A block north of the pomp and commotion of the Champs-Elysees, in Paris' 8th arrondissement, Avenue Gabriel is a quiet, handsome street that eludes the radar of most tourists.
It's home, however, to one of the French capital's most exclusive hotels, an address in the same five-star bracket as storied Parisian bolt-holes such as Le Bristol and The Ritz.
La Reserve Paris is rather more discreet, though, and if it wasn't for its striking red lacquered entrance, you'd probably walk straight past it. From the outside this looks like a quintessentially Parisian townhouse, towering five storeys, with a creamy limestone facade constructed in the Haussmann style (so named because of Baron Haussmann, Napoleon III's building prefect, who oversaw an epic urban revamp of Paris from the mid-19th century).
Once owned by the Duke of Morny, Napoleon III's half-brother, then later by fashion designer Pierre Cardin, the mansion has been flamboyantly transformed by two septuagenarians, La Reserve founder Michel Reybier, who's on France 500 Rich List, and architect and interior design whizz Jacques Garcia, who also worked his magic on La Mamounia in Marrakech and New York's NoMad.
Since opening in 2015 La Reserve has earned glittering reviews – last year, readers of one leading international travel magazine rated it the best hotel in the world – and from the moment you're welcomed through that lipstick-red entrance, you fancy you're in for something memorable (as you'd expect with its eye-popping prices; the "cheapest" room is €1100 a night).
There's no formal reception, as such, though The Salon, as they call it, does a decent impression of one, with two concierge desks, surrounded by sumptuous furnishings: a raspberry-hued circle banquette (with a basket of fragrant roses on top), floor-to-ceiling mirrors, gilded woodwork, antique objets d'art and a marble fireplace, where logs burn for a good four months a year.
In keeping with the hotel's desire to offer a personal touch to guests, check-in takes place in your room (the English-speaking staff, we find, are on-the-ball and pleasantly un-snooty). You'll likely take the elevator up first time, but the spiral staircase, with its glossy brass railings, is a lovely, leg-stretching alternative, while corridors, lined with quirky caricatures of Belle Epoque-era Paris by the artist Georges Goursat (nicknamed "Sem"), reward browsing.
There are more suites (25) than rooms (15), all ridiculously swanky and all with butler service. "Prestige" is the smallest room category but at 40 square metres they're larger than most Parisian studio apartments, let alone hotel rooms – and significantly better-furnished, with herringbone parquet flooring, Damascene fabrics and iPads that control temperature, lighting and TV.
The most decadent suite – about €10,000 a night – is the two-bedroom, 225-square-metre Grand Palais, its name inspired by the glass-domed landmark that looms across the street. From this and other balconied suites on the Avenue Gabriel side of the hotel, Parisian sights vie for your attention: the gardens of the Champs Elysees, the gleaming Alexander III bridge and, in the distance, the Eiffel Tower, which never fails to raise the pulse, especially when illuminated after dark.
Our room, 101, a prestige junior suite terrace, has a vast private balcony – big enough for about 20 people – overlooking the property's interior patio. In summer, you could picture well-heeled characters mingling down by the palm trees, sipping cocktails, but during our two-night November stay, it's empty and peaceful.
Not just conducive to sleep – the king-size bed is super-comfy – our suite has several jaw-dropping features: a huge bathroom festooned with Carrara marble (and complimentary bespoke perfumes and products such as cologne); in a separate room, a futuristic heated-seat Toto toilet that lifts its lid and flushes automatically; a "free" minibar, with Nespresso machine, soft drinks, snacks such as caramelised nuts and goodies from Parisian chocolatier Fouquet.
We're like kids at Christmas when we discover you can, via your in-suite iPad, lower the TV into its cabinet-stand, or turn the screen around to face the bed or lounge area. Your trusty tablet also lets you order room service (think lobster club sandwich and truffled croque-monsieur), and ask staff to get you tickets to the Louvre or a Mercedes to Versailles. From 7pm to 1am, a complimentary chauffeur-driven car makes "local" trips on a first-come-first-served basis (say to the Paris Opera).
While the hotel is really well located – the Elysee Palace, home to President Macron, is around the corner, and also nearby are two Metro stations and the high-end boutiques of Rue Saint-Honore and Avenue Montaigne – the truth is, as with most top hotels, you probably won't want to leave.
Besides a snug basement spa, 16-metre pool and fitness centre (you also have yoga mats and small weights in your room), there are myriad linger-worthy spots: a clubby, tucked-away cigar room; a plush, sexy bar that you could imagine may lure couples for liaisons dangereuses, and a gorgeous library, scattered with emerald-green velvet armchairs, mahogany panels and about 3000 antique books, some from Flaubert, Hugo and Balzac.
Every evening, live tunes from the library's Steinway piano trickle through to La Pagode de Cos, the hotel's stylish, all-day brasserie-restaurant, where we have breakfast, a Champagne afternoon tea and romantic candle-lit dinner.
Like Le Gabriel, the hotel's two Michelin star fine-dining haven – which serves French classics infused with Japanese flavours – La Pagode de Cos is also run by executive chef Jerome Banctel and attracts both hotel guests and non-guests. This restaurant is a nod to Cos d'Estournel, one of the wine estates belonging to Michel Reybier (it's the only chateau in the Bordeaux region with oriental pagodas).
Seated in silk-upholstered armchairs, next to beguiling Pakistani onyx columns, we mull over a menu influenced by traditional Bordeaux cuisine, with the likes of lievre a la royale (a type of hare casserole) among the options.
We plump for the four-course Carte Blanche (€95), a tasting menu that ostensibly gives the kitchen free reign to serve us what they wish depending on what produce is market-fresh and inspiring that day (just tell your waiter any dislikes or allergies and away they go). After an amuse-bouche of butternut squash and foie gras, we're served pastry-framed poultry terrine, mackerel with potato waffle, pork ribs with mushrooms and gnocchi, and a fig mille-feuille (a puff pastry dessert) with fig sorbet. It's all very satisfying, and goes nicely with the full-bodied house red – a 2012 Cos d'Estournel vintage.
On check-out morning, I do something I never normally do in Paris: skip le petit-dejeuner. Usually I can't resist gorging on freshly-baked croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast but, perhaps guilty of over-indulging these past few days, I abstain. Exiting the hotel's serene, luxurious bubble one last time, I'm soon standing by the Champs-Elysees with cars roaring and honking their way towards the Arc de Triomphe.
I wait for a break in the traffic then join the crowds shuffling down into the Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau Metro station, feeling like I've just swapped reverie for reality.
Steve McKenna was a guest at La Reserve Paris
Rooms at La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa are priced from about €1100 ($1729), suites from €1455 ($2268). See lareserve-paris.com