Art (sorta) nouveau: A review of the InterContinental Paris Le Grand
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To The Point
The InterContinental Paris Le Grand has catered to the elite since its opening in 1862. Pros: Impeccable service, a desirable location, an iconic structure and an expansive breakfast buffet. Cons: In the midst of renovation, even new rooms are not exactly modern, and questionable soft product choices mar the five-star experience.
Any hotel inaugurated by an empress goes on my bucket list. Add guests including kings, queens, czars and czarinas, and you might understand why staying at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand was a dream come true. When a visit to the City of Light coincided with the opening of newly renovated rooms, I knew a visit was in order.
RIP, Chase IHG Anniversary uncapped-night certificate. I had two of these babies to use and decided to retire them in style in Paris at the InterContinental. With the current certificates capped at 40,000 points a night, the 70,000 redemption value at the Le Grand provided real value. Even if I’d paid 70,000 points per night, I would have scored a great deal, considering my two-night July booking came in at $1,209, a redemption value close to 0.9 cents a point. That was well over TPG current value of 0.5 cents.
One note about booking: It took looking various times over a couple of weeks to secure nights that were available as awards. I don’t think the hotel is playing around with inventory, however. Upon arrival, I learned that half the rooms were closed for renovation. Standard-level award rooms were hard enough to come by when the hotel had 450 rooms for rent. At 225, they may have been in needle-in-a-haystack territory. But keep trying — I was able to find two nights eventually.
Also of note: Classic rooms only sleep two people. You have go up at least two room categories to get to a room that will sleep even three, and four is pretty much a nonstarter. You may be be able to ask for a waiver, but I definitely wouldn’t chance it without asking in advance.
To stock up on IHG Rewards points, check out the IHG Premier credit card. I especially like it because the fourth night is free on award bookings. At 70,000 a night, the savings add up quickly.
I grade five-star hotels on a lean curve, and one area I test is communication prearrival. In this case, I worked with both the reservation staff and the concierge.
The front office met the mark when I asked for a room with two beds, since I was traveling with my 12-year-old daughter. They replied within 24 hours, letting me know that awards usually received a standard room with just a queen, but that for 30 euros a night I could upgrade to a twin superior. In addition to two beds, the room was 65 square feet larger than the 215-square-foot standard room. I thought this was fair, considering the upcharge to book a higher category directly was over 60 euros a night. Being both a Spire elite and IC Ambassador, I did hope for a complimentary room with two beds. That said, the hotel was sold out both nights we were there, so I was glad to have paid to guarantee the larger room.
They also offered us a discounted rate for club access: 120 euros a night. I declined, partly because I was there with my daughter and didn’t see myself partaking in the free-flowing Champagne. However, if you’re two adults who love the bubbly, it might be worth it. Do keep in mind that the club is one of the areas under renovation, so the current location is not up to usual InterContinental club standards, according to multiple reports on FlyerTalk.
The concierge also replied quickly when I queried about things to do with a 12-year-old who has visited Paris before. Their suggestion was an arcade (passage) tour, which they were happy to arrange with a private guide for 350 euros. No thanks. If I had wanted a guided arcade tour, I could have arranged a private one for around 120 euros or joined a walking tour for around 15 euros. That said, the concierge was very helpful after our arrival, with suggestions for local casual eateries and with directions. I can second the concierge’s recommendation of Cafe Capucine, less than five minutes’ walk from the hotel.
The Le Grand is technically a two-minute walk from the Auber RER station and a five-minute walk from the Opera Metro station. However, it took us another 10 minutes to find the correct entrance because of extensive outside renovation. The entire facade was scaffolding. Dragging three bags through a construction site was not fun. If you’re loaded down with luggage, you might want to consider a taxi or Uber. (Pro tip: If you can see the Fragonard Museum across the street on Rue Scribe, you’re on the right track.) We took an Uber to Orly Airport (ORY) when we left the hotel at a cost of 68 euros.
The Opera district, or Ninth Arrondissement, houses most of the top-end hotels in Paris including the Park Hyatt Vendome. It’s certainly convenient to many tourist attractions, such as the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries. That’s both a blessing and a curse, and the convenience comes at the cost of authenticity. The Opera district reminds me of Times Square in that way: great for first-time visitors but maybe not for a deeper dive into Paris.
Once we found the entrance, however, the hotel began to reveal its charms. Every single employee we encountered during our entire stay dropped what they were doing to greet us, and this started before we checked in. With no line, our somewhat complicated reservation (two free-night certificates and a paid upgrade) was handled smoothly and quickly.
My status as Spire elite and IC Ambassador was acknowledged, and we were offered 4pm checkout. We also received a voucher for two drinks at the hotel bar (which included the gorgeous Winter Garden). We were not informed about any dining credit, but I wasn’t disappointed.
The check-in agent informed us of good news: We were the first guests to occupy the newly renovated twin superior room we booked. While it was great to see everything shiny and new, I have to admit it put a bit of pressure on us to keep things pristine.
The agent also gave me the scoop on the hotel’s renovation status. The first phase of 225 rooms is now complete, and the second phase is just beginning. I’m not sure if all 225 will be taken out of inventory at once, though. If your hallway carpet is gray, your room is new. If it’s green, it’s not.
We received exactly the room category we booked, twin superior. The 280-square-foot room felt adequate for both of us, but I wouldn’t call it spacious. Many design choices appeared to have been dictated by the historic building the hotel occupies.
The beds were what I expected from a five-star hotel: cotton sheets with a slippery feel and beds that were firm without feeling wooden. However, for a brand-new room, it surprisingly had no USB outlets by the bed. Instead, one nightstand had a radio with a USB and iPhone cord attached. Each side had an outlet, but neither was placed at bed height, requiring me to do the dreaded climb under the side table to plug in my laptop.
We heard minor construction noise throughout our visit, so if you are sensitive, bring earplugs. The view was notable because it was so laughable. I’ll let you see for yourself.
Coffee service at a five-star hotel should never involve the word “Nescafe.” However, our room lacked any type of dedicated coffee machine, instead relying on an electric kettle so you had to drink the dreaded crystal sludge to get your morning caffeine jolt. This is a cardinal offense in my book. I took an informal poll on Twitter to see if my opinion was out of line, and 76% agreed with me that a $500-plus-a-night hotel without a Nespresso (or even a Krups) is a big deal.
Besides the counter holding the “coffee” service, the only other counter space was a petite desk under the TV and a small coffee table. Seating consisted of two ornamental and not very comfortable chairs — we spent most of our time on the spacious twin beds.
The room’s saving grace was an enormous closet on each side of the minibar. Each could have slept a small child and gave us more than enough space to stash our belongings.
The bathroom was as brand-spankin’-new as the rest of the room. The room featured a single vanity, which I understood because of the room’s size. It did have plenty of room to store my stuff, though. Bathrobes were as fresh and fluffy as you would expect.
However, the bathroom had a few design choices I didn’t understand. For one, if a hotel is doing a top-to-bottom refresh, why on earth would they keep this dinosaur?
My daughter asked me why toilet phones were ever a thing, and I couldn’t come up with an answer besides, “So you could order room service from the potty.” Her look of revulsion said it all.
Another choice that I found odd was the bathtub. The room had a combined shower/bath that did the job with both adequate height and water pressure, but the tub was extremely narrow. I filled it halfway and almost flooded the bathroom when I got in. Unless you are supermodel thin, get in before you fill up.
And finally, the toiletries were mostly a lightly scented (and pleasing) lemon verbena by Anne Semonin, but for some reason the line deviated with mistletoe-scented shampoo. This mistletoe assuredly did not remind me of Christmas. The aroma was more like “$3 worth of that bathroom Polo” and had Carrie Underwood stuck in my head for a week. Fortunately, the scent faded from my hair once it was dry.
Food and Beverage
The hotel’s signature restaurant, Cafe de la Paix, is as famous as the InterContinental Paris Le Grand itself. Fortunately, while the setting is firmly in the past, the food matches anything served today.
We sampled the breakfast buffet, which at 45 euros per person (and no discount for kids) was not a no-brainer decision. By dining at 10am, we found the expansive selection satisfied us until dinner, making the cost well worth it. Options besides the obvious French pastries and eggs to order included a selection of Asian dishes such as miso soup and bao buns. My daughter got a kick out of creating a plate featuring a bao bun, a pain chocolat and dragonfruit.
If you were looking for a more casual breakfast, pastries and coffee were sold in the Winter Garden. We also utilized the Winter Garden to redeem our free drinks via the Ambassador program. I think it would be a terrific site for afternoon tea, but we didn’t get a chance to sample it.
Cafe de la Paix also serves lunch and dinner. If you wish to do either, get reservations, as the restaurant is popular with the general public. No reservations were required for hotel guests to have breakfast.
I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t upset about not receiving my $15 Ambassador credit. Here’s why.
The selection of Champagne, macarons, and fresh-pressed juices far surpassed the bowl of fruit promised by the Ambassador program. The Champagne, while not Dom or Krug, was a respectable 26-euros-per-bottle Castelnau. I especially appreciated the selection of juices, which I imagined was presented with my daughter in mind. Nice touch, and the apricot nectar made for a passable mimosa when the Champagne was added.
Outside of the general ambience, the IC Le Grand didn’t offer a tremendous number of hotel amenities. The notable one was that all guests got access to the fitness center and spa (which included a sauna and steam room). The fitness center was open 24 hours a day to help you work off all of those pastries.
Though we enjoyed our stay, it takes more than that to earn a great review. I always ask myself, “Is it worth it?” In this case I’m not sure.
In some ways, the historic building, the lovely service and the prime location among them, the Le Grand shines. So in the context of 70,000 IHG points or $350 a night, yes, it’s definitely worth it.
However, in context of other hotels with luxury offerings such as the Park Hyatt or quirky but affordable options such as the Hotel Banke? I’m not convinced. I’m glad to have stayed here, but I’m not sure I will return to the InterContinental Paris Le Grand with so many other Parisian options — especially ones that don’t make me drink instant coffee, look over a construction site or leave my hair smelling like a country song.
Photos by the author unless where otherwise noted.
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