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June 24, 2011

Crown Jewels

Paris gets a new batch of palace hotels — even if you're not allowed to call them that.

If there’s one city that big hotel brands covet nearly as much as New York, it’s Paris. To have a property in Paris is to say you have arrived.

Shangri-La made its entrée just six months ago — with a revived Bonaparte palace, no less. And way ahead of the Peninsula  (scheduled to open in 2013), the Mandarin Oriental Paris opens next week.

Perhaps anticipating this Asian-brand invasion, the French tourism authority recently introduced a hotel classification status that has been unofficial for years: Four of the city’s chicest properties were designated “palace” hotels — evidently embodying the utmost in “French-style excellence.” These included Le Meurice, Plaza-Athenee, Le Bristol and Park Hyatt Vendome.

It might look like a move to distinguish the established guard from the new were it not for the curious absence of some of Paris’s finest (The Ritz! George V! The Crillon!). Which means luxury newcomer Mandarin Oriental Paris really has no need to worry about all these semantics.

The Mandarin Oriental is located on rue Saint-Honoré at the heart of everything fashionable — a stone’s throw from Place Vendome, the Tuileries and all the elite fashion houses. Its building is not romantic — it’s a rather straightjacketed Art-Deco structure — but it does boast some of the largest guest rooms in the city.

It also has one of the largest spas, with an indoor pool and seven private suites, each fitted for hydrotherapy and heat treatments. The hotel has also snagged Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx to head two restaurants.

Marx, a judge on France’s Top Chef, seems well suited to the Asia-based brand already known for attracting top-tier chefs (Heston Blumenthal can do no wrong at MO London). Thierry has a deep interest in Asian culture: he has traveled extensively through Asia, studies judo, and is said to spend winters at a Buddhist monastery in Japan.

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read more: 02. Sleep | 03. Spa | 05. Eat

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