I've always thought it unfair that the French have a reputation for being unfriendly to tourists. Thankfully the characters behind La Belle Juliette could double as ambassadors for France’s tourist board. Nowhere have we experienced service like this: from the €2,000-a-night digs overlooking the Eiffel Tower to quaint country inns with Michelin-starred chefs in the basement.
Nothing is a problem for beautiful Juliette’s staff. Every request, however large or trivial, is greeted with a smile and a ‘pas de problème’ attitude. From the teeny: ‘A taxi, madame?’ – which elicits a clean car with a charming driver who’s been fully briefed on our destination and the fee negotiated, to the big: the all-important late check-out. No unspeakably snide glances or terse replies or exorbitant quotes in exchange for the trouble. Here, as we discover, such an appeal is met with good grace and a cup of tea in the garden.
The ability of the staff to maintain such joie de vivre is especially surprising considering that we are staying during Paris Fashion Week when the drama, urgency and bizarre nature of requests are at their peak. Polar bear needed for a photoshoot? The concierge phones Deyrolle, a taxidermy store on nearby Rue du Bac, to beg a full-size white-fur stuffed beast for the afternoon.
Named after an 18th-century socialite, the hotel is delightfully feminine befitting of its muse, Juliet Récamier (yes, we have her to thank for the récamier sofa), born 4 December 1777. A voluptuous bohemian socialite, she nabbed herself a wealthy husband at just 15 (some say he was her father). Known for her artistic soirées, the Saint Germain des Pres hotel also hosts its own monthly musical gathering in her honour.
The hotel’s decor is dictated by Juliette’s loves and friendships, with each floor dedicated to a different chapter in her life. Designed by Anne Gelbard (who also creates fabrics for Dior, Balenciaga and Hermès), the lavender tones chosen for the lobby prove a welcome reprieve from Paris’ bustle. Little wonder the hotel is popular with radar-ducking editors and designers. Located on the Left Bank, on a quiet street of the bustling sixth arrondissement, the building is discretely squeezed between foreign embassies and antique shops. This is the Rive Gauche of your imagination, a world away from the heaving boulevards of sweaty tourists stamping their way up St Germain.
There may be no views, and you could almost be anywhere, but with that anonymity comes serenity. As lovely as a selection box of Ladurée macaroons, rooms are styled with sugar-sweet shades – strawberry and raspberry, cherry-red and violet; and deeper darts of blackcurrant, chocolate and liquorice. And the pretty cake stands aren’t just ornamental – afternoon tea is a daily ritual. Pastries are supplied by the biodynamic bakers of Boulanger de Monge and at breakfast they are accompanied by a pot of Tea Forté tea – parfait. When a bowl of exemplary muesli is placed in front of us, Mr Smith and I gasp. We haven’t seen a wholegrain for over a week, and the notion that anyone would choose bird feed over a basket of wonderfully bittersweet pains au chocolat and buttery croissants leaves us positively perplexed.
By night, this pastry parlour morphs into the hotel’s bar, Le Talma. A grand piano is tucked into one corner, a mean looking salumi slicer in another. Despite being located near some of Paris’ best suppliers of heart-stopping artisanal charcuterie and cheeses, it’s a wonder the hotel chooses to serve snacks with an Italian provenance. Regardless of this swerve from nationalism, the room feels utterly French. Bookshelves line the walls, the piano is put to good use with concerts, which enhances the salon feel, and the small fireplace insures it is cosy in winter.
Our autumn visit sees the sun out and the doors flung open onto a small, gravelly garden. Afternoons appear to be frequented by Left Bank ladies for a spot of tea; at cocktail hour in flock well-heeled chain-smoking Brazilian business people, and British fashion editors poring over the next day’s show schedule. The passing parade means Mr Smith and I can indulge in Paris’ favourite past time, people-watching, with a glass of wine in hand and a salumi plate to pick at.
When we eventually stumble upstairs the elevator door opens to a black void. Mr Smith is falling all over me; it is not the Vouvray, or the aphrodisiac effect of the most romantic city in the world: it is the fact that there is no light. We eventually grope our way to the hushed lilac tones of our boudoir where a well-sized bathroom is illuminated by long windows that let in the City of Light’s golden glow.
A Nespresso machine, quickly becoming ubiquitous in boutique hotels the world over, earns snaps from Mr Smith who is so far struggling with the Parisian coffee. (Australians are notoriously particular about their blends and brews, even in France.) A 24-inch iMac, standard in every room, is another beloved amenity, and it makes researching dinner spots and museum opening hours the most pleasant chore.
While la Belle Juliette may not have an award-winning chef in the basement, there is a spa offering massages and a small subterranean pool. After investigating the local bistros, salons de thé and Poliane, the revered bakery, I treat myself to a Claret Coquet foot therapy. I deserve my Parisian pampering: my hooves have copped a pounding from Mr Smith’s insistence we walk everywhere, and having had so many gastronomic temptations to investigate. Besides, we needed to clock up some serious kilometres a day just trying to counter all those calories. On that note, Mr Smith do order us another cup of la Belle Juliette’s special hot chocolate with some of their financier cakes would you?