Thursday, April 17, 2014

Historic Parisian Hotel Lutetia to sell art collection, furniture, wine and spirits at auction May 19-25!

While thumbing through the Paris section of vintage advertisements at the market in Beaune last Saturday, I was very tempted to buy one proudly proclaiming the opening of Hotel Lutetia in December 1910. With the hotel scheduled to close for a three year renovation on April 14, it seemed like a fortuitous find. But since Stéphane and I were supposed to be searching for a place to eat rather than buying antiques, I reluctantly returned the advertisement to its cardboard box and went on my way.

Admittedly, I felt a pang of regret for the missed opportunity when social media was abuzz with tweets and posts about the historic hotel's closing on Monday. Following in the footsteps of the Ritz, Crillon and Plaza Athenée, the seven-story building with Art Déco and Art Nouveau architectural elements will undergo a massive renovation to better welcome its guests.

Built by the owners of the Bon Marché, Paris's first department store, Hotel Lutetia's location in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés made it a favorite spot for Left Bank intellectuals. Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marcel Proust, Henri Matisse, Peggy Guggenheim and André Gide all frequented the hotel in its early years. James Joyce wrote part of Ulysses there.

During World War II, Hotel Lutetia was requisitioned by the Nazi's counter-intelligence service and used to house, feed and entertain the German officers. After Paris was liberated, it became a repatriation and medical center for people returning from the German concentration camps, prisoners of war and displaced persons. The halls echoed with the sounds of joyful reunions when the survivors were reunited with family members and friends.

In the 1950's, the piano bar at the Lutetia was in full swing. Josephine Baker, the celebrated American singer and dancer, made the luxurious hotel her residence for a time and French singer Eddy Mitchell wrote a song about it, Au bar du Lutetia.

If you would like to own a piece of this historic Rive Gauche hotel, mark your calendar for May 19 to 25. That's when Hotel Lutetia will sell its art collection, including works signed by Arman, César and Takis, 3,000 pieces of furniture and 8,000 bottles of wine and spirits. The items will be on display at the Hotel Lutetia from May 15 to 18.

The auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés was commissioned by the direction of Hotel Lutetia to orchestrate the sale of part of the hotel's collection. “We’re just about to start a three-year program to renovate the Lutetia, but before turning this new page in the hotel’s history, we’ve chosen to use an auction house that embodies our values, Paris, and its innate sense of elegance and sophistication,” the hotel management has stated.

When Hotel Lutetia reopens its doors, it will join “The Set” collection of luxury hotels, including Café Royal in London and Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam.

Hotel Lutetia
45 Boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris

Photo credit: Hotel Lutetia

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Casino of San Pellegrino Terme - a magnificent Art Nouveau building reminiscent of La Belle Époque

If you've ever ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water while seated on the terrace of a Parisian café or purchased a six-pack of the distinctive green bottles from your local grocery store, you may have noticed the elegant building on its label and wondered about its history. Thanks to a special guided tour of the Casino (Grand Kursaal) of San Pellegrino Terme yesterday afternoon, I now know that the building is one of the most famous examples of Art Nouveau (or Liberty Style as it's called in Italy) structures in Europe. Recently restored at a cost of 10 million euros, it's also one of the most impressive buildings that I've ever had the pleasure of visiting.

The Casino (Grand Kursaal) in San Pellegrino Terme, Italy

Imagine for a moment that it's the summer of 1907, the year that the Casino first opened its majestic doors. The spa town of San Pellegrino Terme is overrun with members of high society. International nobility, diplomats and celebrities have all flocked to the fashionable resort at the foot of the Italian Alps to drink and bathe in its healing water. Most of them are lodged at the Grand Hotel, an imposing edifice ideally situated on the bank of the Brembo River.

San Pellegrino Terme's naturally mineral-rich hot springs have been considered a health cure since the twelfth century when pilgrims drank the water. In 1509, Leonardo Da Vinci visited the Brembo Valley while living in Milan to taste the miraculous waters and produced a map of the area indicating the source. The original map is the property of Queen Elizabeth II and kept in the Royal Library Windsor Castle. By 1760, an enterprising entrepreneur had built a booth near a spring and offered the mineral water for a fee. According to historian Maironi da Ponte, who wrote of San Pellegrino in 1819, "The pleasant and innocent nature of this water make it beneficial to weak and unhealthy persons when it is consumed properly. Doctors also recommend it for kidney stones, those of the bladder, for gravels and other kidney disorders. It is also beneficial for cases of ill-temper, melancholy, and the pain that they cause and above all to heal skin conditions caused by salt, and by mood afflictions".

With such glowing accolades, it's not surprising that wealthy visitors from all over the world traveled to San Pellegrino Terme to stroll along its riverside boulevards and cure their ailments in its modern bathhouse, where the healing springs rose from deep underground at the slightly-warmer-than-body temperature of 22°C (71.6°F).

The Casino (Grand Kursaal) in San Pellegrino Terme, Italy
The two-story Casino, built to offer new recreational opportunities for the thousands of well-heeled travelers, appears to reach out and embrace its guests. The majestic main staircase, flanked by the figures of a young male and female holding lamps aloft, is the heart of the Grand Kursaal. Not surprisingly for a spa town, the theme of water dominates the lower part of the staircase while paintings representing the twelve zodiac constellations decorate the ceiling.

As the sound of my footsteps echoed in the empty reception hall, I was struck by a sense of nostalgia for the Belle Époque. I hope that the two stained glass butterflies adorning the skylight are a sign of changing times for San Pellegrino Terme and that the newly restored Casino, part of a massive regeneration projection, will once again be filled with the sound of voices from around the world. At the moment, it's only open for special occasions and functions.

The good news is that San Pellegrino will inaugurate their luxurious new spa in October or November 2014, just in time for the Milan Expo, which is expected to attract an estimated 30 million international visitors to the region in 2015.

If you're in the market for a Grand Hotel, the one in San Pellegrino can be purchased for a mere 40 million euros.

One of the magnificent butterflies on the skylight above the central staircase of the Casino in San Pellegrino Terme, Italy