I put a poll on Instagram to ask whether I was alone in the view that Paris was a bit overrated. Many of you (I believe it was over 70%) concurred that, yes, it was.
But messages flooded in to discuss my censure of Paris, and I realised as I discussed my perceived shortcomings of the city that, actually, it wasn’t Paris that was the problem.
Yes, the notion that it is the pinnacle of all that is romantic makes me gag, yes the common assertion that Parisian people are enormously chic feels a bit lazy, and, yes, I harbour greater affection for many other cities including London, Vienna and New York – but, actually, I realised that I’d been doing Paris all wrong, and that my stay over the summer wasn’t nice simply because the weather was balmy but because I’d done it differently.
Here’s what I did on previous trips (mostly for work, admittedly): holed up in the centre, ate either in the newest minimalist restaurants where staff seemed baffled by the idea of catering for a vegetarian and whipped out plates of cheese, or in cafes where the food seemed stale, and walked around the streets wondering why everything looked so grotty (and not in the charming sense) and quite unlike the Paris I’d seen in picture books as a child.
This time round, I stayed in Le Marais. And my experience couldn’t have been more different. The atmosphere of that area is youthful and energetic, not staid and establishment, the food was delicious, and the people completely riveting and fashionable in the way I’d always hoped Parisians might be but hadn’t seen on previous trips. My favourite was the woman who casually sat guzzling red wine and chain smoking next to us at a cafe while wearing a backless silver chain hanky top with roughly-cut off Levis and cowboy boots. I wanted to be her a little bit.
So here’s my new line on Paris: it’s a completely delightful place, but it’s not flawless. No city is. If someone came to London and stayed in certain areas and ate in pretentious restaurants, they’d think the city was soulless, a plutocracy with no beating heart. To understand London, you have to spend time here as a Londoner would, walking around, picking up on the vibe.
Which leads me neatly to this review of the Hotel du Petit Moulin, an erstwhile 17th Century boulangerie where Victor Hugo bought his bread that has been overhauled by Christian Lacroix. It’s perfect if you, like me, like to feel like an inhabitant of a city, to feel its pulse.
Here’s the lowdown on the hotel //
The Vibe / Slightly bonkers and eminently comfortable. This is not a luxury ‘yes ma’am’ place – more a bolthole with a man at the reception to help with directions and recommendations of places to go and a bunch of rooms with character.
The Rooms / If some eccentric uncle figure lived in Paris and had done up their pad with a lot of colour while trying to preserve the important historical bits like the huge wooden staircase and the exposed beams, it would look a little like the Hotel du Petit Moulin. But Lacroix hasn’t missed anything: everything’s where it feels it ought to be and none of the rooms want for any of the comforts you’d associate with a hotel, it’s all just a bit more fun.
The Food / The hotel only serve breakfast and it was not the best as it relied heavily on things out of pots and cellophane – but, as it’s situated in the heart of Le Marais where there are plenty of restaurants, that’s hardly a problem. We enjoyed breakfast at the Health Inside organic cafe on Rue Charlot, and the best dinner we had was at Gluo. Both did vegetarian food enormously well.
The Spa / Nada – this is a fancy bed and breakfast with a reception.
Nearby Stuff To Do & See / Well now there is almost too much to mention here. The best thing about Le Marais in our reckoning was the fact you could spend an entire day strolling around and just soaking up the sights and nipping into the shops. Our highlights? Chilling in Place des Vosges with loads of French people and buying some decent but affordable jewellery in Dasque Paris.
The Official Information / Hotel du Petit Moulin can be booked directly on their website here. The address: 29 Rue de Poitou, 75003 Paris, France. Their contact number: +33 1 42 74 10 10.