The history of the hotel begins in 1771 in Calais, where upper-class British travellers on their way to Paris would arrive after crossing the Straits of Dover. There, an enterprising regional postmaster, Charles-Augustin Meurice (1739-1820), welcomed them to French shores, putting them up in his Calais coaching inn and arranging rides to Paris aboard his coach service. It was a 36-hour trip, and Charles-Augustin Meurice built a second coaching in Paris in 1817 to welcome the weary travellers upon arrival. The Hotel Le Meurice moved in 1835 to its present site, one of the most fashionable locales in the city, overlooking the historic Tuileries Garden.
Over the years, the Paris hotel developed a reputation for lavish entertainment, with dinners lasting from eight in the evening until eight the next morning. One guest recalled a luncheon where they only served hard-boiled eggs from the rarest birds, ranging from partridge eggs to swan eggs.
The hotel’s fame grew during the century. A newspaper clipping from 1855 mentions that Queen Victoria stayed at the Hotel Le Meurice while in Paris. Russian composer Peter llitch Tchaikovsky stayed at the Hotel Le Meurice when giving a concert nearby. Toward the end of the century, the hotel’s regular clients were the elite aristocracy. A limited liability company named the “Hôtel Meurice” was formed in 1898 to own and operate the hotel. Arthur Millon, who headed the new company, and his director, Mr. Schwenter, responded to the expectations of their privileged guests by providing luxurious facilities and by undertaking a major renovation of the property in 1905.
The extensive two-year renovation and enlargement gave the property its modern day appearance and amenities such as individual private baths. The renovation cost 8 million francs – a princely sum for the time. The investment clinched the hotel’s appeal to a privileged clientele, however.
During the renovation, the workers took in a stray dog, a greyhound. It was adopted by the hotel’s staff and thus became its mascot. A second greyhound was added to accompany the first, forming the emblem of the Hotel Le Meurice that is still the symbol throughout the hotel today.
The King of Spain, Alphonse XIII, was one of the first people to book rooms at the Hotel Le Meurice after the completed 1905-1907 renovation. He stayed regularly in Suite 106-8, bringing his own furniture. The King of Montenegro, the Prince de Galles, King George VI, French President Doumergue, the Sultan of Zanzibar, the Maharaja of Jaïpur, and the Grand Duchess of Russia also were regular guests of the hotel, which came to be called the Hôtel des Rois (Hotel of the Kings).
While dining on the 18th of October, 1908, King Alphonse XIII and his queen enjoyed this menu:
Turbotin au Champagne
Cassolettes de Queues d’Ecrevisse
Coeur de Filet de Boeuf La Vallière
Cailles aux Feuilles de Vigne
The crème de la crème of Parisian society would gather on the seventh floor of the hotel to dine in the Roof Garden restaurant, or to bask in the natural light streaming through the glass roof of the Louis XVI lounge. The hotel also organized theater performances inside the establishment, such as “Cyrano de Bergerac” in 1912.
During World War I, the hotel closed for several months and it served for a time as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
The 1920s to World War II
At the beginning of the 1920s, the Hotel Le Meurice’s international reputation sparkled. Media were impressed by the hotel’s elaborate Louis XVI décor. Mr. Schwenter advertised abroad, helping to develop tourism in France. He was rewarded in 1923 when he became Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, and in 1931, an Officier de la Légion d’Honneur. Picasso and his wife Olga Koklova selected the Hotel Le Meurice to host their wedding dinner. In 1925, there was no hesitation as to which hotel King Albert would choose. Stylish ads from the 1920s showed a conspicuously upper-crust clientele dining and dancing in the Meurice’s rooftop garden, overlooking the glamour of nighttime Paris.
A number of rulers have found comfort at the Hotel Le Meurice after leaving or being forced from their seats of power. In 1931, after Alphonse XIII was dethroned, he took refuge at Le Meurice under the name of the Duc de Tolède with all of the royal family. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also retreated to Le Meurice. The King of Montenegro checked in after being chased from his kingdom, and the Shah of Iran was actually dethroned during his stay at the Hotel Le Meurice!
Until the 1950s, the Parisian press regularly chronicled the comings and goings of aristocracy from countries ranging from Austria to Zanzibar. Famous guests have included President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Dukes and Duchesses of Windsor, Kent, York, and Marlborough; the Baron de Rothschild, Sir Anthony Eden; and the rulers of Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Iran, Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Jordan, Romania, Russia, and Thailand.
During its long existence, the Hotel Le Meurice has known four major renovations: the first from 1905 to 1907, the second from 1947, the third in 1998 and the last one in 2007 with Philippe Starck. Each of these stages has represented a progress in the modernisation and the embellishment of the hotel.
After an extensive two-year renovation, completed in 2000, the Hotel Le Meurice is restored to its original splendor as a classic French Palace, and more than ever the Parisian pied à terre of the privileged. Today it is the Parisian home to a number of internationally known celebrities and performers who favor the rooftop suite with its panoramic views of Paris. It changed hands several times during the past three decades, and is today a member of the prestigious Dorchester Collection (owned by the Brunei Investment Agency), which includes The Beverly Hills Hotel, Principe di Savoia in Milan, The Dorchester in London, Plaza Athénée in Paris, 45 Park Lane in London, Coworth Park in Ascot and the New York Palace.
The Hotel Le Meurice has been around for over two centuries, and its current clientele as well as its historical patrons speak for its significance in Paris.
Because so many British travelers stayed at the Hotel Le Meurice where all the staff spoke English, by the 19th century the hotel was nicknamed “City of London.” English author W. M. Thackeray once wrote, “If you don’t speak a word of French, if you like English comfort, clean rooms, breakfast and maîtres d’hôtel; if in a foreign land, you want your fellow countrymen around you, your brown beer, your friend and your cognac - and your water - do not listen to any of the messengers but with your best British accent cry heartily: “Meurice! and immediately, someone will come forward to drive you straight to the rue de Rivoli.”
After the war
In 1947, the Hotel Le Meurice undertook another restoration, and, once again, attracted the international clientele that it had before the war.
In 1965, the Salon Louis XVI was transformed into the Salon des Quatre Saisons; its glass roof was replaced with a painted ceiling that represented the vault of heaven and four statues symbolizing the seasons were installed.
The Dalí anecdotes
One of the hotel’s most outrageous guests was the surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, who spent at least one month per year at the Hotel Le Meurice. His behaviour could also be surrealistic: once he demanded that a herd of sheep be brought to his room, and upon their arrival, Dalí took out his pistol and shot at them. Luckily, the gun was filled with blank bullets. Another time, he requested a horse. Yet another time, he asked the staff to capture flies for him in the Tuileries Garden, paying them five francs (around one euro) per fly.
Dalí was a regular at the Hotel Le Meurice. He became close to certain members of the staff, whom he would give autographed lithographs of his work as a Christmas tip.
Florence Jay Gould
In the 1970s, Florence Jay Gould (wife of railroad magnate and financier Jay Gould) lived at the Hotel Le Meurice and organized literary luncheons there. She created two literary prizes and developed the hotel’s reputation as a magnet for the literary set, which included André Gide, François Mauriac, and the young Roger Nimier. The hotel maintains its connection with leading writers today.
Artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals who have stayed at the Hotel Le Meurice include Giorgio de Chirico, Rudyard Kipling, Walter Lippmann, Yehudi Menuhin, Liza Minnelli, Seiji Ozawa, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Placido Domingo. Past guests also include film stars and directors such as Orson Welles, Franco Zeffirelli, Fernandel, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, Ginger Rogers, Yul Brynner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton. The Meurice’s sumptuous décor has also been a setting for several films, including Mata Hari and Julia, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Jane Fonda. The hotel’s salons have hosted many of high society’s celebrations, including Coco Chanel’s glittering receptions in the 1930s. Parisian houses of haute couture including Chanel and Guy Laroche have staged receptions and fashion shows in the Meurice’s salons.
Celebrity royals prefer the Hotel Le Meurice today, a testament to the hotel’s continued status as the accommodation of choice in the City of Lights. Its tradition of unsurpassed beauty, attention to detail, and excellent service sustains its popularity and prestige.
In 2007, the Hotel Le Meurice came to a new embellishment phase with famous French designer Philippe Starck who revamped the public areas.
In December 2008, Franka Holtmann asked Charles Jouffre, creator of the sumptuous drapes and hangings of the Grand Foyer at the Opera Garnier, to imagine a new and warmer atmosphere for Le Meurice’s guest rooms. Attentive to the desires of a discerning and cosmopolitan clientele, he brought a new touch to the specificities of a palace Hotel whose intention is clearly to do different. The hotel’s rooms take on the air of an elegant eighteenth-century home, where past and present meet with humour and glamour.
The Hotel Le Meurice has selected the iHome IH, iPod radio alarm with which to equip its 160 rooms and suites. Today a true ‘palace’ must be at the forefront of design and technology as well as comfort and splendour.
A hotel that epitomises luxury, elegance and tradition, Le Meurice offers impeccable service to its clients, perfectly blending classic with modern: an iHome is placed on the XVIIIth century style furniture of each of the rooms.
Le Meurice is the first hotel in France where guests can wake up to the sound of their favourite music on the iHome IH. The iPod has become an essential part of day-to-day life: at home, in the car, outdoors, on the plane, and now at the hotel. iHome enables guests at Le Meurice to create their own Parisian play-list and truly feel home away from home.
The iHome iH5 has multiple functions: mini stereo and wake up alarm! Compatible with all iPodÔ models (except the iPod Shuffle), the iH5 radio alarm/stereo’s lines has a pure and contemporary design, and has an infrared remote control.
When the iPod is plugged on to the socket of the iH5, its battery is automatically charged. Furthermore, the iH5 radio alarm/stereo can be programmed either for sleep or wake up, softly or dynamically, with the sound gradually higher or lower, all without affecting the alarm, or the user’s sound settings.
Should you wish to go for a run during your stay at Le Meurice, a pre-programmed iPod is available from the concierge and can be borrowed any time during the day. The iPod is loaded with fresh and energetic music perfect for the summer. Bon jogging!