What’s New in France

Hendaye, France
Photo by Sasha64f/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

The Ritz Paris reopened on June 6 after a top-to-bottom overhaul. The number of rooms has been reduced from 159 to 142, which includes 71 suites.Few luxury hotel openings have been as hotly anticipated as the Ritz Paris. The fabled landmark on the Place Vendôme closed in August 2012 for a top-to-bottom overhaul overseen by architect Didier Beautemps and interior designer Thierry Despont. This is the biggest such renovation in the history of the luxury hotel, which has been a home away from home for celebrities and fashion icons for over 118 years. With intense competition in the “palace hotel” sector, The Ritz pulled out all the stops, employing France’s finest artisans, with a reported price tag of $450 million. The Ritz Paris reopened on June 6 to much fanfare and celebration. Among the highlights is a tunnel made under the Place Vendôme for guests to enter the hotel discreetly from the parking garage.

Pictured: The Ritz Paris reopened on June 6 after a top-to-bottom overhaul. The number of rooms has been reduced from 159 to 142, which includes 71 suites.

Bar Hemingway at Ritz Paris is overseen by barman Colin Field, who is popular with cocktail lovers across the world.During the renovation, the Ritz managed to drum up a buzz despite construction delays and even a fire that damaged the top floor in January. This was partly due to “ambassadors” like Colin Field, Bar Hemingway’s legendary barman, who traveled the world orchestrating pop-up events — even on trains (the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) and planes (“Bar Hemingway in the Sky” on select Air France flights). The marketing blitz included savvy social media campaigns and teaser videos of a fashion-forward film made expressly for the hotel opening by Zoe Cassavetes, the director of “Broken English.”

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Pictured: Bar Hemingway at Ritz Paris is overseen by barman Colin Field, who is popular with cocktail lovers across the world.

The look of the hotel remains very much the same. The designers have safeguarded the Ritz identity, while adding all the latest technology and plumbing. The number of rooms have been reduced from 159 to 142 (this includes 71 suites as well). All rooms are fitted with swanky marble bathrooms one expects to find in a top five-star hotel (think heated floors, separate baths and walk-in showers). Another highlight is a new service that enables clients to check in/check out whenever they want. The best rooms in the house are the 15 prestige suites, named in honor of notable guests like Marcel Proust, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Duke of Windsor and Coco Chanel (who famously lived at the Ritz).

There are also interconnecting rooms now. The world’s first Chanel Spa has set tongues wagging. Other key changes to expect: There’s a lush garden courtyard covered with a retractable roof for inclement weather. The Ecole Ritz Escoffier, the hotel’s famous cooking school, has added a third level to accommodate high demand. Note: The Ritz Kids Club can arrange cooking classes for children between the ages of 6 to 11 years.

Sprawling across more than 17,000 square feet, the Ritz Club has a heated pool, a gym, a private studio for sessions with a personal trainer and a hair salon by David Mallett. The shopping avenue Galerie has some exclusive new additions (like Maison Ullens and Tasaki) and a Ritz concept store.

L’Espadon a haute-cuisine restaurant at Ritz Paris, is helmed by Chef Nicolas Sale.Pictured: L’Espadon a haute-cuisine restaurant at Ritz Paris, is helmed by Chef Nicolas Sale.

The kitchens are helmed by Chef Nicolas Sale recruited from the celebrity ski resort of Courchevel, where he garnered four Michelin stars at the Kilimandjaro and K2 restaurants. Formerly at Le Meurice, head sommelier Estelle Touzet surveys the wine cellar of 50,000 bottles, including rare ones like a Château Margaux from 1904 and a cognac from 1834. Afternoon Tea is available in the new Salon Proust, with sweets crafted by Pastry Chef François Perret.

General Manager Christian Boyens oversees a staff of 600 and Head Concierge Michel Battino manages the in-the-know concierge team. For VIP bookings, luxury travel agents can reach out to Julie Hong ([email protected]), director of sales.

The Ritz is not the only Parisian palace to get a makeover. Luxury Travel Advisor attended the May relaunch of Le Meurice’s restaurants, revamped by designer Philippe Starck and Chef Alain Ducasse. General Manager Franka Holtmann says that hotels in Paris are only getting better because of the incredible competition in the luxury hotel sector and that the catalyst of the $2 million-worth renovation project was the investment made by Dorchester Collection. 

Not to be outdone, Le Royal Monceau-Raffles has a new restaurant by Nobu Matsuhisa, while La Réserve has hired the legendary Didier Le Calvez, formerly of Le Bristol, as CEO of the small, ultra-luxe hospitality collection.

Savennières is a one-bedroom penthouse on the fifth and sixth floors of 25 Place Dauphine.

Savennières is a one-bedroom penthouse on the fifth and sixth floors of 25 Place Dauphine.

Luxury apartment rentals are another popular option to stay in the City of Light. Paris Perfect recently completed the restoration of a centuries-old building on the Île de la Cité, an island on the Seine, where the city of Paris originated. Place Dauphine — a square built by Henri IV and a prized real estate property — is also located here. The former Hotel Henri IV — a storied place for backpackers — has been converted into 25 Place Dauphine. The older structure was in a decrepit state with some of the ancient beams even rotting through. The project was overseen by Gabor Mester De Parajd, chief architect of France’s Historical Monuments.

There are now six luxury vacation apartments, designed by Paris Perfect founder Madelyn Willems, with top-notch kitchens and décor influenced from the city’s famous flea markets. These short-stay apartments are privy to hotel-style services, including breakfast delivery, restaurant bookings, private tours and more. An additional perk is on-the-ground assistance from staff in the Paris office open seven days a week. Travel agents can reach out to Sonja Booysen ([email protected]; 1-888-520-2087), reservations manager. 

Domaine de Fontenille (above and below) is situated in a traditional 18th-century house. Its 17 guestrooms are a bright mélange of the past and present, decorated with artwork from a Paris art gallery.

Domaine de Fontenille (above and below right) is situated in a traditional 18th-century house. Its 17 guestrooms are a bright mélange of the past and present, decorated with artwork from a Paris art gallery.

The talk of the south is the new Domaine de Fontenille, a winery, luxury hotel and dining destination. This country retreat reflects the best of the sun-soaked Luberon, which Peter Mayle made famous in his book “A Year in Provence.” The hotel was discovered in an abandoned state a few years ago by Guillaume Foucher, an art gallerist in Paris, and Frédéric Biousse, a business executive behind the success of French fashion brands Maje and Sandro. The duo acquired the property and began a serious restoration in 2013, reopening the Domaine as a boutique hotel-cum-winery this year. Situated in the traditional 18th-century house, the 17 guestrooms are a bright mélange of the past and present, tastefully decorated with artwork from a Paris gallery. A highlight is the inventive cuisine by Michelin-starred Chef Jérome Faure, who sources organic ingredients for his kitchen. A member of Small Luxury Hotels, Domaine de Fontenille also has a sparkling pool, a small spa, yoga classes, and wine tastings / workshops. For reservations, e-mail [email protected]; or call 011-330-413-980-000.

Grand-Hôtel Du Cap-Ferrat, a Four Seasons hotel, has an Olympic-sized infinity pool.

Grand-Hôtel Du Cap-Ferrat, a Four Seasons hotel, has an Olympic-sized infinity pool.

Meanwhile, Four Seasons has continued its robust global expansion by taking over management of two iconic palaces in France. First opened in 1908, the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat is a glamorous Belle Époque landmark on the Cap Ferrat peninsula — an exclusive enclave between Nice and Monaco. The Olympic pool — accessed by funicular — is where Picasso’s kids learned to swim, and the Club Dauphin continues to be a sublime seaside oasis for swimmers and sun-bathers. Four Seasons took over management of this celebrity hot spot in May 2015. By the end of 2016, Four Seasons is expected to sign a management contract for the Hôtel du Palais, the iconic palace hotel in glitzy Biarritz. Built in 1855 by Empress Eugénie (the wife of Napoléon III), the Hôtel du Palais occupies a prime ocean-front spot in French Basque country.

Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat has 74 light-filled rooms, including 24 suites and one villa.As a world culture capital, France doesn’t rest on its laurels when it comes to museums and attractions. Notable for 2016: Bordeaux has debuted a magnificent wine museum called the La Cité du Vin. Seven years in the making, this ambitious landmark on the banks of the Garonne is expected to welcome 450,000 visitors per year. Mayor Alain Juppé has called it “the Guggenheim of wine.”

Pictured: Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat has 74 light-filled rooms, including 24 suites and one villa.

We got an inside peek before the official opening on June 1, and, we say, the La Cité du Vin is a “must-visit” for wine enthusiasts. There are multi-sensory wine workshops, entertaining exhibitions with all the latest technology, a boutique stocked with 14,000 different bottles and a rooftop wine bar, where you can savor a glass while taking in the views of the city. Additionally, a glass of wine is included in your ticket price: 20 euros. Note: Visitors can book vineyard tours directly with the Bordeaux Office of Tourism, which operates a desk on the ground floor. From the museum’s pontoon, boats depart for trips into the Bordeaux vineyards.

Domaine de Fontenille allows guests to relax and rejuvenate at the spa, pool or the gym. It also offers yoga classes.Pictured: Domaine de Fontenille allows guests to relax and rejuvenate at the spa, pool or the gym. It also offers yoga classes.

In fact, more and more river cruises are opening up routes from Bordeaux. If you haven’t been to this pretty city recently, now’s the time to go. A flurry of new restaurants have raised the gourmet caliber of the wine capital of the world with the efforts of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay (at the Intercontinental Grand Hotel) and Philippe Etchebest (Le Quatrième Mur, Bordeaux Opera house). Star Chef Pierre Gagnaire has replaced Joël Robuchon at La Grande Maison Bordeaux.

A 1.5-hour drive north, the town of Cognac makes for a pleasant excursion to discover its namesake spirit. In big news for 2016, Hennessy unveiled a new visitor experience. Luxury Travel Advisor attended the inauguration in May and we found it to be a cutting-edge immersion into the world of Hennessy. Visitors start their circuit on a boat ride on the Charente, before heading to the chais (warehouses), where the high-tech new exhibition explains the artisanal craftsmanship and savoir faire behind the famous cognac. After exploring the aging cellar stocked with barrels, visitors are invited to savor the “Art of Tasting” experience with a Hennessy expert. A tasting of Hennessy V.S. and Hennessy V.S.O.P is included in your 16-euro ticket price. It’s also possible to arrange private tours behind the closed gates of the “Paradise” cellar, where all the oldest eaux-de-vie are stored.

Have you visited the Sun King’s magnificent palace recently? The Château de Versailles has opened a dazzling new visitor entrance in the renovated Pavillon Dufour. The highly anticipated “Ore” restaurant, by Star Chef Alain Ducasse, is expected to open this fall. In the Grande Écurie (stables), a new gallery showcases the gorgeous ceremonial coaches used by monarchs on special occasions (like Napoleon’s wedding). Access is free.

The glorious château offers a jam-packed calendar of year-round events, including concerts, musical fountain shows and exhibitions such as not-to-miss installations by contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson (through November) and “Versailles and American Independence” (through October 2).