In a nutshell: Left bank grande dame, elegantly and expensively restored to its former glory
Historic Lutetia, part of the Set Hotels collection that also encompasses London’s Cafe Royal, is right in the centre of Saint-Germain. So imposing is the building that it takes up the corner of busy Boulevard Raspail and Rue de Sevres, on the artsy Left Bank.
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Is there a zippier neighbourhood in Paris than Saint-Germain? The heart of the post-war existentialist movement, a jazz club hub and latterly an upscale fashion haven, this Left Bank neighbourhood is just as arty, thoughtful and cerebral as it was when Lutetia first opened in 1910 by the family of department store Le Bon Marche.
This arrondissement is still best known for its role in Paris’ intellectual history. If you want to buy a tres tres expensive croissant and coffee and debate philosophy, there’s Les Deux Magots and Cafe Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain, the hangouts of existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. La Sorbonne is nearby, as is the slightly wild Jardin du Luxembourg (its killer marketing campaign being that it’s the favourite park of Parisians). And there’s always, always a cafe to hang out in near here. Boulevard Raspail is loaded with them.
Given Paris is super compact, Lutetia is a short wander to the Latin Quarter and Place St Michel, as well as the Musee D’Orsay and the Seine.
Somewhere in between art nouveau and art deco. After being a fancy Parisian hangout in the 1920s, it was then a haven for displaced refugees during the Second World War, many of them Paris’ artists and musicians, and wears its history lightly.
The grand curved exterior of the hotel in pale stone, complete with wrought iron balconies, give it a feminine, floral look despite its cathedral-like proportions. The “Lutetia” in gold lettering, which is stamped prominently right on the corner stone, indicates that this is a Very Important Hotel – indeed, it’s the only grand hotel this side of the Seine. Inside is all polished marble floors, bunches of fresh hydrangeas, cabinets of designer trinkets for sale and important-looking chairs positioned just so.
Prim, to the point where I felt underdressed for wearing jeans and sporting just-showered hair at breakfast. At the weekend it attracts a fun crowd to its restaurants and bars (see below).
Bed and bath
Rooms borrow much from the design textbook of a 1920s hey-day cruise ship (think the glamour of the Titanic rather than a Carnival cruise around the Caribbean): walnut parquet flooring, sleek navy leather and lots of bronze fittings hanging with globular lights.
Suites come with teensy wrought-iron balconies that overlook the Square Boucicaut park opposite (squint through the trees to get a glimpse of that other wrought iron Left Bank icon – the Eiffel Tower) and Boulevard Raspail. Bathrooms are marble-draped, with double sinks and bespoke tubs in each room, all carved from a single piece.
Food and drink
Brasserie Lutetia, which has a separate entrance and a glass conservatory facing the juncture of Boulevard Raspail and Rue de Sevres, achieves that most rare quality of hotel restaurants: that it doesn’t look or feel like a hotel restaurant. French chef Gérald Passedat has created a menu full of surprises, from a raw selection of oyster and langoustine platters to bouillabaisse. There’s a generous French wine list too, which probably explains the constant weekend buzz.
Further into the hotel is Salon Saint-Germain – look up at the restored kaleidoscopically colourful stained glass ceiling – a gorgeous interior courtyard that serves food alongside plenty of books to read, if you need somewhere to hang in the afternoon.
The pretty Bar Josephine opposite is perfect for a night cap (pull up a camel leather seat at the arched bar) while breakfast is served at the ever-so-slightly stiff L’Orangerie, which also has a small sun-trap terrace.
Pools, spas and public areas
The 700-square-metre Akasha spa is in the basement of the hotel, with a small lap pool that by late afternoon is bathed in shards of light that come through the grates on the pavement. Which is better than it sounds, honestly. As part of the spa there’s a sauna, steam room, icy plunge pool and Jacuzzi.
Nuts and bolts
Room count: 184, of which 47 are suites.
In the bathroom: Ren toiletries.
Minibar charges: Yes.
Disability access: Yes.
Pet policy: Pets that weight under 10kg are fine.
Best thing: The tiny wrought iron balconies overlooking Boulevard Raspail, if you can swag a junior suite.
Worst thing: The price, which is excessive – even for the sexiest address in Saint-Germain.
Perfect for: Champagne socialists.
Not right for: Tourists who want a more creative Saint-Germain vibe.
Instagram from: Salon Saint-Germain, looking up at the coloured stained glass ceiling.
Room rate: €850 B&B.
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