Paris’ Hôtel Plaza Athénée first opened up its doors in 1913, at the tail end of the city’s Belle Époque. Built in the Haussman style of architecture, the hotel’s stone façade and verdant balconies make up one of the truly iconic Parisian hotel fronts.
The Plaza Athénée found popularity quickly, largely thanks to the patronage of theatregoers, composers and visitors to the neighbouring Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. By the 1920s, the hotel had doubled in size, and by 1936 had opened its first restaurant: Le Relais Plaza.
But it wasn’t until the post-war period that the Plaza Athénée really made its mark on the city’s landscape. In the late 1940s, Christian Dior — whose own boutique sits right around the corner — became a friend of the hotel, choosing to host a number of fashion shows and photoshoots there. Over the next few decades, it became a beloved haunt for the world’s wealthiest and most famous creatives, and film producers, directors, actors and more joined the fashionistas in making it their second home. Today, the Plaza Athénée still maintains that highly exclusive and deeply Parisian reputation, and in 2011 it was given the rare official designation of a ‘palace’ hotel — one of only 26 French hotels to hold the title.
Long story short? It’s a nice place.
The first thing you need to know is that nothing comes cheap at the Plaza Athénée. The second thing you need to know is this isn’t the kind of place where that should matter.
The hotel’s most basic room is the Classic Single, a bright, intimate corner room set in either the classical or art deco style. By most hotel’s standards, it’s nigh-on opulent. It will set you back at least €850 per night. From there, the rooms increase steeply in both size, grandeur and cost. One thing that certainly must be said for the Plaza Athénée is that its range of rooms is hugely impressive — where many hotels will offer a classic, a deluxe, and a handful of suites, the Plaza offers 17 different styles of room (including the high-end suites).
Each is even more impressive than the last, of course. Even the Superior is a huge step up from the Classic Single, while the Deluxe offers a marked improvement on them both. That’s not to say the Classic Single isn’t a gorgeous room, of course — it’s just worth emphasising the kind of incline we’re looking at, here.
Then you’ve got your suites. The Junior Suite is the most affordable (around €1275 per night) and offers the kind of experience most hotels would quite literally kill to be able to provide. At the very highest end, however, are the Eiffel Suites. I was lucky enough to get to have a quick look around these rooms, and hoo boy are they something. Specifically designed to make you feel as if you’re living in your own Parisian apartment, the Eiffel Suites are nothing short of spectacular — thanks in large to their magnificent, unimpeded, holy-cow-it’s-right-there views of the Eiffel Tower. One of them, the Signature Eiffel Suite, features a bath with an Eiffel Tower view. Yeah. In case you’re wondering, these rooms bottom out at around €11,000 per night. But are you surprised?
Top of the list at the Plaza Athénée is Alain Ducasse, a three Michelin-starred dining experience which focuses on natural cuisine; think sustainable fishing, grains, and home-grown vegetables (if by “home” you mean “the Château de Versailles”, but you get the point). We did not eat at Alain Ducasse, but considering it’s one of Paris’ most renowned restaurants, it’s not like you need me to sing its praises to you anyway.
My partner and I did, however, eat at Le Relais Plaza, which turned out to be one of the most remarkable dining experiences of our lives. A little background: Le Relais Plaza was the hotel’s first restaurant. It was first opened in 1936, having been designed to mimic the Art Deco restaurant aboard the SS Normandie. And fair play to them for doing so, because the restaurant is stunning; photos can do neither the decor nor the atmosphere any justice whatsoever. For the last four decades, Le Relais Plaza has been run by a man named Werner Küchler, who has turned it into a bustling hotspot of celebrity guests. (Tom Hanks, Liza Minnelli, Marlene Dietrich, Sharon Stone and even Yuri Gagarin have all visited the joint over the years.) Küchler runs Le Relais as his own pride and joy: greeting guests like old friends as they dine, crooning with the band on jazz night, and even serenading a newly-engaged couple at their table. It is hands-down the warmest and friendliest restaurant I have ever visited, and I am not just saying that because my partner and I were that newly-engaged couple.
The food is obviously superb, as I’m sure it is at each of the hotel’s four other bars and dining areas. Honestly, though, I doubt it would matter if it wasn’t. Paris doesn’t get much more Parisian than this.
Out and about:
Oh, you know the drill. C’est Paris!
The Plaza Athénée sits on the Avenue Montaigne, one of the city’s foremost fashion hubs (a reputation mostly built thanks to the Plaza Athénée). It’s home to a number of high fashion stores, including Louis Vuitton, Dior (obviously), Chanel, Fendi, Valentino and Ralph Lauren, and is just a stone’s throw away from the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. If you’re after a night as glitzy as they come, you could try to catch a show at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées next door to the hotel, like so many other guests over the years. Or, if you want something a little grittier, the ultra-hip South Pigalle area is only a few short stops away on the Metro.
The hotel itself reckons they get a fairly decent split between business guests and leisure guests, which seems to stack up with what I saw. We did, however, visit during Fashion Week, so there was perhaps a greater abundance of wealthy-looking older men in turtlenecks than normal.
Then again, perhaps not. It’s a great place for celeb-spotting, though. The Plaza Athénée’s reputation means it’s popular with some of the world’s leading names in film, music, fashion, art and politics, so there’s no telling who you might run into while you’re there. Just don’t stare, okay?
The worst thing:
Uh, ah, um, no. Sorry. Nothing. Not this time.
The best thing:
Le Relais Plaza. Noun. See also: the staff of the Relais Plaza, the food at the Relais Plaza, jazz night at the Relais Plaza, Mr. Werner Küchler.