Author: kendall hill
Photography: chris chen
In Paris, there are close to 1500 hotels with a total of 75,000 rooms to fill, so any newcomer would need to be very special indeed to outrank the competition. Especially if its premium suite retailed at 15,000 euros (about $25,000) a night.
For starters, it would need a stunning location. Right in the heart of the city's Golden Triangle would be perfect, on the corner of the Champs-Elysées, say, and Avenue George V.
It would need some unique selling points, such as a sublime underground spa and swimming pool, and the largest standard suites in the French capital. And if it was really serious about success, it would stock those suites with the ultimate in new technology - pop-up plasmas, anyone? - plus opulent extras such as walk-in wardrobes and marble-clad bathrooms that feel more like personal beauty salons.
The interiors would, ideally, be entrusted to a megastar French decorator - someone like Jacques Garcia, designer to the Sultan of Brunei and the Midas touch behind such wildly prosperous ventures as Hôtel Costes in Paris and La Mamounia in Marrakech. As it happens, all of the above - and much more besides - defines Fouquet's Barrière, arguably the most spectacular new hotel to open in Paris since the George V welcomed its first guests in 1928.
The family-owned Lucien Barrière group, which owns an upmarket portfolio of European hotels, casinos and restaurants, hopes its dazzling debut in Paris will earn it a place in the city's pantheon of palace hotels - alongside the George V, the Meurice, the Crillon, the Plaza-Athénée and the Ritz. It's a lofty ambition, granted, but what Fouquet's lacks in old-money grandeur it makes up for with contemporary opulence and unrivalled technology.
Take, for example, the hotel's standard suites, many of which have impossibly romantic outlooks onto the Champs Elysées. Each is a minimum 40 square metres and contains everything you would expect of a top-end hotel - king-sized beds, high-speed internet and exquisite finishes (leather, velvet, mahogany, sharkskin).
Each also has a flat-screen television embedded in a mirrored wall, invisible until you turn it on and it shimmers to life like a genie in the glass. In some of the more lavish suites, the television emerges from a console at the end of the bed. It's all so very futuristic.
Beside each bed is a cockpit of controls so you can, without rising, tell housekeeping not to disturb you, open the door to room service, or send your butler on an urgent errand.
Of course there are butlers here. At your service, day and night, for anything. "Anything," stresses Mme Anne-Charlotte Archimbaud, the devastatingly chic sales manager who guidedGourmet Traveller through this dream palace.
Bathrooms here are spacious salons with three lighting levels, rainshower, deep bath, mist-free mirrors, dual basins, and outsized toiletries that include a choice of shower gels - one to stimulate you in the morning, another to relax you at night - and Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil eau de toilette. There's another invisible LCD in here too, complete with waterproof remote control. It's all so very inspired.
The suites come in seven increasingly voluptuous categories until you reach the ultimate - the Grand Suite de Paris, which spans 550 square metres and has its own terrace with exhilarating city views. Each of the larger suites resembles a classic Parisian flat, encompassing 'le savoir-vivre à la Française', as Mme Archimbaud explains. It's not an easy concept to translate, but inside these apartments you know exactly what she means; they are so French in their appreciation and expression of beauty, comfort and facility.
Also very French is the fact that from the street you can barely tell the hotel, which opened in November 2006, is here. Fouquet's Barrière has been created by amalgamating five adjoining buildings into the one corner showpiece, with a private garden at its heart. Noted architect Edouard François blended the exteriors into a seamless Hausmann-esque stone façade, complete with mouldings and whimsical wrought iron detail. It looks just like any other grand Parisian streetfront, except perhaps for the rectangular windows that François has punched out of the stone at intervals, affording guests the sorts of views they'll presumably want to come back for.
All passers-by would note at a glance is the suave exterior and the 108-year-old Fouquet's Brasserie on the corner, a favourite haunt of movie stars and glitterati, site of the annual César Awards after-party, and officially designated a 'French cultural shrine'.
The hotel entrance is located discreetly on Avenue George V, diagonally opposite that other French cultural shrine, the Louis Vuitton flagship store. Just look for the doorman in the brown velvet cape, then head past him into the foyer of Carrara marble, gold leaf (there's seven kilometres of it plastered throughout the hotel) and curved walls lined in rich chocolate leather embroidered with creeping vines.
Between the foyer and the hotel's private garden lies the domed Le Diane restaurant, with phalaenopsis orchids blooming in gilt-lined alcoves and tiny, perfect arrangements of orchids and roses on each precisely laid table. Through the windows here you can glimpse the hotel's vast rooftop terrace, a teak-lined reception area with views of the Eiffel Tower.
Buried beneath the foyer is the U Spa, a subterranean pleasure dome comprising a swimming pool (the second largest in Paris, apparently), a hammam (Turkish bath), six massage rooms, bagnotherapy (a water-oriented spa treatment using pressurised jets), fitness room with personal trainer, steam room and sauna. It has a high-times-in-the-Roman-empire feel to it, but the treatments are entirely New Age; guests can be swaddled in a slimming treatment of Peruvian red liana paste mixed with Amazonian berry extract, or have facial lines soothed away under a pack of Pacific seaweed. It is, like the rest of Fouquet's Barrière, unashamedly out of the ordinary.