This brave, beautiful city needs tourists more than ever. Here are two ways to visit.
The Right Bank
It wasn’t hard to identify our hotel as our taxi pulled up that first morning in Paris. Messengers, arms loaded with shopping bags from Hermes, Chanel, Chaumet and Lanvin, rushed madly through the massive front doors to deliver purchases to their stores’ clients.
We were staying at the glittering Le Bristol—one of Paris’s handful of Palac hotels—and by many accounts the greatest of them all. We were spending our 25th anniversary in our absolute favorite city and decided treating ourselves to Le Bristol’s luxury and splendor on the Right Bank was a well-deserved splurge for our first few days of the trip. I mean … 25 YEARS!
Palace hotels are not only elite five-star establishments, they must also meet another 234 criteria of excellence laid down by France’s tourism ministry. So you expect the huge and magnificently decorated bedrooms, the gigantic all-marble bathrooms and restaurants with Michelin stars—in this case Brasserie 114 Faubourg (one star) and Epicure (three). You expect there to be jewelers like Boucheron purveying their wares in lobby shops. You expect all this, but rarely do you get to experience it.
The hotel, beloved by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to George Clooney, was founded in 1925 by Hippolyte Jammet. He personally oversaw the sterling service. But in 1941, right after Pearl Harbor, the hotel was overtaken by the German military, some of whom lived within its walls. Soon thereafter, Jammet decided it was time to renovate—despite the fact that the dining room was full of coal rations.
To redesign it, he smuggled in Jewish architect Leo Lerman, who’d previously worked on an addition to the hotel. Jews were
banned from all professions under the Reich, and they were being rounded up for deportation to death camps. From 1942 to 1945, Jammet sheltered Lerman in a first-floor room. He removed the “106” from the door, and the room was officially deleted from the hotel registry.
The architect stayed mostly in his room, taking brief excursions to other floors at night via the service elevator to work on his designs. He was never discovered, and he returned to his old studio to continue his architecture practice after the war.
Hiding Lerman was a testament to Jammet’s humanity. To this day, the designer’s influence can be seen at Le Bristol, in such trademarks as the grand, winding staircase and the lift’s finely wrought iron grille.
Despite its grandeur, the hotel continues to exude Jammet’s approachable vibe. The staff is warm and friendly, and there are two fluffy resident cats who have the run of the place—dining rooms and all.
The Left Bank
For the second part of our stay, we rented a wonderful apartment in the St. Germain des Pres district, the Bohemian counterpart to Le Bristol’s Champs Élysées setting. While both areas are replete with museums and gardens, Right Bank shopping consists of the designer boutiques on streets surrounding Faubourg St.-Honoré and the chic shops of the Marais.
On the Left, you’ll find stellar one-of-a-kind shopping along the Rue Jacob and the scores of narrow, winding cobblestone streets.
There are countless websites devoted to Paris apartment stays, and there seems to be a thriving business in investing in aparments and renting them out to tourists and businesspeople. We signed up with Paris Attitude and received great service.
We chose a fourth-floor walkup in a grand 17th-century building on the Rue Git Le Coeur—a half block away from the Seine. The large studio apartment had a sleeping loft up a winding stairway, furnished with a fluffy down comforter and built-in shelves for all our needs. But the best part was opening the skylight over the bed at night. Standing on my tiptoes, I was able to peer out the roof-top window at the lit-up Cathedral of Notre Dame looming straight ahead. A truly unforgettable view. o