A new French revolution has occurred! By permission of the French authorities, you too can stay in one of the new “palaces.” At the beginning of 2010, they created a new five- star hotel category that, curiously, did not exist before. Yes prior to that date, France did not have a single five-star hotel.
The tourism ministry induced the French hotel business to improve the quality of facilities and services and many hotels have worked hard to obtain this five-star label that puts them on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Now the choice will be easier for incoming tourists and gone will be the annoyances that were always possible when, in the same category, you weren’t able to tell the difference between standard four-star hotels and luxury ones.
But, what about the most famous French luxury hotels which are already a cut above others? Apart from the few traditional glamorous ones, a new wave of prestigious establishments from international hotel chains is changing the landscape of the top hotels on offer, mainly in Paris and Provence-Côte d’Azur. By the end of 2012, Paris will have doubled the capacity of luxury hotel rooms. In order to highlight the best of the best and to promote the excellence of these high-class hotels a new label – the Palace – has been recently created by the French Tourism Ministry.
The level of quality to achieve this ‘Palace’ label has led a few people to talk about a ‘seven-star label’. It goes without saying that all hotels aspiring to become ‘palaces’ have to be exceptional establishments, “la crème de la crème” as the French say. They must be atypical and beyond the ordinary standards of a luxury hotel. Not only must the services be outstanding but the facilities including restaurants and spas have to be the first rate too. In award to achieve this status, location, architecture and the history of the hotel, are also very important to the official jury. And new hotels have to wait for a minimum of 12 months after opening before any status is to be awarded.
In late May 2011, the first eight awarded Palaces were announced by Frederic Lefebvre, the French Tourism State Secretary who declared: “These hotels must be a dream. The word ‘palace’ takes place inside the imagination of everyone and it’s an invitation to travel”. Four hotels in Paris, two in the French Alps, and two on the seaside were allowed to carry the Palace label. And in October, the George V in Paris, which seemed to have been forgotten in the first round, became the ninth.
The Parisian Palaces are the Bristol, the Meurice, the Park-Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, the Plaza-Athénée and the George V. In the country, the Cheval Blanc and Les Airelles, both located in the Alps in the famous ski resort of Courchevel, received this label. Finally, the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz on the Atlantic Ocean, and the Grand Hotel du Cap at St Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the Mediterranean seaside received “palace” awards.
In Paris, the Raffles Royal Monceau which has re-opened after a long renovation, the Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental which recently opened, as well as the Peninsula which will open later this year, is among those who must wait before they can make an application for the label.
But this new revolution is stronger than anyone could have imagined. Even though prices in such ‘palaces’ are very high, the demand still exists. Sometimes it is hard to get a booking. Paris is the most visited town in the world and attracts upscale tourism. So to be able to withstand these newer hotels that have attracted ‘palace’ status, a lot of well-known establishments have chosen to close and be completely renovated in order to try and win the coveted award. It’s a tsunami that has shaken the small world of the French luxury hotel business.
The Carlton in Cannes will be closed for eight months from September 2012 to May 2013, ditto the Negresco in Nice which will close for six months from January to June 2012. In Paris, the Ritz (owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed) will close its doors and won’t re-open until the beginning of 2015. The management of the Crillon in Paris, which was voted the best city hotel in the world by The Daily Telegraph last May, recently revealed that “The Crillon faces renovation works in 2012″, but hasn’t yet specified dates or whether it will be a partial or full closing.
Finally, the birth of the ‘Palace label’ is a wonderful opportunity to improve the French hotels and to remind staff and hoteliers that you cannot afford to rest on your laurels. France, being the first tourism destination of choice in the world has to make permanent and continuous efforts to keep this position.
So soon, Paris will present a more fabulous choice of accommodation for Parisians and for all those who have already fallen in love with this city of gastronomy, culture and romanticism. And for those who are still hesitant about visiting Paris, spend this weekend watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris – a true love letter to Paris.