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Luxury is king size at Paris's only palace; France's first palace hotel has a relaxed, regal charm - which makes it pretty much ideal for Richard McComb.

Byline: Richard McComb

o you know what it is like when you have had such a wonderful time but you can't quite put your finger on why? You know there are various factors that contributed to the experience and yet the whole is somehow greater than the sum of the parts, extraordinary as those parts may be. That is the position I find myself in now and it's all the fault of Le Bristol, one of the grandest of grand luxury hotels in Paris. It is rare to be flummoxed in a review of a hotel but that is how I am feeling.

The thing is, whenever I think of our two-night stay in the 8th arrondissement, I can't help but smile. Thinking of the place is like taking what the young people call a chill pill. Back in August, for 48 hours, all really was right with the world; but there is not a single explanation for it. In truth, walking into Le Bristol, let alone staying there, could be an unnerving experience for your average business traveller or cross-Channel tourist. Last year, the five-star hotel in the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore became the first in France to be granted palace status by the government and that's pretty much the general ambiance: palatial. The hotel has a three Michelin star restaurant, Epicure, and it's where George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie head to when they are in town. Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Grace Kelly feature on the historic guest list rather than bullish millionaire footballers.

This then is a playground for the rich, or for celebratory occasions, and the Louis XVIstyle hotel has a regal room rate to match. Superior rooms start from 850 euros and an epically scaled and furnished three-bedroom imperial suite is 17,500 euros. And yet. We couldn't have been made to feel more welcome or more at home at Le Bristol. It sounds silly, doesn't it, feeling at home in a palace? Well, that's what it was like and it is a huge testament to the understated, faultless service.

The staff are here to help, not intimidate, which is the benchmark of a classy operation. My wife and I and our two daughters stayed in two junior suites in the hotel's new seven-floor wing. The facade wraps around Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore into new territory along Avenue Martignon but it's impossible to see the join with the original building. The transition is seamless, like everything here.

The new wing brings the total room count at Le Bristol to 188, including 88 grand suites, and the chap who showed us to our rooms (sealed off discreetly behind an exterior corridor door) told us to treat the space as our own private Paris apartment. So we did. The rooms, whose decor and furnishings were overseen by Maja Oetker, wife of hotel owner Rudolf A Oetker, are an object lesson in restrained elegance. The feeling is classically French, fresh and chic, rather than staid and fusty.

There are individual pieces of antique furniture and we had a dramatic black chandelier, but the accent is on light and space. Now this sounds a bit geeky but the rooms also have the best air conditioning I have come across in a hotel. No noise, no tepid air or freezing blast. And you can open the windows if you fancy some of the real Parisian stuff. It's impossible to get a headache in this room. While I'm on noise, there really isn't any, full stop, in the bedrooms. You have no idea the mad, bustling Champs-Elysees is two minutes' away by chauffeured limo. As we visited in August, both the Epicure and Le Bristol's new restaurant, Le 114 Faubourg, were in a comedy double act, creating them from memories of days out during their childhoods.

"The whole idea started as a bit of a joke. We thought it would be funny to have Brummies killing people and then going to castles,'' explains Steve. "We'd come on to stage with sandwiches talking about places we had visited - geeky stuff - and then we'd talk about disposing of a body in a lay-by."

Convinced the concept had legs beyond the live show, they put it together as an idea of television. "The TV channels said it was too dark," says Alice. "We sent a taster to Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and he said 'I think there is a film in this and I would like to executive produce'."

'." The rest, as Steve is fond of saying, is history, and the completed movie, directed by Ben Wheatley, who made Down Terrace and Kill List, is out next week - with a sold out preview screening being presented by Steve and Alice at The Electric nexclosed as Paris decamps to the coast, or the Alps, at the height of summer. Ordinarily, this would be a disaster but the truth is that I wouldn't have had enough space to write about the food. Plus, it provides an excuse to return to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore and try the cooking of the lauded Eric Frechon.

We did take breakfast in the Epicure's dining room, which overlooks the gorgeous courtyard garden. The quality of the breads and viennoiserie hints at the standards set by the kitchen. The croissants are like those you dream of, but rarely get. In paradise, it's the small things that count. Mind you, pastry chef Laurent Jeannin, formerly of the Crillon and the George V, was named Pastry Chef of the Year in 2011. Le Bristol's own blend of tea is a knock-out, too.

It was during breakfast one day that we caught sight of the hotel's most famous guest, who gets to stay all year without paying a euro. What a chancer. Fa-Raon, a snow-white Birman cat, was taking an early morning stroll among the azaleas, rhododendrons and burbling fountains of the garden. It makes sense having a resident moggy. After all, the hotel is the cat's whiskers. Our visit was blessed with good weather so we took to the rooftop swimming pool, which we had to ourselves.

This is a truly unique spot, the sun terrace views taking in Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. You can lie back on a lounger and watch clouds whistle off towards the Eiffel Tower.

The teak pool is a dream-like creation, styled on the bow of a Belle Epoque sailing boat with painted figures and exotic wildlife. If lazing about and swimming in the 28C pool gets too much, you can pop down to the first floor to the Spa Le Bristol by La Prairie. The spa only opened a year ago but has already picked up awards including Best New Luxury Spa in the World at the World Luxury Spa Awards 2012. The hotel, it won't surprise you to learn, regularly picks up accolades, such as Best Hotel in France and Best Hotel in Europe at the World Travel Awards.

The spa has eight treatment rooms, some with a private terrace, opening on to an interior garden. My wife and I enjoyed some pampering in a duo cabin, lying alongside each other, barely conscious, as Helene and Angelique soothed away any residual stress with a 50-minute aromatherapy "made-to-measure" treatment.

If you have a little extra time, the Platine Rare treatment involves head to toe pampering from two therapists, or for 240 euros there is a caviar body treatment, which is guaranteed to leave you "nourrissant et energisant". Then again, you will feel "nourrissant et energisant" whatever you do here. It's that sort of place. Le Bristol is blissful. ? Richard McComb and family were guests of Hotel Le Bristol Paris, which is part of the Oetker Collection. The hotel is at 112 Rue du Faubourg Saint- Honore, 75008 Paris. For more information, go to: www.lebristolparis.com.

It's where George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina serial killing spree " Jolie head to when they are in town

CAPTION(S):

with serial killing. The interior garden at Le Bristol, Paris, provides an idyllic spot for luxury al fresco dining The interior garden at Le Bristol, Paris, provides an idyllic spot for luxury al fresco dining Steve, who originally comes from Worcester, alice, who grew up in Kenilworth, have been

C'est magnifique... Le Bristol has been designated a palace by the French government

The Epicure restaurant has three Michelin stars

"The Midlands is a middle place with nothing that doesn't really exist anymore for fun." "Dad designed us a route for the Spa at Le Bristol, by La Prairie, offers treatments for couples in a duo room with Parisian garden views
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Nov 22, 2012
Words:1440
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