The Le Meridien Etoile Hotel near the Arc De Triomphe is a sophisticated standard-bearer of European-style modernity. Built by Air France in 1972 to house its crew personnel in transit, the hotel personifies the sleek aura characteristic of airline professionals. At the same time, there is a decidedly French quality of refinement that permeates the atmosphere, adding a grace that contemporary life in America often lacks. The hotel is a favorite of business travelers and tour operators; the opinion of these professionals in the realm of travel is a recommendation not to be ignored.
With more than 1000 rooms, Le Meridien Etoile is the biggest hotel in Paris. The staff must manage arrivals and departures as well as the constant comings and goings of those remaining. To do this, the hotel employs a permanent staff of over 650, with an additional 150 ready to be employed when the hotel is booked solid - which turns out to be quite frequently. The ratio of one employee for every two guests assures the visitor that size will not mean anonymity. Instead there is a reassuring efficiency that dispatches with all the tiresome details of travel, leaving the business or leisure traveler free to enjoy their stay.
The design of the hotel owes much to Art Deco. The front drive is covered by a long, massive silver overhang and is flanked by polished curved walls announcing the name of this, the first Le Meridien. At the curb, traditionally dressed footmen take your bags and welcome you to the hotel. The hotel embodies the feel of the images represented by Art Deco style - trains, cruise ships, airplanes, sophisticated travelers, sleek and self-possessed, in command of their lives.
Inside the hotel, the lobby, with its black and beige marble and blond woodwork, merges form and line like a well-tailored Chanel suit. The round central sitting area leads off to the hotels restaurants and bar. The warmth of the welcome given arriving guests reflects the pleasure that the people who work here obviously take in their hotel. It is an easy pride that makes the hotel staff affable and ready to respond to any request with alacrity.
Immediately to the left on entering the lobby is a curved concierge desk often staffed by three of four tan-jacketed professionals who manage to direct, advise, reassure and solve everything the clientele brings to their attention.
Upstairs, the long halls leading to the rooms and suites are punctuated with rich cherry-wood doors lit by individual lamps, the large room numbers in gleaming silver. Between the doors are photos and paintings evocative of the golden age of jazz, a nod to the famous nightspot, The Lionel Hampton Jazz Club, on the first floor of the hotel.
In the rooms here, technology is married to taste. Starwood brand brings its American standards of hotel hospitality and management with the very best of French discretion, delicacy and efficiency.
With all the amenities you could desire in a room, from the obvious - an enormous flat screen tv with 32 channels and video on demand - to the invisible - absolute soundproofing, your comfort is absolute. Even the seemingly inevitable noise of hotel room doors closing is solved here by a perfect adjustment of the mechanism. I watched my door shut several times, certain that the closing door moved too slowly to latch securely. Even standing right there, I found myself tempted to test the knob and make sure the lock had caught, so quiet was the mechanism.
The hotel has 21 suites that are really spaces you can relax and live in. There is an enormous flat screen television in both the sitting area and the bedroom for watching any time either with or without disturbing your traveling companions. The desk offers a high speed internet hookup. The two bathrooms also offer choice in bathing - one has a shower and the other a full-size, deep bathtub for those who prefer a good soak.
Although the hotel underwent a complete remodel in 2001, renovations are nevertheless underway to update the “classic” rooms on the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th floors. The classic rooms on the first floor will remain as they are. The new rooms will be be decorated in black and white with a single signature color added to give personality to the room.
I had a chance to see a model of the finished styling, and the patina of the white and black leather seating alongside the signature white of the Starwood bedding was livened with a bright yellow panel and some white and lavender orchids. The net effect was refreshing and bright. The bath is also completely new, but still has the wonderful lit mirrors I became so fond of in my suite.
Le Meridien Etoile, in addition to its standard rooms, includes premium spaces on its Starwood Preferred floor and President’s Club floors. These categories of added service are aimed at the repeat business of frequent travelers.
The President’s Club aim is to personalize service, to welcome by name and provide the added services that make of frequent travelers loyal customers. Some have been coming to Le Meridien Etoile for twenty years. They know the routine and often bypass the lobby check in, coming directly to the eighth floor where they can register and check-in directly at the President’s Club desk
The President’s Club is an exclusive service of Le Meridien Etoile, almost a hotel with the hotel. The idea is to create an environment similar to traditional private resident clubs where members can come, sit in a semi-private lounge, conduct their business, dine and relax with the support of a staff who knows them and their preferences.
The 117 President’s Club rooms and suites are on access-limited on the top two floors of the hotel. There is a dedicated reception desk on the 8th floor where clients can check in and out of the hotel. The lounge adjacent has a terrace and a reading area with all the important newspapers of the day available. Breakfast is served in the morning and is provided at no additional fee. Throughout the day, beverages and snacks are laid out for guests who want a little something in the course of their day. Internet access by wi-fi is available throughout the lounge as well.
An additional benefit for President’s Club guests is free access to the Waou Club Med fitness center across the street from the hotel. The President's Club desk will give you a voucher good for the day as well as a compimentary toiletries pouch to take with you. If you figure in the cost of the breakfast, snacks and health club access, the additional cost for President’s Club rooms becomes quite attractive to a traveler both for personal and economic reasons.
FITNESS AT THE CLUB MED WAOU
For those wanting a workout or a swim, a massage or a coif, the hotel has a deal with Waou, the Club Med gym across the street. A surprisingly large underground collection of studios and workout rooms with a pool, a salon, and a lovely snack bar area for refreshments, the fitness center can accommodate just about any workout preference. Hotel guests can purchase a day pass for a reduced rate which is valid all day for use of the facility and all classes (except Pilates- 10 euros extra).
AIR FRANCE BUS
Getting to the hotel from the airport couldn’t be easier. Air France has a bus every 15 minutes that brings passengers from Charles De Gaulle airport and drops them right across from the hotel for 13 euros. Most travelers arriving at Charles De Gaulle have to first take a bus or train into town and then the Metro or a taxi to the hotel. The Roissy train into town is a bit hard on travelers. The narrow, restricting turnstiles have full-length barriers to prevent freeloaders from getting through to the trains. Unfortunately, that also makes it difficult for paying passengers loaded with luggage from getting through as well. The bus is much less stressful, and after a long, sleep-deprived flight from the States, the less stress the better.
THe LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ CLUB & THE JAZZ TERRACE
The Lionel Hampton Jazz Club at Le Meridien Etoile is on of the gems of the local night scene. The design of charcoal gray and royal blue is very laid back and sedate. But the real pull is the quality of the music on hand at 10:30 nightly. The club is a gathering place for locals, almost more than it is a hangout for hotel guests and offers some of the best jazz music anywhere. The Chicago Blues Fest is currently playing at the Jazz Club, offering some of the best emerging talent of today.
Just as jazz is a fusion of raw emotion with fluid technique and an ironic distance that adds up to the essence of ‘cool’ so the experience of staying at the Meridien Etoile has the same sense and style.
Le Meridien Etoile
81 Boulevard Gouvion Saint-Cyr
01 40 68 34 34 (hotel)
01 40 68 67 89 (reservations)
photos by Susan di Rende and Starwood