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Murano in Paris
Urban Resort on the Edge of Marais

FrommerLuxuryTravel
Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

You can walk past the Murano and never know it’s there. No identifying sign. Just another five- story building, inconspicuous among its 19th century Boulevard du Temple neighbors on the edge of trendy Marais. Unless, of course, you’ve heard about it. It has the air of being something secret, confidential.

Bar scene: people in for the food fair.  Restaurateur Caroline Rostang is second from left; Ariane D’Artagnan is at the table’s head - click to enlarge
Bar scene: people in for the food fair.  Restaurateur Caroline Rostang
is second from left; Ariane D'Artagnan is at the table's head

Nevertheless, at the time of our visit in October 2004, the word had gotten out. Every night, the bar was packed. Couturiers and clients in for fashion week, food and wine professionals in for the international food fair, artists and designers from the neighborhood. Dinner reservations had to be made days ahead of time. Already it had become a place for shoots and launchings of new lines -- like Laghan, the fabric that combines cashmere with bamboo fiber -- even though this avant-garde hotel dubbed “urban resort” had not even opened, officially that is. The day we arrived they were laying hexagon-shaped paving stones out front, of the type fronting other buildings in the area, blending in with the rest. Yet the Murano’s interior blends with nothing Paris has ever seen.

You enter a deep high-ceilinged gallery of Carrera marble lined with glass sculptures that opens into a sky-lit salon where a white Chesterfield sofa possibly fifteen feet-long fronts an equally long neo-modern fireplace, a bold black rectangle set into the pearly wall, perennially aglow.  Directly opposite is le bar.

For a moment you think South Beach, echoes of Philippe Stark. But this is Paris and something else. Twenty first-century fixtures combined with chairs of 1970’s design; chrome and leather stools combined with slate floors and walls. Rough panels of fabric suspended from the ceiling, vibrant orange and blue, red and fuchsia. And above the black bar that runs maybe 50 feet, a series of video screens repeating abstract, hypnotic patterns to accompanying music: something suggestive of underwater forms eternally floating upwards, rock and crystal formations eternally falling. The images and music change with the time of the day and the mood of the crowd, the sole constant being an ambience that is high-tech, high-style, and, at the same time, engagingly playful.

Managing Director at the Murano: Jérome Foucaud - click to enlarge
Managing Director at the Murano: Jérome Foucaud

And there at the bar, seated -- if only for a moment -- is Jérome Foucaud, himself a study in black and white, black jacket and pants, white shirt open at the neck (later on he is all in black, never with a tie), black-rimmed eyeglasses, looking -- as he did when we first met him two years ago in St. Tropez -- like a young Marcello Mastrionni.

Back then, he confesses, he was already looking for a change. “I had been at the Byblos for nine years,” he told us (referring to the famed resort that alternately operates in St. Tropez and Courchevel in the French Alps). “It was time. I wanted to open a place in a big city. But I didn’t know when or where.  

“Somehow the word got out; I met this guy who told me he bought some property in Marais. ‘We can do something together,’ he said to me. I said, ‘Why not?’

“I came up to Paris in January 2002,” Jérome continued. “In the past, I’d been to Paris but only as a tourist. Now I saw the old building with the big garage in the rear. I looked around the neighborhood. The Marais is one of the oldest parts of Paris, but over the past five years it’s become one of the newest. The fourth district is the old Jewish section which has become a gay area, very lively. The third is more discrete, lots of designers, showrooms, model agencies, art galleries, but not a lot of hotels.

“The idea appealed to me.  I began working as a consultant. ‘If I was here, this is what I would do.’  I knew I wanted it to be something up to the moment. I knew the kind of market I wanted to appeal to, the kind of feeling I wanted the place to have.”

That summer Jérome committed to the project, and after another winter and summer season at Byblos, moved to Paris. But he brought along the sun of St. Tropez, infusing its spirit into the urban resort the Murano has become.  “When you are here, you forget about the outside,” he says.

The outside is all that remains of the original building. But at night, it becomes a source of wonder for passer-bys who gaze in amazement at the panorama of lights emanating from the windows. All the Murano’s 43 rooms and nine suites are studies in pristine white, from walls, to carpets, to streamlined, built-in cubes and closets, to luxurious bed linens and layered curtains; all the bathrooms are black slate with fixtures of white and chrome.

But bedside dials allow one to bring up, combine, enhance and diminish in limitless combinations the colors of light from recessed ceiling fixtures. In this way, each guest becomes a lighting designer on the order of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhower, a lighting installation artist like Dan Flavin, creating out of a room’s illumination a myriad of moods.

If this seems something out of the ordinary, how about opening the door to your room by inserting a finger into a recess that has a record of the fingerprint you provided when you checked in? Or mixing drinks at the stand-up bars in the sitting room of your duplex suite before going for a swim in your private lap pool just beyond outside sliding glass panels? Or looking out the bedroom window onto a jumble of Paris rooftops with the searchlight of the Eiffel Tower sweeping the nighttime sky?

The spa will add another element to the extraordinary when it opens in early 2005. This essential component of an urban resort will be below ground yet lit by skylights and will house the largest hotel swimming pool in Paris, a gym, six massage rooms, a sauna and Jacuzzi. Services will include massages, private coaches, and a range of beauty treatments making use of products by Anne Sémonin.

“The Murano is a good concept for young people who like the hotel business, the combination of luxury and something modern,” says Jérome. And indeed the staff is young and hip. The backs of their jackets are emblazoned with five stars – an inside joke, Jérome tells us. The maximum number of stars for a French hotel is four, but there is an up-market brand called Five Stars. To those in the know, the jackets are a kind of product placement and, at the same time, a statement about the hotel – it is one up from the rest. There are other statements like the Alfa Romeros that serve as hotel limos. Mercedes would be too stodgy. Besides, Jérome likes the fact that they’re Italian -- like the name of the hotel.

“The owner (a Parisian businessman with a hand in many projects) and his wife were in Venice, and he thought of the  name Murano,” said Jérome. “It sounds good; it has an Italian association.” It also provides a vivid accent in the otherwise sleek environment: an explosion of color in the Murano chandelier that hangs in the office, elaborate design in the hallway mirror and small pieces of Murano crystal and vases in the Murano style that decorate the rear of the restaurant.  

Directly beyond the salon, the restaurant continues the striking and abstract ambience set in the bar. Long tubes hang from ceilings more than 15 feet high, gleaming like stalactites of snow. Somewhere high up, the resident D.J. looks down on the scene from a little balcony equipped with state-of-the-art audio technology, choosing music to suit the mood.  Tall glass doors lead to a yet to be opened small garden and dining terrace. But here again, despite the drama, the feeling of the place is informal. Seats are soft armchairs and tables are well spaced. Already it is a place known for gatherings. The night of our visit, there were more than a few large parties.

After spending a year and a half interviewing chefs, Jérome finally got down to two finalists. He could not choose between them, so he hired both. Julien Chicoisne, who had been chef at the gastronomic restaurant of Les Fermes de Marie, an exclusive resort in Megève in the French Alps, brings to the Murano the tradition of fine French cuisine. Pierre Auge, fresh from the London hotspot Sketch, brings original culinary interpretations. “I told them ‘You are going to work together,’ and they do. They have become good friends,” says Jérome.

Perhaps it was Jérome’s vision of bringing to Paris the sun of St. Tropez that has inspired the pair to present a menu with refreshing Mediterranean overtones like langoustine with white beans and chives -- one piece roasted, one cooked only from the acidity of the lemon;  a spicy gazpacho; smoked salmon with potato waffles; and seared cod with nuts and cèpe mushrooms, as well as a selection of vegetarian options. For the traditionalist, a tender filet mignon with marrow and shallots provided ample delight. “I want a good restaurant with good atmosphere,” says Jérome.  “Simple, good quality, yet trendy.”

At the age of 35, Jérome is probably the youngest managing director of a hotel at the four star-level in Paris. But the business is in his blood. His father and grandfather were hoteliers in the French Alps; he was raised in a hotel, took his degree in the industry, has spent more than a decade working in the field. Still the creation of the Murano is on another level.

“The experience is very exciting,” he says. “It’s like bringing a baby into the world, being part of a team that has a vision and works on the execution of the ideas. I live here in the hotel. I live as well as do the experience, every day another thing. It’s good, it’s good.”

Does he miss the Byblos locales, we wondered. “I can visit St. Tropez for weekends,” says Jérome, “and Courchevel as a tourist to ski. I have become the ambassador from the Courchevel tourist board to Paris.

“You know,” and he paused for a moment, “I grew up in the Alps. Perhaps at the end of my career I will go there.”

Murano Urban Resort
13 Boulevard du Temple
75003 Paris, France

Phone: 33 (0)1 42 71 20 00
Email: paris@muranoresort.com

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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