Les Enfants Non Terribles: Hotel Le Bristol, Paris
The English language might have 25 different words for walking, but it’s missing a word for one particular kind of love. You and I recognise ‘parental love’ to mean that challenging mix of responsibility, necessary patience and occasional tough love. Do it right and we might see some ‘brotherly love’ between our children and perhaps even experience some ‘filial devotion’ in our later years.
The subtle nuances wrapped up in ‘avuncular’ are unravelled in that moment when someone older pauses to share a little wisdom with us. But what of the archetypal love that grandparents give? Where is the word for that? Going to stay at Grandma’s house is an almost universally shared experience of the door being opened before you reach it, of being embraced by people who have actually been looking forward to seeing you, who have time just for you, without distractions of work or tiredness. Going to bed a little bit later than normal in a room that’s a little bit fancier than you’re used to at home. And, of course, eating a few too many brightly wrapped sweets.
There should be a word for this kind of caring: it’d come in useful when you visit Le Bristol. You might already know a lot about Le Bristol: it competes, in the most elegant fashion possible, with the George V and the Le Meurice. It’s in Paris’ Rue de Faubourg Saint Honoré, a few hundred yards from the Presidential Palace and Hermes. It is the only privately owned ‘palace’ status hotel in Europe.
Its restaurants have four Michelin stars, its garden is 13,000 square feet with paved terraces and clipped lawns, a fountain and acres of peace. You might have heard that you can swim on your back at night in the rooftop swimming pool and turn your head to see the Sacré Coeur out of one window and turn the other way to see the top of the Eiffel Tower out of another.
But what you won’t realise until you stay there is the grandparental love that fills the building. Everyone talks to your own children not as little princes, not as peers, but as intelligent people with their own eccentric views of the world. The grand garden with tables for ministers and moguls also has a little ride-along horse in it. Le Bristol has given serious attention to understanding what needs to happen when you bring your children travelling with you.
In Paris, in competition with other hotels, this is no small achievement. Another grand hotel suggests that if you are bringing children, you email in advance to let housekeeping know and they will put out a couple of short bathrobes and some crayons. Another grand hotel puts its babysitting services front and centre on the family page of its website: so you can bring your children and then get away from them.
Yet there’s something even better than leaving your children behind, and that’s enjoying their company. While other hotels fight to be la grande dame of the Parisian hotel scene, Le Bristol has quietly taken its place as la grand-mère. Of course, somewhere in here there’s a room with soft furnishings, a Wii and a smiling person to look after your little people. That’s the easy stuff, the stuff that money buys.
The hard stuff is the little touches, where it’s thinking rather than money that’s required. Balloons! Who doesn’t want to walk into a room with balloons in it? So Le Bristol puts balloons in your children’s room. As it happens, they’re tied to a silver, three-tier cake stand, with chocolate-dipped strawberries on the bottom, sweets wrapped in crinkly shiny paper in the middle, and gold-flecked madeleines on top. But you and I have eaten all of these things before, and perhaps our children have, too. It’s the €1, helium-filled balloons that shows the child psychology at work. Le Bristol’s trick is to do the little things that let children know they’re being thought of.
There are children’s toiletries in the children’s bathrooms, with their own specially designed packaging and colours. And children-sized bath slippers, so they can pad around the room after their bath, just like Mum and Dad. And Grandma’s house wouldn’t be the same without a pet. Le Bristol has Far-raon. Possibly, probably, the cutest cat you’ll ever meet, Fa-raon is pure Birman, with fur softer than almost anything else in life. Of course, you’ll tell your children you’ll be happy to spend some time and go looking for him, just for them. We did, and we found him being slowly wheeled around on a mini-tour of the concierge’s desk, by one of the concierge team, who were having their own moment with him.
Back in your room, after playing with Far-raon or a hard morning queuing to get into the Musée D’Orsay, you might find some surprise candy floss waiting for you. And later, more importantly, when you all come back from swimming, you can phone room service to order plain pasta, no oil, no cheese… and you won’t have to answer a call back from the kitchens 10 minutes later checking whether, before they start your order, you wouldn’t want just a little sauce on the side.
Perhaps the greatest little thought of all was when our children found out that in the evenings after dark, at the top of the hour, the Eiffel Tower is illuminated with a special light display. It would be too late for us to go back to the Eiffel Tower to watch it but the front desk found a vacant suite facing the right way, and left us alone in there with our children to watch the show together.
So which is the best family room in Le Bristol? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. All the rooms are good, of course, but it’s the feeling of the hotel that matters.
Perhaps if your children love movies, pick the 2,155 square feet Panoramic Suite that Woody Allen stayed in when he filmed Midnight in Paris. If it has to be the grandest, pick the Royal Suites, with its Louis XVI wood panelling. Fresh air required? Pick one of the Terrace Suites, which are almost 1,200 square feet inside but more than 1,700 square feet outside.
But it might be that on this occasion, spending a little less buys you a little more. Probably something a little less imposing. If you pick a Prestige Élysée Suite, connecting with a Junior Suite on the third floor, you’ll be able to see the Eiffel Tower at night, and in the morning look down, as we did, on the Japanese Prime Minister’s cavalcade stopping the traffic and sweeping down the street to visit the Élysée Palace. But best of all, in this slightly smaller pair of suites, a connected pair of suites of just over 1,800 square feet, you’ll still feel relaxed, homely and able to enjoy the best thing of all: being close to your family.
Part of Oetker Collection, Le Bristol Hotel Paris is at 112 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris. Call +33 1 53 43 43 00 or visit www.lebristolparis.com for details.