Parisian Pleasures

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th March 2004.

If Paris hotels have a common drawback, it’s public rooms that are full of panache, and bedrooms that turn out to be soulless boxes. So, in looking for a romantic retreat, it’s important to choose one whose bedrooms live up to the promise of first impressions. An appealing location is essential, of course, and welcoming staff. Haughty receptionists have always been a hazard here, and though things are improving, there are still plenty of ice maidens flicking their designer wraps across their shoulders and watching with ill-disguised contempt as you drag your luggage across the hall and attempt to cram it into the world’s smallest lift. Then there are the famously terrible breakfasts. And the noise: a street cleaning machine at 6am, or the prolonged ablutions of other guests intruding remorselessly through paper-thin walls.  

So what makes a romantic hotel in Paris? Obviously it must be free of all or most of these imperfections, but most important, it must have the right ambience, a certain je ne sais quoii. With romance, and a range of budgets, in mind, here is the pick.

Lancaster 7 rue de Berri, 75008. Tel 01 40 76 40 76. Fax 01 40 76 40 00. Doubles: 410-1650 euros.

It’s hard to fault the Lancaster. Even the hotel’s imperfect location seems to work to its advantage, as you step from the brash world of the Champs Elysées into a private house atmosphere of civilized calm and understated luxury. It’s a hotel with a history: a grand ancien régime  style town house purchased in 1930 by legendary hotelier Emile Wolf, who filled it with antiques and objects d’art and a starry array of guests including Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich. Its present owner, Grace Leo Andrieu, has deftly brought it up to date while preserving its atmosphere of unflashy glamour and carefully adding to Wolf’s eclectic collection of furniture.  

As for romance, it’s on tap, beginning with tea in the enchanting, pale green little Salon Berri, and a ride in the original red leather lift.  Do you want your bath filled with rose petals, your room filled with balloons, dinner à deux on your private terrace or in an alcove in the delightful courtyard garden? It shall be done, carried out by staff who by any standards are exceptionally kind and courteous. They say they are on tenterhooks whenever they know a proposal is in the offing (no refusal yet); and they deliver a surprise treat to every couple celebrating something special. Top chef Michel Troisgros takes charge of the intimate restaurant in the spring.

Costes 239 rue St-Honoré, 75001. Tel 01 42 44 50 00. Fax 01 42 44 50 01. Doubles: 300-2300 euros.

While the Lancaster attracts its fair share of celebrities, you don’t have to be someone to feel wanted there. Not so at Costes, darling of the fashion and film crowd. If your face doesn’t fit, the alarmingly hip staff, famously hard to distinguish from the guests - a pierced belly button here, a diamond nose stud there - will freeze you at 20 paces. The disaster of an ordinary mortal staying at Costes is minimized by a haughty no-advertising policy and it works – the place is always packed, often with a film crew and a movie star or two in evidence.  

If, on the other hand, your face does fit and you want a high-octane, highly public romantic interlude in Paris, then Costes is for you, an opulent faux Napoleon III cocoon which top decorator Jacques Garcia created in his plushest, most lavish haute-bordello style. There are plenty of intimate, shadowy corners and in the pool room you can draw the curtains around your double day bed for complete privacy. At night, chill music is provided by cool in-house DJ, Stéphane Pompougnac. Rooms are small but richly decorated, with wonderful bathrooms, many with deep Victorian clawfoot baths. The most charming open on to a flower-filled terrace.

Ermitage 24 rue Lamarck, 75018. Tel 01 42 64 79 22. Fax 01 42 64 10 33. Doubles: 82 euros.

Crammed with antiques and knick-knacks, this enchanting little hotel in the shadow of Sacré-Coeur is proof that romance doesn’t have to cost the earth. From a dark blue hall, shadowy murals by a Montmartre artist decorate walls, doors and skirting boards, and lead all the way up the stairs. The bedrooms are light and spacious, decked out in English chintzes, with large carved beds and armoires. No. 12 (one of two downstairs rooms) has a private patio, though its furniture is more modern.

Pavillon de la Reine 28 place des Vosges, 75003. Tel 01 40 29 19 19. Fax 01 40 29 19 20. Doubles: 355-570 euros.

For a romantic location, this hotel cannot be beaten. As you walk from place des Vosges, the most harmonious square in Paris, through a quiet courtyard garden into the spacious entrance, a blanket of calm descends. Once the home of Anne of Austria, today the 17th-century mansion feels more like a baronial country house where, on wintry days, a fire roars in the sitting room’s huge stone fireplace. The bedrooms are all different, ranging from feminine toile de jouy to Baroque suites in a riot of purple velvet and mauve silk.

Degrés de Notre Dame 10 rue des Grands Degrés, 75005. Tel 01 55 42 88 88. Fax 01 40 46 95 34. Doubles: 70-180 euros.  

Hardly any small hotels in Paris have a dining room. Here, however, is an exception – the kind of family-run establishment well known in the French countryside, but rarely found in the city: a restaurant with rooms. On a charming tree-filled square, the cosy beamed restaurant, where guests also eat breakfast, has the feel of a simple auberge and serves correspondingly rustic food. You climb a steep wooden staircase, past frescoed walls, to reach the distinctive bedrooms, the best being at the front on the higher floors.

Abbaye 10 rue Casette, 75006. Tel 01 45 44 38 11. Fax 01 45 48 07 86. Doubles: 185-427 euros.

This chic yet inviting hotel in a skilfully converted former abbey has a cosseting feel that would even rekindle the flame of a cooling romance. From the moment you arrive, the courteous staff are eager to help. The salon is filled with fresh flowers and comfortable sofas, and the conservatory-style breakfast room, overlooking a lovely courtyard garden, must be one of the most alluring in Paris. For a touch of class, ask for one of the beautifully decorated duplex suites.

Le Sainte-Beuve, 9 rue Sainte-Beuve, 75006. Tel 01 45 48 20 07. Fax 01 45 48 67 52. Doubles: 122-220 euros.

All is discretion and understatement at this essentially simple hotel with an innate sense of style and unexpectedly pampering touches. Bedrooms feel sophisticated and larger than they actually are with cream walls, attractive fabrics, country antiques, and pretty pictures. A log fire burns in the classically-styled salon, where there is also a cosy bar. Breakfast in bed is a treat, served promptly along with newspapers and including superb bread and croissants from Mulot. You need never leave your room: light dishes are served until 10pm.

Globe 15 rue des Quatre-Vents, 75006. Tel 01 43 26 35 50. Fax 01 46 33 62 69. Doubles: 66-100 euros.

For its combination of charm, location and price, this tiny quaint hotel is a winner. In a tall, narrow 17th-century building, once part of the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés, the bedrooms, off a little winding staircase, are snug, with sprouting beams; some also have rough-stone walls, gilt mirrors, church furniture and big wooden beds with lacy covers (No. 12 has a four-poster). Nos 15 and 16 on the ground floor have higher ceilings and feel more spacious than the rest. Breakfast is served in your room.

L’Hôtel13 rue des Beaux-Arts, 75006. Tel 01 44 41 99 00. Fax 01 43 25 64 81. Doubles: 248-721 euros.

If you hanker after the opulence of a Jacques Garcia interior, but prefer a more low-key atmosphere, then head for L’Hôtel. Famous for its astonishing six-storey circular atrium, its connection with Oscar Wilde and its reign – in the 1970s and ‘80s – as the most louche and celebrity-studded hotel in town, L’Hôtel re-emerged two years ago from a period of tawdry decline. Garcia’s opulent recreation of the hotel in its heyday conjures a mood of luxurious decadence, and in each of the 30 bedrooms he has created a different fantasy. Amongst the suites, lovers will adore Ottoman-inspired ‘Pierre Loti’ and ‘Cardinal’, with its pretty rooftop terrace. Those who can bear the tristesse can sleep in ‘Oscar Wilde’, the (now enlarged) room where the playwright expired beyond his means when the building was a crummy boarding house. Another amazing chambre de luxe contains the original mirrored Art Deco bedroom furniture of Mistinguett. The least expensive rooms are  compact but dramatic, like sleeping in a velvet-lined jewel box. Best of all is the softly-lit stone-walled plunge pool which guests can book exclusively for an hour at a time. Accompanied by champagne, candlelight and nothing more than a couple of bathrobes, it’s impossibly romantic.

Duc de St-Simon14 rue de St-Simon, 75007. Tel 01 44 39 20 20. Fax 01 45 48 68 25. Doubles: 200-320 euros.

First glimpsed through two pairs of elegant French windows beyond a charming courtyard, the interior of this stylish hotel looks deeply romantic and wonderfully inviting; and so it is. Everywhere you look are warm fabrics, gloriously overstuffed pieces of furniture and cleverly conceived paint effects; even the lift is lined in kelim. The richly coloured bedrooms are elegant yet cosy, with not a jarring note, as is the divine little cellar bar. The atmosphere is that of a gracious private house, with TVs only on request and swift room service instead of mini-bars. Prices aren’t cheap, but they are more than fair. A suite here will cost you just 20 euros more per night than Costes’ smallest double room. The perfect choice for an anniversary or a second honeymoon.

And some more…. 

Parc St-Séverin 22 rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005. Tel 01 43 54 32 17. Fax 01 43 54 70 71. Doubles: 107-260 euros.The top-floor suite of this otherwise ordinary hotel has to be the most romantic bedroom in Paris, and a bargain to boot. Why? It’s circled by a broad private terrace with breathtaking views of the whole city. Breakfast here on a sunny morning is unforgettable.

Esmeralda 4 rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre, 75005. Tel 01 43 54 19 20. Fax 01 40 51 00 68. Doubles: 75-85 euros.This charmingly eccentric little hotel in the shadow of Notre Dame is best suited to impecunious lovers, too engrossed in each other to notice the Quasimodo touches: time-worn decoration and antediluvian plumbing.

Bateau Jolia 11 quai St-Bernard, 75005. Tel 01 43 54 03 46. Fax 01 43 29 79 15. $650 per night (3 nights min).For the ultimate escape, this hotel with a difference has no other guests. A barge for two, moored opposite Ile-St-Louis, it has been fitted out with an Art Deco saloon, marble bathroom, wood-clad cabin and sun deck. The American owners cook breakfast and snacks.

Nesle  7 rue de Nesle, 75006. Tel 01 43 54 62 41. Doubles: 75-100 euros.Low prices and minimal facilities, but the decoration is delightful: try for the Arabian room with its own hammam or Molière’s theatre. Wonderful garden too.

Langlois 63 rue St-Lazare, 75009. Tel 01 48 74 78 24. Fax 01 49 95 04 43. Doubles: 86-118 euros. A throwback. Formerly the Croisés, but recently renamed to celebrate its starring role in the film All About Charlie, this dignified hotel, largely unchanged for generations, has masses of old-fashioned character and spacious bedrooms.

Relais Saint Germain  9 carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006. Tel 01 44 27 07 97. Fax 01 46 33 45 30. Doubles: 270-390 euros. Despite its tiny, mirrored public areas, this sumptuous 17th-century hotel won’t cramp your style: the bedrooms are huge, beamed and romantically furnished with country antiques and plump sofas. The enormous top-floor suite has its own little sun-trap terrace.

Latour-Maubourg 150 rue de Grenelle, 75007. Tel 01 47 05 16 16. Fax 01 47 05 16 14. Doubles: 145-245 euros. Romantics with children in tow might try for the suite in this gracious, family-run old house, with large, simple bedrooms and a warm atmosphere. Napoleon’s Tomb, Eiffel Tower and Rue Cler street market close by; metro and taxis right outside.

Lys 23 rue Serpente, 75006. Tel 01 43 26 97 57. Fax 01 44 07 34 90. Doubles: 110 euros. On the borders of the Latin Quarter and St-Germain, a long-established, simple hotel with a creaky old staircase, pretty beamed bedrooms and the air of an old-fashioned pension.

Montalembert, 3 rue Montalembert, 75007. Tel 01 45 49 68 68. Fax 01 45 49 69 49. Doubles: 280-770 euros. Sleek, stylish Left Bank hotel. From Suite 81 in the attic you can see the Eiffel Tower, not from your window, but from your bed.

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