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A Grand Legacy
Text by Mala Vaishnav
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

Baccarat chandeliers, richly-hued interiors, a celebrity guest list of the world's most revered. The stately Hotel de Crillon exults in its distinguished ancestry from the most splendid square in Paris

The Place de la Concorde is where 1000 heads rolled, including those of the beleaguered Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the radical revolutionary, Maximillien Robespierre. More than 200 years later, the same sunlit square, dominated by a pair of historic fountains and the 3200-year-old obelisk of Luxor, is regarded as the très chic quadrangle in Paris. And facing it loftily, with a bearing born of impeccable lineage, is the Hotel de Crillon. The stone edifice which traces its origins to the Count de Crillon and listed a heritage structure in 1896, opened its elitist doors with a gala dinner on March 11, 1909. And, interestingly, the advertisements at the time proclaimed, 'A bathroom in every room!'

The 'superior suite' that I check into, can easily swallow my whole apartment back home in Mumbai! All silk and velvet, copper leaf and marble, shimmer and chandelier, masterminded by noted interior designer, Sybille de Margerie, the suite enfolds me, my brood and my suitcases in its overwhelming warmth. From the living room window, we get the best possible view - the top of the Eiffel Tower, playing peekaboo through the swaying trees on the neighbouring Champs Elysées. But the real 'best' view which I am privileged to absorb later, is from the three bedroom-two living room, Leonard Bernstein Suite from where Paris appears at its most dramatic. The suite boasts an inbuilt sauna, jacuzzi, Turkish bath, high-tech equipment and a terrace, large enough to host a grand ball. It is no wonder then, that this sumptuous space was Madonna's preferred abode when she was last in the French capital. But, considering the celebrity quotient of the hotel, she falls in the minor category. Consider these: King George V, Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Emperor Hirohito, Sophia Loren, Jacqueline Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Bill Clinton, Queen Noor, Tom Hanks....

Ascending the imposing staircase from the spiffy, marbled lobby, into the ornamental environs of the Salon Marie-Antoinette - one of three resplendent banquet halls - is like stepping back into the folds of history, for this is where the nimble-witted, future Queen was given music lessons. The original flower-patterned urns and decorated lintels have been carefully preserved in a lavishly restored interior that opens out to exquisite Corinthian columns overlooking the Place de la Concorde. During World War II, these very same reception rooms had played host to military and political conferences between the Allies.

Nostalgic remains of the past leap out from every bend and curve in the hotel, even if some of the classical has been cleverly woven into the contemporary. The Jardin d'Hiver (Winter Garden), draped in a modern colour palette of warm earth tones, infused with the lustre of silk and satin, is reminiscent of genteel, high tea gatherings. In its old-world, garden ambience, you may sip your Darjeeling from delicate china, nibble (or gorge) on divine pastries and study the headlines of Le Monde to the soulful rendering of the resident harpist. In a synergy of design, similar motifs run along the walls and ceiling from the Jardin to the neighbouring Les Ambassadeurs, the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant.