Parisian chic meets Asian hospitality at Europe's first Shangri-La hotel.
Hotel Insider: Shangri-La Paris
Avenue d'Iena, by Paris standards, is an unremarkable street. Opposite the hotel is a grim-looking government building and next door is the Embassy of Iran, surrounded by ugly security barriers. So the splendour of the Shangri-La caught me by surprise. Our taxi drove into the small courtyard past the stone columns and wrought-iron gates and in front of us was a small palace. This is Shangri-La's first foray into Europe and, although the building is Parisian to its core, there is no mistaking the company's Asian roots, from the staff uniform to the warm welcome. In my room, the trademark Shangri-La "welcome to strangers" advertisement (in which wolves protect a traveller lost in the snow,) is playing on all three televisions.
Situated in Paris's elegant 16th arrondissement, the hotel is close to the city's museums and is within a stone's throw of the Seine. The Eiffel Tower is just over the bridge.
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Twenty-seven of the 83 rooms are suites, and I was in a mezzanine duplex, never a personal favourite; whatever I need is always on the other floor. But what a stunning view. From my bed the dominant image was of the Eiffel Tower. The curtains stretched from the sitting room to the bedroom and I adored the bathroom. A small TV screen was built into the bathroom mirror, a little distracting when you're putting on make-up, but great for watching a film while soaking in the bath with the Bulgari gels.
The hotel had only been open a few weeks and the sweet man who showed us to our room was so nervous that he kept forgetting the correct English word and got himself tied up in knots. I didn't like to ask him anything in case it made it worse but he had a smile as broad as the Champs Elysée. In the restaurant the service was impeccable.
This was the home of Prince Roland Bonaparte - Napoleon's great-nephew - from 1896 and, after years of being used for offices with all the best features covered up, the Parisians are eager to see the results of the restoration. Instead of the grey paint covering the wood panelling, you can now see mahogany doors surmounted with eagles poised to take flight. A thousand panels of the Versailles parquet floor were taken up, cleaned and put down again; the attraction locally is that of re-discovery. Other guests are drawn to the Shangri-La brand in the most visited city in the world.
La Bauhinia - named after the national flower of Hong Kong - is at the heart of the hotel and situated beneath the stunning glass cupola that was uncovered during restoration work. Philippe Labbé, who made his name at La Chèvre d'Or in Eze in Provence, is the chef in charge and inquisitive Parisiens are flocking there to see what he has conjured. The menu offers a mix of Asian and European, sometimes in a single dish. Our amuse bouche was rabbit pâté and I had yam som o, a pomelo salad with shrimps, peanuts and Thai vinaigrette (€21; Dh109) followed by sole Grenobloise-style (€10; Dh51; and the best Mont Blanc pudding I have ever tasted, which arrived on the plate dressed up as a hedgehog, although apparently this has now been replaced by tiramisu (€14; Dh73). The Shangri-La's signature restaurants - where Labbé hopes to get his Michelin star - are L'Abeille and the Shang Palace (styled as the first Cantonese gourmet restaurant in Paris), due to open shortly.
The view of the Eiffel Tower from the bedroom window, the sweeping staircase and the downstairs areas. With the exception of the bar, they cannot be described as cosy but they are inarguably beautiful.
It's a shame that the entrance to such a beautiful building will always be marred by the security barriers next door, but there was nothing to dislike about the hotel itself.
Shangri-La's charm lies in its ability to recreate on the banks of the Seine a world where civilisations merge. Even if you can't stay the night, spend €11 (Dh57) on a traditional hot chocolate and drink in the splendour of the Napoleon 1 decor.
The bottom line
Room rates start at about €750 (Dh3,864) a night, but in low season there are several good deals to be had. The hotel offers a three-night package in a suite, including breakfast, taxes, a one-way transfer to the airport and an upgrade, depending on availability, for €1,565 (Dh8,061) per night. Shangri-La Paris, 10 avenue d'Iéna 75116 Paris (www.shangri-la.com; 00 33 1 53 67 19 98).