Sublime turn-of-the-century opulence
By Gery de Pierpont
L'Hotel Paris: former staying place of Oscar Wilde
For one of my first “into History” nights in Paris, I plumped for a really iconic location, a real “must see” establishment in the French capital, which deserves an official heritage certification as it provides an exquisite overnight stay – L’Hotel Paris (with a capital H).
Chinese embroideries inhabit crimson wall coverings, bamboo facings enhance dark lacquer furniture and brass bedside lamps project a golden glow: my room has an extravagant oriental touch. Typical of the era of Napoleon III and bourgeois Parisian interiors at the end of the 19th century. Every room in L’Hôtel has been renovated in this style by the celebrated architect-designer Jacques Garcia (2000).
L’Hotel is a positively mythical destination in the heart of the bohemian district of Saint-Germain des Prés and its artists, imbued with the atmosphere of 1860-1900. With its intimate inglenooks and orange skylights, olde worlde medallion decor, luxury drapery, crystal chandeliers and intricately carved bronze fixtures, it represents the last word in comfort for the period. Each room is individually furnished, taking its inspiration from sumptuous Egyptian, Pompeian, colonial or symbolist settings. The padded comfort of the bar-cum-library, its mirrored restaurant (with a star) and its steamy hamman all combine to reflect this fin-de-siècle exuberance, together with fine pieces of furniture and selected artworks.
1900 was a landmark year for L’Hotel Paris. In late November, Oscar Wilde, who had made this place his home for over a year, succumbed to meningitis. This flamboyant dandy, virulent detractor of Victorian hypocrisy in England and author of many works which gave rise to scandal, lived here modestly, following his utter ruin after a spell of three years in prison. The Hôtel d’Alsace (as it was then), built in 1827, used to attract an unpretentious clientele, probably more avant garde and artistic in temperament. In the footsteps of Toulouse Lautrec, one of Oscar Wilde’s friends, thousands of admirers came here to honour his memory.
This modest hotel underwent a complete overhaul from 1960 to 1990. Bought out and renovated by Edmond Dreyfus (the Parisian textile king), the establishment became the last word in refinement and was soon one of the most sought after addresses on the Left Bank. A flurry of cinema celebrities and singers stayed here – from Princess Grace to Mike Jagger and Catherine Deneuve to Frank Sinatra – not forgetting Ava Gardner, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. The singer-composer Serge Gainsbourg lived here for a year. It was here that Jim Morrison, the popular lead singer of The Doors, nearly committed suicide by throwing himself out of his (first floor) window and the famous Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges also stayed on many occasions.
The really curious will be thrilled to learn that L’Hotel lies above the ruins of a “Pavilion of Love”, built in the gardens of the Palace of Queen Margaret of Valois (known as La Reine Margot), first (and repudiated) wife of King Henry IV. The well below L’Hotel is all that remains from this period (1610).
So why don’t you indulge yourself with a stay at this hotel on your next Paris trip?
Want to appreciate the authenticity of its décor? Not really. Apart from a few areas (including the astonishing circular hall, flooring and marble columns, Oscar Wilde would be hard put to recognise his last residence. L’Hôtel is not a museum even if many of its valuable artworks are more than a century old.
Staying at L’Hotel Paris means stepping back into the plush, sophisticated atmosphere of late 19th century France. Enjoy the luxurious feel of the rich fabrics of yesteryear. Watch abundant hot water flow from Belle époque taps. Inhale the heady perfume inherent in an oriental environment. A stay here will conjure up an exciting world of philosophers, writers, musicians and actors. And when you do drift off to sleep, you will still see them walking around the dressing room and bathroom…
A night at L’Hotel is a costly indulgence. However, there are special occasions in life when no expense should be spared. Here history and magic go hand in hand. The quality of the welcome you will receive is a true reflection of the hotel’s many international distinctions (including a Michelin star for its restaurant).
Have YOU ever walked in the footsteps of a favourite author and experienced the same deep emotion that inspired him/her when in the identical natural surroundings?
Listen to the interview of Julien Revah, General Manager of L’Hotel, about the milestones in the history of the site: