I live in the regular world, full of regular things, but I know that there is magic to be found. And of everywhere in the world I’ve been, I know Paris to be where the most magic is found. The simplest thing can make me nearly tear up with joy, or at the least smile till I think my face will split; an entire shop dedicated just to pistachios, a crunchy baguette stuffed with oozing camembert and slathered with salted butter, a caramel ice cream cone from Berthillon, savored in a bit of pale winter sunshine on the Ile St. Louis. These are small pleasures, but memorable ones, and everyone can enjoy them.
But there is another world, one where the magic whisks you away to a place of opulence and blissful luxury, where every care is tended to, every need foreseen. I’ve said before I like nice hotels when I travel, but there is one that is perhaps the grand dame of all luxury hotels in Paris, perhaps the world. I’d never even so much strolled past the Hôtel Plaza Athénée but of course knew about it. I knew it as place a world away from the simple and charming places within my budget where I like to stay. So when I was invited to stay at their treat, as media, I flew directly to cloud nine.
We were scheduled to stay there on our last night of a 16-day trip,a trip that included an overnight trip by camel in the Sahara desert with no facilities – a euphemism by the agency that helped book the expedition for no toilet, no water, no electric, no heat. Our bed was a mattress in a pigeon feather-filled tent. Not to say I didn’t love it! The endless stars in the blackest of skies was possibly the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. But roughing it is decidedly not my style, and the thought that kept me smiling through some travel “discomforts” was that of the Plaza, awaiting me in Paris like a beacon of luxury.
All the daydreaming, and speaking of the hotel in verbal italics – “we’re staying at the Plaza,” we’d say – still couldn’t prepare me for sweeping into into the lobby – literally, it was wildly windy – just after sunset on a December night. Leaving the taxi, rumpled and disheveled from a day of travel from Morocco, we were folded into the fantasy of the Plaza, ushered by a dapper doorman to the reception desk in the intimate but grand lobby, where we needn’t trouble ourselves with giving our names to the desk – he handled that bothersome detail. The clerk presented our door keys in an elegant red folder and Aude, the press contact, directed us to our room through amber-perfumed hallways. The first sign that it would be even more special than I had dreamed was the door number: it had two. Aude opened the door and we stepped in. The room – the suite – lay before us. No power on earth could have prevented my mouth from dropping open at the sight. All crystal, plush seating, mirrors, gilt, heavy silk draperies and flowers, and yes, that was a bottle of champagne chilling alongside a platter of chocolate cake. I had walked out of Arabian Nights flying in from Fes that morning, and into a Marie Antoinette dream.
I couldn’t decide where to look first, eyes darting to take it all in as I tried to not sound too much like a girl from Kentucky presented with the most extravagantly luxurious living quarters I’d ever seen. A desk and library, a fireplace with ceiling-high mirror – with flat screen tv built in – two couches and two chairs, and we were still just in the living room. Aude showed us to the bedroom, past an open bathroom door, and the crystal chandelier elegance continued in there. She welcomed us and left us to our joy in the Prestige Suite.
I skipped around the room like a child on the most splendid of all Christmas mornings, taking in the chocolate cake on the table, the Alain Ducasse champagne, and then I lost Brian. “Do we have this wing, too?” he called from down a hall where he’d found a dressing room and another bathroom, all marble and mirror with Dior – DIOR – toiletries arrayed on the counter. The bellman presently arrived with our bags. “Shall I have housekeeping come unpack for you?” he asked. It was all I could do to not giggle – our bags contained nothing but dirty laundry and souvenirs at this point. “No, we can take care of it,” I replied.
Left to our own devices we spent a few wild moments running around looking at everything, marveling at the delicious decadence. “Should stay in the room?” we wondered aloud – we’d planned to go to dinner for a final celebration of the trip. If the concierge could get us into l’Atelier Joël Robuchon we would go out, we decided. If not, we would stay in. Meanwhile Brian popped the champagne and filled our glasses. We were almost too dazed to toast. While the concierge worked his magic calling the restaurant I ran around the suite – the size of our entire home – giggling madly, and jumped on the bed for good measure before drawing a white-tea scented foamy bath in the deep tub. I emerged after a good soak, and ensconced in my heavy Plaza robe, feet tucked into cushy Plaza slippers, tried out the Dior skin crème supplied with the toiletries, although surely I needed nothing else to make me glow at this point.
We reluctantly left the room to stroll to our dinner, and though the tasting menu was one of the most amazing meals of our life, we couldn’t wait to leave to return to our own little Versailles. The room had been cleaned and bed turned down while we were out, soft lights welcoming us back. I perused the pillow menu, thought about ordering a beauty pillow, but the lure of the soft bed was too great and dove promptly in.
I awoke early, sad that it was the last day of our trip, but excited to check out the bicycles the hotel offered guests. A luxuriously long shower under the rainfall showerhead, a brief time lounging in the robe while Brian got ready, and we left our private palace for the lobby where the concierges were only too happy to arrange the bicycle loans for us. Les velos were ready promptly outside, darling red bicycles with tiny headlights and bells, and we hopped straight on to head out for Angelina’s for breakfast. We rode down the Champs Elysees, made our way through the Place de la Concorde and down Rue de Rivoli, where we left our bikes with the Plaza’s sister hotel, Le Meurice, next door to Angelina’s. After our wickedly decadent hot chocolate and breakfast, we pedaled over to the Eiffel Tower to say goodbye to Paris for this time. The only thing that could have drawn me away was our suite and the waning time left before our 12:30 checkout for our flight home.
We sadly finished our packing – I suppose we could have called for help – and rang downstairs for the bellman. One last look around our all-too-brief home, and we left the Plaza, and Paris. Tears welled up in my eyes as the taxi pulled away. “The next time we come back,” Brian said, trying to cheer me up, “we’ll be looking for an apartment.” If only it could be in the Plaza!