Travel

The Glamorous Past and Present of Paris’s Iconic Hôtel Plaza Athénée

From Elizabeth Taylor to Julia Child, Carrie Bradshaw to Emily in Paris, many real and fictional stars have made pilgrimages to the hotel.

Photo by Eric Laignel, courtesy of Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Eric Laignel, courtesy of Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Eric Laignel, courtesy of Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection

Whether it’s a cabana on a private Caribbean island or a room in a medieval Irish castle, sometimes where we stay is even more important than where we go. Late Checkout is your key to the most memorable lodgings around the world.The hotel is especially beautiful in the rain. Its red awnings and lush greenery pop against the gray Parisian sky, the weather creating a romantic aura in an already romantic city. I walk into the lobby and it’s like I’m in another world-one filled with fabulous crystal chandeliers, fresh lilies, and the most divine scent I’ve ever smelled, lush and comforting with a sweet spiciness. This is the signature scent of the iconic Hôtel Plaza Athénée, described by Communications Director Isabelle Maurin as predominantly “amber, soft and warm.”

My first thought is that it feels like a place where Miss Piggy would stay, and while to my knowledge the iconic pig hasn’t checked in there, many of her equally glamorous celebrity friends have. Located in the heart of couture row, Plaza Athénée was designed by Charles Lefebvre, a French composer. The hotel opened in step with Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1913 and became a watering hole of sorts for theatergoers and musicians. Walls of the hotel feature photographs of visitors past and present-people like Liza Minelli, Yves St. Laurent, and Penelope Cruz. Celebrities such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor have also called this Parisian palace home.

Photo by Francis Amiand, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Francis Amiand, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Francis Amiand, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection

On-screen, beloved characters have also made the pilgrimage to the Plaza Athénée. “Over the past 110 years, many films and series have been shot at the hotel, including Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, and Emily in Paris,” says Maurin. You might even recognize the hotel as the site of the romantic resolution between Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson’s characters in Something’s Gotta Give.

The hotel made its most recent pop culture appearance in Max’s Julia, which follows the life of Julia Child. In episode three of season two, “Pressed Duck,” Julia (Sarah Lanaschire) and Paul (David Hyde Pierce) take a weekend adventure to Paris to visit the life they once shared in the city before going back to their responsibilities in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They stay at the Plaza Athénée, where production of the show was allowed to shoot in the hotel during regular business hours. Scenes showcase that luxurious lobby, as well as a suite overlooking the Eiffel Tower. In person, walking into the suite is an awe-inspiring experience, the space filled with chandeliers, a huge walk-in closet, and a bathroom complete with luxurious products. And, of course, you can step out onto the balcony to see a stunningly clear view of the city’s most famous landmark.

Photo by Mark Read, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Mark Read, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Mark Read, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection

Food, of course, is a huge part of Julia-and similarly, a huge part of visiting the Plaza Athénée. The Jean Imbert au Plaza Athénée, designed to celebrate France’s culinary history in a modern way, is a particular destination for food lovers. “The restaurant opened its doors on January 5, 2022,” says Maurin. “Only nine weeks after its opening, it received its first Michelin star.” The menu is thoughtfully designed: “Each dish is inspired by an iconic recipe taken from French culinary heritage. The historical elements have remained unchanged to allow guests to let their imagination wander and be swept up in the experience,” says Maurin.

The space itself is part of the restaurant’s appeal, all gold molding and stunning marble with a long table stretching across the room. It feels like a place you could imagine Sofia Coppola filming a dreamy, languid pastry-eating scene set to electronic pop. To the side of the restaurant, a stunning garden courtyard turns into a festive ice rink during the colder months.

Photo by Tina Hillier, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Tina Hillier, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection
Photo by Tina Hillier, courtesy of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Dorchester Collection

Back to that scent, the amber notes waft into every corner of the Plaza Athénée, including Le Bar, where I post up for champagne cocktails. It’s a custom Dior scent created just for the hotel, which has a decades-long relationship with the luxury brand. During his early days as a designer, Christian Dior was a frequent visitor to the Plaza Athénée, eventually opening up a boutique nearby in 1946 with the hope of attracting guests to buy his clothing. Shortly thereafter, the hotel became a venue for many Dior fashion shows and shoots.

According to Maurin, “Christian Dior loved spending time in the hotel and in the restaurants, especially the Relais Plaza. He drew inspiration from our elegant guests to create looks he named Dress Bar, Plaza, and Athénée.” This collaboration is still plainly visible today, from the Dior memorabilia-including fashion photographs and some of Dior’s sketches for his collections-displayed throughout the hotel to a state-of-the-art spa with all Dior products.

While the Plaza Athénée doesn’t offer a formal tour, anyone can come and see the hotel’s public spaces at their leisure. And that’s not the only way to experience the opulent atmosphere without actually staying there. Until I can save up enough pennies to spend a glamorous night at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, I complete my too-short visit with the next best thing: I buy their signature candle.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Kerensa Cadenas is a freelance writer and editor based in New York. She covers culture, entertainment, travel, beauty, and fashion. You can find her work at publications like GQ, Elle, Bazaar, The Cut, Rolling Stone, Daily Beast, Vogue and others. She’s held positions at Thrillist, The Cut, Entertainment Weekly, and Complex. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, or subscribe to her fragrance-focused Substack.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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