Guests from across the world, panache from Provence, charm from England.
There are great four-star chain hotels which don’t change much from Sydney to Saõ Paulo. They have point-by-point philosophies of hospitality (“You can only make a first impression once!”), smart uniforms, corporate designers and guests who’ve recently flown in from the US or Osaka.
Then there are four-stars like The Grimaldi, where people also show up from the US and Osaka. It’s just that they don’t set the tone. The place has a little too much rooted personality of its own. It comes on like an elegant little town house. It’s run by a sharp, sophisticated lady with an eye for character, décor and detail. The result is that you are aware that you are arriving somewhere, rather than anywhere. This is a most happy state of affairs.
Charming young people
That the lady in question is of English origin isn’t necessarily surprising but is somehow pleasing. If I weren’t afraid of being hit, I’d say she had southern French sensibility filtered through Laura Ashley. But I am, so I won’t. At any event, things are promising right from the entry. Indeed, from both entries. The Grimaldi comprises two distinct and, rather ornate, Belle Epoque mansions round a common interior courtyard. So there’s a door on Rue Grimaldi and another on the parallel Rue Maccarani.
Logically, each has a reception desk manned by charming young people. And each has a rather lovely Provençal-style bar-cum-salon-cum-breakfast room. Swathes of red and light yellow offset the dark wood of proper, heavy and well-polished Provençal furniture. I particularly like the display cabinets near the doors. They’re the sorts of things you’d find in a notable’s real southern home.
I also like the fact that you’re clearly in a spot responding to one woman’s cultivated taste rather than to a policy laid down in somewhere like Minnesota. (Don’t get me wrong. People in Minnesota have cultivated taste by the truck-load. It’s doesn’t always fit the Côte-d’Azur, that’s all.) This is a terribly relaxing place to be. And it flatters one’s self-esteem.
Upstairs, the 46 rooms come in different categories. All have rich fabrics, and richer colours – ochres and reds recalling Provence, or navy blues and white evoking the sea. But it’s subtly done, with a mix of contemporary touches (flat-screen TVs), period furniture and, in higher grade rooms, ample space and balconies. There‘s no restaurant, pool or garden.
Then again, you’re minutes from the beach, seconds from nearby eateries and, should you seek solace and tranquillity, a rather fine Protestant church just across the way might fulfil your needs.
You can also take solace from two further facts: (a) for a central four-star in France’s most glam city, the prices verge on the reasonable and (b) in staying here, you’re staying in a place in which people have invested their lives rather than merely their career prospects.