In Paris, a city teeming with five-star hotels, how do you separate the crème de la crème from just the crème? If you're France, you devise an ultra-prestigious category above five stars called "Palace," a distinction established by the French Ministry of Tourism in 2010 that requires a lengthy application reviewed by a committee of 14 experts, from the world of literature, the arts, culture, media, and the business world, with in-person visits and interviews.
"In France, something can be five stars, but not be the height of luxury, so we asked the French government to create a category for the top of the top hotels," said Beatrice David, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Plaza Athénée, part of the first cohort of hotels to be crowned as Palaces in 2011.
So what does it take to garner this coveted distinction, which includes 23 properties throughout the country and 10 in Paris alone, among them Le Meurice, the Mandarin Oriental, the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Le Bristol, and, most recently, the Peninsula Paris?
Some things are to be expected, such as a fitness area, a branded spa (the Plaza Athénée's, for instance, is associated with the Dior Institute), a multilingual team, and concierge service. Other hallmarks of luxury are less expected: Emilie Pichon, the director of communications at the Mandarin Oriental (which became the first modern Palace in 2014), says they needed to prove, among other things, that the toilet is separated from the bathroom in each room. (A private commode is hardly an outlandish request if one is paying $15,000 a night to stay in one of the Mandarin Oriental's sprawling suites, some of the largest in Paris. Incidentally, the size of and the numbers of suites is one criterion on which hotels are evaluated.)
Requirements for Five Stars
- A spacious room, with a minimum of 258 square feet
- Staff who can speak two foreign languages (one of which is English) in addition to French
- Room service
- Accompaniment to the room
- Dining options at the hotel
- Valet parking
- In-room safe
- Internet access
- Air conditioning
Atout France, the tourism agency that oversees the selection process, says they look at "indispensable features "such as the beauty of the place, historical heritage, high standards of service, gastronomy, and the overall environment.
But it's not just about plush accouterments; hotels are also evaluated on less visible features such as their commitment to sustainable development, Pichon told Town & Country. The Mandarin Oriental is one of France's leaders in this category, Pichon said, with some of the best energy efficiency practices and a rooftop vegetable garden that supplies to their restaurants.
The Mandarin Oriental in Paris has a rooftop vegetable garden that supplies its restaurants.
Naturally, this being France, superb food and wine are crucial to becoming a Palace. They have to have, according to Atout France, an exquisite restaurant and bar—and not just aesthetically. Le Bristol, which became a Palace in 2011 and is where Woody Allen shot parts of Midnight in Paris, has two Michelin-starred restaurants, for a total of four stars. There's the very pricey Epicure, with three stars, which serves dishes like macaroni stuffed with black truffle, artichoke, and duck foie gras by chef Eric Frechon, who many consider to be the best chef in the country. Then there's 114 Faubourg: a one-Michelin star establishment more modest only by comparison to Epicure.
The Mandarin has a two-Michelin star restaurant, Sur Mesure, by the celebrated chef Thierry Marx. Its chief sommelier, David Biraud, was crowned vice champion at the Best Sommelier of the World 2016 competition. At Hotel Plaza Athénée there are five restaurants, including a three-Michelin star one by Alain Ducasse. (The vegetables that are served there are grown in the park of Chateaux Versailles that is reserved only for the Hotel Plaza Athénée.)