The independently owned and managed Le Bristol has spent more than any of the others im the palace ‘club’ on raising its game to compete with the new hotels. Since 2009, it has invested Ä100 million in its rooms, suites and restaurant. It has also opened a new wing, a second, less gastronomic restaurant and, last October, a new La Prairie spa, the only one I’ve ever seen where staff will look after four- to 12-year-olds while their parents have treatments.

Close to the Elysée Palace (making it a favourite meeting place for politicians) at the quieter end of rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, it was built as a hotel in 1925.

It is undeniably grand, but for all the polished marble, Louis XVI fauteuils, showcases with pieces by Paris’s premier jewellers and stupendous flower arrangements, the welcome feels warm, not stuffy, correct rather than stiff, and refreshingly untroubled by corporate diktats. Don’t, for example, be surprised by the sight of a fluffy white cat on the concierge desk: this is Fa-raon, the 18-month-old hotel mascot. (Can it be a coincidence that white cats are equated with luck and prosperity in China?)

Maja Oetker, the septuagenarian matriarch of the German food dynasty that owns the hotel, personally supervises the decor. Her taste errs on the classic and conservative: pale boiserie walls hung with gilded mirrors, luxuriant Canovas and Pierre Frey fabrics, and antique furniture and chandeliers. It speaks of an earlier era and makes no effort to be modish, but that’s its real charm.

Which room to book
Late 2011 saw the opening of two new prestige suites; one, the Honeymoon Suite, is an expansive set of rooms up in the mansard with seven balconies, rooftop views and the number 888, an auspicious figure if you’re Chinese and superstitious. The loveliest rooms – each of them different – are the 36 that overlook the hotel’s 1,200-metre-square enclosed garden, with its geometric lawns, clipped boxes, magnolias, azaleas and honeysuckle.

Regular guests will mourn the passing of the old restaurant, in a handsome, wood-panelled, fresco-ceilinged oval room at the heart of the hotel. It has moved to a less magical space, designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, overlooking the garden. But Eric Frechon’s three-Michelin-starred cooking remains outstanding. Expect to spend close to Ä250 a head for three courses with wine, but dinner is no mere meal; it’s an experience!

In short
As quintessentially Parisian a hotel as you could hope to find. No wonder this was where Woody Allen chose to shoot parts of Midnight in Paris. (The cast and crew stayed here for three months, paying in full for the privilege).