Is it really grand? If you are lounging amid the sumptuous furnishings and infinite space of the Royal Suite, or banqueting in the Belle Epoque splendour of the Salon Sauternes, it’s as grand as they come, opulent luxury with French sophistication. And wherever else you go in this historic hostelry, you’ll not want for five-star pampering with a long pedigree.
How did it get so grand? It all began back in the 1780s, when Bordeaux – a port city on France’s Atlantic coast – was a trading powerhouse. Having grown immensely rich, the city laid out stone-built streets of Parisian elegance. In its centre, an opera house of multicolumned splendour arose, and a local aristocrat decided he’d like its architect to build him a big house opposite this new monument. In 1789, the Sacriste de Rolly family moved into a mansion the grandeur of which reflected that of the opera house across the new Place de la Comédie (Theatre Square).
Are the Rollys still there? Don’t be silly, they rolled off long ago. Part of the mansion became a hotel in 1902, and soon the whole building was the Grand Hotel, Bordeaux’s leading hostelry. After a century of ups and downs, the property underwent a major revamp with interior designer Jacques Garcia giving guest rooms a classic look based on 18th-century style, reopening in 2007. Last year, this beacon of luxury came under the InterContinental banner.
How well will I sleep here? Like a dream. The 130 rooms come in five grades of ascending comfort and include 44 suites. As well as offering enough space to go jogging and lots of plush upholstery to sink into, a Prestige Suite is a fine place in which to entertain friends or associates, with its own oak-topped bar and velvet-cushioned stools. While you won’t get lost in the more modest rooms, the deep-mattressed beds are just as likely to carry you off to the Land of Nod.
I’m getting hungry. Try Le Bordeaux, the hotel’s brasserie facing the Place de la Comédie. Redolent of elite social life in the city, it’s been a top meeting place ever since starting off as the Café de Bordeaux in 1850, offering perhaps the finest location in which to see and be seen in the whole of the Gironde department. It still has the best terrace in town, and the grub is not bad either, its menu now overseen by Gordon Ramsay.
Sacré bleu! A Brit running a top French restaurant? That’s not the half of it. Ramsay has also put his imprimatur on the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Le Pressoir d’Argent, bringing new vigour to its one-Michelin-star rating. With executive chef Gilad Peled in day-to-day command, Ramsay is offering specialities of southwest France “with a British touch”, and he’ll no doubt swear by their culinary ingenuity.
Anything else? A spa, perhaps? Your wish is their command. Nuxe Spa Les Bains de Léa offers a lavish menu of rubs and scrubs, including the signature Olympe massage from head down to toe. Scenically, the indoor pool is the highlight. With décor evoking Roman decadence, pillars of Pompeiian red and chaises longues for reclining while popping grapes in your mouth, the pool is wickedly enticing. On a weekend, you may find embracing couples in its heated waters – not quite a Roman orgy, but near enough to conjure up those ancient days of infamy.
If I can drag myself outside, what’s there to do? Right opposite, the opera house presents entertainment ranging from, yes, opera, through to theatre and pop concerts. Just to the right is the St Pierre quarter of narrow old streets and alleys, packed with restaurants to suit every budget. The Place du Parlement is the highlight, with eateries spilling out onto the 18th-century square.
What’s the bottom line? Special deals for the year’s end include a package with festive dinner at the brasserie, access to the spa and tickets for the ballet Coppelia at the opera house, starting from €475 (HK$3,900) per night (only available on December 23, 30 and 31) for two persons.