One of the most novel and engaging ideas I've seen on the hotel front lately is a partnership by the French newspaper Le Figaro and the French hotel chain Sofitel that has brought forth a joint publishing venture called "Literary Escapes by Sofitel.'' Together, the newspaper and the hotels sponsor a handsome tabloid magazine, published on high-quality newsprint, in color and festooned with travel hotographs and short fiction inspired by Sofitel's far-flung hotels.
Well, not the hotels themselves, necessarily - rather, the places where Sofitel has hotels: Big cities like New York, Hanoi and Lyon, and exotic resorts such as Sofitel Luxor Winter Palace, in Egypt, which serves as background and inspiration for a short fiction called "The Dreadful Death of Victor Hugo,'' by the French television journalist Patrick Poivre D'Arvor. It is one of half a dozen pieces in the current issue of of the publication, which, as far as I can tell, is published every several months in English and French editions. The magazine is distributed free in Sofitel hotels - it is not sold anywhere as far as I know.
I picked up my copy in the lobby of the handsome Sofitel London St. James, parts of which are being refurbished in advance of next year's London Olympics. Fortunately, most parts of the hotel - located in a former bank - are finished; when I visited last week, the main restaurant and bar were closed for renovation. It's a fine hotel, located on Whitehall Place, just off Lower Regent Street, in the heart of the British capital. Le Bar, the smaller of the hotel's watering holes, is open. I found it an ideal late-night place to share wine and chat with English friends.
I'm not sure if other hotels have picked up on this idea or have literary ventures of their own, but I like this one. Sofitel picks well-known francophone authors and media personalities, installs them in selected Sofitel hotels and encourages them to write expansively. Every once in a while, the hotels host real-time, in-person salons where readers and hotel guests can share a drink and conversation with the writers. It's all very civilized, and a different way to market hotels.
Oh, and the publication (www.literary-escapes-sofitel.com) reads well, too. Light, compact and smartly produced, it made good airplane reading on my 11-hour flight home to California.