During one of his many stays at the exclusive Le Meurice hotel in Paris, Salvador Dalí is said to have ordered staff to bring a flock of sheep to his room. As legend has it, the artist then pulled out his pistol and gunned the sheep down. Well, he would have done, had his gun not been filled with blanks.
This surreal tale is just one of many fascinating stories from the hotel’s long, and sometimes eccentric, history, which features visits from kings, aristocrats, glitterati and, more latterly, Twitterati. But amid all the glamour of high-society visitors, Le Meurice has maintained a touch of the unconventional – which is probably what has made it the retreat of choice for some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals.
Giorgio de Chirico, Rudyard Kipling, Tchaikovsky, Placido Domingo, Orson Welles, Yehudi Menuhin and Walter Lippmann are among those who have passed through the hotel’s slow-turning gilded doors, which reflect the front gates of the Tuileries Garden.
And in keeping with its proud history of creative guests, the hotel’s location also makes it a perfect spot from which to mount your own artistic forays into the French capital, a city bursting with galleries, exhibitions, museums and shows.
Where is it?
Located on the Rue de Rivoli, in the heart of the city’s 1st arrondissement, the hotel is just a short stroll from the Musée du Louvre and its myriad riches to the east, and the imposing Centre Pompidou – an art installation in its own right. To the west is the Musée de l’Orangerie and its vast wrap-around Monets, and the (surprisingly less well-known) City of Paris Museum of Modern Art. Or head across the river and you are at the Musée d’Orsay, home to the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world.
Unquestionably one of the grandest hotels in France, Le Meurice was completely overhauled last year by acclaimed French designer Philippe Starck, who has preserved the building’s historic features while revitalising its interiors. Evidently granted significant artistic licence, Starck’s public spaces strike a perfect note between the traditional and the contemporary, and even, in places, the whimsically futuristic.
Le Meurice has 160 lavish guest rooms and suites, originally designed by French interior designer Charles Jouffre – each featuring furnishings and decoration with more than a passing whiff of Louis XVI.
But even more impressive than the hotel’s interiors is its location. To stay at Le Meurice is to feel connected to the city. Open your shutters and Paris is at your feet – the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe to your right; and beneath, just beyond the Tuileries, the mighty Seine.
Le Meurice is also home to the Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, the two Michelin-starred establishment with its own renown, quite independent of the hotel within which it sits. The restaurant’s head chef, Jocelyn Herland, arrived from the Dorchester in 2015, rejuvenating the menu while adhering to Ducasse’s core philosophies, which aim to maximise the character of each ingredient on the plate.
In the atrium immediately next to the restaurant, an entirely different gastronomic event takes place every day, as executive pastry chef Cédric Grolet turns out afternoon teas of such delicacy that they have catapulted the chef into the city’s gastronomic elite. Grolet’s personal Instagram account currently has more than 620,000 followers, who marvel at the young chef’s creations, including his Rubik’s Cube-shaped cakes, towering croquembouche and, most fascinating of all, his “fruits” – intricate cakes that look like real fruit but that when cut open reveal unexpected fillings cased in a pastry shell.
When to visit
There is never a wrong time to visit Paris, but in the run-up to Christmas, the city is awash with interesting exhibitions, including the Marcel Duchamp Prize at the Pompidou, which pays homage to the best of French contemporary art.
Equally interesting is the Being Modern: MoMA in Paris exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The show features more than 200 works from the Museum of Modern Art Paris’s favourite trailblazers including Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte and Paul Cézanne.
Also fascinating is the Christian Dior exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which traces the life and times of Dior, following his path from gallery owner (who exhibited Picasso, Man Ray, Giacometti and sometime Le Meurice resident Dalí, among others), to his ascension to dresser of royals and Hollywood stars.
Alternatively, you can simply wander the streets, ticking off highlights from Time Out Paris’s guide to the city’s vibrant street art scene.
Not content with mere proximity to the art world, Le Maurice established the Meurice Prize for contemporary art, in 2008, to support the country’s brightest young artists. Every year a prize of €20,000 (£17,600) is awarded to a painter, sculptor, photographer, or installation or video artist, with the winner announced two weeks before the Paris FIAC contemporary art fair, in October.
Price and booking
The hotel’s Festive Season package includes superior room accommodation for two, American breakfast for two, a welcome bottle of Alain Ducasse Champagne and chocolate treats from Alain Ducasse from €955 (£840).
Le Meurice, 228 Rue de Rivoli, Paris, +33144581010, www.dorchestercollection.com