|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter PAGE THREE|
‘Palaces’ Controversy: Off with Their Heads!
by Maribeth Clemente
Come along with us and Maribeth Clemente to explore some of Paris' most upscale, historic and architecturally significant hotels.
I watched the rainbow-colored display of cyclists zoom around the place
de la Concorde the final stage of the Tour de France, I was nagged by only
one discouraging thought. No, it had nothing to do with cycling or the
fact that an American wasn't going to make the podium. It was about that
grand and imposing building bordering this famous place and how it's no
longer officially considered une palace de Paris. Yes, I'm talking
about the renowned Hôtel de Crillon, the place where Queen Elizabeth
stayed when she visited Paris many years ago. It's, in fact, the glorious
abode chosen by Lance Armstrong after several Tour finishes when he was
at the peak of his reign and sandwiched in between the American Consulate
and the Residence of the American Ambassador in Paris. If you can't make
it to Versailles, have tea here, and you'll have a taste of eighteenth-century
French grandeur that will more than satisfy all your senses and sensibilities.
Here's what I wrote about Les Palaces in my book, The Riches of Paris: A Shopping and Touring Guide:
French have two words for a palace: palais and château.
Somehow it seemed fitting, however, to adopt the English word palace in
the early 1900s to describe the glorious grand hotels that were then being
built in Paris. What began as a marketing move to attract prominent British
tourists soon stuck and, today, when one refers to les palaces de Paris,
most people know that this includes a select few. Six palatial hotels worthy
of being called palace exist today in Paris, and once you step into one
you will know why. The historical significance of each is remarkable, but
it's more likely the profound attention to detail of each fine establishment
that puts them head and shoulders above the rest of Paris's splendid hotels.
The six are the Four Seasons Hôtel George V, Hôtel le Bristol,
Hôtel de Crillon, Hôtel Meurice, Hôtel Plaza Athenée
Paris and Hôtel Ritz. Even if you don't plan to spend the night,
I wholeheartedly encourage you to stop at one of these bastions of tradition,
the crème de la crème of all the world's hotels. You
may breathe in their allure for the price of un café or just
a tour around the lobby. Be sure to dress up for the occasion."
just confirms something else I wrote about in my Paris book: Be wary
of the star ratings with hotels. I've found fantastic two-star establishments
that in my opinion warrant three stars and four-star establishments that
would do well to receive a three-star rating. C'est souvent n'importe
quoi. You can tell that all this has my dander up.
I stick by the palace classification I provided above. You go to Paris, see for yourself, and you'll understand why.
to the Hôtel de Crillon, the Four Seasons George V and Hôtel
web site, Bonjour Colorado, at http://bonjourcolorado.com
focuses on her love for skiing and
SPONSORING THIS ISSUE
hotel in Paris can be daunting - where do you begin?
Paris : A Medieval Castle of… Many Talents!
by Arthur Gillette
Pop star Michael Jackson visited it in 1996 and wanted to buy it. "Sorry," he was was told, "this is a national monument and, therefore, not for sale." Tenaciously attracted, and perhaps a mite irked, he had a not-so-miniature model made of it which he put on display at his Neverland Ranch in California.
Originally built towards the end of the 13th century, it was all-but-destroyed during royal/feudal feuding at the beginning of the 17th century. Huge cannonball holes are still visible in its lower (thus original) ramparts. Thereafter, the castle became an all-but-forgotten vestige until Napoleon I bought it in 1810. Time before Waterloo was too short for him to do much with the place, and in any event the then-dominant neo-classic taste ignored it. Until . . . Napoleon III came to power in the mid-19th century, a time of Medieval revival when the place's ruins had come to be deemed romantic.
was the object of this attraction over the last century-and-a-half?
Nothing less than the overpowering Pierrefonds Castle, about one and one-half-hours'
drive northeast of Paris towards the Belgian border.
With a major restoration in mind, Napoleon III hesitated between Pierrefonds and another Medieval masterpiece. His Empress, Eugénie, much preferred Pierrefonds. Avoiding a spat, the imperial couple agreed that a decision would be made by 'drawing straws'. Eugénie is thought to have duped her husband by writing Pierrefonds on both slips of paper one of which the Emperor was to draw at random from a hat to decide the matter.
In 1857, the castle's revival was entrusted to that major restorer (including Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral), Eugène Viollet le-Duc. Here is his drawing of the romantic ruin before he started work on it:
The job took over a quarter of a century, and Michael Jackson was right: the result – an enthralling visit still today – does indeed recall to a degree Peter Pan's Neverland fantasy kingdom! At the time, there were no rigid, universally-recognized and accepted criteria for architectural restoration, and Violet's passionate goal was to produce a Château de Pierrefonds as he thought it could/should have been. Today, the monument's managers call it "a re-invented castle".
To be sure, Viollet le Duc's restoration of the external walls, ramparts and towers does seem overwhelmingly and forebodingly worthy of Medieval military architecture. He embellished and lightened them somewhat, however, with statues of several preux, i.e. gallant and valiant historical personages of classical and Biblical fame, including for example Saint Michael slaying his dragon.
inside the Château de Pierrefonds, however, you come upon Viollet
Le Duc's penchant for a variety of period styles. He bordered the interior
courtyard with fenêtres à meneaux – technically known
as mullioned windows - whose criss-crossed Renaissance structure allowed
for light to enter the interior in much greater quantity than during the
The Monduit Permanent Collection of… Lead Artifacts!
it seems totally incongruous that a Medieval monument should house a huge
collection of 19th century industrially-crafted lead artifacts. But a single
closer look explains why. The Monduit Company (1867 – 1970) focused much
of its production on items helping to refurbish such medieval vestiges
as the spires at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the St. Michel Abbey on
the Mount of the same name and Amiens Cathedral, not to forget the roofing
some specialists, certain elements of Viollet le Duc's interior decoration
at Pierrefonds announce Art Nouveau's lively colored sweeps and swirls
several decades before that iconoclastic style – partly of Medieval inspiration
itself, in fact - really began to flourish.
Bringing things even closer to modernity, the restoration included, in Emperor Napoleon III's private quarters, a flush toilet! And to top things off, Viollet le Duc signed his restoration in the most contemporary way possible: with a statue of himself as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela greeting visitors at the Pierrefonds Castle's chapel entry.
Are you doubting the likeness? Well, here's the restorer himself, immortalized by no less a photographer than Nadar: different garb of course, but same face and beard.
[Mouse over photos on this page for credits and further descriptions.]