out from any one of the many balconies of this five star hotel, it is not difficult to understand why Pierre-Yves Rochon – the consummate designer behind lauded interiors such as the George V Paris, the Savoy Hotel London and the Four Seasons Firenze – was the one chosen for redesigning what had been the site of an 18th century building. After all, the Grand Hôtel is, itself, a terrace that overlooks the past; and designing such a platform necessitates a familiarity what all that had passed below: Francis I is busy revamping the Louvre palace in some newly fashionable Renaissance style, Lully takes over the theatre from Molière shortly after his colleague dies, Catherine de Medici walks through her garden, Louis XVI returns from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace, Napoleon turns a gallery over to the public, Alexander Dumas is filling out papers, Napoleon III opens a home for young cadets… Monarchies, republics, revolutions, mobs – they continue to pass beneath these very windows.
Although, fashionable magazines often celebrate Rochon’s virtues in terms of spatial continuity and his use of noble ingredients, the truth is he is also a keen purveyor of architectural history – a man who understands that evoking the past is not the same as dropping overt references in the form of artifacts, recherché furniture or objets d’art. Relying on a smart palette of colors, emotive patterns and highly stylized lines, Rochon reinvents several eras within a sensibility that remains very much his own. Interpretation rather than emulation seems the point. Juxtaposing neoclassical gestures with subdued art deco themes, the interiors become an anteroom into the mindset of several worlds: the small lounge’s black and white photography and vignettes bid farewell to the Belle Epoque as we go backwards in time. Soon, the lobby’s august but clean lines – a nod to Haussmann – come to an abrupt end as a spiral staircase lunges skyward like the inside of a lady’s finely laced Rococo dress. From here, we relinquish our grasp of time and revert to moods – moods as decadent as they are emotive.
French effulgence means sumptuous intimacy with nuance. With lavish bathtubs, regal beds, sumptuous complimentary buffet breakfasts and the most comfortable trappings anywhere, the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal is a sanctuary for the senses. Whether it be for monarch, emperor, politico, celebrated artist or movie star. Eras and fashion may change but the ability to live a life where excess is coupled with finesse remains a Parisian specialty.
Besides the fact that this elite member of the Preferred Hotel Group is located just steps from landmarks like the Louvre, the Tuileries Garden, and the Comédie Française, the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal is also in close proximity to rue Saint-Honoré and place des Victoires – the setting for some of the most lauded designer stores in the city. With names like Pierre Hardy, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs and Christian Louboutin, it doesn’t take long to understand why the verdant tree-lined streets of Paris are both the birthplace of haute couture as well as the setting for Hollywood classics like Gigi. Situated in an enclave for designers, artists and culinary geniuses, the hotel’s neighbors are clearly kindred spirits.
Returning to the Palais Royal Garden after a day of excursions, one can lay back in the ambient minty wooden world of the winter garden while indulging in a French 75 (cognac, lemon juice, syrup and champagne). Moving on to the much touted Clarita Spa and the state-of-the-arts fitness center – complete with a mosaic-decorated Turkish bath – it is easy to let hours drift away while nestled in the hotels’ recreational asides and amenities. After working up an appetite, Lulli Restaurant is a reminder that there are some things in France than may be even better than design; and executive Chef, Jean-Yves Bournot makes a convincing case for tourte of grouse with foie gras and hearts of cod with endives being among them.
With 68 rooms and 11 suites, the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal is an unadulterated gateway into a history of dreams, ambitions, art and, most importantly, self-indulgence. As most are aware, the evolution of art and design has (when not having been a response to dire circumstances such as war or a confrontation with mortality) been a history of idiosyncratic desires with odd attempts made to satisfy – the best advances often being attributed to no more than hedonistic aspirations. Spawned from the same dream that built the first part of the Palais Royal in 1629, the building in which the hotel presently stands had gone through many a phase – a great fire, a rebuilding, a series of proprietary shuffles and, like all great buildings, a history of dreams. Like Jacques Lemercier, Victor Louis, and André Le Nôtre, Pierre-Yves Rochon was commissioned to satisfy a given client’s wishes while being expected to honor the integrity of the world that surrounds his creation. As a hedonistic world capable of interpreting all the many hedonistic worlds that had come before it, the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal is an unequivocal success. Leaving her makes you understand just how difficult it must have been for Louis XVI to give up Versailles.