Wow. I've arrived on the Avenue Montaigne in the heart of Paris' poshest shopping district. Joseph and Giorgio Armani stores are opposite. Where do I recognise the Hotel Plaza Athénée's red canopies from? Ahh, of course. Carrie Bradshaw came here in the last two episodes of Sex & the City. I don't spot any celebrities here today, but you don't need to be famous to feel special at this hotel.
I'm told of its fashion credentials - Christian Dior made the Plaza - known as the "fashion palace" - his second home, shooting collections in its rooms and lunching with his best clients here. The Dior Institut spa (which has the feel of one of the fashion house's ultra-sleek stores) is the natural continuation of the brand relationship.
My suitcase is whisked away by the concierge team and I admire the hotel's beautiful entrance hall, complete with velvet armchairs and posh gold gilt sofas. I'm then shown up to my room - and what a view! The Eiffel Tower looks like I could reach out and touch it, twinkling against the darkening sky.
At breakfast the next morning, I'm still a bit in shock at the splendour of it all. I'm brought over delicious whole-milk yogurt and coffee in a silver pot. Everything glistens, but nothing is brash. It's obvious some clients are regulars - yes, people are well-dressed, but there is nothing pretentious in the air - people use their mobile phones (discreetly) in the entrance hall; children are welcomed (but don't disrupt the other guests).
I'm told the Plaza Athénée's renovations will add 5500m2 to the hotel's space, and there will be five lounges and events rooms when it re-opens in 2014. It's set to be even better than it is now - so book me in.
The Room: Art Deco suite 888. The first thing I notice is the view - the Eiffel Tower is bang in front of the lounge's enormous windows, and there's even a pair of binoculars on a tripod for closer inspection. The interiors are black and purple, in modish 20th century style. There is plenty of storage space in generous wardrobes. The bathroom is white with silver tiling, stocked with exfoliating mitt, white tea Plaza Athénée toiletries, and shea butter soap.
The Spa: An "Institut Dior", the lower ground floor spa is lit with a pinkish glow, preventing the white marble space from feeling too clinical. Dior products and perfumes line the walls. Facilities include a fitness room, hammam, sauna, five treatment rooms (including a double) and a relaxation space where I sip Betjeman & Barton mint tea post-treatment.
The Treatment: A Signature Dior Facial. Dior products are used to cleanse the skin thoroughly, and then my therapist Helena gives me two rounds of microdermabrasion. She tailors the treatment to include high-frequency pulsations - they aren't normally included, but she can see my stressed, spot-prone skin needs them. The facial finishes with a creamy hydrating mask, and a light application of BB cream and make-up.
Other Treatments Include: The "beautifying hand treatment" will leave hands soft and nails perfectly polished; the 110-minute "Suspend Time" deep tissue massage is perfect for rejuvenating and releasing tension.
To Eat: Head to the Plaza-Athénée restaurant and its garden courtyard for classic French cuisine (sole meunière, steak tartare). La Galerie des Gobelins is suited to champagne, lunch or afternoon tea. In the spring and summer, La Terrasse Montaigne serves salads, Asian specialities and an impressive selection of fish in an outdoors space. Le Bar splits its opening hours into two halves: "blue hours" (6-11pm) allow guests and non-residents to relax in the Patrick Jouin designed surroundings. "Red hours", every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (11pm-2am) see the lighting change and a DJ take centre stage.
Don't Miss: A private river cruise on the Seine, including champagne and homemade cake.
Nice Touch: Sketches of Dior designs line the spa walls - spot the classic New Look skirts.
Four Seasons George V
You would expect something quite fancy from the grand buildings on the Avenue George V in Paris, but walking through the glittering doors of the Four Seasons surpasses any ideas you might have. Pink rhododendrons and orange flowers have pride of place in the lobby (no, I didn't think this colour combo would work either - but trust us, it is stunning). The staff members are immediately attentive - when I get a bit lost - hey, this place is not small - I'm not made to feel embarrassed, but am instead set back down the marble gallery to a tapestry-lined lobby, before taking lunch at the restaurant Le Cinq.
In the restaurant, the staff anticipate every preference - when I say I don't really want to drink alcohol at lunchtime, the tailcoat-clad waiter suggests I look at the water menu instead, and I choose an option from the Black Forest. The meal is out of this world - my seabass with black Iranian lemon and artichoke broth is delicate but satisfying.
Going down to the spa, the touche française is still evident. It is decorated with toile de jouy fabric and trompe-l'oeil paintings. Designed to make clients feel they have walked away from modern Parisian life, it is like retreating to the Palace of Versailles - the home of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France. But there are still modern touches, such as the Carita equipment in the treatment rooms and the subtle lighting in the relaxation room, where piles of magazines are waiting for me post-treatment.
I'm introduced to my friendly - and highly expert - therapist Frédérique. After my treatment, she explains that she sometimes keeps in contact with clients by email to advise them on their skin care regime. She is obviously devoted to making clients feel relaxed and better about themselves. That's a reflection of the hotel as a whole - a place where every guest feels deserving and valued.
The Room: The French Suite, with its eau de nil and celadon green colourings, and Chinese wall hangings, is an enclave of peace in the middle of Paris. A terrace looks out onto the marble courtyard below, which is hung with orchids. But this suite doesn't come cheap... the premier, deluxe and superior rooms are less expensive, but still offer gorgeous French interiors, Bulgari products in the bathrooms, and great views.
The Spa: A classically styled space on the hotel's lower ground floor, the spa is an escape into the splendour of the Palace of Versailles in its 18th century heyday. Each of the treatment rooms is named after a person or place from pre-revolution France - I'm in room "Marie Antoinette". A spa lounge looks over the swimming pool, and sumptuous drapes fill the changing area. It's not too chintz, though - sparkling modern fittings are interspersed. Among the facilities are a hammam and sauna.
The Treatment: "A Stroll to Versailles" is a two-and-a-half hour treatment infused with orange blossom - Marie Antoinette's favourite scent. I'm given a velvet-lined box for my possessions, and then follows a full-body exfoliation and warm shea butter massage. Frédérique guides me through every stage of the treatment and her touch is incredible: she massages each vertebra carefully and stretches my neglected muscles. Next, two spritzes of orange blossom scent precede a full facial. I'm given a foot massage while a creamy facemask sinks into my skin, and the treatment concludes with hot towels to the hands and feet. Afterwards, Frédérique sees me to the relaxation room. She prepares me a snack of macaroons, dried fruit and mint tea, and settles me into one of the heavenly cabins.
Other Treatments Include: The "All About Chocolate" treatment includes a cocoa-filled scrub, body wrap and cocoa shea butter massage, followed by a tasting of chocolates from the George V's patisserie. The "Vanilla Smoother" body exfoliation uses sandalwood powder to relieve tired muscles.
To Eat: The restaurant Le Cinq is Parisian dining at its very finest. The room is filled with palm-trees, marble and gold curtains, and well-heeled diners sit at generously spaced tables. The menu makes the most of fine French produce, and don't miss the mignardises (petit-fours) trolley at the end of your meal. I finished with a delicate coffee chocolate and a wild strawberry enrobed in sticky marshmallow. Sounds silly - but it looked and tasted incredible. La Galerie is a good place for breakfast or afternoon tea.Wood-panelled Le Bar serves meals between 11am and 6pm. Lunch or dinner can also be taken in the gorgeous flower-strewn Marble Courtyard.
Don't Miss: The flowers! The hotel's artistic director Jeff Leatham oversees the George V's famous floral displays. The lobby creations are changed once or twice a fortnight, and orchids are replaced every morning.
Nice Touch: The red rose laid on the spa bed pre-treatment.
Arriving in my suite at Le Meurice on the rue de Rivoli in the heart of Paris, I don't know whether to first jump in the enormous marble bath, sit on one of the Louis XVI-style armchairs, or perch at one of the two leather-topped writing tables. I decide to do none of these things, and instead flop on the plump pillows on the enormous bed. I get up and cross over to the window, from where I can see the top of the Eiffel Tower blinking away in the twilight. Who said the perfect relaxing city experience doesn't exist? I think it does here.
You might be worried about French haughtiness, but Le Meurice will put your mind at rest. The multilingual concierge team are smiley and I'm shown to my room by the wonderfully efficient Pascale. Another porter arrives seconds later with my suitcase. With all the room's amenities, there is nothing more I could want, but they stress they are there 24 hours a day (if I did get an odd craving at 3am, for example). The box of macaroons, white orchid, and plate of fresh fruit on the coffee table, complete with hand written welcome note, just top off that Parisian... friendliness.
If you want to know what it feels like to live in a palace, Le Meurice gives you a pretty good taster. It looks over the idyllic Tuileries gardens, and is minutes from the designer shopping square Place Vendôme. The public spaces are film-set fabulous - indeed, Woody Allen shot Midnight in Paris in the hotel. The mirrored walls and low-hanging chandeliers in Le Dali restaurant, where I eat breakfast, are so beautiful I want to cry.
The Valmont Spa is more modern, but still as glorious, after it reopened in September last year, following a revamp.
Le Meurice has 150 years of history, and the old and the new sit alongside each other beautifully. This is a magical enclave in which the French taste for quality and service are fully evident.
The Room: Executive suite 610. Period-style furniture - minus any fustiness, thanks to modern touches, such as two widescreen Samsung televisions - lend the room an air of royal resplendence. A lounge with comfortable sofa and two chairs leads to the bedroom, which has views over the rooftops. The bathroom is marble with modern white fittings. There are ample supplies of Penhaligon's products, a comb, nail kit and oversized white bathrobes.
The Spa: Concealed on its own mezzanine level within the hotel, the "Valmont Spa" is a clean white space with sweeping sofas and a private terrace. White orchids and fruit complete the feeling of freshness. The spa director herself comes over to explain the products used - Valmont. Not heard of them? Neither had I. A Swiss brand, Valmont is a skin saver for those in the know. The products are specially formulated to give results that hydrate, cleanse and smooth - without surgical intervention.
The Treatment: A bespoke facial. My therapist Marie takes one look at my stressed skin and advises purifying and hydrating products, and that I stop using any harsh exfoliators straight away (I'm guilty of scrubbing too hard). A thorough cleanse and gentle exfoliation are followed by extractions - I need them - and a creamy mask. Marie's touch is incredible - her fingers contour my face and plump without pinching during the face massage. I'm left feeling that the team genuinely cares about the quality of their clients' skin.
Other Treatments Include: A massage exclusive to Le Meurice (the "Exclusive Meurice Body Massage") uses Valmont Rosa Moschata oil. The Leg Toning Treatment eases any feeling of heaviness in the lower limbs, tones, and improves circulation.
To Eat: Top chef Alain Ducasse takes over the three Michelin star restaurant Le Meurice in September, where he will prepare the world class cuisine he has become famous for (men must wear a jacket for the evening service in this restaurant). I ate breakfast - divine pastries, fresh fruit salad and coffee in a silver pot - in Le Dali restaurant. Drinks and light meals - chilled cod with lime zests, summer vegetables - are served in Le 228 bar.
Don't Miss: Pre-loaded iPods are available at the concierge for those who wish to stroll or jog to the sound of music round the idyllic Tuileries gardens opposite the hotel.
Nice Touch: Le Meurice's staff members are highly knowledgeable about everything going on in Paris, thanks to a training programme that sees them visit galleries and exhibitions. So don't be afraid to ask them for recommendations on what is going on in the city - they'll be delighted to inform you.