Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Rain has a habit of making us dream of other places – Paris being one of them. As the French in London are quite hopeless at recommending hotels in Paris and Laurent, the adulterous cyclist, had only one suggestion (see my previous post on where Frenchmen take their mistresses) I’ve decided to offer some ideas of my own. Included are my top tips on shops and museums you can walk to.
I’m still looking for the perfect hotel that’s under 100 euros a night – all ideas welcome – but in the meantime here are my top three small hotels in Paris:
1. Best for lovers of small hotels: Hôtel Sainte-Beuve
Tucked away on a side street, next to a pharmacy selling compression socks and a rather soulless furniture shop, the Sainte-Beuve is done up in a deeply Parisian style which the French amusingly refer to as ‘style l’Angleterre.’
I first stayed in this hotel with an American friend. We were planning a weekend in Paris, back in the days when we had salaries, and a New Yorker friend of hers had recommended it.
We found the Sainte-Beuve a lovely place to return to after a day of shops and museums. I remember all the details, especially the croissants at breakfast, the view of slate rooftops from the bedroom, and the zany receptionist with the rabbit fur scarf with whom we had long discussions about Emmanuelle Béart’s unfortunate trout pout.
Rooms are on the small side, but they’re spotless and attractive, and the location is a real plus. It’s near the Luxembourg Gardens for one thing – I loved watching stormy Frenchmen in very short shorts scissoring past its immaculate lawns and sculpted flowerbeds – and there are lots of brasseries nearby.
The Sainte-Beuve also has the advantage of being a direct 25-minute ride from the Gare du Nord (Vavin metro station is just 100m away) and direct by metro to the Pompidou and the Musée d’Orsay.
Best offers are 200 euros a night.
Hôtel Sainte-Beuve, 9 rue Sainte Beuve, 75006 Paris, tel: 00 33 1 45 48 20 07.
Within walking distance of the Sainte-Beuve
*5 mins: Gilles Vérot, 3 rue Notre Dame des Champs. One of the top charcutiers in Paris, Vérot supplies the excellent Bar Boulud in both London and New York. The French in London take his famous sausages and pâtés back with them on the Eurostar
*11 mins: Le Bon Marché, the fashionable Left Bank department store where Parisians traditionally buy their hats, and (nearby) BM’s terrific gourmet food hall, La Grande Epicerie
2. Best for shopaholics: Hôtel le Vignon
This hotel on a back street near the Madeleine looks rather drab from the outside but is peaceful, well run and just the sort of place that might suit a woman travelling alone. It’s near all the grands magasins (Printemps, which is brilliant for lingerie, is just a four-minute walk away) as well as the gourmet food shops of the Madeleine (Hédiard, Fauchon etc). On rue Vignon you’ll also find a branch of the luxury perfume chain L’Artisan Parfumeur and a wonderful honey shop selling Provence honey in one-kilo tubs (see earlier post).
The hotel’s main defects are its tiny foyer – there’s nowhere for a husband/boyfriend to read the paper– and a gloomy basement breakfast room, but for location alone it’s unbeatable.
It’s a while since I’ve stayed here but I’ve always found the staff helpful and and willing to summon taxis at a moment’s notice. According to my mother the hotel has been recently revamped in a Japanese zen style (she preferred the cosy chintz).
Rooms start at 140 euros but generally hover around 250 euros. It’s always worth haggling on the phone before booking.
Hôtel le Vignon, 23 rue Vignon, 75008 Paris, tel: 00 33 1 47 42 93 00.
Within walking distance of Le Vignon
*3 mins: Eres, 2 rue Tronchet. The smartest swimwear/lingerie shop in Paris (pictured above), famous for its flattering cut (and sky high prices)
*4 mins. Musée Nissim de Camondo, 7 avenue de Velasquez. A gem of a museum filled with 18th-century French furniture and lovely things
*6 mins: Eric Bompard at 2 rue Scribe. This is the shop for elegant, well-cut cashmere
3. Best for long married couples: Hotel Duc de Saint Simon
I’ve never stayed here, hence the lack of photos, but this wisteria-clad townhouse, just a seven-minute walk from the Musée d’Orsay, is one of those sumptuous, chintzy hotels that’s much-loved by the English. I’m told the standard rooms are the size of broom cupboards – with beds to match – which is bearable and perhaps even nice for the madly in love but un cauchemar for long marrieds.
‘It’s always worth asking about bed size because it can be very intimate,’ says a friend of my mother’s who regularly stays there. Big ticks go to the ‘proper furniture, the lovely wallpaper, the good bathrooms and the Egyptian cotton sheets,’ as well as the ‘helpful staff.’
From the Saint Simon it’s a leisurely half hour walk past the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower to one of my favourite restaurants in Paris, the very buzzy Café Constant at 139 rue Saint-Dominique. Here you can sit at the zinc bar and dine on sea bream à la plancha followed by an île flottante with salted caramel. The walk back throws up glittering views of Paris by night.
Rooms don’t come cheap. A night at the Saint Simon on May 31 starts at 280 euros.
Hotel Duc de Saint Simon, 14 rue de Saint-Simon, 75007, tel: 00 33 1 44 39 20 20. There’s a very useful photo gallery on the hotel’s website.
More things within walking distance of the Saint Simon
*On the doorstep: the rue du Bac, one of the best shopping streets in Paris. Look out for Ignace at number 87, a jewellery shop selling exceptionally pretty semi-precious stones, and La Pâtisserie des Rêves at number 93 (see earlier post)
*3 mins: Barthélémy, 51 Rue de Grenelle, the snootiest, smallest and possibly best cheese shop in Paris, where you might find yourself fighting over the Vacherin with a former French president (see earlier post on Paris food shops)
And if all this sounds horribly expensive
*There’s always Airbnb which is fantastic value and rather fun. You can rent rooms and apartments by area – so, for example, if you’re young and hip you might want to stay in the Marais rather than the more traditional 6th, 7th or 8th.