by Wendy Irvine
If leaning out your hotel window and shouting, “Mr. President, I notice you’re not eating that bagel! Mind if I take it off your hands?” would be a kick to share back home, the Sofitel Washington D.C. needs to sit on your hotel short list.
Of course, I kid. The Sofitel isn’t shouting distance to the White House, but it’s pretty close. From the Sofitel, you’re an easy walk to many of the Smithsonian buildings, including my favorite, the National History Museum (Dorothy’s ruby slippers, anyone?). You’re also a quick stroll to the National Mall, where the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Don’t be surprised to see everything screech to a halt when the President’s motorcade glides by.
Being front-and-center to the treasures in D.C. is a thing of beauty and here’s why: parking in D.C. is completely annoying. Choosing a hotel close to the museums, monuments and White House means you can ditch your car at the hotel and just plain walk. And if the kids start whining, take them to the nearest Metro train and go for a ride!
A French company owns the Sofitel and takes great pride in serving the international community. On any given day, you might hear French, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, Croatian, Ethiopian or German being spoken — all depending on who is at the front desk. And you’ll see French-inspired touches throughout the hotel: photos of the Eiffel Tower, duvets on the beds and a Little Prince theme for the kids that includes a travel diary and a kid’s menu.
Dining within or outside the Sofitel is also easy. The Sofitel boasts an upscale dining spot — the ICI Urban Bistro — and Le Bar, which serves cutting-edge cocktails. Both restaurants sport hip indoor dining decor and very European-styled outdoor seating for the lovely weather months. Budget-wise eating in the Sofitel is something of a sticker-shock, but you’ll be happy to hear the Sofitel is wreathed in both healthy and budget-friendly dining options nearby.
For a a little name-dropping: President Andrew Johnson (the Vice President who took the reigns after Lincoln was assassinated) and President Woodrow Wilson (the man who became President during the Downton Abbey years) both once lived briefly at the Sofitel address.
Our Editor Loves
- Premiere location to the most famous D.C. sites
- Incredibly comfy beds paired with upscale bathrooms
- Coloring books, a kid's menu and baby amenities
Rooms & Rates
The Sofitel offers three room types. The Superior, with doubles for families, faces the interior courtyard view (which frankly needs a little cheering up). The Luxury room opens to a city view, which is also low on the wow-scale. Yes, it's a D.C. street, but the view is essentially people and cars coming and going. The Junior suite offers a courtyard view and two separate rooms, including a bedroom and a sitting room with a pullout sofa. The Prestige suite delivers the same as the Junior, but with more square footage and a city view.
While the views are in great need of a little pizazz (container gardening would do wonders), the Sofitel guest rooms have a lot to offer.
We were welcomed into our guest room by muted walls, huge soft ocean paintings, golden window treatments and sparkling white duvets. And all the beauty was surrounded by a mammoth flat-screen TV.
Stepping into the bathroom, I was equally amazed. The tub, while not a sunken Jacuzzi affair, is separate from the shower stall and beautiful, with a hand-held gleaming shower device.
The Sofitel provides both robes and slippers for guests to enjoy at the hotel. The basic Wi-Fi connection worked well and is complimentary, but the super fast connection is $14.95 per day.
The Sofitel beds might make you late for your morning tour. Yep, they're that comfortable. A fluffy white European duvet covers each bed, meaning no top sheet. If you haven't yet traveled to Europe, be warned: duvets are heavy and can get hot, so if you prefer your bed made American-style, request a top sheet and voila, it will appear.
Aside from the top sheet, there's more that I encourage you to ask for at the Sofitel, if you're so inclined. Suites do come with a coffee maker, but you won't find a coffee maker in a regular room (nor in the lobby, come morning). If you just can't awaken without your morning cup, make a request and a coffee maker will appear; same with a fridge. If you can remember, ask for a complimentary fridge when you make your reservation. A microwave can be requested, too, but it comes with a price tag per day.
A couple of guest room negatives that pestered me included the size. Our Superior guest room felt tight, even with double beds making their small footprint. And -- I hesitate to mention this for fear of being called a prude -- I wasn't wild about the nude drawing in the bathroom. The drawing was tasteful. Even so, my 9-year-old boys don't need a tasteful nude!
First time staying at a Sofitel property. This hotel was very nice, clean & comfortable bed, great shower, wifi was very good, great location, food was excellent. The staffs hospitality was outstanding!!!
Great modern décor rooms, attentive and helpful staff, great base to explore the city. Love the bathrooms, large guestrooms with huge TV make you feel comfortable and relaxing. Best location in the city.
The Sofitel does not have activities like a Kids' Club or pool on its property. However, the hotel is central to many D.C. sites.
The Sofitel's lack of a pool is something of a pickle, but the situation has been addressed: the Sofitel concierge recommends swimming at the indoor pool of the Fairmont Washington DC (2401 M Street, NW) or -- for members -- at the YMCA (1711 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC, 202/ 862-9622). On the map, the Fairmont and the Y seem just minutes away from the Sofitel. But with kids, the walk would be arduous. A Metro ride for both is necessary.
A Little Prince theme is sprinkled throughout the Sofitel for the kids. At check-in, children receive a darling Little Prince travel diary that doubles as a coloring book. The kid's menu in the Sofitel's ICI Urban Bistro also has a Little Prince theme. You might want to show your kids the Little Prince DVD before trekking to the Sofitel so that they can appreciate the Little Prince tie-in.
ICI Urban Bistro in Lafayette Square
An extremely dedicated chef and friendly servers staff the Sofitel's onsite restaurant. Prices are standard for D.C., which means extravagant. Breakfast is likely your best bet if you're dining in the ICI Urban Bistro with your kids and wish to avoid sticker shock. The breakfast menu wows, with Belgian waffles, Nutella crepes, smoothies and eggs Benedict. Lunch is comprised of a variety of salads, burgers and even a vegan pita pocket. Dinners are pastas, a boar dish, escargot and the like (yeah -- not exactly kid-approved.)
I was impressed with ICI Urban Bistro's light menu that lists the calories next to each dish. Scrambled egg whites over spinach and mushrooms? 166 calories. Grilled ahi tuna at dinner? 256 calories. A pear parfait glace for dessert? A joy at 170 calories. But if you prefer your dessert with an atrocious amount of calories, the ICI Urban Bistro has you covered. We're talking three scoops of ice cream set on a chocolate-laced tuile, hot chocolate mousse or an apple crispy crepe. How do the French stay so slim, again?
Room service is available 24/7. Meals for grown-ups and kids are delivered straight to your bath and bed from the ICI Urban Bistro downstairs.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The Sofitel provides an overnight laundry service, but does not have coin-operated machines.
Parking is valet, and you'll pay a fee per day.
Children under the age of 16 stay free with a paying adult.
The Art of Smart Timing
You can count on the Sofitel being busy during March and April when the National Cherry Blossom Festival is in full swing. November through February is fairly quiet, unless we're talking inauguration year. Then, the Sofitel is wall-to-wall with excited people. Summer is scorching with humid temperatures in D.C. And mid-September through the end of October is generally luscious weather when the crowds go home and the fall splendor takes the stage.
Getting There and Around
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is a five-mile drive to the Sofitel, while Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is 27 miles and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is 32 miles.
The Metro stop closest to the Sofitel is a super easy five-minute walk away. Also, if you're riding the Metro more often than one day, definitely look into Metro's SmartTrip card that can save you big money.
For Mom and Dad
The new Sofitel fitness room is small, but provides an upscale workout with all the necessary cardio, free weights, cold water, disposable ear buds, fresh fruit and so forth. Televisions are over the machines and the entire room is mirrored.
Bonjour mon chÃ©ri! If you can lose the kids long enough for a drink a deux, run -- don't walk -- to Le Bar. The puzzle is what to order. A flight of champagne? A tour of vodka? Maybe a NapoleÃ³n with strawberries, Emperor's Vodka and crÃ¨me de cassis? And is it the right season for Midnight in Paris with Prosecco Zonin and Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur?
Le Bar also offers awesome Le Snacks to go with your fancy drinks. A tantalizing menu offers fancy sandwiches at lunch, chic small plates at dinner and little somethings for the after 11:00 p.m. crowd.