What were they thinking? That's the question a number of connoisseurs of Paris' top-ranking hotels are still asking after last month's announcement that four of the city's swankiest hostelries had earned the celestial ranking of "palace" hotel. And that left a few really swell places to bunk stranded in the muck of a mere five-star ranking.
In 2009, in an effort to further emphasize the country's luxurious accommodations and lure affluent travelers, the French government created this ultimate hotel designation. Those reaching that elevated status were announced in May with the Plaza Athénée, the Bristol, the Meurice and the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome taking bows for their ascension. Four other properties in France, including the vaunted Grand Hotel du Cap in Cap d'Antibes, were equally honored. Finishing the ranks were l'Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, and Les Airelles and Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel.
“I have a bitter taste of victory in my mouth. That the Ritz and especially the George V were not on the list removes all credibility from the award.”
The selection was made by a jury, headed by a member of the Académie Francaise and comprised of personalities from the worlds of hospitality, architecture and design, the arts and business. According to FranceGuide, the official website of the French Government Tourist Office, the selection was based on the hotel's location, historical significance, room comfort, service, multi-lingual staff and health and spa facilities.
While few would have serious complaints about the honored properties, the grumbling centers around certain omissions. The Ritz and the Four Seasons George V, both favorites among a well-heeled international clientele including a number of Houstonians, didn't make the cut. Neither did the Hotel de Crillon, though the Paris cognoscenti seemed less perturbed by that one.
Probably no one expressed frustration with the new ranking more succinctly than Francois Delahaye, who heads the venerable Plaza Athénée and said that the omissions were simply too much. As he told AFP Relaxnews, “I have a bitter taste of victory in my mouth. That the Ritz and especially the George V were not on the list removes all credibility from the award.”
On a recent visit to Paris, CultureMap explored three of the four "palace" properties. And had our per diem extended to include $1,200 a night hotel rooms, we would have definitely checked in. With or with the brass "Palace" plaque, the aforementioned hotels boast Michelin-starred restaurants, truly world class spas (no hype necessary), exceptionally beautiful rooms, spacious modern baths and a general ambiance that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. Consider for example the lush courtyards of the Plaza Athénée and the Bristol. For drinks or dining, they are without peer.
The eight hotels will maintain their "palace" ranking for five years. In the meantime, perhaps a few more deserving Paris properties will be added to the top rung.