As the City of Light readies for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, Lanie Goodman takes a look at the splashiest new outposts, and a few old favorites.
“On the banks of the Seine down by the water there is no city life at all,” expatriate American writer Gertrude Stein once observed in her book Paris France. “The quays in Paris have never changed.”
Stein could not have predicted what the quays of Paris have evolved to become—an urban playground and a setting for romantic Seine-side walks, to start. But new and exciting changes are underway. Next summer’s highly awaited Olympic Games, last hosted in Paris a century ago, will transform the atmosphere on the riverside stone walkways yet again into an open-air pandemonium of cheering spectators when competing triathalon and open water swimmers dive into the bacteria-free Seine near the Pont Alexandre III.
That’s right. The heavyweight sustainability efforts toward staging a green-friendly event include an army of hydrologists and a purge of impurities at a water treatment plant—costing $1.5 billion—to make the river so clear you can drink it. As Paris shifts into high gear to prepare for 18 days of citywide sports events (expect more than 10,000 athletes and crowds of 600,000 attendees), the transformation conjures a giant playground—beach volleyball set up behind the Eiffel Tower, horseback riding in Versailles—plus newly added competitions for breakdancing, rock climbing and skateboarding.
But why wait? The Château de Versailles is already hosting a spectacular lineup of dance, classical concerts and operas. And you have until the end of January to see some spectacular art shows: at the Musée de Luxembourg, “Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso—the Invention of Language” focuses on their friendship and how Cubism and other avant-garde movements later paved the way for experimental minimalism. At the Musée d’Art Moderne, abstract forms, pure colors and light prevail at the dazzling exhibition of postwar pieces by the Russian-born painter Nicolas de Staël, featuring over 200 rarely shown works (through January 21, 2024). And for the latest look in city-proud fashion, head to the Louis Vuitton flagship on Place Vendôme and discover its new collection of trompe l’oeil bags that celebrate iconic streets and monuments.
Call it a ripple effect. Along with the growing excitement and the massive urban spruce-up, Paris is suddenly awash with innovative new luxe hotels that reflect the current global-embracing mood. These days, hotels are collaborating with international designers and chefs; trends include a craze for color-drenched fanciful rooms and lush garden patio restaurants or green rooftop bars. Well-being is also key—spas have enchanting pools and an accent on sustainable French brands like Diptyque, Holidermie and Odacité.
Add to that the city’s ongoing tradition of outstanding hospitality. The elegant Parisian classics—such as Le Bristol, La Réserve, Cheval Blanc and Hôtel de Crillon—continue to shine, while hideaways like the Jacques Garcia–designed Maison Proust (opened this past January) in the Marais reinvent fin de siècle glamour with 23 lavishly furnished rooms, each named after a member of writer Marcel Proust’s high-society circle of artistic friends. A highlight: the dreamy Moroccan-tiled heated pool and period piece salon and bar.
British designer Martin Brudnizki is having a moment this fall with two simultaneous hotel openings. Le Grand Mazarin, also in the Marais, near Paris’s old Jewish quarter, turned out to be my personal favorite for the playful mix of bold hues (think a purple-uniformed young staff ), velvety 1950s retro furnishings, tapestry-draped canopy beds and lobster-patterned carpets and closets, plus a vaulted ceiling pool with Jacques Merle–designed frescoes. And opening soon is an über-hip basement cabaret bar with live DJ sets. Equally impressive, its adjacent restaurant Boubalé (named after the Yiddish term of endearment), headed by Israeli Michelin-starred chef Assaf Granit, was a nostalgic transformation of my grandmother’s cuisine; the menu features a tasty version of classic Ashkenazi dishes: chopped liver with caramelized onion, brisket with latkes, “Like a Jewish Wedding” cheese potato pie and creamy cheesecake topped with figs.
At La Fantaisie, on a lively backstreet near Faubourg-Montmartre, you’ll find Brudnizki’s same predilection for color and whimsy (the 71 rooms are a medley of coral, green and rose; ceramic lamps are adorned with frogs and birds), but the spirit is floral-meets-vegetal. Along with the garden rooftop and inner dining patio is The Golden Poppy, helmed by Michelin three-starred French chef Dominique Crenn, whose California-inspired zero-waste cuisine includes unusual dishes like pancakes with banana and caviar.
On the Right Bank, near the Champs-Élysées, comes another surge of innovations. Hôtel de la Boétie, from the Touriste hotel group (of which Les Deux Gares in the 10th arrondissement is also a part), is the modern 40-room brainchild of London-based Swedish designer Beata Heuman, whose fanciful creations such as handwoven tapestry headboards, playful club chairs and satiny flamingo rose sheets match the unpretentious vibe.
Housed in a 19th-century mansion steps away from Hermès, Gucci and Cartier, the Maison Delano mixes quiet grandeur with international swank—a subtle tribute to Miami’s Art Deco Delano South Beach Hotel, combined with an openair Andalusian restaurant, La Chambre Bleue, helmed by supernova chef Dani Garcia. Nearby, the Château des Fleurs has been revamped into a neo–Art Nouveau boutique hotel by Barcelona-based architects Quintana Partners (Murano glass chandeliers, tall bow windows and brick-redtiled bathrooms) and a boudoir-style cozy restaurant, OMA, serving flavorful Korean dishes by chef Ji-Hye Park.
Further afield near the Gare de l’Est, Bloom House is a 91-room urban oasis offering affordable stylish rooms—some with views of Sacré-Coeur—and a leafy garden bistro with tasty original cuisine by Top Chef celebrity Olivier Streiff. And the list goes on. After the beguiling Hôtel Dame des Arts opened this past January (check out the rooftop bar), the effervescent Left Bank openings continue with the arty, 34-room Villa-des-Prés, designed like a chic Rive Gauche private apartment, with a spa and pool.
In case you’re wondering: there’s never any ending to Paris restaurants, to riff on Ernest Hemingway’s oft-quoted finale in A Moveable Feast. The Ritz Paris has a new alluring eatery, Espadon, headed by Eugénie Béziat, whose creations combine delicate exotic flavors from Africa and the Mediterranean. For your big night out, nothing beats a romantic dinner at just-reopened legendary landmark La Tour d’Argent (built in 1890), not only for the dazzling transformation of the nowsleek décor, but for the obvious draw—wine, food and service are all as good as it gets. Michelin-star chef Yannick Franques’s masterful interpretation of this gastronomic haunt’s most revered dishes includes the ultimate classics—order the duck and you’ll get an illustrated card at the end of a meal indicating the number of canards they have served—mine was number 1,178,149. There’s also a luxe private apartment below the restaurant for the happy few; the new rooftop bar, open to all, has a sweeping panoramic vista of the Seine that is priceless. From there, along with the monuments, you’ll also see cranes, a sign of rebirth. The Notre-Dame Cathedral, devastated by fire, slowly being rebuilt; more than ever, Paris is on the move and leaving no stone unturned. — Lanie Goodman
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