Nota Bene dips into Paris to compare the city’s two most hotly-anticipated hotel newcomers

Cheval Blanc Paris

We first met Christian Boyens at The Peninsula Los Angeles some 18 years ago. At that time, Nota Bene was all about the distinctively-coloured destination review books which have become iconic amongst those who discovered us back then.

It was clear from the get-go that this very engaging twenty-something-year-old German-born hotelier was a rising star. The way he dealt with a room change was exemplary.

Fast forward a few years, and Boyens became the youngest ever GM at Ritz Paris, working under the direction of highly-respected veteran hotelier, Frank Klein. They brought fresh energy to the grandest of grandes dames, owned by Mohammed Al Fayed, the ultimate boss.

So when Bernard Arnault approached Christian he realised it must be for the top position at his about-to-open Cheval Blanc. Leaving the Ritz would be a very difficult decision to make. And it took him six months to decide. Even once a decision was reached it was not an easy transition to move on from the world’s most famous hotel.

Yet, fast forward eight months, to when we stayed recently, and the distinguished M. Boyens appeared to be in his element, steering the new kid on the block with a mission to rival the finest hotels in Paris.

We’re hearing some mixed remarks about Cheval Blanc Paris.

People say it’s in the wrong location. We disagree. It is at the heart of Paris facing the Seine and Pont Neuf. Across the bridge, you have Isle de la Cité to the left and beyond Isle Saint Louis. To your right St Germain is walkable in ten minutes. Stay on the Right Bank and both Le Marais and the Louvre can easily be reached by foot.

We’ve heard claims that the hotel could as much be in Hong Kong or New York as opposed to Paris as there is little reference to the French capital when compared to the Ritz, Hotel de Crillon, Le Bristol, et al. True, but look out of the full length plate glass windows of your light-filled suite and feel the energy of the River Seine with Notre Dame to your left and the Eiffel Tower in the distant right and you’ll know where you are.

Some say that Peter Marino is more of a luxury boutique store designer than a designer of hotels. Maybe. But his attention to detail in the finishes, in the beautifully-appointed, well-considered and expertly lit bathrooms, capacious dressing areas, and superb room amenities and you will enjoy a supreme level of comfort.

Never judge a property until you stay there at least two nights.

We loved:

** That it has the largest indoor pool in Paris and a beautifully-appointed spa.

** The rooftop restaurants with their terraces overlooking the river. Namely La Langosteria for dinner with great Italian food and ambience, and Le Tout Paris for an excellent breakfast.

** The sumptuous oversized penthouses, especially the one with the Lalland staircase and its own indoor swimming pool, which has to be the finest in Paris.

Bulgari Paris

You know you have arrived at a Bulgari hotel by the unmistakable Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel architect-designed exterior. Step inside and Antonio Citterio’s signature style references Bulgari hotels in Milan and London.

For some, there is great comfort in knowing what to expect.

Here, another legendary hotelier, Sylvain Ercole, presides. We have known Sylvain for many years, originally at the Byblos Saint Tropez.

The piéce de resistance here is the penthouse with its magnificent lawned, country-style garden. It’s a splendid rus in urbe in the heart of Paris’s 8e, yet bucolic and relaxing, with one end capturing the finest bird’s eye view of the Eiffel Tower.

It seems quite natural to contrast the mid-20th century-influenced but essentially contemporary interiors of Bulgari Paris with Four Seasons George V Paris across the road.

It is also natural to compare its signature restaurant, Il Ristorante (Italian of course) with Cheval Blanc’s La Langosteria. The latter wins for its views and a more animated ambience.

And then the spa and indoor pool with that of Cheval Blanc. Again, the latter wins for sheer size and unique design.

It’s difficult to summarise the clientele but there are crossovers. Especially in these early days when many want to try the newest hotel offerings.

Bulgari has some lovely suites and junior suites. If you want to be at the heart of the ‘Golden Triangle’, close to the big-name luxury designer boutiques of avenue Montaigne, and within easy walking distance of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, it will appeal.

If you love the Bulgari Hotels brand and choose your accommodation carefully, requesting an upper floor with maximum glass and light, you might rather enjoy a stay here.
If you’re seeking unadulterated luxury in a totally different location, which feels so much like an urban resort that you hardly feel the need to leave, you will love Cheval Blanc.

However, if being in Paris is all about the quintessentially classic grande-dames with their pomp and splendour, then neither of these properties will feel right.

Of the newcomers, our vote goes to Cheval Blanc.