As most holidaymakers flee cities in favour of rural and coastal locations during the pandemic, Globetrender editor Jenny Southan checks into The Peninsula Paris to find out what it’s like to take an urban minibreak during the viral age.
I travelled from the UK to France during the height of the travel restrictions in May (you can read more about my journey here in The Telegraph) and spent a month working in the countryside down near Toulouse.
Although it feels more relaxed to be away from crowds during this time, I was also interested in what it would be like to experience pampering at a top-end urban hotel after so long, and how they were coping with health and safety protocols. So I organised a stay at The Peninsula Paris, which is located on Avenue Kleber, close to the Arc de Triomphe.After being mugged on the Paris Metro on my journey from the capital to Toulouse a few weeks before, I was extra anxious about getting from Gare Montparnasse to the hotel, particularly as I had a young daughter. (Taking public transport doesn’t feel good in general, during the pandemic.)
Fortunately, The Peninsula Paris was able to organise a Mercedes van to collect us and drop us back at the station before and after our stay, which is what I would recommend to anyone else considering an urban minibreak (even taxis don’t always cut it when it comes to cleanliness).
On arrival, we were ushered into a magnificent empty lobby by masked staff, and promptly checked in and shown to our room. We were staying in one of the hotel’s best suites – a Rooftop Garden suite, which measures 115-135 sqm and features its own expansive terrace with a patch of lawn, loungers, a table and chairs, a views of the Eiffel Tower. (A one-night stays costs from €4,300.)One of the intra-pandemic innovations I particularly like from this brand is “Peninsula Time”, which means guests can arrange to have their room ready as early as 6am on arrival and check out as late as 10pm on departure, at no extra charge when booking directly with the hotel or via a preferred travel advisor. (This initiative was introduced in November 2020 and means that even if you are only staying one night, you can get value for money.)
Yes, of course, The Peninsula Paris is expensive – it is one of the most exclusive hotels in the world. But for those who do have the budget, a truly magnificent city break can be achieved here, and you can exist in your own “bubble”, temporarily forgetting many of the worries of the world.We weren’t staying in Paris to do sightseeing or go to restaurants (at this time at the end of May things were only just beginning to open up in the French capital anyway). Indoor dining was not possible (except for room service) but we were able to have dinner at the covered semi-al fresco La Terrasse Kleber on street level, which gave us a chance to people watch and soak up some of the atmosphere.After months of homecooking and takeaways during lockdown, it was fun to revel in choosing from an array of extravagant dishes such as: steamed white asparagus with blackberry and foie gras (I opted for it without the foie gras) – costing €34; creamy Buratta for €32; salmon linguine with New Zealand spinach (imagine the carbon footprint!) and Ossetra caviar for €72; and roasted sea bass with verbena broth for €48. A glass of Whispering Angel rosé cost €20.As a parent I was appreciative of how amenable the chef was to us ordering off-menu for our young daughter, who wanted a simple pasta with tomato sauce. And waiting staff were warm, despite her helping herself to Parmesan from a silver bowl with her hand when offered.
In addition to staff wearing masks, other precautions were taken to make the stay as sanitary as possible. Although food can be delivered to the room, staff arrive in disposable jackets and gloves in addition to face coverings.On the desk in the room, there was a generous supply of hand santiser and packs of disposable masks, although I would have welcomed the provision of (Peninsula branded?) resuable cloth masks instead that we would have kept and worn more than once.There was also a sign listing all the other Covid measures that were being taken in the hotel, such as additional distancing in public areas, a limited number of guests in the fitness area, turndown service on appointment, and even a house doctor on call 24/7.
When taking an urban minibreak during the pandemic, you are probably going to spend much more time in your room so it’s worth splashing out on a bigger space. We certainly didn’t want to waste a minute in our suite but the city views allowed us to feel connected to Paris in a way that meant we didn’t feel guilty about not going out.The Peninsula Paris excelled in providing a huge array of thoughtful touches tailored to us as a family – from monogrammed pillows and bathrobes, to a teepee in the living room filled with books and age-appropriate toys for our daughter.There was even a ride-along Mini Cooper car for her; her own bed with a Peninsula-branded mini robe, slippers and teddy bear; a bag of Creatures bathing products designed for children (we had large bottles of Hermès products), a plastic mug and bowl, and a potty. In the evening, she loved watching cartoons in the bath via the built-in TV. When in residence, eating only hotel food can be a bore, especially when ordering from in-room dining. But for us we were lucky enough to be able to have lunch and breakfast on the roof terrace, and we found that food at this particular property was outstanding.
We had an excellent pizza, perfectly constructed club sandwich, crisp fries and, in the morning, delectable French toast, a pot of thick hot chocolate, freshly squeezed juice, hand-made croissants and tropical fruit.At night, we drank champagne while watching the light from the Eiffel Tower sweep across Paris. We felt incredibly privileged not just to be travelling again but to be staying in such a luxurious place.
As confidence gradually returns, city breaks will be revived in 2022 but Globetrender predicts the role of the hotel will be more important than ever. Not just a “bed for the night”, they will be an integral part of the trip, so amenities, activities, room environments, access to private outdoor space and excellent catering will be vital.
The Peninsula Paris is a shining example of how it can be achieved at the highest level.