Luxury hotels in Paris: The new seven wonders

After six years of work and endless speculation, the opening of The Peninsula Paris near the Arc de Triomphe, marked the latest of the big Asian hotel groups, following the Shangri La, Raffles and Mandarin Oriental, to arrive in Paris, with its first hotel in Europe, and a symbol of the continuing transformation of Paris's luxury hotel scene.

Alongside the grand international arrivals, the metamorphosis of Paris's historic grand hotels continues too. The Plaza Athénée, which was closed for 10 months for restoration, inaugurating new rooms in an adjacent building, unveiled its redecorated restaurants in September last year, while the Ritz and Crillon were also closed for refurbishment and set to reopen in 2015. Every ambitious Paris hotel now seems to require a serious restaurant, preferably with a big-name chef, and a sumptuous spa.

Happily, the craze for renewal has also filtered down to the small, privately run boutique hotels that characterised Paris long before the word was even invented. Quirky and characterful, these places are often more original than the big international chains and light years from the pink or blue flock that dominated 20 years ago (though why do all corridors now have to be black?). If some of the themed décors – continents, Paris monuments, Asia, cinema, ballet – risk turning the city into a caricature, on the positive side smaller hotels are paying more attention to lounges and bars, gorgeous bathrooms, high-quality beds and personalised service, as well as colonising new districts to give a real experience of living in Paris.

After the opening of the Molitor by MGallery, built around the swimming pool where the bikini was first unveiled in 1946; and Hôtel Fabric, housed in a disused weaving factory, other unusual conversions; the Le Cinq Codet (www.le5codet.com), designed by Jean-Philippe Nuel, who is also responsible for the Molitor's new look, will provide stylish duplex rooms in a Thirties telephone exchange, and arty-party Hôtel Les Bains (www.lesbains-paris.com) is housed in the cult Eighties-Nineties nightclub and former bathing establishment of the same name, the Paris hotel scene has never looked more enticing.

The Peninsula

Originally opened as the Majestic hotel in 1908, briefly the seat of Unesco and later an international congress centre, the sculpted stone facade and neoclassical panelling, mosaics, murals and gilding of the ground-floor reception rooms have been meticulously restored. Throughout the hotel new spaces have been opened up, roof terraces created and three levels of basement excavated for staff quarters. The 200 rooms are wonderfully comfortable with their Art Deco geometrical lines, plush comfort, polished wood, tasteful greys and beige and shiny marble but it's the bathrooms that won me over, exercises in black and white marble, sumptuous baths and those must have nail-varnish dryers. This is high-shine hotellery with polished marble floors, a glass leaf chandelier that floats in the reception area, a portrait in fibreoptics, and long hallways – at their best on a sunny day.

Parisians will be closely scrutinising the performance of surprise appointment Jean-Edern Hurstel as executive chef, who was discovered after appearing as a competitor on France's Top Chef television programme, and was previously the head of six bars and restaurants in the UAE. A panoply of dining options includes the Lobby Kléber – the restored original white and gold neoclassical hotel dining room for breakfast, all-day international dining and afternoon tea, and its people watching Terrace Kléber extension; Cantonese restaurant LiLi, with a Chinese-opera decor of lacquer and carved wood, specialising in dim sum, seafood and tea; the sixth-floor Oiseau Bleu French gastronomic restaurant and rooftop bar, as well as oak panelled Bar Kléber and Lounge Kléber cigar lounge.

Read: Lee Tulloch's review of the Peninsula Paris.

See www.paris.peninsula.com

Molitor by MGallery

Once the best known swimming pool in Paris, until it closed in 1989 and spent the next 20 years avoiding demolition, this is a hotel unlike any other in Paris. Indeed, it doesn't feel much like being in Paris at all, more like a resort hotel. Inaugurated in 1929 by Olympic gold medal winner (and later Tarzan) Johnny Weissmuller, the Molitor is a vision with its mustard yellow facade, white balustrades and tiers of changing cubicles, a place where celebrities once sunbathed on the decks, where generations of schoolkids learnt to swim (the indoor pool will continue to be used by three local schools) and the bikini was launched. Inside, restored Art Deco stained glass of sporting activities meets graffiti, a souvenir of the artists who squatted the building in the Nineties, with specially commissioned graffiti-adorned function room in the basement, including a graffitied Rolls-Royce in reception.

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Of course the two pools take star billing here, but I liked the ground-floor with its varied spaces and moods – restaurant, gym, hotel reception and club, small lounge areas – and a mix of floor tiles, colourful retro chairs, and Art Deco furniture. There's a gigantic Clarins spa and an art gallery, while the surprising roof terrace provides an eyrie-like outdoor lounge perched over the Périphérique ring road with suspended herb and flower gardens. See www.mgallery.com

Hôtel La Baume

The former Hôtel Jardin de l'Odéon has been completely transformed, reducing the number of rooms from 41 to 35 in favour of more space, a balmy (baume) Art Deco atmosphere and a deliberate move upmarket. It takes the Art Deco era as inspiration but evokes Art Deco with a tongue in cheek touch, styled around a bunch of fictional friends (whose portraits appear discreetly on the landings). Rooms are all different ranging from compact classic rooms to unusual suites, following six themes that evoke the Thirties lifestyle – fashion, jewellery, design, film, clubs, perfume – with quirky mirrors, warm colours and fabrics, and unusual lights, with an impressive attention to detail as seen in the vintage photos, magazine covers from L'Illustration or design drawings that adorn the walls. A few suites stretch across the building from front to back feeling like small Parisian apartments, some with roof terraces. See: www.baume-hotel-paris.com (Take a 360-degree tour of the Hôtel La Baume below)

Hotel Vernet

Behind its Haussmannian facade, the century-old Vernet has moved from a status of neglected dowager to a member of the hip Design Hotels selection, a sure indication of how its style has changed. It works because it has been refreshingly rejuvenated, while preserving the ever-so-Parisian style of its belle époque origins – spectacular glass and iron verrière, original fireplace in the bar, stained glass stairwell, colonnaded lobby. Designer François Champsaur champions French art and craftsmanship with funky copper lights, specially designed furniture, a wavy bar sculpted out of a hunk of marble and a ceiling painted by French artist Jean-Michel Alberola. Unlike many Parisian hotels that are in converted buildings, the Vernet has been a hotel ever since it was built in 1913, so spaces are generally generous with rooms opening off a large stairwell. These bedrooms feel made for relaxation, in a timeless style with high-ceilings, big comfortable beds and armchairs, where natural wood and fabrics are enlivened by colourful throws and cushions. See www.hotelvernet-paris.com/ 

Hôtel Eugène en Ville

After the Mademoiselle hotel opened last year with its feminine boudoir look, the same owners launched her male counterpart this year, conceived around a sort of winsome dandy, though fortunately there's nothing too gender specific about the style. Think of it more as soigné literary atmosphere of dim lighting, shades of grey and eclectic books and objects. After completely transforming the building, save one patch of exposed brick and concrete in memory of the hotel that was here before, embossed Victorian tin ceiling plates adorning walls create the real character, a bit baroque, a bit industrial, with a reception office-cum-library, attractive café and a hidden drawing room with a dresser of quirky plates and curios. Carefully integrated between the original building and a later building at the rear, the 66 atmospheric rooms feature crisp white duvets, boilerplate tiling and trompe l'oeil wardrobes.

The ground-floor Cantine d'Eugène is what really gives this hotel style with its neo-industrial look of long tables, high-metal chairs, exposed light bulbs and screen where films or videos can be projected on the wall. See www.eugeneenville.fr

Hotel Le Belmont

This family-owned hotel, which has been run by the Temimi family for three generations, has just emerged from total refurbishment, revisiting the cosseted Napoleon III Haussmannian era with aplomb, and adding plenty of creature comforts. New ground-floor salons have been created, so the hallway now leads to a panelled lounge dominated by an extravagant sculpted fireplace, and an atmospheric bar, with long upholstered velvet and leather banquette and classical urns. They've also added a small spa with classy Carita and Bains de Marrakech products, a hammam and fitness room. The 74 rooms and suites play the Napoleon III mood, with giant bedheads inspired by the stage curtain of Palais Garnier, with ample wardrobes, ebony and mahogany finishes and lavish fabrics. The bar does a serious line in cocktails along with good wines and a large choice of spirits. See www.belmont-paris-hotel.com

Plaza Athénée

A century after its original inauguration the grand fashion avenue favourite has colonised three adjacent buildings to create six new rooms, eight suites, a ballroom and new function rooms, revisited the existing ground floor and brought in a trio of interior designers: Marie-José Pommereau to design the new suites, sybaritic variations on different historic epochs, Jouin-Manku for the Alain Ducasse restaurant and Le Bar, and Bruno Moinard for the Galerie des Gobelins, La Cour Jardin and the Relais Plaza brasserie. Although the Relais Plaza and the Alain Ducasse gastronomic restaurant are closed until September, Le Bar will be open this month, where guests can sample the Black Rose Royal cocktail invented for the occasion by master barman Thierry Hernandez. See www.dorchestercollection.com

The Telegraph, London

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