The Sofitel Champs Elysees:
Parisian taxi drivers can become instant confidantes. On our last trip
several months ago, Henri became a fast friend as he drove us from Charles
de Gaulle Airport into Paris. We had not yet cleared the airport when he
turned around and asked, "You are Americans, no? How do you like the
singing of Nat King Cole?"
He's one of our favorites, we said.
"Bon!" said Henri. "Mine too. If you like, I can play some songs for you." And before we could reply, he had popped a tape into the player. Who could complain? We sat back and, oblivious to the early morning traffic, sailed into Paris accompanied by the old romantic refrains: 'Too Young,' 'Mona Lisa,' and 'Unforgettable.' "Ah," he sighed after this last song, "c'est magnifique!"
Driver and passengers were so lulled by the music, we forgot to discuss our destination, and now as we approached the city, Henri suddenly turned and asked "But which hotel are you going to?"
"The Sofitel Champs Elysees."
He gave us a quizzical look. "I know many Sofitels, but not one on the Champs Elysees."
We dug up our confirmation. "The address is 8 rue Jean Goujon."
"Ah, Jean Goujon? Mais oui," said Henri. He turned off the beltway and onto the Avenue de St. Ouen heading towards the eighth arrondisement and the Champs Elysees. There followed a series of twists and turns down narrow one-way streets lined with town houses, small cafes, and elegant shops, a loop around a small plaza, a turn into a single small block, and our taxi had pulled up before a manor house from the period of Napoleon III with strikingly modern glass doors. "Voila," Henri announced, "the Sofitel Champs
This trip to Paris had been a last minute affair and not having time to shop around for hotels, we selected the Sofitel Champs Elysees primarily for its right bank location and for its being walking distance from many of our favorite Parisian haunts. One cross street of the rue Jean Goujon is the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt and directly across is the Palais de la Decouverte or science museum.
The Grand Palais which hosted the acclaimed 1900 Exhibition was just beyond. The right bank of the Seine is a single block away, and from that point, it was just a short walk to our favorite bridge the Pont Alexandre III. We crossed this exquisite classical structure back and forth from the right to the left bank and back again. In the opposite direction, the Rond Point of the Champs Elysees was also a single block's walk. With the Arc de Triomphe at one end, and the Place de la Concorde at the other, we were able to stroll the length of the legendary boulevard, watch the pedestrian parade while sipping café au lait at an outdoor café, linger beneath the flowering chestnut trees, and still walk back to our hotel. From the Sofitel Champs Elysees, we walked to the Tuilleries, the Louvre, the Rue de Rivoli, and the Musee d-Orsay. Or we toured the other corner street of the rue Jean Goujon, the Avenue Montaigne which is lined with private residences, small upscale hotels, and expensive shops. For distant landmarks like the Sunday Flea Market or Le Marais, we took the metro from the Franklin Roosevelt stop which also was a single block away.
But, we soon discovered, there is more to the Sofitel Champs Elysees than a good location. While it shares the luxury Sofitel logo, this forty room hotel has more in common with boutique hotels than those belonging to a huge international chain. Its cheerful and attentive staff got to know us quickly and were at the ready to dispense the advice travelers always require. We were even greeted by Michel Fernet, the movie star-handsome Directeur General, who upon learning we were celebrating a special event arranged a dinner reservation at the two-star Michelin Le Pre Catelan located in the depths of the Bois de Bologne where we were welcomed like members of the family and treated to a special desert, courtesy of the chef.
The glittering Sofitel Champs Elysees is an interesting combination of the old and the new. Its bright marble lobby is minimalist-modern yet has a statuesque turn-of-the-century staircase which grandly winds its way up to the second floor. Its recently re-furbished rooms are twenty-first century streamlined with sleek built-ins, recessed lights, and state of the art bathrooms while a ground floor courtyard garden speaks of the leisure of old fashioned afternoons. But the overall scene is one of concentrated activity as the Sofitel Champs Elysees doubles as home to the Press Club de France. Our first morning, a group of journalists were milling about in the lobby waiting for the son of the late Shah of Iran who was about to hold a press conference. And our comings and goings throughout our stay brought us in contact with newspaper and television journalists who had stopped by for a drink and conversation or to attend press conferences.
When we booked our room at the Sofitel Champs Elysees, all we knew was that it was a well- situated four-star hotel. But as it turned out, this small luxurious establishment with the environment of an intimate guest house and at the same time a fast paced newsroom provided us with an experience that was, like Henri's favorite song, "unforgettable."
Sofitel Paris Champs-Elysees
8 rue Jean Goujon
Telephone (331) 40 74 64 64
Photos by Harvey Frommer
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.
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