I recently crossed the pond (and then the Channel) to explore two cities and stay at two grand European hotels: InterContinental Paris Le Grand and InterContinental London Park Lane. Both cities, of course, are renowned for their world-class attractions, and both the hotels are perfectly located as launch pads for urban exploration. Both also offer spectacular meeting and event space.
InterContinental Paris Le Grand's stunning site, across the street from Opéra Garnier, represents the hub of Parisian life. An 18-month renovation, completed at the end of 2003, has left all 398 guest rooms and 72 suites, and all public, meeting, and event space positively opulent. The hotel's 24,326 square feet of conference space in 21 rooms, all with Wi-Fi, can accommodate meetings for 20 to 600 people.
Hotel amenities include the two-level Club Lounge, a VIP salon overlooking the Opéra, and I-Spa by Algotherm (featuring “Deep Blue Massage,” using mineral salts from the Pacific Ocean).
A superb 8,611-square-foot, glass-roofed winter garden offers lunch service and serves cocktails until 12:30 a.m. And the intimate Café de la Paix, at the corner of Place de l'Opéra, with outdoor covered seating for 70, can be accessed either from the hotel or from the street. There's a luxurious reception lobby leading to paneled salons; an oyster counter; and two private spaces for groups from 12 to 40.
For off-site meals, try lunch or dinner at Restaurant Georges at the Centre Pompidou, Europe's biggest modern art museum. Dine al fresco on contemporary cuisine, with stunning views over the rooftops of Paris to the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.
At La Gare, a trendy new restaurant on Chaussée de la Muette, you can dine, weather permitting, outside on flooring set up on the tracks between ivy-covered walls of an old train platform. There's also plenty of indoor space, and private groups are welcome.
Long before I'd tired of Paris, it was time to hop on the Eurostar at the Gare du Nord. You should have your passports ready for a customs check, then board the train to London for the relaxing, two-hour-and-20-minute ride to London's new St. Pancras Station.
At Number One Park Lane in Mayfair, InterContinental London Park Lane occupies another prime spot. Fresh from a $150 million refurbishment, the hotel sparkles with modern elegance. (Pictured below, the Club InterContinental Lounge) With 447 guest rooms and suites (including the Cinema Suite, with its own private viewing room for six people; the two-level London suite, with views of Buckingham Palace; and the Wellington Suite, overlooking the home of the Duke of Wellington, next door), the hotel is just across the road from Hyde Park. (You can rent one of the hotel's bikes for some bipedal exploration of this 350-acre green space.)
The hotel's 3,230-square-foot spa is an urban oasis, with black glass-wall panels, slate flooring, and leather seating. It sports a double VIP suite, a therapeutic steam “temple,” and five treatment rooms.
Two restaurants — Theo Randall at the InterContinental, opened November 2006, featuring regional Italian cuisine; and the casual Cookbook Café with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to Hyde Park — attract hotel guests and Londoners alike. Groups can hire out the whole of the Cookbook Café, or just a section (for 40 to 200 guests). Interactive cooking sessions for groups are also popular.
If you have time for an off-site meal or two, consider lunch at Zuma in Knightsbridge, offering a sophisticated twist on traditional Japanese izakaya style of informal eating and drinking. The fantastic food and the stylish setting have garnered rave reviews. Or, for a more traditional experience, head for Michelin-starred The Ledbury, Notting Hill, close by Portobello Market.
A small group can also do some gallery-hopping with Georgie Grandy of Grandy Art. The “Insider Culture package” takes you to local art galleries and ends with a whirlwind look through the Royal Academy of Arts.
Or the elegant Aston Martin package might be more to your qualifiers' liking. Your driver will customize your route — ending, perhaps, with a hair-raising demonstration of this powerful car's full-throttle performance. Fasten your seatbelts!