Gazing out through my sixth floor window at the inner garden courtyard of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris, I was intrigued to see several beehives on a ledge, their flighty inhabitants innocently at play.
Later I was to learn that the hotel hosts around 50,000 bees, which thrive in the pesticide-free Parisian environment and help pollinate the sweet-smelling flowers in the garden terrace (where the ‘Camelia’ restaurant is housed). They also provide more than 30 kilos of delicious honey for chefs’ use in desserts and other dishes.
Introduction of the bee-hives is just one of a number of innovative aspects of this eight-floor, 138-room, 5-star hotel located right in the heart of the City of Light’s fashion district on Rue Saint-Honore, a stone’s throw from the Tuileries Gardens and Place Vendome.
Opposite such brand name stores as Brooks Brothers, Armani and Viktor & Rolf, one enters the Mandarin Oriental through a modest metal and glass entry space, its sides resplendent with flowers (in May, they were hydrangea). This space is mischievously deceptive, as beyond the entrance, the lobby widens out until you face a spacious, glass-fronted, bush-and plant-laden courtyard divided in half by a narrow, horizontal waterway around which are scattered tables and chairs. An eccentric white structure resembling a giant birdcage, that seems as if it’s hanging above ground (this is the location of the ‘Camelia’s unique dining experience) stands at the far end of the garden and directly in front in the center of the lobby is a bronze statute of a man attempting a trapeze artist’s walk around bronze circular-shaped hoops (the work is entitled ‘The Air’ and created by French artist, Nathalie De Coster).
To the right of the reception desk, lies Bar 8 (8 being a lucky number in Asia) with an oblong, single-piece marble bar table furnishing its center. The hotel’s architect has achieved harmony here by placing cristaux lalique along the walls to symbolize raindrops and hanging thin, silver metal strips representing branches in a rainforest. To the left is the Camelia restaurant (where breakfast is also served), a pastry shop with homemade delicacies and elevators to the various floors and the spa. Either side of the lobby is a series of cozy, semi-private alcoves with a central silver and glass coffee table set around with soft-backed chairs.
First clues as to the artistic themes within the hotel are obvious on the walls of the elevators, with expanded replicas of Man Ray’s ‘The Throat.’
Our room, overlooking the garden, presented a natural, pastel color-scheme, with tones of gray and cream and cherry wood. It is oriental in style, emanating a sense of serenity from its blend of soft, light colors. The Man Ray reproduction loaned the room a contemporary feel as did the silver metal and glass furnishings, including a large TV screen in one corner, bedside lamps and inset coffee and tea ledges. A long settee stood neatly against one wall complete with soft cushions, and a cherry-wood and metal coffee table in front. An ample-size writing desk with single drawers either side sat near the window overlooking the garden below. Ray’s work, ‘The Kiss,’ is re-created in shades of grey along one wall of our room and along the headboard of our bed.
Bathroom facilities were ample, with a dark mother-of- pearl tiled floor area between bath and shower, which were housed separately. A large walk-in clothes space area stood across from it.
The Mandarin offers attractive spa facilities, entered through a large, spherical-shaped space, with high ceilings and an indoor 14-meter pool. Seven treatment rooms circle the pool, including two double suites for two people. It also has a 119-sqm gym (open 24 hours) and steam room (open until 9 pm).
Of interest, on a side wall near the elevators is a beautifully embroidered fan in velvet, glace leather, vintage sequins and pearls incorporating colorful butterflies in the grand tradition of Parisian haute couture. More than 200 hours of work and design went into the finishing this item, which – all individually designed – is but one of that brands each Mandarin hotel worldwide.
Where eating was concerned, we spent most time in the ‘Camelia’ garden terrace restaurant where we had both breakfast (good news – until 11), as well as dinner (the hotel also has a two Michelin-star restaurant, Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx). The Camelia is located on the ground floor sheltered between the inner walls of the hotel and features a wood floor, hanging cylindrical glass lamps, semi-privacy behind banks of flowers and camelia bushes, with framed canvass umbrellas and warming lamps above each table. Menus for all meals there are varied, with diverse western and Asian options.
Start your breakfast with a shot of ‘furious water’ (l’eau furieuse), the chef’s detoxifying potion of star anise, ginger, lime, lemon and sparkling Badoit mineral water from the springs of Saint Galmier. Freshly-squeezed juices are made upon request and change according to the season. The menu includes breakfast combos named Paris, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Having tried the Tokyo and Hong Kong genres, I highly recommend them as healthy options. The former includes fruit, miso soup, market fish, fresh tofu, Dashimaki omelet, Japanese pickles, warm salad Chikuzenni, Nori (Japanese edible seaweed) and steamed rice. The latter – fruit, congee, and a selection of steamed dim sum, oeuf de cane, Chinese beignet and salted peanuts. Of course, it being Paris, one is forgiven for indulging in the pastries and cheeses displayed on the circular-shaped buffet breakfast table, along with other temptations such as Eggs Benedict.
Dining at Camelia is no less a fine affair, with entrees such as organic hen egg, cream of asparagus and shellfish; crab ravioli with light green pea soup, as well as plates ranging from medallion of lobster to turbot and candied vitelotte potatoes; farmer’s piglet with ginger and lemon glaze; or rump of veal, braised and served with kale and girolles mushrooms. Naturally, high-quality chocolate features strongly on the dessert menu, as well as the house creation of the famous mille-feuilles named after well-known fashion street, Saint-Honore.
Whether on business or vacation, if you seek a stylish, secluded hotel in the heart of the Paris haute-couture fashion district, within easy walking distance of many of Paris’s key sights, the Mandarin Oriental is for you. Service is personal as well as unobtrusive and efficient and there are bountiful discreet areas both inside and outside the lobby area for formal negotiations or convivial chats.