Jonathan Whiley visits the first hotel in Paris to be granted palace status. (And, he gets a bit of sporting royalty thrown in for free.)
Meeting my idol was never part of the plan.
It’s mid-morning at Le Bristol, the Parisian grand dame that makes Downton Abbey look a dowdy European cousin.
As we stroll across the polished marble lobby, I’m forced to double-take.
My sporting hero – Roger Federer – is having coffee in the sun-dappled courtyard.
Remarkably, he is left entirely undisturbed.
In one of the world’s best hotels, fawning – mon ami – is not de rigueur.
There is no fuss, no fanfare, no entourage.
At the first hotel in the capital to be assigned “palace status” (a notch above five-star), the crème de la crème are treated with decades-old diligence.
But beyond the opulence of the fittings and furnishings, the real beauty here is the exceptional service.
Whether it’s requesting a dental kit (which arrives swiftly in a sleek cream box) or talking about your plans for the day, it feels entirely natural.
This is a hotel with an air of confidence, without a hint of complacency, which makes it an irresistible proposition.
Charm of yesteryear
It is fabulously old-school with chandeliers, tapestries, a wrought-iron elevator, Baccarat crystal, sprawling rooms with original Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture.
But the atmosphere isn’t stuffy.
It recently launched “Le Bristol After Dark”.
This adds a playful note in the hotel bar from Thursday to Saturday with a live DJ.
However its most famous resident (beyond the likes of Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe), remains resident Burmese cat Fa-Raon.
Pool with a view
In keeping with its fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré address, facilities are suitably stylish.
The retro indoor pool is designed like an ocean liner from the 1920s with views of the Eiffel Tower.
Meanwhile, the La Prairie spa features skincare brand Tata Harper.
Le Bristol’s pièce de résistance, however, is the food.
Its buzzy restaurant, 114 Faubourg, is a neighbourhood favourite with lick-your-plate one Michelin-starred fare.
Three Michelin-star Epicure has a special 20th anniversary menu.
As for my meeting with Mr Federer?
He entertained my picture request with good humour.
That is the thing with old-school charm – nothing is ever too much trouble.