Vivian steps boldly through Shangri-La Paris’ original iron gates, into the discrete courtyard and past the hotel’s elaborately carved facade to enter a glamorous, domed-topped marble foyer— as hell-bent as a princess. Dancing confidently through the former home of Prince Roland Bonaparte as only a nearly-three-year-old-toddler can, her pig-tails bobbing, the liveried doormen at her beck and call, Ming Dynasty-inspired vases looking on, she twirls a few times amid the hotel’s palatial wonder-world of gild, polished stone, chinoiserie, mirrors, stained-glass windows, mahogany panels and lavish fabrics feeling infinitely like she belongs here.
“Bon Jour Vivian,” calls Mathilde from the front desk, as I trail behind. “We’ve got a surprise for you.” While I check into this stately addendum to the storied Asian brand, its first outpost in Europe, Mathilde opens a treasure chest (that might otherwise have seemed part of the decor) to reveal a trove of toys. “Choose one,”says Mathilde. “Just for you.”
But that isn’t the best thing that occurs at the Shangri-La Paris on Vivian’s first trip to the City of Lights. The most amazing moment comes after our ride up the vintage, windowed elevator when we enter our suite. There, like an illustration from a storybook (in Vivian’s case, no doubt Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline), the Eiffel Tower looms, seemingly within reach through our room’s picture windows. “The Eiffel Tower!” exclaims Vivian with glee as she points to the monument from our magic carpet ride of a terrace, which hovers over a manicured garden. As much in awe as Vivian, never tired of this legendary sight, I join her as we gaze in utter delight. “Thank you Shangri-La Paris,” I whisper to myself. “My work is done.”
[See also: In the City of Light, Le Bristol Paris Dazzles]
Nearly half of Shangri-La Paris’ 100 rooms (as well as common areas such as the subterranean swimming pool) boast views of the Eiffel Tower, which lies spellbindingly near the hotel. But that’s just part of the draw. Tucked away from the fray, in a quieter, residential part of the 16th arrondissement, this stunning mansion exudes a slice of Paris so fanciful it feels iconic—perhaps even enchanted.
Historic and meticulously restored, the imposing structure was built in 1891 as the grandiloquent home for Napoleon’s grand-nephew, acclaimed scientist and botanist Prince Roland Bonaparte. Proudly, the scholar held salons with fellow academics, artists and glitterati in the mansion’s landmark anterooms. I imagine their tete-a-tete bouncing off the zodiac symbol-embellished vaulted ceiling, their footsteps echoing as they ascended the extraordinary “Stairway of Honor,” their erudite arguments accented by clinking classes in the still quixotic billiard rooms.
Paying homage to the residence’s sublime architecture, Shangri-La Paris returned the building to its former grandeur, re-establishing it as a social hub when the hotel opened in 2010. It quickly garnered both Monument Historique status and Palais distinction. Today, breathtakingly captivating, it marries timeless European sophistication with Asian gracefulness and attention to detail. A feast for the senses, intimate and inviting, Shangri-La Paris feels clubby, yet completely inviting. Just ask Vivian.
An entire treatise could be written about the design. It’s the sort of marvelous place where everything has a story and anytime you peer into a corner, sit or stand in a room or walk through a hallway, you’ll notice something beguiling you hadn’t seen before. Manifold Asian flourishes reference the Shangri-La brand’s heritage including woven silk wallpapers and regal vases.
But the building itself was a product of its era, a celebration of opulence in the eclectic style of the 1890s, strewn with 19th-century elements from mouldings to lacquer. Rich fabrics abound, as do nooks for hiding away, playing Parisian, as the common rooms seem wonderfully filled with locals reliving Bonaparte’s salon traditions. Airy, suffused in natural lights, it nevertheless gleams in Empire meets restrained luxury aspects.
All guest rooms are startlingly commodious for Paris, with huge hedonist-pleasing bathrooms. As mentioned, nearly half sport views of the Eiffel Tower. Both modern and old-fashioned, classically French, awash in art d’vivre and mesmerizingly Asian, the hotel also features a bevy of botanical references in honor of Bonaparte, as well as monograms and insignias that speak to his status and nobility.
In rooms that summon the inside of some bygone queen’s jewel box, certainly a space befitting a congress of jet-setting nobility, Shang Palace stands out as France’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant. For anyone with a penchant for southeastern Chinese culinary traditions, the restaurant provides a delectable foray from French cuisine—no matter how much we love it. Go for the Dim Sum lunch.
La Bauhinia, the stunning all-day restaurant begins the day with the sort of breakfast that makes you want to come downstairs donning silks and satins, maybe even a tuxedo. A highlight for Vivian: the house-made hazelnut butter served in a silver container, though I was pleased to see some Chinese specialties from congee to dim sum. In the evening, the menu becomes very global and contemporary French—though still somewhat formal.
For an unforgettable gastronomic adventure, book a private lunch or dinner, helmed by Executive Chef QuentinTestart and Pastry Chef Maxence Barbot. A bespoke dinner will be served a deux in a suite with Paris unfurled before you, the Eiffel Tower like a shining star.
Easily one of my favorite bar experiences this year, Le Bar Botaniste is a heady tribute to Bonaparte and his passion for botany. A masculine hideaway from a design point, the bar derives its lifeblood from nature and its offerings—it’s easy to imagine it as Bonaparte’s elegant laboratory or library. It carries a range of unique spirits, but its superb cocktail menu, each libation an ode to a part of the world where Bonaparte trod to collect clippings for his garden and herbarium, simply wows.
The menu reads like a book of poetry or travel literature. I swooned over my savory Diego de la Vera, a whisky sour-style concoction with Cognac Hennessy VS, Amontillado Sherry and more. Vivian savored fresh squeezed orange juice.
The hotel’s tranquil Chi Spa takes its cues from the Chinese energetic concept of Qi, the study of vital energy that pervades the triad of mind, body and spirit. Melded with French wellness techniques and Asian points of view, Chi Spa offers a gamut of treatments from facials to massages. A state-of-the-art gym awaits, while the high point is a swim in the 55-foot swimming pool with its surprise—and thrilling—views of the Eiffel Tower.
Just for Kids
Sometimes we balk at the thought of bringing toddlers into sensationally swank hotels for fear of . . . well, everything. But, I’m here to tell you that Vivian was beloved and deified by everyone, each team member going beyond to make her stay as magical as I hoped. At Shangri-La Paris, young guests get an age-appropriate version of Bamboo (a mascot panda) gifts from stuffed animals to slippers to backpacks to puzzles. Doormen even pass out Bamboo umbrellas on rainy days.
The Top Suite
With 40% of the rooms featuring Eiffel Tower views and 60% percent of the suites doing the same, it might be said you can’t go wrong at Shangri-La Paris. But true indulgers will want to spread out in the L’Appartement Prince Bonaparte, a 3, 390-square-foot haven on the second floor.
Full of soul (ghosts?) It was once the private residence of the Prince himself and now vaunts Monument Historique status. With Directoire style, the one-bedroom suite has Versailles-style parquet floors, period artwork and furnishings, extremely high ceilings and gilt work galore. Exceptionally French, it weaves in subtle Asian influences. A large crystal chandelier crowns the room, worthy of the prince. Starts at $16,156.
[See also: The Best New Hotels in Paris You Cannot Miss]