LuxeGetaways Magazine – Fall/Winter 2017 | Every frequent traveler dreads the disruption of a well-planned itinerary at the last minute. In my case, it was a portentous tickle just aft of my uvula before a long-awaited trip to Paris.
I was still sucking down Cold-Eeze by the boxful as I arrived at JFK and made my way to the Air France business-class lounge at Terminal 1. Barring any septic meltdown in my tonsils, my next three days were going to be idyllic: I would fly business class to Paris, spend two nights at the renovated 5-star Ritz Paris and return home on Air France’s first-class service, La Première.
Assuming, that is, I was still upright and breathing once I reached the City of Light.
No Red Eyes on This Flight
My flight did not depart until 10:35 pm, so I had the option of dining in the lounge. “It’s the same menu,” said the hostess, “whether you eat on the plane or here.”
Despite the lounge’s harsh light and airport atmosphere, the service might have been lifted from a warm, woody brasserie in Le Marais. The maître d’ lacked only a white linen towel draped over his left forearm to complete the illusion. “Of course you want Champagne, monsieur?” Er, mais oui! Then came a meal designed by Michelin-starred, New York-based Chef Daniel Boulud: Armagnac duck on walnut-cranberry toast, crusty olive bread with a hunk of camembert, and a medium-rare, pan-seared nugget of tender beef tournedos in a morel mushroom sauce, along with a glass of Pinot noir.
Boarding was a breeze, and I quickly found my way to my assigned place. Air France’s updated business-class seats morph into inviting lie-flat beds, so as soon as I heard the ding of the 10,000-foot-altitude indicator, I went into prone mode. Though before I drifted off, I wondered whether I was wasting this opportunity. Should I have been enjoying the upper-class experience more fully—snapping my fingers for champers, slyly scanning my fellow flyers for celebs, wallowing in the very spaciousness of seat 17-L?
The next thing I knew, breakfast was being served, and the green fields of Brittany were skating away below as we glided toward Paris.
Puttin’ on the Ritz
Legendary hotelier César Ritz opened his eponymic establishment in a cozy corner of the grand Place Vendôme in Paris in 1898. Steps from the Seine, the Tuileries and the Louvre, the Ritz could not be more centrally located. In 2012, the property shut down completely for a four-year makeover that has re-invigorated the palatial institution.
The grand deluxe “room” to which I was shown might have been the Presidential Suite at many hotels in the United States. The cream-colored furnishings and elaborate fixtures were ornate and impressive. Brass swans spouted water from the twin sinks and tub. Mirrors above the fireplace and in the bathroom masked electronically camouflaged televisions. Richly papered walls artfully hid closet doors. With all the brocades, damasks and tassels, my room was 590 square feet of pure hotel goodness.
The Ritz refurbishment also included the addition of the world’s first Chanel spa and the elegant, book-lined Salon Proust, a newly created space that serves afternoon tea. A retractable glass roof makes the courtyard usable all year long and adds seating space for the fine-dining Espadon restaurant. The hotel’s très charmant garden has been redone in the French style and will soon open to the public.
Leaving Paris, Reluctantly
I dined at a Michelin-starred culinary jewel box, the Grand Véfour; and also L’Acajou, which is an equally diminutive eatery that is as modern as the Véfour is traditional. The connection? Guy Martin of Grand Véfour and Jean Imbert of L’Acajou are just two of the prominent Parisian chefs who also create menus for Air France’s business- and first-class services. All of which was like a chewy, comestible drum roll for what was to come on my final day: an afternoon at the highly exclusive Air France La Première lounge and a first-class flight home.
As my car pulled up to Terminal 2E at Paris-Charles De Gaulle, a young man in a suit opened my door and escorted me to a comfortable lounge while one of his colleagues retrieved my boarding pass. La Première passengers can take advantage of a VIP security lane, after which an airline rep escorts them to the La Première lounge. The quiet space boasts a modernist style, with red design highlights throughout and bright windows overlooking the runways. I plopped down in a comfy chair, accepted a proffered glass of Champagne, and then decided to go on an investigatory stroll.
A dark, intimate bar glowed vermilion, the whiskies and gins on its backbar glimmering under dramatic lighting. A quiet area in perpetual twilight offered private chaise lounges and flat beds for the weary. Showers promised a liquid restorative for transit passengers. And there was a spa! I booked a complimentary 30-minute foot massage from the lone therapist, Virginie, who recommended that, in future, reservations would spare me possible disappointment.
The boyish chef in charge of the lounge’s meals, Alexandre Viriot, works under the tutelage of the acclaimed Alain Ducasse. Viriot gave me a tour of the gleaming new kitchen and proudly explained how the older kitchen had been completely dismantled and transformed into a state-of-the-art culinary center that employs 17.
“Our goal is to give a customer a full restaurant experience at any time,” he said. “If you want a strip steak at six in the morning, we give it to you. Breakfast in the afternoon? Fine.”
A Flight Not Long Enough
And then my flight was called…
It would be improper (possibly sinful) to say my experience in the first-class cabin of AF 008 that evening was anticlimactic. It was, rather, in keeping with the luxury that I had been enjoying for the previous 48 hours. My first-class suite was comprised of two facing seats that folded to form a flat surface. A flight attendant could then lay a memory foam mattress across the seats, with a duvet on top, to create a single-sleeper bed of excellent comfort.
But first, there would be dinner. My meal (creamed corn soup with cachaça and an entrée of pan-seared bass in lemongrass sauce, designed by Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon, and served on fine white Massaud china) was the prelude to a delightful, if all-too-short, three-hour nap.
It is probably time to tell you that no, my cold did not develop into the flu, pneumonia or a full-blown pulmonary embolism. Perhaps it was that first glass of Champagne in the JFK lounge, the creamy brill with red-cabbage crust at Véfour, or the doorman’s umbrella protecting me for the entire 12-foot walk from my reserved car into the Ritz Paris’ lobby on that first day. More likely my medical rescue was owing to Colin Field, the veteran head barman at the Ritz’s Bar Hemingway. “You’ll want a very dry martini, I think, sir,” he said, concernedly, within 30 seconds of sizing me up on my last night in town.
Saved by a martini? Rescued by a lie-flat airplane seat? Resuscitated by perfectly cooked eggs Benedict in the Ritz’s L’Espadon? No matter what relieved me from almost certain infirmity, I just call it the first-class cure.
A personable young gentleman at JFK wearing an Air France identification tag met me. “I just want to make sure you clear immigration and customs quickly and that everything is fine,” he said. “How are you feeling after your trip, by the way?”
Good question. I swallowed deliberately, considered the state of my health, and smiled. “Actually,” I said, “I’m feeling pretty darn good. How are you?”
How and Where
At the time of this writing, one-way fares on Air France between New York and Paris were $8,610 in La Première class and $7,176 in Business class. Keep an eye open for occasional fare sales, especially in Business. Air France Economy sections are being redesigned to include electrical outlets, USB ports, and touch-screen entertainment systems. Among the cuisine choices in Economy is a meal from rising star Jean Imbert (of Paris’s L’Acajou) and Champagnes and wines from world-class sommelier Paolo Basso.
Grand Deluxe rooms at the Ritz Paris cost about $1,600 a night. Slightly less expensive but still spacious Superior rooms (377 square feet) cost about $1,175.
Fun Fact: When at the Ritz Paris, we highly recommend Afternoon Tea at Bar Vendôme for a great experience, and if you can splurge, consider the Royal Tea, which includes Champagne Barons de Rothschild.
Hotel Options in the Neighborhood: Depending on availability and budgets, there are numerous hotels in the area, including Hotel Costes and The Westin Paris.
- Air France: http://luxegetaways.info/air-france
- La Première: http://luxegetaways.info/la-premiere
- Ritz Paris: http://luxegetaways.info/ritz-paris
- The Westin Paris: http://thewestinparis.com
- Hotel Costes: https://hotelcostes.com