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ISSUE OF MAY 2003  
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Crème de la Crème

Inder Raj Ahluwalia takes a walk through opulence and history at the legendary George V, Paris

Can you think of anything better than to escape to one of the world’s most beautiful hotels? I can’t. Not after spending two nights at Paris’s Four Seasons George V Hotel. And I’m not saying this because they’ve voted it the best hotel in the world!

‘Conceived in the spirit of modern and elegant luxury, and endowed with the latest technological innovations’, was how the press described the original George V that opened in 1928 and immediately set new precedents in the hospitality industry. From then on, the accolades haven’t stopped, and I’ve added a few of my own.

How’s this for history. May 25, 1928 saw a famous cocktail reception that marked the beginning of an illustrious history for the George V as some 100 financiers and Paris’s high-fliers gathered to celebrate the launch of Ile de France. As word of this exceptional property spread, the hotel became the chosen venue for numerous milestone events over seven decades of the 20th century. It practically became the glory of Paris.

In 1929, the George V hosted the signing of the Young Plan, outlining war reparation agreements, and was officially made a branch of the League of Nations. 1930 saw notable service innovations, with the hotel introducing air taxi service to and from London, Berlin and Madrid, with transatlantic connections in Cherbourg. August 1944 saw the hotel becoming General Eisenhower’s headquarters during Paris’s liberation; and later as American president he returned to pay homage to the great institution that sheltered him in those perilous times. Also making the hotel their Paris base for meetings, were Presidents Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Francois Mitterand, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

(From top to bottom) presidential suite bathroom; spa/fitness centre; twin bedded deluxe room
Chef Philippe Legendre

Following a US$ 125 million renovation project overseen by architect Richard Martinet and interior designer Pierre Yves Rochon, the hotel re-opened its doors on December 18, 1999, with its incarnation as one of Paris’s and the world’s most luxurious hotels. It was celebration time again.

Only the best would do. For this it had to have a particular ambience and style. Perfecting the recipe would require no less than 650 team members, with the final ‘ingredients’ being a great chef, Philippe Legendre, an ace sommelier, Eric Beaumard, pastry chef, Arnaud de Faletans, and a master florist, Jeff Leatham.

Within minutes of arriving, I found myself seated in the restaurant, regarded as one of Paris’s best tables. All the refined pleasures of French dining come through in Le Cinq, the two Michelin starred restaurant, honoured as ‘Best New Parisian Restaurant’ in various French food guides. Reminiscent of a dining room in a private chateau, Le Cinq seats 70 and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Welcoming guests are 245 rooms, including 61 suites with commanding city views and an elegant residential ambience enhanced by classic French furnishings and Parisian style. A delicate palette of colour using soft shades of beige, off-white and pale grey lightens the space and create a calming aura in the public areas. A 500 square-feet carpet graces the Galerie, tapestries from Flanders adorn the walls, and familiar artworks have returned from repair and restoration. I could have been in a museum.

Orchids standing tall and straight in slender glass jars at vantage points, are characteristic of the property whose floral designs and displays are creating waves in Europe’s most fashion-conscious city. A staggering 14,000 blooms per week embellish different corners of the hotel. This floral exposition is designed by floral artist Jeff Leatham. A ‘carte blanche’ to fully express his creativity encourages executive chef Philippe Legendre to serve refined French cuisine in an elegant and warm atmosphere.

Supported by a team of 70 cooks and Arnaud de Faletans as pastry chef, Legendre affirms his true style, signing dishes with perfectly mastered techniques. The distinctive flair also comes through in La Galerie that seats 40 and offers breakfast, afternoon tea, light fare and drinks, and features live music. And the couple of hours I spent chatting with locals in Le Bar, which seats 40 and serves all-day snacks, was as rewarding an experience as it was informative. If you’re visiting from May through October, don’t miss the Marble Courtyard experience. If the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Gene Kelly enjoyed it, why not I? In the soft light of the Murano chandeliers and melodies from the piano, I was fortunate enough to participate in a great tradition revisited through traditional afternoon tea served from 3 to 6 pm in the Galerie.

Nestling 14 metres below ground, is the hotel’s well kept secrets used in part to build the Arc de Triomphe - the hotel’s famed wine cellar built in 1928. The cellar’s history is testament to an era and also to the Second World War, when it was walled up to protect its fine bottles from falling into enemy hands. Master of the cellar is Eric Beaumard, first sommelier in France and Europe and silver-medallist at the 1998 World Championship of Sommellerie, who single-handedly conceived the wine list, and built up the collection. Today, with a team of seven sommeliers, Beaumard continuously enriches the cellar’s collection of over 30,000 bottles from great vineyards the world over, and also ‘new world’ wines, with over 1,400 references. Twenty new selections are added each week. There are two other cellars: one to store over 100 different Champagne varieties, and another located outside of Paris where nearly 10,000 bottles slowly age to maturity. It was interesting to learn that the most expensive bottle at 8,500 Euro is the Petrus 1947, while the oldest bottle is the 1834 Madeira. For those interested in the absolute top-drawer in meetings, the Ballroom Salon Vendome selects itself. This enchanting venue for business and social events is among Paris’s most prestigious. Featuring frescoes representing Paris’s lovely gardens, it provides a brilliant setting for the city’s annual fashion shows and social celebrations. Salons Regence, Napoleon and Louis XIII feature antique fireplaces and original, exquisite wood-panelling from a Normandy chateau, while Salon Chantilly has its own private foyer, and Salon Anglais is modelled after a Versailles library. Rounding out the extensive meeting and function space selection is the Boardroom Elysees.

The Foyer Auteuil invites elegant pre-dining socialising around its white-on-white staircase. In case you have overshot your calorie count, there’s a Fitness Centre and Spa lavish enough to spoil a king. Its spa lobby looks out onto its swimming pool and frescoes recalling a summer walk in the gardens of Versailles. Created in homage to the five senses: scents, sounds, light, colour and movement, and featuring a classic Louis XVI style, the centre comprises 11 beautifully appointed treatment rooms, a swimming pool, cardiovascular equipment, saunas, steam baths, fitness area and juice bar, and a relaxation room. Offered are assorted massages - including the hotel’s signature massage with general stretching and Tibetan relaxation techniques with appeasing scents of essential oils, and the renowned French ‘palper-rouler’ treatment. Typically French Carita and Decleor are used for their exceptional quality, along with internationally recognised Bobbi Brown products.

And if you do find the time to step outside, George V is located in Paris’s most fashionable quarter, just off the Champs-Elysées, near the business district. The hotel’s a short walk away from major tourist attractions like the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, and the Eiffel Tower.

Accolades
  • Zagat 2001 Guide rated the hotel eighth among the ‘Best International Hotels’
  • ‘8th Best Overseas Business Hotel’ & ‘9th Best Overseas Leisure Hotel’ rating conferred by Conde Nast Traveller UK
  • The hotel then climbed to second place among the best European hotels in Travel and Leisure’s annual readers’ poll
  • The hotel is recognised as the ‘Best hotel in France’
  • Its spa ranks fifth among the world’s best hotel spas
  • Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, has voted the hotel ‘Best International Hotel’
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