This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
Paris! City of Light, city of lovers, city of... remarkably well-behaved prepubescent skateboarders? Admittedly, there’s less of a ring to it but, as Mrs Smith and I learn, the best way to locate the slim façade of the Hôtel Récamier, in the southwest corner of tranquil Place Saint-Sulpice, is to look out for the group of skate kids (more Ralph Lauren than Stüssy) politely pulling ollies and kickflips across the road from its front door. In a sense, these gently wheeling garcons summed up the bobo (or, to the Anglophone, bourgeois bohemian) spirit of the 6ème arrondissement.
Once the playground of 20th-century philosophical and artistic rebels, from the Existentialists and the Surrealists to the ‘Lost Generation’ of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is now firmly established as the home of grown-up Parisian style, while retaining just enough of its former edge to keep things interesting.
Passing through the doors of the 24-room Récamier, designed by French interiors notable Jean-Louis Deniot, we feel less like we’re entering a hotel than the private apartment of a wealthy archaeologist with a taste for the earthier, more textural end of modernist design. In the lobby, black and white chequered marble is offset with warm-toned wooden furniture and fabrics that span the colour spectrum from espresso to macchiato. On a side table, a cast of a bronze West African Ife portrait bust stands, its gaze directing us to the tiny check-in desk across the hall. With decorous efficiency we’re escorted past a twisting staircase to the lift, which we take straight to the top of the supermodel-slender building. Six storeys up and we find ourselves in a perfect lovers’ haven. While the city goes about its business below, our garret hideaway is untroubled by so much as a dove cooing.
Room 64 is peaceful, full of bright springtime sunlight, snug and well equipped for a city retreat. There’s a private terrace from which to look out over the crooked Parisian rooftops, and a fridge full of eminently gluggable wine to celebrate our arrival. The decor continues the safari-meets-1950s-ethnography-museum vibe, with hessian-effect wallpaper and a tent-like canvas canopy sheltering the bed. Relaxing on its great drift of plump cushions and pillows a little later on, we really do feel like the rest of civilisation is far, far away.
Having negotiated the numerous taps that control the twin showerheads, Mrs Smith emerges from the bathroom – which, in contrast to our boudoir, turns out to be all black slate and polished white simplicity – to pass judgement on the range of toiletries. ‘Fragonard – herby, fresh, mmm. Very nice. Do we have to go out?’ I’m experimenting with the entertainment centre (flatscreen TV, iPod dock) and stumble on a Gallic radio station that seems to play nothing but Bryan Adams and Sting. Even the French, it seems, have their style lapses every now and then.
Time to hit the streets. One of the great advantages of Hôtel Récamier is that we find we don’t have to wander very far from its doors to experience the mixture of history and contemporary refinement that make Paris unique. Dominating the square outside the front door is the Eglise Saint-Sulpice. Dating back to the 13th century, this atmospheric church features in The Da Vinci Code – but we don’t let that put us off. Much more significantly, it’s home to some seriously sensuous murals by the Romantic painter Delacroix, and was the place where the Marquis de Sade was baptised, not that it exactly set history’s most celebrated libertine on the straight-and-narrow path. Mrs Smith and I leave the church with far-from-heavenly things on our minds.
As I’m to learn on the short shopping spree upon which Mrs Smith embarks nimbly the following day, flanking the square and the surrounding streets are some of the fashion capital’s most chic shops, including a clutch of sophisticated younger French labels such as APC, Vanessa Bruno, Sonia Rykiel and Paul & Joe. For now though we wander through the streets to the local organic café/deli, Bread & Roses, where we eagerly scoff millefeuille knocked back with café crème. A stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg and back to the hotel brings us to nightfall, dinner at nearby bistro La Ferrandaise (inventive takes on provincial French classics and delicious Côtes du Rhônes), then drinks in a hip dive bar favoured by art-student locals. Mrs Smith’s theory that its jukebox contains ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it For You’ remains, however, sadly unconfirmed.
The following morning we wake to breakfast in bed. The previous night we’d eagerly ticked boxes on the promising menu and are now confronted with a feast of fresh fruit, poached eggs, croissants, bread, yoghurt, freshly squeezed juice, coffee and an impressive cheeseboard. For those who like more company there is a breakfast room and courtyard downstairs. Here, the rustic feel is contrasted by quirky, glittering details: a driftwood sculpture sits on a golden tabletop, and lamps are supported by gilded birds’ legs. There’s a bookcase full of tomes on contemporary photography, a clutch of board games and a small array of art photos on the walls. But it’s not for us – not yet. This is Paris. City of Light. City of lovers. City of lounging in bed long after the rest of the world has greeted the morning sun.