Oscar Wilde quipped his final lines at L'Hôtel (he never paid his final bill, now displayed in Room 16), a house of old-world opulence on Paris’s Left Bank that is as much a destination stay as ever. Its glamourous rooms are swagged – under the direction of Jacques Garcia – in rich red velvets and dusky pinks (some have wonderfully sizeable terraces); the bar has plump sofas to repose on and original paintings and etchings; and there's a surprisingly peaceful outddor space beyond the restaurant, where the city noise fades to trickle of a decorative fountain. There's also a Michelin-starred restaurant, a private underground pool – where a blind-eye is turned to guests frolicking in their altogether, oh là là – and a bar beloved by the City of Light’s cognoscenti guarantee that this hideaway is no fin de siècle relic.
The hotel has 20 rooms, four of which are suites. Rooms are divided into Mignon, Bijou, Chic and Grand categories. The Apartment is a large suite with its own private terrace.
Noon, though this is flexible for a fee (50 per cent of the room cost). Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £251.22 (€293), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €3.75 per person per night on check-out.
Room rates usually include Continental breakfast, a spread of pastries, cakes, breads, juices and more. Hot dishes from the à la cart are available for an extra charge.
L’Hôtel wears its arty heritage on its paint-stained sleeve; original Jean Cocteau drawings hang in the lobby, and there are paintings and drawings gracing the walls throughout. The hotel is terribly romantic; as such, staff are old hands at setting up a scenic proposal for question-poppers, and they can scatter petals on your bed or pop champagne on ice as required.
At the hotel
Indoor pool, spa treatments on request, steam room, library, CD/DVD library, free WiFi, laundry service. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, iPod dock, air-conditioning, coffee- and tea-making kit, minibar, and full-size Green & Spring bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All 20 theatrical rooms have been individually decorated, and are inspired by a famous visitor to the hotel. We particularly love the art deco Mistinguette Room, which features the music-hall legend’s own bed and dressing table, and the Oscar Wilde Suite (room 16), where demands for payment of his hotel bill have been framed on the walls. The original room he stayed in is now the bar area, but his last words – ‘either that wallpaper goes, or I do’ – have, you’ll be glad to know, been heeded. The Apartment on the top floor is enormous and feels like an opulent garret bedecked in velvet and marble, with a deep bath tub and super-soft bed. The terrace is large enough to sit out on and watch the city light up as the sun goes down.
Guests can book private time in the lovely subterranean pool, and staff will light candles around its edge so they can bob and float in the most peaceful environment imaginable. On request, a massage table can be set up by the side, too.
Bring a notebook in which to jot down your existential musings or practice your artistic stylings as you take coffee at nearby Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots.
Room sizes are generous for Paris, especially in the higher categories, and there's a small yet serviceable lift to all floors, so guests with mobility issues should find this stay comfortable and accommodating.
Ask for a table in the corner, so you can discreetly observe the comings and goings of your fellow diners. If the weather is fine, a place out on the small patio is a must.
Smart with a hint of loucheness – think taffeta dresses and your best jacket.
Le Restaurant offers Michelin-starred seasonal French cuisine in a dark and romantic salon. Chef Julien Montbabut prepares delights such as duckling with fig-leaf jus, Loire Valley eel in chive butter and Amalfi lemon madeleines for adoring foodie fans. Le Restaurant also has a sun terrace a fountain and a verdant living wall, where you can enjoy alfresco meals and afternoon tea. Reserve your table ahead – it's often fully booked two or three weeks in advance.
Next to the restaurant, the hotel bar is a decadent space of leopard-print carpets, Italian marble columns, black tables, and grey velvet chairs and banquettes. Le 13s (champagne cocktails made with violet liqueur and lime) are served up throughout the evening to a laid-back jazz-lounge soundtrack – and live jazz music on the last Thursday of every month.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am. The restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday, and for lunch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Dinner is served till 10pm; in the bar, drinks are poured until 1am.
Snacks and light meals are available from 7.30am to 11pm.
L'Hôtel is in the heart of the artistic quarter of Saint Germain, a stone's throw from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Set on the Left Bank, the hotel is a short stroll from the Seine and the galleries, cafés and restaurants along Rue de l'Université.
A 30-minute drive away, Paris Orly is the closest airport, with good domestic links to most of France. UK and international flights land at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, a 40-minute drive away. A taxi from Charles de Gaulle international airport to the centre costs about €50; buses and trains run regularly into town at a fraction of the cost. L’Hôtel is 500m from Saint-Germain-des-Prés station, down Rue Bonaparte and then Rue des Beaux-Arts. From Charles de Gaulle airport, hop on line B to St Michel, where you can change to line 4, heading in the direction of Mairie de Montrouge.
The Gare du Nord is a 15-minute taxi ride away, or a few stops on line 4 of the Metro from Saint-Germain-des-Prés station (500m from the hotel). The city is served by Eurostar and SNCF trains.
L’Hôtel is on the Left Bank, almost right opposite the Louvre. From Paris’ Boulevard Peripherique, it’s a quick 15-minute drive down Boulevard Brune, Avenue du Général Leclerc and Boulevard Saint Michel. The nearest car park is Parking Mazarine on the Rue Mazarine, a five-minute walk from the hotel, which charges €34 for a 24-hour stay.
With separated bike lanes and quiet back streets, the Left Bank can be a pleasure to explore on two wheels. Hire a self-service bike from a Vélib station; there are several near the hotel. You'll need a credit card to leave the €150 deposit required.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Louvre, with its world-famous art collection, is just across the river, while the Musée d'Orsay, which contains many of the Impressionists’ great works, is equally close. The impressive Eglise de St Sulpice (Place Saint-Sulpice) is only slightly smaller than Notre-Dame, and is the second-largest church in Paris. The hotel's immediate neighbourhood, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is one of Paris' loveliest. There are intriguing shops, quirky galleries and eateries dotted throughout. Find art both classic and contemporary – and often boundary-nudging – at Gallery Vallois, photography space Frederic Got Gallery and Gallery Lara Vincy. Those with a taste for the bizarre can pick up quirky vintage ephemera at Librarie Alain Brieux, purveyors of medical sculptures and diagrams, curious etchings and objets d'art.
The classic art deco interior of Café de Flore, which hosted most of the French intellectuals during the post-war years, has changed little since World War II. It’s still a great spot for a meal. Its rival Les Deux Magots has an even more enviable literary heritage (you were liable to run into Hemingway, Picasso, James Joyce, Julia Childs and other stars here back in the day). Famous boutique teahouse Ladurée is renowned for its macarons. Semilla on Rue de Seine composes modern French dishes with panache, using high-quality ingredients. Their meats are beautifully cooked, and their by-the-glass wines very drinkable, but we were particularly smitten with the desserts, especially the whisky and chocolate mousse. Bambi Sloan, who's also a brilliant hotel designer, has dressed Les Climats restaurant, an eatery that serves modern fare made with traditional ingredients, plated in Instagrammable style. Le Christine is equally style-savvy.
The Germain has a giant pair of yellow legs bursting through its ceiling, and sleek yet surreal, primary-hued interiors leading out from there. Stop by to gawp and order up a plate of mezze or a croque.
The Experimental Cocktail Club's Prescription Cocktail Club is close by on Rue Mazarine. The low-lit space, bedecked with trompe-l'œil bookshelves and brick walls, serves imaginative drinks and attracts a cool crowd. Not to be confused with the similarly named Liverpool institution, Le Cavern Club offers live music and chic cocktails on Rue Dauphine.
‘Is it a bit much?’ asks Mrs Smith, eyeing the wall and screwing up her face inquisitively. We’re in room 16 at the gorgeous fin de siècle boutique stay L’Hôtel in Paris, and the wall in front of us is a bit, well, shrine-like. Faded sepia photos of Oscar Wilde jostle for space alongside framed newspaper clippings and 19th-century cartoons of the great man, and a slightly eerie figurine that is supposedly meant to be the author and poet, but looks more like an evil Michael Ball, grins at us malevolently from the top of the writing desk. If this were in any other room in Paris, then it would undoubtedly be, as Mrs Smith says, a bit much. But we are in the hotel where Oscar breathed his last. ‘There is, I suppose, only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,’ I suggest.
Wilde is talked about a lot here. After polite society slammed its doors in his face following his 1895 trial for homosexual offences, he came to what was then the Hotel d'Alsace, disgraced and penniless, to try and shake off the ill health that had dogged him for years. He failed, and shuffled off this mortal coil in the stay, within which Mrs Smith is now plugging in her phone charger. As a teenager, I was a bit of an Oscar obsessive – like many men my age, I came to him through a fervent devotion to the Smiths – so I am ecstatic to be spending the night here. Mrs Smith isn’t so sure. ‘What if the hotel’s haunted?’ she asks. To be honest, I can’t imagine that a floppy-haired, lily-wearing phantom is going to be much to worry about.
You can see why Wilde chose L’Hôtel – it’s all very ‘Parisian’, in that gilded absinthe den, frou-frou dancing girls, under-the-counter ‘art’ books sense of the word. The lobby, with its leopard-print carpet, antique screens and original Jean Cocteau artwork, exudes fin de siècle glamour. And our room is just as decadent. The poet’s final words – ‘either that wallpaper goes or I do’ – may have been heeded (the beautiful and seemingly historic hand-painted mural of gold-leaf peacocks against a background of rich turquoise-green was actually finished at the turn of this century), but the combination of antique furnishings, gorgeous scalloped gold chandeliers and atmospherically faded, candy-striped wallpaper around the French doors to our private terrace is suitably 1890s.
Much as Mrs Smith and I would love to sample chef Julien Montbabut’s Michelin-starred cuisine in the hotel’s Le Restaurant, the menu – where starters run upwards of €37 – is a little out of our price range. So we content ourselves with a glass of champagne in the jewel box-like salon bar, and eavesdrop on the conversations of those who, as Wilde might say, know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Afterwards, we head out to the Latin Quarter for dinner at intimate, informal bistro Le Petit Prince de Paris, where a feast of fabulous, inventive French dishes – mousse-like seafood-and-courgette flan, a crème brûlee of camembert with onion fondue and andouillettes, roasted seabass and scallops in a saffron butter – comes in at less than the price of two starters back at the hotel.
That’s the thing about L’Hôtel. It is beautiful and it is more characterful than the entire five series of The Wire, but it’s also wincingly expensive. This is something you can easily forgive when you’re reposing in such wonderful surroundings and the never-less-than-superb service is removing all obstacles from your path; but when, as happened to us on our return from dinner, no one on duty has the faintest idea how to make your in-room DVD player work, you can start to question the prices.
Just as well, then, that the hotel is very good at masking any shortcomings with sheer charm. As we head down for breakfast the following morning – fresh fruit and yoghurt for Mrs Smith, cheese-oozing croque-monsieur for me – the adorable, velvet-clad concierge asks us if we’d like to book an hour or two in the private pool downstairs. ‘Oh, I’d love to,’ says Mrs Smith regretfully. ‘But I haven’t brought anything to wear.’ The concierge smiles. ‘But madame,’ she says conspiratorially, ‘the pool is private. You don’t need to wear anything.’
That’s not a suggestion you’d hear in many British hotels, but it fits perfectly with the slightly racy ambience of this Left Bank lovely. So – after a wonderful couple of hours spent wandering the lane-like streets of the Marais, browsing boutiques and indulging my new-found love of mid-morning coffee and cognac – we make our way back to the rue des Beaux Arts for our swim sans vetements.
From the cylindrical hotel atrium, which corkscrews up towards the Parisian sky, we descend a spiral staircase towards the basement hammam, passing mosaics of tiny gold tiles as we go. The pool itself is ridiculously beautiful. With its heavy velvet curtains, terracotta floors and rough-stone columns, it looks like the bathing pool from Spartacus – the one in which Laurence Olivier informs Tony Curtis that he’s going to be his ‘body slave’ – and its Roman feel seems an appropriate extension of all the opulence upstairs.
As we float in the deliciously warm water, Mrs Smith lying back on me as steam plays havoc with her shoulder-length hair, I realise we haven’t said a word to each other for the past five minutes. We are beyond relaxed, and seem to have moved to a state usually only experienced by Trappist monks and opium eaters. Everything about L’Hôtel, from the twinkles of gilt at every head-turn to the rich crimsons, purples and pinks in each room and, of course, the tranquil subterranean pool, is a blissful reminder of a glorious and more colourful age. Hang the expense. Anyone who lives within their means, as Oscar Wilde once said, suffers from a lack of imagination.