Paris has a magical way of making you feel like you own a little part of it. From the hidden streets to the major landmarks, with each turn of a street, there is something magnificent to discover. The same is true for one of the city’s most admired and recognisable luxury hubs, Place Vendôme located in the 1st arrondissement. A straight shot down from the Opéra Garnier along rue de la Paix and through to the Tuileries Gardens, this royal cobbled stone square is fit for a king. In fact, it was built for a king – Louis XIV – in 1702 by celebrated architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart.
Whether you walk to the centre to peer up at the immense column in the middle, added to Place Vendôme in 1792 by Napoleon and composed of over 200 enemy cannons, or around the square’s circumference, the sheer size of the square will take your breath away. Its smooth, paved stone foundation sees little car traffic, and is ideal for a stroll with a hot chocolate from nearby La Comtesse du Barry, while admiring the vitrines of the luxury jewellery boutiques situated around the Place.
Van Cleef & Arpels
Place Vendôme is in fact the first spot in Paris to have welcomed a luxury jeweller on street-level. The sumptuous yet contemporary Van Cleef & Arpels flagship store opened thanks to the many wealthy international tourists that would begin to visit Paris during the Second Empire. Inaugurated in 1906, the boutique opened its doors across from the Ritz Hotel, attracting Russian and European aristocrats, alongside American business magnates. To this day, the Van Cleef & Arpels store carries some of the jewellers’ rarest pieces created by the brand’s skilled artisans working out of the prestigious Van Cleef & Arpels School atelier just above the boutique.
At the school, one of two on Place Vendôme, the public is invited to partake in classes in groups of no more than 12, on the history and art of jewellery making led by artisans inspired by the desire to share and pass on a unique savoir-faire.
Opened in 1898, the Ritz Paris has been the epitome of elegance and luxurious French art de vivre. The hotel was the last place Princess Diana stayed and where Coco Chanel sought refuge during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Celebrities from Audrey Hepburn to Maria Callas, writers such as Marcel Proust and Ernest Hemingway (earning him his own bar at the hotel), have all contributed to the mystique of the hotel over the decades.
Closed since 2012 for restoration, the landmark finally reopened last June. Rather than beginning a second life, it’s a new chapter in its legendary story. With the original furniture restored and reinstalled, and the rooms updated with the latest technology, today the Ritz is a quintessential mix of Paris’ historic allure and innovative spirit.
The retractable roof in the winter garden is the ideal spot to enjoy an afternoon tea, or head to the renovated, yet unchanged, Bar Hemingway for an aged spirit or cocktail by Colin Peter Field.
The second of the two schools located on Place Vendôme is none other than the famous École Ritz Escoffier, the centre of French gastronomy named after Auguste Escoffier, the first Executive Chef at the Ritz Paris who set new standards in French cuisine for decades to come. To celebrate the reopening, the École Ritz Escoffier delved into the school archives to bring back to life some of the most iconic dishes from the hotel’s gastronomic past like Elysée Chicken Supreme to Peach Melba. The hotel’s chef school offers lessons to those who are interested in learning the finest French cuisine techniques in a state-of-the-art kitchen.
Despite being a cluster of extremely high-end experiences, both in shopping and gastronomy, Place Vendome is actually fairly discreet, so it’s easy to miss certain draws for those who don’t know where to look. And it’s this understated luxury that perfectly reflects that timeless Parisian elegance the entire world flocks to the city to revel in.