Building a new hotel that stands out in Paris, one of the world’s most visited cities is a challenge in the best of times. But Hilton’s decision to move forward with the grand opening of its first Canopy in France shows remarkable faith in the future of tourism even after 18 months of the pandemic. Based on first impressions, from the views of the Eiffel Tower to the hospitality and the quality of service, Hilton is off to a strong start with its new boutique hotel.
Known officially as Canopy by Hilton, the hotel brand was originally unveiled in 2014. At its most basic, the idea behind the concept is to deliver a local and intimate experience adapted to each location. Canopy employees are dubbed “enthusiasts” and the beds have, well, canopies. So far, there are 27 Canopy properties with more than 30 more in various phases of development across 16 countries and territories. In other words, Hilton is betting big on its 12th brand.
I had a chance to experience this 123-room wonder in September during its grand opening. Formerly a Paris utility building, luxury architect Jean-Philippe spent several years transforming it into a space that retains some hints of that industrial past mixed with a more modern sense of elegance.
The Canopy is located in Paris’ Tracadero neighborhood, which may not be the most familiar of neighborhoods for international visitors. But that turns out to be an asset. Tracadero manages to be somewhat central and yet not overly touristy.
To reach the hotel, we walked from the Eiffel Tower and Paris’ Left Bank and then crossed the Seine River via the Pont d’Iéna. Gazing straight ahead we saw the Tracadero Gardens, and then just beyond on the cusp of the hill lay the Palais de Chaillot with its sprawl of white columns arcing in two directions. We walked up the hill to the Palais’ plaza which is a haven for Eiffel Tower selfie-takers.
The Canopy is just a 5-minute walk from the plaza, and just 15 minutes beyond that is the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. That makes it a great perch to explore the Right Bank from the 16th Arrondissement.
One of the goals of the Canopy brand is to reflect the esthetic of its local surroundings. In Paris, one might be tempted to simply mimic the iconic Haussuman-style look that dominates the city. But Canopy didn’t choose the easy route. Instead, it took a more specific and unique design choice.
The original 1930s building was an artifact of the Art Deco movement, and the refurbished building retains much of that sensibility. Last century, the building was an electrical station that played a key role in modernizing the city’s electrical network. Upon walking into the new hotel, the Art Deco touches are immediately evident.
Those touches are reflected by the paintings hanging in the entrance which are inspired by several of the notable nearby museums: Palais de Tokyo, Museum of Modern Art, Palais de Chaillot. And many of the products for sale have been created in collaboration with local merchants.
Even the exterior manages to blend in nicely with the neighborhood’s style while still managing to look clean and modern.
We spent 2 nights in one of the King rooms, which typically costs £259 ($350) per night. Since moving to France 7 years ago, I have stayed in plenty of boutique hotels, and they all face a similar challenge: They don’t have a lot of space with which to work. There is a tricky balance between wanting to maximize the number of rooms and the size of each room.
Canopy largely gets this right. Our room felt cozy and yet spacious. Little things make a big difference, such as the space on each side of the bed, the closets, and the bathroom. Each felt like they offered ample room to move around without feeling like we were constantly bumping into a wall or furniture. This matters because we could relax and linger in the room when we wanted without feeling claustrophobic.
And plus, it feels even more expansive when you can soak in the surprisingly large bathtub and stare at the Eiffel Tower. It’s a nice dash of luxury without having to leave the room.
A Grand Gala
The first night of our stay was the occasion of a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening. Even on this first evening, the Canopy brand was fully reflected in the array of food and beverages being served.
The chefs were hard a work in a kitchen visible through a panoramic window. The food being served in the lobby by the wait staff and at a large buffet table, all came from local producers mainly in the Ile-De-France region (with a few from France more broadly). This is both a feature of Canopy, but it is also very much a part of the French culture that we love: Knowing the origin and story behind your food and treasuring the local connections.
In this case, everything from the meats to the cheeses to the drinks could be easily traced back to the producer responsible.
After a short presentation in the lobby, we ascended to the rooftop bar, which in many ways is the hotel’s crown jewel thanks to its view of the Eiffel Tower.
The walkway was lined with standing tables, a bar, and various food stations with more local produce that had been turned into fusion appetizers such as truffle samosas.
Throughout our 2-day stay, we also had plenty of opportunities to interact with those “enthusiasts,” who indeed seemed thrilled to be doing what they were doing. When we ate dinner in the restaurant the following night, our waiter/enthusiast took several minutes to explain the ingredients in everything we ate, as well as their origin, and even some stories behind the histories of the stories.
It’s hard to fake that kind of knowledge and the pleasure someone gets from sharing it. We appreciate that insight and love of culture whenever we eat out in France. And I applaud Hilton for infusing into every aspect of its new Canopy.