A city-centrechâteau, in Paris? Mais oui… Saint James Paris has always had lofty ambitions: in previous lives it has been an intellectual boot-camp for budding French boffins, and site of the first ever hot-air-balloon airfield – a flock of Belle Époque-evoking, balloon-shaped pavilions in the garden, and top-flight, themed wallpaper, ensure the stay's legacy is still buoyant. In the hotel's latest guise as colourful, cultured, country estate-style hotel – styled by maximalist designer Bambi Sloan – it’s still flying high. Minimalists, steer clear; but those who want old-school Gallic romance of grand staircases, swagged silk-and-velvet drapes, in-suite pianos, and a few surprises, the Saint James will sweep you off your feet.
Get this when you book through us:
A cocktail in the library bar or on the terrace in the gardens
Forty-nine, including 21 Junior Suites, four Suites, six Prestige Suites, and two lovely villas.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £373.89 (€423), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.53 per person per night on check-out.
Breakfast is usually extra (although included with some rates): €29 for Continental; €36 for the buffet.
This is likely to be the only time you will use a gym with chandeliers and a parquet floor.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, library, private dining rooms, gardens, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, a private bar, Nespresso coffee machine, and Guerlain bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms are unique, with witty details to make each memorable: bowler-hat lampshades and tweed accents, chairs sporting pointe ballet shoes, grand pianos, indoor-outdoor feel terraces and a curio cabinet that – on closer inspection – is not quite what it seems… Our hearts lifted at the sight of room 204, a junior suite on the first floor. This two-level suite overlooks the grand entrance and the grounds, and has plenty of witty details, including a trompe l'oeil 'parquet' carpet (a design evident throughout the hotel, to stop the noise from wooden flooring) and ‘library’, and a tweed armchair with elbow patches on its armrests. The bedroom feels more classically French, with its grey-and-white patterned wallpaper, although the bright red bedspread keeps things zingy. Room 303 is a calm white space with low pendant lights and a bed topped with an ornate white-and-cream bedspread.
No pool, but the spa has two Turkish baths.
Decked out with gilded mirrors and plush sofas, the spa has a boudoir feel, incorporating elements of east and west; try one of the decadent Guerlain facials, infused with orchid extract or royal jelly, in one of the two treatment rooms, tucked away in a peaceful part of the hotel, or steam away any tension in one of two hammams. If you're staying in one of the two villas that flank the gate, you – or you and your fellow Smith – can enjoy treatments in your own private spa room.
Flying goggles and headscarf: should the hot-air balloons in the grounds decide to head skywards, you’ve come prepared. Alternatively, leopard-print scarves or stilettos and sexy smalls for your grand boudoir – it’d be a shame to let Bambi Sloan’s come-hither decor go to waste.
The mansion was originally built by the widow of French prime minister, Adolphe Thiers, to provide a learning centre for some of France’s most talented students.
Little Smiths are welcome, too: baby cots are free, as are extra beds for under-12s (€55 a night for over-12s); babysitting can be arranged with 24 hours’ notice (€20 an hour). On request, the hotel can arrange child-friendly tours and other activities.
As close as you can get to the French windows, whatever the weather – admire the gardens.
Turn to the native fashion giants – they deliver the visual theatre that this hotel deserves: think Yves Saint Laurent smoking jacket, chic Chanel monochromes, inky Christian Dior silks (monocle/cigarette holder optional).
Formerly, the Michelin-starred restaurant was a dining room for the Thiers Foundation’s earnest students – erudite things have been said here. The feel is far from serious though, thanks to the flamboyant cosiness: leopard-print carpet, red-velvet chairs and banquettes, boxy glass vases stuffed with fresh flowers, and some important-looking types painted in oils and hanging from the walls. Expect gourmet French classics from chef Adrien Brunet, cooked and served with panache, and airy takes on seasonal cuisine: scallops with smoked aubergine, roasted fillet of turbot with French Baeri caviar and a decadent pairing of foie gras and white pudding. Desserts are a joint effort dreamed up with pastry chef Sophie Bonnefond – Limoncello granita with crisp sesame and a modern take on the classic sundae, with burned bread ice cream and gavotte biscuits. Adjacent to the main dining room is the library, for lighter, more casual lunches that are no less delicious; book here for delicate risottos and a very tempting dessert cart…
The bar is set in the library, which has 12,000 books. Walls are wood-panelled, chairs and books are encased in nut-brown leather, and there’s a spiral staircase to access the tomes. Lest this sounds earnest, look to the leopard-print carpet… Sip a classic cocktail, or ask the barman for one of his secret signature muddles. You're in France, so the wine is – naturally – very drinkable.
Sit down for breakfast between 7am and 10am; lunch between 12.30pm and 2pm, and dine from 7.30pm ’til 10pm.
Light snacks and mains are available in-room around the clock.
This city-central hotel is on the right bank's 16th arrondissement, within easy reach of all Paris' main sights.
UK and international flights land at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Paris Orly has good domestic links to most of the country; both airports are a 30-minute drive away. A taxi from Charles de Gaulle international airport to the centre costs about €50; buses and trains run regularly into town at a fraction of the cost. Air France runs regular airport shuttle buses to Etoile, a 20-minute walk away.
The Gare du Nord, port of call of the Eurostar, is either a 20-minute taxi ride or a 30-minute journey on line 2 of the metro from Porte Dauphine to La Chapelle (at Gare du Nord).
We’d never recommend driving in Paris, but should you be so bold, the hotel has free parking, and plenty of it.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you’re here to celebrate a special occasion, book one of the ground-floor reception rooms, which seat up to 25 people, and have a private dinner party. Avenue Victor Hugo, a short walk away, is famous for its high-end boutiques. The Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower are also just a short stroll from the hotel. Visit L’Institut du Monde Arabe on Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard in the 5ème. As well as the amazing Jean Nouvel façade and Islamic art exhibitions, it has a top-floor terrace with great views across the Seine to Notre Dame and Ile de la Cité. If you're taken with the pair of taxidermied zebra mounts above the lobby's fireplace, stop by legendary shop Deyrolle, a 20th-century centre for natural scieences turned Paris' premier taxidermy shop – amid many a fantastical mount, you may even spy a unicorn…
Get to grips with succulent seafood (pick the juiciest specimens from the glittering ice-heap outside) at Le Stella (+33 (0)1 56 90 56 00) on Avenue Victor Hugo. It’s busy, bustling, and very authentic. Waiters wear black bow ties; diners range from casual to fur-wrapped. Les Tablettes de Nomicos (+33 (0)1 56 28 16 16) on Avenue Bugead is pricey (around €150 each for the tasting menu), but you’ll forgive the sting to the wallet as you linger over each inventive dish. At Le Petit Pergolese (+33 (0)1 45 00 23 66) on Rue Pergolèse, you’ll be torn between what to admire: red-leather seating, artworks from Albert Carre’s collection and meticulously elegant cuisine. L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (+33 (0)1 42 22 56 56) at 5-7 rue de Montalembert is a must-visit for culinary connoisseurs. Skip lunch and dine on mammoth-sized steak at the colourful Le Table Lauriston (+33 (0)1 47 27 00 07) on Rue Lauriston. Alternatively, skip breakfast and conquer the set lunch menu – a steal at around €25 each.
For a madcap dining experience – and more of Bambi Sloan's ingenious design – head to Derrière on 69 Rue des Gravilliers. The cheeky eatery is like dining in somebody's home, even their bedroom, while you sit on their bed; we were especially charmed by the Narnia-esque secret smoking room…
Café-culture hunters will want to stop for a quick crème, cognac or sole meunière at Brasserie Lipp (+33 (0)1 45 48 53 91) on Boulevard Saint-Germain, the third of Saint-Germain's 'big three' cafés and a left-bank icon.
The disco-tastic Andy Wahloo – next door to Derrière – has plenty of neon, light-up floors and a menu that is, quite literally, a book. (Good luck choosing.) We also liked the strange yet super-fun laundry-themed drinkery Lavomatic on Rue René Boulanger, where you can perch on a giant brillo-pad as you browse a cocktail list where none of the drinks are a wash-out.
‘Right, that’s it, we’re going on holiday,’ declares Mr Smith one supper. ‘I think we should go to Paris’. Red-wine mouths, cheese on the canal, cigarettes, sunglasses and steak…‘Oh definitely,’ I say mid imaginary mouthful.
Leave is taken, trains are booked; then two lunchtimes before we are set to go, Mr Smith rings and announces he has to stay home for work. Ready for our long weekend of balconies, boulevards and boulangerie, and the photobooth at the Palais de Tokyo, I ring my oldest friend and ask her if she will be my stunt Mrs Smith for the weekend. Excited, she yelps down the phone, ‘I’m going to make a mood board!’
Mrs Smith is also a practiced Parisian navigator; we step out of Porte Dauphine Métro station and she turns her nose left. ‘In the pictures there’s a garden, I can’t imagine any of the buildings here have a garden,’ I point out. But the buildings get lower, and apartment blocks segue to chic villas, and there, on a cheese-wedge-shaped block flanked by a high wall, we spy the most perfect little château: tall and elegant. ‘Like the house in Disney’s Aristocats,’ I say in an earnest tone usually adopted by people quoting Baudelaire.
Saint James Paris stands on the site of the first Montgolfier hot-air balloon launch in 1783 – the world’s first ‘airport’. Back in the early days of aviation this was the edge of the city and there was space to build steep roofs, a terrace and forecourt: it is the most unParisian building in the most French way possible. Balloon-print wallpapers and colourful curtains in the lobby reflect the building’s buoyant history.
Mrs Smith runs up the grand staircase in swift hurdles while I explore the enfilade of snug but stately public rooms. ‘We need our first glass of wine, mademoiselle,’ I say sternly as her little round face looks down from the balcony in the lobby. Facing out to the garden from the library, we forget that we are in Paris. In fact it is very hard to imagine we are anywhere but a comfortable Loire outpost.
Upstairs, our room is a riot of ruby toile wallpaper, crimson curtains, shutters and bed sheets; the bathroom had brass taps and there is even a wooden brolly waiting for us at the entrance to our boudoir, at the ready should walks threaten to be wet. We’ve never spent time in this part of Paris; it’s popular with diplomats – quiet and leafy but right near the action. The Trocadéro and Arc de Triomphe are but a 10-minute walk in either direction, and after 15 minutes on line 2 of the Métro and we are soon climbing the steep alleys of Montmartre. That brolly comes in useful; it’s probably never seen so much of the city. We try sitting in the Tuileries for a ritual beer and cigarette (recreating a lovely weekend in the final year of university when we eloped to the same spot before finals), but the Parisian monsoon puts stop to this so instead we try on hats in the arcades of Rue de Rivoli.
Getting bored undercover, we peg it over the road for the Métro and, standing in our own little puddles, people point, telling their children we must have been been swimming in the Seine. We laugh and drip and get wet again as we run up the drive to the Saint James. It’s really satisfying drying off city rain in a country house, especially when you have carpet to warm your sodden soles quite neatly.
Kneeling on the floor, blowing our trousers with the hairdryer, a gin and tonic in one hand, we smile. ‘There’s something really glamorous about this whole situation,’ I say to Mrs Smith. ‘Drinking in your hotel room. These kinds of hotels really are the preserve of couples usually aren’t they? Especially Saint James Paris: those big showers…’
‘The giant bed!’
‘That breakfast trolley and the bottle of champagne in the minibar…’
I stop and think of Mr Smith working hard back in London. ‘You’re like my mistress!’ I tell her, and we giggle over the last drops of our apéritifs.
Gliding down the stairs to supper arm-in-arm, we must look like Jack and Rose. In the formal restaurant, Flavours, she orders the langoustine starter and steak main, I opt for foie gras and lobster and any romance that might have been in another life is soon smothered with mustard and washed down with wine. The moment du jour is our almost-silent inhalation of pudding: a peach cheesecake, a perfect finale to a meal that is somehow suited to this salon in this hotel.
‘You’ve got a red-wine mouth!’ smirks Mrs Smith. ‘As Mr Smith is going to be so jealous of this weekend when he hears about it,’ she adds. As we stroll down the road that night and look back at our darling château; she squeezes my arm with as much effort as you can after a meal that indulgent. ‘I quite like having a Mrs Smith,’ I confess to her, smiling. ‘I don’t suppose your Mr Smith would mind if I borrowed you and brought you back here occasionally?’ Well, look at me with my very own mistress.