Now that high tourist season is upon us, a day doesn't go by without e-mail from Paris-bound friends and friends-of-friends, many seeking leads on hotels. As a Paris resident, I have a few favorites in the $130-to-$150 range, but every so often I go out in search of something simpler, cozier and, well, cheaper.
And guess what? They're out there. Despite its reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the world, Paris has a good selection of budget hotels, many of them intimate, offbeat and family-run. A room for two usually can be had for $60 to $90, tax included. Another $15 or so will buy a continental breakfast for two.
Think of these hotels as old-fashioned French B&Bs. While some take reservations by e-mail, many prefer to advertise by word of mouth. Some won't accept credit cards. None offers air conditioning or room service, never mind laptop-friendly phone lines.
No two are alike, but that's part of their charm. At a time when chain hotels are so homogenized you may wake up wondering if you're in Toronto, Cleveland or Tivoli, it's nice to be able to count on Paris for a genuine change of scenery. That's one thing you'll get at the following addresses. You're also likely to get a warm welcome (some English spoken), breakfast in bed or, in good weather, outside, and an opportunity to get to know a corner of Paris you may have missed on your last trip.
But here's what you won't get: the kind of room you're used to. Budget hotels are defined by their dimensions, which in this land-scarce city means "small."
You may not mind. You came to Paris to walk around and see the sights, and you can always stretch out on the sofa when you get back home. Which is a good thing, since some budget hotel rooms are so small you will barely be able to stretch out in bed. "French women like to curl up next to their husbands," said Maggie Canipel, co-owner of the enchanting Ermitage hotel in the 18th arrondissement, after catching me doing mental calculations at the foot of her grandparents' carved-wood wedding bed. Now awaiting close-knit couples in romantic room No. 2, it is about the right width, I figure, for two American figure skaters.
At the atmospheric Esmeralda, near Notre Dame, beds are pushed up against the wall, requiring gymnastics for those who like to rise before their partner. At the Globe, in a classy section of the 6th, you can disembark on both sides of the bed, but you'll have to suck in your stomach to get to the door.
The tourism ministry gives one to four stars to most hotels, but stars are based on things like percentage of rooms with full baths, the dimensions of the lobby and the presence of elevators and TVs. None of this may matter as much as your specific room--plus all the intangibles that aren't factored in, from the noise level to the option of having breakfast in a garden.
The meticulously well-kept Port-Royal Hotel, near the Luxembourg Gardens and other Left Bank attractions, is a good example of the budget hotel's evolution. Twenty years ago, most small hotels in France had rooms with sinks only; showers and toilets were in the hallway. Here you'll still find some of those bare-bones rooms, but now there are beautiful new pay showers in the hallway, and many rooms have been renovated with private baths.
The Port-Royal also has wide halls and a central staircase. At other places, the hallways are so narrow you may be tempted to check your suitcase at the front desk. "You go first!" said Claude Marillier, the cheerful co-owner of the Nouvel, near the Bastille, as he stood back to let me navigate single-file to one of the rooms overlooking the hotel's patio.
Repeat visitors often try to reserve specific rooms. One of the best at Degres de Notre Dame sits on the top floor and looks over Notre Dame itself--and is priced accordingly. Some hotels allow guests to pick their rooms, though the Hotel Chopin in the 9th arrondissement is among those that discourage the practice. Try anyway. At this fun and funky spot, located inside an 1830s shopping arcade, certain rooms overlook some classically Parisian zinc rooftops, which adds enormously to the atmosphere.
At other hotels, ask about streetside vs. courtyard. Courtyard rooms are likely to be quieter, while streetside rooms may require keeping the windows closed against noise--no fun in hot weather. That said, rooms on the street are likely to have more light, especially on the desirable top floor. And some have interesting views, be they of stove-pipe chimneys or grands monuments. In some rooms on the top floor of the Grand Hotel Eveque, you can step onto a balcony and catch the tip of the Eiffel Tower.
So here are my picks: 13 charming budget hotels to choose from. Prices include all taxes, except in certain cases a $1- to $2-per-person city tax. Breakfast, if it isn't included, is optional, and you might prefer having it at an outdoor cafe. For all Paris hotels, reserve well in advance, especially in fall and spring.
First-time visitors should consider staying near Notre Dame, which rises over the Seine in the 5th arrondissement. Three options:
* Just across from the church and around the corner from the famed bookstore Shakespeare & Co. is the two-star Esmeralda (4 Rue St. Julien le Pauvre in the 5th, telephone 011-331-43-54-19-20, fax 011-331-40-51-00-68), housed in an 18th-century building with rooms overlooking the ancient St. Julien le Pauvre churchyard. Deep red upholstery, wood paneling, fading (in some places peeling) floral wallpaper and exposed beams contribute to the stage-set feel. Rooms without baths start at less than $30; a double with a full bath and view of Notre Dame is $82. Breakfast is $7. You won't find a better value in this part of town. Keep in mind: This is a busy area and the hum of the streets may be audible when windows are open. The breakfast room is dark and close, so order breakfast in your room.
* Well-heeled couples, especially if they have a child in tow, should consider Degres de Notre Dame (10 Rue des Grands Degres in the 5th, 011-331-55-42-88-88, fax 011-331-40-46-95-34), a freshly renovated, 10-room hotel on one of the quietest and most appealing corners in a neighborhood often overrun with tourists. Rooms run between $85 for a tiny single to $111; add $22 if you are a threesome. Breakfast is free and can be consumed in your room or at the adjoining restaurant--perhaps on the terrace. Rooms are larger than average; No. 61, on the top floor, has a view of the cathedral. Note: Visa is the only credit card accepted.
* Backpackers gravitate to Le Petit Trianon (2 Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie in the 6th, 011-331-43-54-94-64) because of the friendly welcome and casual ambiance. Low on style but high on location, the five-floor, 15-room walk-up is perched over a busy intersection in a coveted and centrally located area thick with art galleries and cafes. Rooms without baths start at $42; a double with full bath is $75. Breakfast is $5. Discounts available for four-day-or-more stays; last-minute reservations are sometimes possible. Credit cards are not accepted. Street noise can be a problem. Breakfast served in your room only.
St. Germain des Pres
* Travelers with taste get weak-kneed when they step into the romantic Hotel du Globe et des Quatre-Vents (15 Rue des Quatre-Vents in a classy section of the 6th, 011-331-46-33-62-69, fax: 011-331-46-33-17-29). Just off the splendid Place St. Sulpice on a quiet, boutique-lined street, this two-star hotel offers 14 individually decorated rooms in a four-floor walk-up. Antique headboards, elegant mini-canopies, exposed beams, warm fabrics and fresh flowers are among the stylish touches. Room No. 12, on the fourth floor, has a full canopy bed and more space than other rooms. They all have TV, phone and minibar. Around the corner is the renowned Gerard Mulot pastry shop, source of the hotel's croissants (some would say reason enough to stay here). Rooms are $65 to $94; breakfast is $7.50. Keep in mind: Rooms are so small you'll have a hard time finding space for your shopping bags. None has twin beds. Breakfast in-room only. Closed in August.
* Lovers of the Place des Vosges, the centerpiece park of the trendy Marais-Bastille neighborhood, gravitate to the two-star Place des Vosges Hotel (12 Rue de Birague in the 4th, 011-331-42-72-60-46, fax 011-331-42-72-02-64). The decor isn't much, but location and value help fill all 16 rooms in this partially elevator-equipped, six-floor hotel. It sits on a peaceful street leading into the Place des Vosges, whose fountains and lawn are rimmed with elegant 17th-century town houses (and expensive 20th-century shops). All rooms have phone, TV and hair dryer. No. 60, on the top floor, sleeps three or four and has a view of tin rooftops and the golden wings at the top of the Bastille column; it is $145. Prices start at $61, and doubles are about $90, with some seasonal fluctuations. And breakfast is free. Note: Some rooms look into an airshaft.
* Romantic couples and small families will feel right at home in the 19th-century mansion that houses the 12 rooms of the two-star Ermitage Hotel (24 Rue Lamarck in the 18th, 011-331-42-64-79-22, fax 011-331-42-64-10-33). Rooms look out onto a small street on the back side of Montmartre, just steps from Sacre-Coeur, or over a small garden in this hilly, Old World neighborhood. Two of the rooms, Nos. 11 and 12, open onto the garden, where their lucky occupants can have breakfast. But all the rooms are nice. No. 2, which sleeps up to four, has flowered wallpaper, antique furnishings and lace-curtained French windows. Doubles are about $85; four can squeeze into one room for $122. Breakfast is included. Keep in mind: No breakfast room. No credit cards.
Gourmands will appreciate three hotels in the comfortable 7th-arrondissement neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower. Two sit on the lively market street Rue Cler, and the third is just around the corner, a quick walk from several outstanding bakeries, chocolate shops and cheese dealers.
* The two-star Champ de Mars (7 Rue du Champ de Mars, 011-331-45-51-52-40, fax 011-331-45-51-64-36) offers 25 attractive rooms, all with direct-line phones, TV and full or half-baths. The elevator-equipped hotel is as bright as a penny, with windows in the stairwell and a pleasant teal color scheme. No. 42, at the back, looks into a clump of birch trees in the neighbor's courtyard. No. 45 has more space than other rooms. Singles start at $63, and three can stay for a reasonable $88. Breakfast is $6.
* The two-star Grand Hotel Leveque (29 Rue Cler, 011-331-47-05-49-15, fax 011-331-45-50-49-36) has a slightly faded feel, and some rooms look into an air shaft. But with 50 to choose from, the Leveque is more likely than some to have space when you need it. Try for one of the top-floor rooms with tiny balconies and good views--No. 53 has that, plus room for three. Singles start at $45 (with sink only) and prices top at $92 for a triple. All rooms have phones, TV and hair dryer. Breakfast is $6.
* The two-star Hotel Saint-Dominique (62 Rue St.-Dominique, 011-331-47-05-51-44, fax 011-331-47-05-81-28), around the corner from Rue Cler, occupies an 18th-century building that once housed a convent. Rooms have fabric-covered walls and a cozy, old-fashioned feel. Some overlook an appealing courtyard where you can have breakfast in good weather. A room on the top floor sleeps three and has a skylight that can be opened under the moonlight. Singles start at $76, with doubles at $90 and up; triples at $125. Breakfast is $7.
* Nature lovers will like the nicely decorated two-star Nouvel Hotel (24 Avenue du Bel-Air, 011-331-43-43-01-81, fax 011-331-43-44-64-13), just off the sprawling Place de la Nation in a remote neighborhood east of Bastille in the 12th. Four Metro lines converge nearby, putting the Eiffel Tower and Disney Paris each a half-hour away. But the real draw is the garden, where you can have breakfast or just sit and read a book. Rooms, some with garden view, run from $60 to $95. All come with twin beds, and a number of rooms connect, making two doubles ideal for families.
Near yet so far away are two hotels in the 13th arrondissement, just south of the Luxembourg gardens and other Left Bank attractions.
* The snug three-star Hotel le Vert Galant (41 Rue Croulebarbe, 011-331-44-08-83-50, fax 011-331-44-08-83-69) faces its namesake park. But regulars come back for the hotel's own miniature garden, which fronts all 15 rooms. The historic working-class neighborhood, near the 17th-century Gobelins tapestry works, is a short walk from the popular Rue Mouffetard street market. Some rooms have tiny kitchenettes, and the hotel runs its own Basque restaurant. There's even parking. Rates start at $80.
* Moving closer to "Mouffe" is the spankingly well-maintained one-star Port-Royal Hotel (8 Boulevard de Port-Royal in the 5th, 011-331-43-31-70-06, fax 011-331-43-41-33-67). In the same family for 68 years, this hotel has 48 rooms, half overlooking a small patio. Among them is just-renovated room No. 2, which has warm red and yellow tones and an extra-large bath. Singles with sinks only start at $40, and the most expensive double is $75, with breakfast a mere $4.50.
* Fans of Zola and George Sand will want to visit the haunts of these 19th-century French novelists, and a great starting place would be the two-star, four-floor Hotel Chopin, built in 1846 in a passage off 10 Boulevard Montmartre in the 9th (011-331-47-70-58-10, fax 011-331-42-47-00-70). Its 35 rooms run from nondescript to charming, with Nos. 406 and 407 (a triple with two windows) overlooking the Wax Museum's workshop. From the quiet, shop-lined passage to the bustling boulevard, this is a rare slice of old Paris. Singles start at $68, doubles at $75; breakfast is $6.
Deborah Baldwin last wrote for the Travel section on Paris's 9th arrondissement.
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