One hotel, one story
Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile: Sofitel’s first hotel turns 50
The Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile in downtown Strasbourg recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was Sofitel's first hotel, has built a solid reputation around its art exhibitions, gastronomic restaurant and international business-traveler customer base, and recently refurbished its rooms to treat guests to up-to-the-minute comfort without forsaking Alsace's tradition and legacy. We toured this legendary hotel with its General Manager Jean-Philippe Kern.
This Sofitel brand crown jewel opened on 26 June 1964 and has since become an emblematic flagship. It was the brand's first hotel, and was long this city's only 5-star establishment. "People are proud to work here - especially an Alsatian such as myself," says Managing Director Jean-Philippe Kern. It is near European institutions and, he adds, "Every time the Council of Europe or European Parliament meets, the most prominent VIPs choose to stay with us. We recently welcomed Peace Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi."
It organized several special attractions and added a variety of embellishments for its anniversary. Five impressive statues towering 2.5 meters high welcome guests when they enter the lobby. They are reproduction on loan from Strasbourg Cathedral and have been in the hotel since June 2014. "They never fail to wow customers when they see them for the first time. They are exact replicas of the ones in the well-known monument and will be here for a year."
In Strasbourg's historical city center
The Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile is in an exceptional spot nestled in this city's heritage. "Notre Dame Cathedral, the Petite France canals and the terrace over the Vauban lock are all a short walk from here." The entire area, Strasbourg's Grande Ile, is a treasure chest of 15th to 18th century architecture and has been listed UNESCO World Heritage since 1988.
Back in the lobby, there is also an astonishing geological collection of remarkable pebbles and stones arranged in several bowls hanging from the wall, which invariably attracts visitors: "We picked them by hand, with several winemakers nearby, in their vineyards. This collection encapsulates the variety in Alsace's vineyards." Culture is a central feature in this hotel, alongside Sofitel's hallmark design and fine dining. The impressive wall-hanging behind the reception desk is a typical exponent of Alsatian art. It was restored by Alexandre Poulaillon in Mulhouse, following the rules of the local tapestry-making trade, and is made of several square wall-hangings sewn together. "Visually, it looks like marbled wallpaper, depicting quintessentially 18th-century geometric shapes. It's spectacular!"
"Our hotel chose to center its artistic program on art cross-fertilization. Several areas around the hotel are hosting exhibitions showcasing all forms of art." The bar is featuring local painters, the lobby is displaying inlaid images, and the greenhouse is holding a different photograph exhibition every three months. "The Fédération Régionale des Métiers d'Art d'Alsace, the local arts and crafts guild, helps us to find local tradespeople."
Today, the building has 153 rooms including 24 Soﬁtel suites, a Prestige suite and an Opéra suite. "This hotel encapsulates Alsace's flair, decorum and class. We have redesigned the reception products and services following the Sofitel recipe: a blend of French elegance and local culture. It's naturally modern." The premium suite is on the 5th floor and has a 50-sqm terrace overlooking Strasbourg's rooftops and Cathedral. And this hotel pays tribute to the past: the Oaths of Strasbourg, the first text in old French and old German, are printed on several of the walls and the carpet.
A vineyard in the patio
Other highlights at the Sofitel Strasbourg Grande ile include its three terraces, namely the one by GOH restaurant, the one off Le Link bar, and the largest, Le Sept. This terrace spans 300 sqm and is surrounded by Alsace's seven varieties of vine plants. "You quite simply won't see that anywhere else in the center of a large European city. The vineyards were planted by Jean-Daniel Héring, a local winegrower, in hand-harvested local soil." These terraces are open from 6am to 1am every day, and guests love them. They also provide venues for special events. "Our monthly brunches are always big hits." These themed brunches featuring special menus such as prime rib roasts for Father's Day, principally attract families. And workshops keep kids busy, especially during the Christmas Market, the must-see attraction every December.
The 50th anniversary celebrations at the Strasbourg Sofitel included a temporary orchard in one of the halls, where guests were welcome to pick their own brochettes de fruits. "That's the Sofitel spirit: creating extraordinary moments," expounds Julie Grégoire, Senior Vice-President, Luxury and Upscale Operations, France. For the occasion, the Petits Chanteurs de Strasbourg, a choir of 7- to 17-year-olds from the Opéra National du Rhin, also sang on one of the terraces.
The spirit of Alsace
Quintessentially local touches are in pride of place throughout the hotel. In the lobby, an inlaid oak high table and stools pay tribute to Alsace's guest-house tradition with a modern and luxury twist. Everyone is welcome to sit around it to unwind, enjoy a meal, work or have a drink, depending on their mood. "It's one of the highlights in the lobby and says something about what we mean by hospitality." The traditional Alsatian liqueur cellar is behind the bar in Le Link. And, if customers fancy visiting Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune protestant church next-door to the hotel, they can ask for a set of keys at reception!
À la carte
The restaurant, GOH (for "Guest of Honor"), is unsurprisingly teeming with Alsace's epicurean delights. The menu provides a generous choice of creative and authentic treats. "The choice includes local produce with an gastronomic touch by Chef Stéphane Humbert." One of the highlights is Rivélésotto au Safran, a traditional local dough cooked like risotto. At Le Link, the bar steeped in 1960 décor, guests enjoy the typically Alsatian tapas including local delicatessen and home-smoked salmon.
The Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile is as keen on training Ambassadors as every other Sofitel hotel. "Each new Ambassador learns about Strasbourg's history and heritage to become this city's top guide." This hotel's 90 Ambassadors can advise customers on a walk they might enjoy, a monument they must not miss or a well-known restaurant. This bespoke service, which Sofitel is proud to count among its hallmarks, sometimes takes unexpected turns: "One of our guests was sad she had missed a literary dinner with French author Pascal Bruckner. A thoughtful Ambassador retrieved the Bruckner book she had on her night table and had it autographed by the author for her! She was thrilled with that kind touch." This is one small story in the history that has elevated this hotel to its rank among the Sofitel brand's legends today.
Sofitel: 50 years into a legend
"Sofitel is the only luxury hospitality brand that blends French culture and elegance," says Julie Grégoire, Accor Senior Vice-President, Luxury and Upscale Operations, France. She continues, "We work hard to treat guests to the best experiences with each of our three pillars: culture, gastronomy and design." Each Sofitel hotel organizes cultural events, exhibitions and inauguration parties, and this brand works hand in hand with the leading names in architecture and design: Jean Nouvel, Didier Gomez and Christian Lacroix. Two of this brand's restaurants - Sofitel Lyon Bellecour and Hôtel Paris Le Scribe managed by Sofitel - have earned Michelin Guide stars.
Bespoke service by Ambassadors is another Sofitel hallmark - and explains the brand's exceptionally high satisfaction rates: 94% of guests say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their stay. A new Ambassador training program, on striving for excellence, started in 2014.
Sofitel is currently refurbishing its hotels in France. The Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe restaurant opened at the end of 2013, and the new Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg will be inaugurated at the end of 2014. And the network is growing around the world, with the Sofitel Dubai Downtown, Sofitel Bali Nasadua, and Sofitel Legend People's Grand Hotel Xian in China.
What can we wish this brand for the next 50 years? "That it remains the prime ambassador for international luxury hospitality!"
Sofitel at a glance
2 labels: Sofitel Legend, Sofitel So