France's first palace hotel has a relaxed, regal charm which makes it pretty much ideal for Richard McComb.
Do 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-Honor 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 XVI-style 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-Honor 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-lyses 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 closed 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-Honor 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.