Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
On my recent Megabus trip to Paris I was sitting alone in a café in the 16th arrondissement watching a little old lady go by with a very small dachshund when two Frenchmen in cycling gear walked in. They had long hair, lashings of designer stubble and a certain swagger about them.
I was pretending to read an article on unemployment in Le Monde.
With extreme politeness they asked if they could join me at my table. I said yes.
‘Vous êtes anglaise?’
Yes, I said, gutted that I’d been rumbled so soon.
‘But your accent is charming!’
Quickly the taller of the pair disappeared to check up on his bicycle and I found myself face to face with a man called Laurent, who had just been cycling in the Auteuil Hippodrome.
‘You are staying in a hotel there?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I said.
At this point the flirtation was fast fading, based perhaps on the fact that I wasn’t Keira Knightley as he’d hoped, and he wasn’t Jean Dujardin, as I’d hoped. We were just having a bit of a banter. We’d already exchanged confidences about our terrible treacherous exes. I knew all about his miserable mid-life attempt to retrain as a lawyer. He knew all about my blog. Clearly neither of us was going to rescue the other.
At the mention of Saint-Germain, Laurent put down his coffee cup.
‘But I know a good hotel there,’ he said.
‘Do you?’ I said, eyeing him doubtfully.
‘But yes! You must go and look at it! You must put it in the blurg. It is behind the church.’
Feverishly he started tapping away on his iPhone – for he couldn’t actually remember the name of the place.
‘The Hotel Danube!’ he finally said. ‘Voilà! Rue Jacob.’
‘How come you know about hotels in Paris?’ I said, examining his phone. ‘I mean don’t you live here?’
He stretched out his legs and grinned broadly. ‘It’s where I used to take my mistress.’
I paused to take in this information. A real-life Frenchman with a mistress! But why wasn’t he wearing a suit? Why didn’t he smell of Eau Sauvage? And where was his snazzy car dammit?
‘How fascinating,’ I said, frowning at Laurent’s acreage of black Lycra. ‘Was the hotel a total dump?’
‘Bof,’ he said. ‘She didn’t complain.’
The next morning, determined to see this terrible fleapit with my own eyes – for it must be a fleapit surely – I took the métro to Saint-Germain. I passed Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, where tourists were spilling out onto the pavement tables, turned right onto Rue Saint-Benoît, then left onto Rue Jacob. On the way I saw a branch of Ladurée, the Paris pâtisserie famous for its macarons and a branch of Le Relais de L’Entrecôte, a cousin of the Marylebone steak frites restaurant beloved of Parisians in London.
A few minutes later I found myself standing in front of a cream-coloured townhouse with overflowing window boxes and a brown façade. There was a white van parked outside but I could see three gold stars and the words Hotel du Danube.
My impression was immediately one of elegance – tiled floors, vases of pink tulips, a pretty lobby area (pictured below, left). A tall athletic Dutchman in a sharply cut suit was checking out. As soon as he’d gone I got talking to Romain, the friendly man on reception.
‘Vous êtes blogueuse?’ he said. ‘You wish to see the rooms? I will call the manager!’
Michel Sario, the manager, took me up in the tiny lift to rooms with simple four posters and twin beds (below), rather good marble bathrooms and lots of toile de jouy. Downstairs I crossed a small courtyard to a white linen breakfast room (above right) and wondered if Laurent and his mistress had been brave enough to ever use it.
I discovered from Michel that the hotel is popular with Americans, who all insist on air-con (this apparently rules out une chambre standard), that the bathrooms are very popular with les femmes and that the hotel is only a ten-minute walk over the river to the Louvre. I looked out at the street, where the white van was now blocking the road. ‘Does it get a bit noisy?’ ‘We have double glazing on the first, second and third floors, madame,’ he told me.
Rooms start at 160 Euros which seemed to me very reasonable for Paris, especially in such a lovely neighbourhood. As I left I decided that Laurent might not be the most faithful of men but when it comes to hotels he has very good taste.
Hotel du Danube, 58 rue Jacob, 75006 Paris (00 33 1 42 60 34 70).
A word about Hotel du Danube’s decor
If I hadn’t met Laurent at a café in the 16th and visited his one-time love nest on the Rive Gauche, I would never have found out about De Gournay wallpaper. When Michel Sario, the helpful manager of the Hotel du Danube came to find me, I was gazing at the green-painted walls of the lobby, thinking much I’d like to have that bird and leaf design (pictured below) in my own flat. ‘It is silk and painted by hand, madame,’ he said, shaking my hand warmly. ‘There is a De Gournay boutique just around the corner on Rue des Saint-Pères. You must go.’
I never got to the shop but subsequently discovered this family-run French label is a global brand renowned not just for its wallpaper (and fabrics) but also for its Chinese porcelain and gilded furniture. It isn’t just local to Paris – there are De Gournay showrooms in New York, Moscow, Shanghai and Istanbul. Crucially there’s a shop in London – at 112 Old Church Street, London SW3 (020 7352 9988).
The Far East inspired design house was founded in 1986 by a charismatic silver-haired Frenchman called Claud Cecil Gurney, a former financier with a love of the Far East and an incredible eye for beauty. There’s an excellent article about him on the Daily Telegraph website.
And PS …
Three more hotels to come in my next post … A bientôt!