The InterContinental Paris is nestled within the 9th Arrondissement, the heart of the city. It faces the Opera Garnier, and is steps away from the flagships of Paris’ most internationally-beloved department stores (Galleries Lafayette Haussmann; Printemps Haussmann). The Place de L’Opera Metro station, sandwiched between the hotel and the opera house, puts one within minutes of Paris’ indelibly ICONIC landmarks (including The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame de Paris and the Arc de Triomphe). It is also the home of Café de la Paix, an essential Paris, France dining experience in its own right.
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Even among those who have visited Paris before, I found that staying at InterContinental Paris enables one to be woven into the fabric of the city’s character. There was undeniably something special about savoring plump and garlicky escargot, sole meunière and a sublime signature dessert (“Norwegian Omelet,” said to be a precursor to Baked Alaska with torched meringue and rum raisin ice cream on a sponge cake base) at Café de la Paix just after checking, and walking out onto the terrace of my first floor suite at dawn to see morning sunlight bounce off the Opera Garnier’s gilded neoclassical structure. It was impossible not to have sweet dreams about the next day’s adventures after taking in spectacular people-watching in the glass ceiling lobby and reception and concierge staff. Plus ça change.
Commissioned by Napoleon III during France’s Second Empire, the InterContinental Paris was completed in 1862 and opened on May 5 to usher in a new golden age in Paris after decades of political strife and economic vicissitudes. While architect Charles Garnier is credited for designing the hotel, top artists, sculptors and furniture designers of the day were invited to put their stamp on every corner of the InterContinental Paris. The Opera Ballroom, restored to its original glory in 2014, was devised to almost equal the Opera Garnier in opulence. Café de la Paix, meanwhile, became known as the meeting place in Paris, France among elites and others in positions of power.
In anticipation of the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle, the hotel introduced game-changing amenities such elevators and a grand reception area, and implemented exclusive and personalized guest services. Waking up with a view of the Opera Garnier or another significant Paris monument just outside the window was another exclusivity the hotel offered. Hotel Le Grand was fit for royalty, and the careful planning was validated with royal families, dignitaries and delegations from around the globe visiting on a regular basis.
Celebrities and personalities from a variety of fields have fed the InterContinental Paris’ legend through the decades, and continue to do so today. 19th Century actress Sarah Bernhardt is immortalized in a portrait by Georges Jules Victor Clairin hanging beside the main elevators. In addition to Victor Hugo, writers Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant were a presence there in the 19th Century. Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker were mainstays during the 1920s. General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill visited toward the end of World War II, when the hotel was operated as the Allied Expeditionary Forces Club #1. Negotiations for the signature of the North Atlantic Treaty, resulting in the creation of NATO, took place in mezzanine-level meeting spaces in 1948. As I strolled through the Opera Ballroom, it occurred to me that my mother, a professional antique doll dealer and collector, would have gotten a kick out of the fact that it was the site for the 40th birthday of the Barbie doll on November 23rd 1999.
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According to the gentleman showing me around the InterContinental Paris, the registered landmark Opera Ballroom (which today can host gala dinners with up to 450 guests, conferences of up to 600 participants, and cocktail parties for 700) has been a site for political gatherings, prestigious couture fashion shows, and theater performances. “In 1878, statesman Léon Gambetta (associated with the creation of the Third Republic) presided over a banquet in the Opera Ballroom. One year later, Victor Hugo gave a magnificent reception for the restaging of his dramatic piece, “Hernani.” The Comédie Française chose the Opera Ballroom to celebrate the 300th anniversary of its creation by Molière in 1982 with a sumptuous dinner attended by the entire troupe.”)
Although keeping history front and center while factoring in up-to-date ambiance and comfort is a challenge—especially with a hotel of this size—architect/interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon has been rising to the occasion since 1985 with both public and private spaces. He was lauded for overseeing the 2014 restoration of the Opera Ballroom and removing the false ceiling concealing the glass roof covering the lobby to reveal intricate architectural detail and natural light. In recent years, he collaborated with art consultancy La Photofactory (operated by mother-daughter team Nathalie and Lisa Féra) to carry public areas visually into the 21st century.
Between 2003 and 2021, Rochon took on the challenge of making rooms more residential and charming in the vein of the smaller boutique properties. Four “Presidential” suites on the first floor retain a definitive Second Empire character, with modern luxury amenities and function subtly worked in. To provide some added dimension to the InterContinental Paris’ top offerings, he orchestrated the design of five “Signature” suites as Parisian apartments, each with its own distinctive color palette and contemporary décor. Although his attention to detail lets elements of Second Empire style shine through, this is his and the management’s bid to win over discerning travelers who would lean toward the no-expense-spared small hotels tucked away into St. Germain de Près, the Rue St. Honoré area, and other ultra-exclusive residential arrondissements.
FROM ICON TO ICON…
In a city with monuments, museums and restaurants with bonafide “ICONIC” status everywhere you look, it is truly satisfying to stumble upon something that’s well-loved by the locals or new spots on the cusp of becoming “must-do’s” before everybody else does them.
Like Le Grand Hotel, Restaurant Le Drugstore, at the crossroads of the Champs Elysée and the Arc de Triomphe, has been around forever (since 1958, in this case) and yet never gets old. Against a jewel-toned Mid-Century Modern backdrop, one can spend hours vibing to the house DJ’s inventive spins while savoring a delightful menu of one-of-a-kind Pan-Asian/French appetizers along with photogenic cocktails devised by lead mixologist Nicholas Usselmann that are as delicious as they are glamourous.
French cuisine traditionalists will appreciate Le Rotisserie d’Argent (concentrating on roasted chicken, foie gras terrine and other land-based items) near the Quartier Latin or Cafe le Petit Flottes, a pretty oyster bar just off the Rue St. Honoré also serves croque monsieur sandwiches that regularly sell out and a grown-up “mac-and-cheese” dish made with decadent ten-year aged Comté cheese. Restaurateur Moïse Sfez, meanwhile, is taking his place in a long line of culinary darlings with glowing notices in top fashion and lifestyle magazines throughout the world. He’s throwing tradition a curve with his recently-opened Janet by Homer, a stylish rethinking of New York City delis) and Homer, noted for its takes on New England lobster rolls, tuna melts and more.
La Gallerie Dior, the newest museum drawing lines and requiring reservations, is pure fashion heaven with its fantastical layout, captivating displays and arrangement of Christian Dior’s original creations as well as those from current era designers he has influenced. While Dior emporiums as well as Chanel and Louis Vuitton also draw long lines of fashionistas from around the world, savvy Parisians are making their fashion statements through local vintage shops, “thrifting,” and any one-off boutique specializing in “sustainable” chic. While many of the top treasure hunting sites are concentrated in the Marais district and others are scattered and hidden everywhere else, Galleries Lafayette Haussman’s year-old “ReStore,” occupying the entire third level of the flagship, is one-stop shopping for vintage, upcycled and ethically-sourced finds.
Finally, should you be interested in expanding your time and your pursuit of the historic and ICONIC beyond Paris, F you may want to consider Viking Cruise’s “Paris and the heart of Normandy.” this itinerary is an engaging road trip alternative (no car rentals or hotel reservations needed) that features visits to royal chateaux and castles that deserve greater attention as well as meaningful tours of Normandy’s key World War II battlegrounds, cemeteries and museums. There are also a couple of nights in Rouen, with its own cadre of museums, long-standing restaurants (including La Couronne, where Julia Child’s passion for French cuisine was ignited), churches and more.