The Saint James is rather unlike anything else you’ll find in Paris. Situated in the city’s prestigious 16th arrondissement, only a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe and the Bois de Boulogne (and a slightly less short walk to the Eiffel Tower itself), it provides a peculiarly endearing twist on the luxury experience in a neighbourhood all too clogged up by high-end jewellery stores and pricey, sumptuous hotel chains.
No, the Saint James is something different. Previously operated by London’s Saint James Club, the hotel has been owned and run by a French family since 1991 and exists primarily to serve as a hiding place; a home away from home for people who’d rather not be seen. It’s a spectacular chateau (built on the site of Paris’ first aerodrome, don’t you know) that’d tower over smaller places, but, here in this part of town, is tucked away so tidily as to be almost entirely unfindable—unless you’re actually looking for it.
Inside, the décor—designed by Bambi Sloan—is a marriage of classical Parisian opulence and chic modernity. Zebra heads adorn grand mantelpieces, while monochrome walls and marble floors spread out across a three-storey lobby more audaciously bizarre than you’d expect from a 16th arr hotel, but as downright impressive in scale as you’d hope from one, too. A grand staircase will take you up to the first floor’s rooms, while a narrower sibling, plastered with air balloon-themed wallpaper (a testament to the hotel site’s history), leads further up into the hotel’s lofty reaches.
The whole thing is very weird, very pretty and very French.
The Saint James’ intent is to provide its members and guests with a home away from home by offering a number of unique suites and bedrooms, all in the hope that each regular visitor will quickly discover their favourite—“their” room. The boudoir and superior rooms are a little smaller than the suites, but tend to be more quirkily designed: think vibrant colour schemes, quirky patterns and individual themes and sources of inspiration.
Once you start to move up, however, things get a little more traditional. Our prestige suite—one of the largest rooms, save for the hotel’s two pavilions—was made up of a living area seemingly taken straight from a stately home, though the two bathrooms and bedroom could feel Sloan’s design influence a tad more strongly.
The two pavilions are more like mini-villas, situated by the hotel’s gates, and offer a spectacular square footage, three storeys to spread out in and their own private gardens. Even if you opt for something smaller, however, be in no doubt—no room at the Saint James is small, and every one is pretty spectacular.
Michelin-starred, obviously. The hotel’s restaurant is led by Jean-Luc Rocha (M.O.F.) and offers high-gastronomy twists on classic dishes in a dining room so lavish you’d probably lose your head if you hung out in there 250 years ago. It’s not cheap—it’s really, really not cheap—but if you’re after a splurge of a dinner, it’s always nice to do it in the comfort of your own hotel.
Considering the gorgeous library bar adjacent to the dining room (a remnant of the Saint James’ days as a private mansion which catered to Parisian scholars) and the terrace outside, you may not see any need to leave at all.
Who goes there?
Members of the Saint James Club tend to be looked after very well here, so expect to see plenty of businesspeople nattering away on their phones at breakfast and wealthy families or couples spending their evenings relaxing in the gardens or the library bar. There’s something deeply unpretentious about the Saint James, however, and it tends to draw an unpretentious crowd as a result. Even in the throes of Paris’ fashion week, nobody at the hotel really seemed—well, “fashionable”. And that’s not a bad thing.
Out and about:
The 16th arrondissement is the 16th arrondissement. It’s expensive, fancy and becomes unspeakably touristy once you start moving towards the river. Frankly, unless total Parisian luxury is something you’re genuinely pining for, you’d be better off hopping on the metro and taking yourself to Pigalle, Montmartre or Canal Saint-Martin. They’re really not that far away.
The worst thing:
It’d have to be the neighbourhood. It’s actually quite difficult to imagine the Saint James being situated anywhere else, and it’s more than extravagant an establishment enough to fit in, but you still can’t help but feel that the hotel is somehow just a little too interesting for its surroundings. But, hey, what can you do?
The best thing:
The décor. It could have been tacky—it could so, so easily have been tacky, in fact—but something about it just works. The whole design scheme of the Saint James is so brazen, so flamboyant and so damn exciting that the sheer wonder of it just takes your breath away the moment you step inside. It’s really quite special.