Rachel Seed braves the Parisian traffic for an encounter with the City of Light’s Grande-Dame.
Arguably Paris’s most famous hotel, the George V is located in the perfect spot to explore one of Europe’s most romantic cities, just steps from the superhighway Champs-Elysées and the seven-lane roundabout horror that is the Arc de Triomphe. Ideal if you’re on foot or being dropped off by one of the Four Seasons’ cars. Not so ideal if you’re having to navigate your way through the centre of Paris and around (and around, and around) the Arc de Triomphe in a great beast of a 4×4 to get there: we had arrived courtesy of a gleaming new borrowed Land Rover Discovery which we were reviewing. I’m sure my colleague’s eyes were shut as she negotiated the tooting French traffic, hoping that the sophisticated vehicle she controlled would weave its way through the densely-packed traffic on some kind of 21st century auto-pilot. The fact that the in-built sat-nav had decided to pack up in the Parisian suburbs made matters far, far worse. Moral of the tale? Always pack a good, old-fashioned map. As we finally pulled up outside, looking dishevelled, the doormen greeted us like long lost friends (there is something about Four Seasons’ doormen – the doormen to beat all doormen) and as the stress melted away, we were gently taken out of the car (it seemed) and transported to our room.
From the moment you walk into the foyer, you know that that the hotel is serious about luxury and opulence. Chandeliers hang from every available ceiling space, walls are festooned with beautiful tapestries, there is acre after acre of marble, gold leaf coats any surface that stands still long enough, plus George’s showpiece flower arrangements offer a much-needed foil to the traditional elements of the design. Stunning, dramatic and completely over the top in the best possible way – and in the best possible taste – these arrangements were to be found throughout the communal areas of the hotel and had as much impact on my memory as the grandeur of the building itself.
Georges V is a hotel of contradictions, in some ways. But to be clear, I am not gently padding my way to a criticism by that statement. There really, genuinely wasn’t anything to criticise. The grandness of the building may lead you to expect a certain degree of stuffiness, but this could not be further from the truth here. The warmth of the staff shone through immediately and the friendly, intuitive service continued throughout our stay, in all departments – from the super-knowledgeable concierge, to the lovely bar staff, the passionate man wheeling the fromage trolley and the sweet chambermaids. A special mention must go to the staff in the spa, where it is particularly important to make the guests feel completely comfortable and at home. Easily the most opulent spa I’ve ever seen in all my wordly travels, with the Louis XVI theme continuing with stunning trompe l’oeil, whirlpools, swimming pools, saunas, luxurious rest rooms and an impressive menu of treatments, offering something for any mood (though not any budget – like everything else in this hotel, the prices really aren’t for the faint-hearted. There is an assumption that if you baulk at the price of anything, then perhaps you shouldn’t really be here).
The room – thankfully? Disappointingly? – was typical, generic Four Seasons fayre. Nothing to criticise as it had everything you could possibly need or desire and everything within it was constructed to the highest possible specifications and finish; but then nothing to shout about either. Our ample suite with its double-height ceilings certainly did tick all the five-star boxes: a huge, comfy bed with the very best high thread-count cotton and downy pillows and duvet to lose yourself in; an enormous marble-clad, divine bathroom with fluffy robes, mountains of towels, a generous supply of gorgeous Bulgari products, a shower big enough for two and a huge bath to luxuriate in; a large plasma TV with plenty of channels and film choices brought a dash of modernity. Everything you could possibly need to relax after a hard day pounding the streets of Paris or a hard night of Mojito drinking (and boy, what a Mojito!) in the bar downstairs.
The room’s amenities were well and truly road-tested the morning after our dinner the night before. And what a dinner. With pomp and swagger that only Parisian restaurateurs can muster, we were swept through six courses of precision cooking and wine serving. With flair and drama, the Sommelier took over our wine choices for each course, describing each wine’s exact details in the thickest of Gallic accents: the man, basically, got us very drunk indeed. By the time the cheeses arrived, we had to squint with one eye closed to concentrate on the plethora of French milky goodness. By the time pudding number one turned up, we knew we were going to have to be poured back into our suite. As one would expect, the cooking is superlative and traditional in its approach. The finest of ingredients treated with centuries-old respect for French cooking and methods. Molecular gastronomy and fusion cuisine are two genres that have never entered the hallowed kitchens of the George V. And on that night, we were truly thankful.
Breakfast, thankfully, was not of the Continental ilk and its generosity helped to soothe our aching brows. After refilling on buttery pastries, perfectly poached eggs draped in rich Hollandaise and litres of freshly-squeezed orange juice and surprisingly good coffee (considering we were in France and the French aren’t great at coffee), we headed back upstairs for soothing baths and to wrap ourselves gently in fluffy towelling. Once the hangover – caused no doubt by alcohol plus an abundance of butter and cream in last night’s feast – had receded, we braced ourselves for a wander around the hotel’s environs, taking in grand facade after grand facade. Once we had truly recovered, we got back into the 4×4 beast for our onward journey towards the south of France. All that lay between us and the sun-kissed coast were the mean streets of Paris, a malfunctioning sat-nav and extreme dehydration. Nothing we couldn’t handle, once the doormen had filled our seat pockets with bottles of branded Four Seasons water and pointed us in a cheeky shortcut direction that avoided the Arc’s killer roundabout. Bless them.
Once the only place to stay in Paris for the stylish and moneyed elite, the George V now faces stiff competition thanks to the arrival of a gang of Asian hotels: Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, Raffles and Peninsula. However, unlike its competitors in the City of Light, the Four Seasons’ George V will always have its charm and superlative service to fall back on. While the wealthy set may try out the newcomers, with service, food and amenities this good, we’re certain that George V will always be the jewel in Paris’s hotel crown.
31 Avenue George V, Paris
Tel: +33 1 49 52 70 00
Date of review: June 2011.
Rachel Seed stayed as a guest of Four Seasons.
Land Rover Discovery supplied by Land Rover UK.