The City of Light, as France’s capital is fondly known, is full of iconic sights and attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Each of these landmarks offers its own slice of French history, but some of Paris’s most fascinating historical tales can also be uncovered among its many historic hotels.
Some of the very grandest of these venues have played host to impossibly extravagant parties, housed world-famous celebrities and royalty, showcased cutting-edge artistic design across the centuries, and even acted as places of repatriation in times of conflict. Here are five historic hotels in Paris with fascinating stories to tell.
1. Hotel Lutetia
Hotel Lutetia is a luxury hotel in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés region of Paris. It claims to be ‘the only luxury palace hotel’ in the area known as the Left Bank. Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and singer Marianne Oswald were all regular guests at the hotel, and James Joyce allegedly wrote part of ‘Ulysses’ there. Charles de Gaulle spent his honeymoon in the Suite Amour.
Tributes to the hotel’s historic association with the arts remain today: French-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker, who spent much time at Lutetia, has both a stylish suite and a sumptuous Art Nouveau hotel bar named after her. More recent famous guests have included Yves Saint Laurent co-founder Pierre Bergé and American film director David Lynch, who designed one of the hotel suites.
2. Hôtel de Crillon
The building housing the hotel dates back to 1758, when King Louis XV commissioned two grand residences to be built overlooking the vast Place de la Concorde. One of the resulting mansions came to be the home of the family of the Count of Crillon in 1788, whose descendants lived there until the early 1900s. After being acquired by the Crillon family, the palace was briefly used by Marie Antoinette, who reputedly took piano lessons there.
In 1909, shortly after the building had left the ownership of the Crillons, architect Walter-André Destailleur turned the palace into a luxury hotel. The hotel reopened in 2017 after a four-year renovation, featuring modernisations (while being sympathetic to the original Neoclassical style) and several suites designed by fashion designer and former creative director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfield.
3. The Ritz Paris
The Ritz Paris is a landmark luxury hotel known for its out-and-out extravagance and having hosted numerous celebrities, some as long-term guests. Every inch of the hotel feels steeped in glamorous history, and it’s been that way since Swiss-born César Ritz (who started his career as a waiter), and partner Auguste Escoffier, opened the hotel in 1898.
In 1997, Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed dined at the Imperial Suite of the Ritz (the hotel was – and still is – owned by Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed), shortly before they were both killed in a car accident in the Pont de l’Alma underpass. The Ritz’s historical credentials and associations with luxury remain as strong today as ever before. Tributes to some of the hotel’s famous guests remain in place, most notably via the Coco Chanel Suite, decorated entirely in her favourite colours, black and white. Similarly, there are Marcel Proust and Ernest Hemingway suites, full of elegant woodwork and books.
Set in the arty and bohemian St Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood, L’Hotel is a luxurious boutique hotel with just 20 bedrooms. It’s associated with Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde, who died there in the early 20th century.
The hotel claims to be “the world’s first boutique hotel”, a bold statement that other venues have also laid claim to. But whether or not the boutique claim holds weight, L’Hotel certainly boasts almost 200 years of upscale history as an opulent destination loved by the elite. The site of L’Hotel is the location of part of La Reine Margot’s 17th century palace, specifically the Pavillon d’Amour (Pavilion of Love). Célestin-Joseph Happe built the hotel in 1828, before it became Hotel d’Allemagne in 1868 and Hotel d’Alsace in 1870.
5. Le Meurice
Sitting on the edge of Tuileries Garden, this expansive, immensely luxurious Parisian hotel is steeped in history. It’s known for having hosted an array of famous artists, literary figures, and members of various royal families. It started as a Calais coaching inn opened by a postmaster, Charles-Augustin Meurice, in 1771, primarily to house wealthy travellers making their way from Britain to Paris. Charles-Augustin’s son built a second inn in Paris in 1818 to house the same guests who had stayed at the Calais outpost. In 1835 the hotel moved to its current site.
The hotel continues to operate as an exclusive destination spot to be seen in – if you can afford it. Its glitzy, opulent heritage are paid tribute to throughout, and are combined with contemporary innovations such as the Restaurant Le Dalí, inspired by one of the hotel’s famous guests.