What makes a hotel or resort stand out? For some, its design or location. For others, the amenities or the impeccable service. For us, a hotel should also have a story behind it. La Belle Juliette, Paris is one of those properties.
As soon as we’ve arrived at the hotel – located 10 minutes from the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, 10 minutes from the Jardin du Luxembourg and reachable after a 5 minute walk from the Saint Germain church – we wanted to know who Juliette was and what’s the story behind the name of this Parisian property. Right after checking-in, during a tour of the hotel, we found out. Daughter of sollicitor Jean Bernard, Juliette was born in Lyon in 1777. At fifteen she married the well-known banker Jacques Rose Récamier. Well-read and a good dancer, she also sang and could play both the harp and the piano. Her beauty and kindness helped build her reputation as an exceptional woman. It was said that she was able to charm, entertain or dispense with the over ardent without making enemies.
Incredibly skilled in the art of entertaining, from the age of 15 until her death at 72 she hosted an incredibly popular literary salon, attended by every member of the intelligentsia. For half a century, reproducing the style of 18th century salons, Juliette was synonymous with socialising à la française. It was she who succeeded in helping François-René de Chateaubriand, the man to whom she devoted her life, to finish what was to become his masterpiece: Les Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe (Memoirs From Beyond The Grave). At the Abbaye-aux-Bois, where she held her salons for over thirty years, her influence on literature and politics was well known. Among the innumerable regular visitors were notable characters such as René Chateaubriand, her only real love, Germaine de Stael, her best friend, André Marie Ampère, Auguste de Prusse, Lucien Bonaparte, The Duchess of Devonshire, Pierre Simon Ballanche, Talma and many others. Fascinated by Juliette’s story, the hotel owners – Corinne and Pascal Moncelli – wanted to bring a touch of history to the property and make it stand out. Now, every guest checking-in will know where the hotel takes its name from.
We also “meet” Juliette in the interior of the property. For the rooms, interior designer Anne Gelbard evokes Juliette’s friendships, basing her design on a variation of the Empire style, both poetic and humorous. The furniture is inspired by Scandinavian designers and their inimitable style, while the engravings and frames in the room are from the era. Moreover, each colour has been specially created by Anne and references a period in the life of Juliette Récamier. A nice mix between classic and modern touches, the design of the rooms is backed by quality materials and the latest technologies, Apple’s iMacs being just an example. During our stay we happily found out that each room has underfloor heating in the bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, a safe where a 13-inch laptop can fit, wood flooring, minibar, as well as individual heating / air conditioning (all year round). A nice touch: La Belle Juliette awaits its guests with toiletries with a fragrance developed exclusively for the hotel.
Like a few other hotels we’ve stayed at, La Belle Juliette comprises one classic building street-side, known as “La Vie Parisienne”, and a new wing overlooking the garden, known as “l’Abbaye-aux-Bois”. The hotel has 45 rooms, with a different design scheme for each floor – adding a touch of creativity to the property. While the “Vie Parisienne” building has 34 rooms measuring 17-35 m2, including two suites and four junior suites, the new “Abbaye-aux-Bois” wing has 11 rooms measuring 19-46 m2, including one suite and three split-level rooms. When it comes to rooms’ size, La Belle Juliette doesn’t impress with big numbers, but we always prefer a cosy ambiance to getting lost in a huge apartment lacking personality.
The first floor of “La Vie Parisienne” is dedicated to Mme Recamier and Mme De Stael. Intimate friends, feminists, modern women; one was delicate, the other forceful. The powdery tones on this floor are homage to femininity and the touches of mustard yellow remind us that Juliette Récamier loved this colour. Inside the wardrobes there’s a “Swan” wallpaper by a Mexican artist and in the bathrooms, tiles with a “printed lace” design contribute to the feeling of calm. The second floor focuses on the voyages in Italy – one of Juliette’s most memorable places of exile, with intense artistic and personal encounters. Concrete panels have been treated to look as if they are worn by acid and a barely visible silk-like print references Vesuvius. In the bathrooms, the ceramic tiles have a folded paper look.
The 3rd floor is dedicated to Rene de Chautebriand, “the” person in Juliette’s life. On one side we have images of his youth, his passion, his flamboyant ideas, on the other his wisdom, or rather his thoughtfulness and the writing of his memoirs. This floor is laid out as if to echo the volumes of his memoirs. The “Charentaise”-style fabric of the armchairs and Hermès bed spreads symbolise a more classic, masculine, conventional style. The curtains have subtle Asian motifs similar to those found in the opium dens that proliferated in France (especially Paris) in the 19th century. Inside the wardrobes, the Hermès wallpaper’s chain motif is a reference to Chateaubriand’s life of intense socialising.
The 4th and 5th floors – Les Causeries – represent the social whirl of the era’s literary salons, high-society balls, famous personalities and the evolution of moral values. Every “Salon” found here is split-level (duplex), one of them being our “home” for two nights. In the rooms, the interior designer has used dulled and dark colours, making a cocoon-like space where guests will feel cosy. The filtered light brings out the combination of materials and volumes, while the curtains have the feel of a cape worn to a court. In the lounge areas there are customised 70s dressing tables and diamond-shaped tapestry cushions are placed as colourful humorous touches. The bathrooms feature Corian washbasins and specially-made mirrors.
L’Abbaye-aux-Bois, the new wing overlooking the garden, also has some nice touches. For the 11 rooms found here, interior designer Anne Gelbard has chosen to show a different facet of Juliette – modern, daring, in love with the avant-garde, a benefactor of the arts who would have “held court” in an artist’s workshop. The décor is made up of contemporary and vintage 20th century designer furniture, new materials, a slightly modified colour scheme and the same scorched wood floors you might find in a workshop. Wood is heavily featured, not only in the scorched oak flooring, but also with the shutters, wooden panels and furniture. Several pieces of furniture and decorative items were found in secondhand shops and antique stores in Berlin, Brussels, London.
Moreover, guests looking for rooms as art galleries should check out those from La Belle Juliette’s new wing. In each room there are photos taken by the young photographers who took part in the hotel’s photo project “Photo d’Hôtel, Photo d’Auteur”. “It seemed logical to present some of the participants’ work in the new wing of La Belle Juliette as homage to Juliette Récamier’s support for the arts and her gift for discovering new talents” the General Manager of the hotel told us. In addition, each floor has its own colour created by Anne Gelbard to reflect the most important periods and people in the life of Madame Récamier.
Also new is the ground floor of La Belle Juliette, which has been completely remodelled. Now it has a welcoming bar where guests can enjoy a drink, check their e-mail or conduct business meetings in the tranquil area between the fireplace and lounge area. As the evening approaches, the lighting becomes more subdued, the music a little more upbeat and the atmosphere more intimate. Perfect for some unforgettable moments spent with your loved one, friends or people you’ve just met. There’s also a semi-open, heated terrace under the pergola awaiting guests as soon as the warm weather arrives. Those who wish to unwind even more can try the Spa at La Belle Juliette (80 m2). Guests can make us of the steam room, a tiny pool designed by Anne Gelbard and two treatment rooms (15 m2 each) where face treatments using Maria Galland products and Maria Galland and Phytomer body treatments are available. Upon request, the Spa can be privatised, with champagne, snacks and sweets provided. Summing it up… If you’re spending a few days in Paris, check-out La Belle Juliette. You’ll like it. The location, the friendly staff, the good service, the design of the rooms and an interesting story should make it a pleasant stay.
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