There are some moments in my life's memories, when hotels have truly created a fairytale. You feel hypnotized into an other-worldly environment of luxury, glamour and tradition. Old-fashioned afternoon tea at the Savoy in London, for example. Cocktails on the deck at the Ritz-Carlton in Cannes, is another. Warming up by the fire after a day's skiing, at Badrutt's Palace in St. Moritz; and a lobster candle-lit dinner on the beach at Coco Palm in the Maldives. These places are more than just special.
And so to the Plaza Athenee hotel in Paris, which managed to top them all. Maybe it's the little kid in me who loves Christmas, or the woman in me who adores fashion, or even the obsession I have with Audrey Hepburn in Paris When it Sizzles - but the night I spent there this festive season, was just magical. We've all watched Jack Nicholson saunter through the famous lobby in the romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give, and when my boyfriend and I walked in to the same domed hallway, fresh off the Eurostar from London, we felt equally relaxed and at home. The top-hatted doormen, 10-foot-tall gilt-framed mirrors, oil paintings of aristocrats and sparkling chandeliers are formal, yes, but the gigantic Christmas tree and warm, friendly faces of the staff totally nixed any snootiness you might worry about encountering. I could have stayed in that place forever. Peering down the long corridor off the main atrium, it's packed with the kind of chic, elegantly-attired women you only find in Paris, sipping tea and eating macaroons together. Opposite and only during the winter months, is a small ice-rink (what else?) surrounded by twinkly Christmas lights, for guests to enjoy. Up to our room, which had been kindly upgraded to a suite, and it was hard not to scream and jump up and down in front of the bellman as he unlocked the door. There through a big sunny window was the Eiffel Tower in all its splendour, staring back at us. Rumour has it locals hate looking at it, but for me, the Eiffel Tower epitamises the old school charm of Paris. The suite felt like being in a mini wing of Versailles: ancient portraits and architectural sketches lined the walls, a grand piano stood next to the heavy silk curtains, a log fire crackled away, and a marble bath sunken enough for six of me to swim inside it, stood begging to be filled with bubbles. We opened a bottle of red wine and marveled at the regal décor surrounding us. Yup, I was officially a princess for the day.
More than any city, Paris is best explored on foot. On the Plaza's doorstep are super posh designer boutiques, and L'Avenue, the legendary lunch spot favoured by everyone from Princess Diana to Kate Moss. But a friend had told me about a 700-year old rickety cottage across the bridge in Saint Germain, that served the best steak tartare and escargots in town. We headed over to Le Coupe Chou for a very romantic dinner. This is a secret spot unspoiled by tourists: a winding web of dimly-lit, wood-paneled corridors leading to cosy dining rooms, with the smell of red wine wafting through the air. It's a must for anyone visiting the City of Lights. Back across the bridge a few drinks later, and Le Bar at the Plaza Athenee is the ultimate nightcap hotspot. Buzzing with a house DJ until the early hours, a long line of high stools seats sexy couples flirting over cocktails, (the menu for which is handed over on an Ipad) - and do try the house special, a black mojito.
Waking up the next morning, looking up at the grandiose corniced ceilings, marble mantlepiece and antique dressing table, I felt like a (slightly less evil) Marie Antoinette. So hard to get out of bed! But breakfast is worth it: served in a ballroom, it's as lavish as you'd hope, with an over-flowing basket of fresh pastries, freshly-squeezed juices, those little French glass-potted yogurts and an omelette so huge I had no room whatsoever for lunch. I never, ever wanted to leave.
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