Indefatigable hotel-hopper and Fathom contributing editor Christina Ohly finds an incredibly chic, family-friendly Parisian hôtel particulier that feels like a countryside gem.
Set in a secluded Neo-Classical mansion circa 1892, the Saint James is a truly unique hôtel particulier — a stand-alone building that feels like a country chateau in the heart of the chic 16th arrondissement in Paris. Built by the widow of French Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers, Saint James is now an exquisite, slightly quirky oasis with just 48 rooms — 21 of which are spacious suites. The restaurant — by Michelin-starred chef Virginie Basselot — draws locals, club members (the building first opened as a private club and still has a wonderful, homey vibe), and tourists alike for refined but not fussy French cuisine.
But it is the grounds that separate the Saint James from the rest of the neighboring five-star hotels: Located on what was once a hot air balloon field, the approach feels more Loire Valley than Centre Ville although it's just steps from the Arc de Triomphe, Trocadero, and the much-hyped, Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton.
The hotel was redone in 2012 — and continues to see additions — by French-American decorator Bambi Sloan, who is known for her bold use of color and cutting-edge design. The result is 48 spacious rooms, no two exactly alike. Trompe l'oeil parquet, tweedy armchairs with leather patches, graphic wallpapers that reflect the building's balloon history, and low lighting combine to create a "crazy chic" signature Sloan environment that is, if nothing else, truly memorable. The Guerlain spa has been upgraded to include facials, deep tissue massages, hammams, and aromatherapy treatments. The beautiful gardens now host beehives that make the honey served at breakfast. And the biggest claim to fame here is the restaurant, which should be reserved well in advance. The delicate Brittany cod with young vegetables and the plate of scallop and oyster tartare have legions of fans.
People come here specifically for Michelin-star chef Virginie Masselots and her fresh sea urchin and cockle concoction, as well as her exquisitely light chocolate mousse. Reservations in the formal dining room are recommended. Dining outdoors in the gardens — amidst metal "balloons" in the warmer months — is a must, as is a cocktail in the hotel's atmospheric bar. If you have just one meal here, make it dinner — preferably with a dirty martini — in the two-story library bar where club sandwiches and excellent burgers are savored on velvet couches. Breakfast is another highlight, a complimentary buffet of breads, yogurt, fruit, and cereals, as well as eggs cooked to order.
In the Room
Some offer a profusion of graphic pattern, while others (including 311 and 303) are a bit more subdued despite the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows. There is plenty of gilding and an abundance of jewel-toned fabrics and chandeliers, but somehow it all works in a playful, baroque way. In addition to easy WiFi access, all rooms feature flat-screen TVs, hidden mini-bars, Guerlain amenities, and excellent, state-of-the-art showers and deep bathtubs. There are 48 rooms in total — many interconnecting or duplex — making them ideal for families or for business travelers who want separate workspaces.
I stayed in room 311 — a junior suite overlooking the terrace and gardens — which was perfect for our family of four. Views of the neighboring mansard rooftops made this a particularly Parisian experience, though I wouldn't mind staying in room 509 on my next visit — a spacious, two-story suite that feels like an apartment, complete with an upstairs master bedroom and quiet neighborhood views.
This Place Is Perfect For
Couples, families with older children who will appreciate the large rooms and separate sleeping areas (the place has a grown-up vibe), and business travelers.
But Not So Perfect For
Anyone without an Uber account. It is a tad farther removed than the hotels of the Golden Triangle or St. Germain-des-Pres. But the peace and quiet is worth it. The Louvre, for example, is just a ten-minute taxi ride away.
The Saint James is set in the equivalent of New York's Upper East Side. Meaning, it's residential (of the highest end) and quiet, with tiny grocers and shopkeepers dotting the streets. The Champs Elysées is just a few blocks away for any necessary late-night shopping.
What to Do Nearby
Incredibly helpful, connected concierges can book tables at Mathieu Pacaud's gastronomic restaurant, Hexagone, or arrange private Eiffel Tower tours, but you'll find plenty to do in this part of the 16th arrondissement as well. Fondation Louis Vuitton, a cultural center designed by Frank Gehry with expansive gardens and dynamic programming, is a must. Fashion aficionados will appreciate Pallais Galliera, a museum of fashion, as well as Fondation Yves Saint Laurent. Marmottan-Monet Museum and Museum of Modern Art are other area highlights. Borrow one of the hotel bicycles and explore the neighborhood at a leisurely pace or stroll to dinner in the 8th at Le Grand Restaurant, chef Jean Françoise Piége's new temple of haute cuisine. If you prefer classics, try L'Entrecote, Chez Andre, or Noura for excellent Lebanese food.
Good to Know
It's usually beside the point in Paris, but this hotel sports a very well-equipped gym, complete with chandeliers. I wish I'd eaten more meals in the bar — English club here — because both the food and lively atmosphere are outstanding.
Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly Airport (ORY) are approximately 30 minutes away by taxi, and the closest Metro stops are Porte Dauphine and Victor Hugo. With Uber taking over Paris, this is your best bet for exploration, though walking the streets of the lovely neighborhood is another excellent idea. A Smart Car and bicycles are available to guests.
A Boudoir room starts at €380 per night. Click here for reservations.