L'Hotel de Sers, Paris
Jennifer Joan Lee
Where? A handbag's toss from Louis Vuitton's traffic-stopping main shop off the Champs Elysees, yet far enough from the bright lights and bustle to be a sanctuary of calm and silence.
If it's in France, it must have a history, right?
Absolutely. As the private mansion home of the Marquis de Sers, who acquired it in 1880, the four-storey property added to the splendour of 19th-century Parisian aristocratic life. By the early 20th century the building had been converted into a hospice, and in 1935, thanks to the washrooms that were installed in every room, it was reincarnated as a 'travellers' lodge'. It was later crowned the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and when that became an anachronism its owners transferred the management to their 20-something son, who, along with his equally youthful architect cousin, transformed the place into the light-filled, designer boutique hotel we see today.
Contemporary or traditional? Both. Hi-tech, translucent doors at the entrance slide open to reveal a long gallery hung with 19th-century oil paintings and fitted with sleek, curved armchairs. Above the simple reception desk the mansion's original, majestic staircase swirls ornately up to the lounge room and bar, and an ooh- and ahh- inducing view of a colossal Baccarat chandelier.
Tell us more. Don't expect the usual KitKat, peanuts and Lipton's tea in the mini-bar. It's the details that count here, and they include heavenly macarons by celebrity pastry chef Pierre Herme, chocolates by Pierre Marcolini and teas from Betjeman and Barton. The luxuries extend to the bathrooms, stocked with aromatherapy toiletries from French skin-care guru Anne Semonin.
The quarters must be beyond luxe? Minimalist style meets maximum comfort in the 52 rooms, plus two suites, two panoramic suites and one apartment, which includes a kitchenette. All are equipped with tall, double-glazed windows framed by fuchsia taffeta curtains that graze the floor like ballgowns. Amenities include internet access, satellite TV and a flat Bang & Olufsen screen, and DVD player. The clean lines of the rosewood furniture are whimsically offset by a duchesse chair upholstered in pop-art wool. In the bathroom, the Italian marble and spanking new fixtures are so shiny you hardly need the mirror.
Where will it all end? On the spacious terraces extending from the two panoramic suites, which offer sweeping vistas of the city from the Eiffel Tower to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. In room 75, take in the view from the warmth of a deep, claw-foot bathtub set before floor-to-ceiling windows boasting the same, uninterrupted view. You might even catch a glimpse of the stars from room 81: its sitting area is encased in glass, across the ceiling and down to the floor. It is a private planetarium or solarium depending on the time of day.
What's on the menu? What counts is the menu in the bathroom, where guests can spoil themselves with custom-drawn baths. Depending on your choice, a chambermaid will fill your tub with water heated to the exact temperature, scented with essential oils and scattered with rose petals or other flora. A CD player sets the mood, along with a glass of wine or cognac. 'Menus' are tailored for men, women, or both.
Anything else we should know? There is a small restaurant at the back of the lobby, but the hotel's real draw is the courtyard, where fashionable guests unfold their long limbs in the shadow of this latest monument to France's rich heritage.
Superior room from Euro390 ($3,915) a night; deluxe room from Euro470; suite from Euro860; panoramic suite from Euro920; the apartment from Euro1,050. L'Hotel de Sers, 41 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 75008, Paris, tel: +33 (0) 1 53 23 75 75; www.hoteldesers.com.