Sunday, January 07, 2007

More hotels in Paris, and one in Vannes

These reviews originally appeared in November 2005. They represent a range of Parisian hotels for a variety of budgets and tastes. The last review details Villa Kerasy in Vannes, an exceptional value in a fascinating location.

All the following hotels can be booked via

Hotel Relais St. Jacques

This lovely four-star 22-room property, tucked away off a quiet stretch of the Boulevard St. Michel on the rue de L’Abbe de L’Epee, has real charm, sophistication and comfort, ideally suited to the needs of the leisure traveler. It allows one to live the life of a Rive Gauche Bohemian by day, then return home to haute bourgeois luxury by night. The musketeer on the logo correctly suggests a sense of history reflected in the aristocratic décor- classical details, antiques, brocade and silk wall covering, dark woods, parquet floors. A small and peaceful corner of Paris, with personal service, one which attracts steady repeat business at a very fair price point of €160-250. There’s a lobby lounge where you can have breakfast, which is well-used by guests into the evening, and excellent wines poured by the glass- an instance where quality has its cost. If your budget allows, treat yourself to room 503, the only suite in the hotel, where €475 buys twice the space, beautiful furnishings, potpourri in baskets, marble bath with Jacuzzi, plush towels and robes, Roger Gallet amenities, fine glassware (no plastic here), and a library of Hugo, Voltaire and other luminaries. Weather permitting, breakfast can be taken at a small table on 503’s private balcony, with a splendid view of the Pantheon. No wonder Rilke liked to stay here. Surprising ambient elevator music: Bob Dylan singing “Everybody must get stoned.” Wired for wi-fi everywhere, on a pay per hour system: €10/hour or €25 for 24 hours, plus a public terminal computer in the lounge, same deal. There’s also a sister 3-star hotel, L’Observatoire, a short walk away, with a typical bistro on the ground floor. This is an easy alternative to the raucous establishments of the Boulevard St. Germain, and a fine respite from the hustle-bustle which lies so conveniently close nearby.

Hotel Villa St. Germain

A hip, young, modern, austere sensibility defines this design-conscious four-star property in the heart of the action, just off the Boulevard St. Germain on the rue Jacob, in the ever-trendy 6th. Loads of shopping here and plenty of foot traffic during the business day with the best people-watching imaginable, from the scruffy to the ethnic to the truly elegant. The hotel caters to an audience 25-40 years old, split 50/50 business and leisure. The price point is high, €250-440; you are paying for the location, style and a 1:3 staff/guest ratio, which insures uptown service- fast, professional, efficient and personable. The rooms have that geometric spare modernist feel- a flexible palette of color, well-suited to people in the art business or entertainment industry. Details like a projected room number and a kooky door handle deliver more panache than your run-of-the-mill lodging. Continental breakfast €15, available in room. A spacious conference room seating about 20 adjoins the subterranean breakfast room. One could spend a happy half hour in the mucho trendy lobby bar where busy people always move about. Everything is walking close, and the street gets quiet in the evening, more so in your room because all windows are double-paned. There’s even public parking just around the corner on the Boulevard St. Germain. Because of its global style this property attracts a lot of Americans, Aussies and Japanese. Completely wired for wi-fi on the ubiquitous pay-per-hour system- €5 for ½ hour, €9 per hour, €27 for 24 hours. A lively, happening place, probably ideal for young professionals travelling on an expense account.

Hotel Elysee Regencia

A high-end, button-down, 41-room four star property, mostly appropriate to the business traveller. In extremely good repair, refurbished in January 2005. Very well located in the 16th, the hotel is favored by executives who appreciate its proximity to fashion industry corporate offices in the neighbourhood. This explains the 70/30 business to tourist guest ratio- during the weekends the hotel’s 95% occupancy rate is supported by leisure travellers and the hotel has special promotions for that end of the market. There are two wonderful suites available: an upper floor Provence-themed loft with authentic tile, fabric and furniture and over-the-top bathroom; and a ground floor space just off the reception area, more like a pied a terre tastefully done in a cream-grey-lavender color scheme, a fantasy of comfort and style not like a hotel, more like a designer home from a chic architectural magazine. The suites are a very good deal for the price. You could pay double for a room at the George V, for example, and get much less for it. Add in the Anne Semonin amenities, wood floors, marble baths, minibar, AC and free in-room Ethernet connection and any offering here is a great one. All bathrooms have a lot of natural light; any room number ending in a 5 includes a bidet. Families travelling will appreciate the ability to connect several adjoining rooms for larger parties. Wi-fi throughout, €5 for 20 minutes on a sliding scale to €30 for 24 hours. Breakfast included for corporate travellers. You can also enjoy French or Asian cuisine or pizza in-room, plus the hotel has an arrangement with a superb and highly-regarded Cambodian restaurant nearby. As a footnote, the hotel is in the final year of a contract with Best Western Hotels. My opinion is that Elysee Regencia presents a higher value package than typically associated with that brand. Guests need not lower their expectations for this fine property. The quality shines through.

La Residence Bassano

A converted apartment building in the 16th which now functions as a 4-star 23-suite hotel, whose business is split 50/50 business to tourism. The hotel is preferred by families, and is furnished much like a private home. Staff is sensitized to international preferences because a real global mix of nationalities comprises its clientele. You can find, for example, Japanese, Russian and Arabic newspapers in the lobby, as well as TV channels in those languages. The hotel keeps a database on its guests, since there is a good deal of repeat business- returning guests have favourite rooms and bathrooms which the culturally aware hotel likes to remember (i.e. Japanese favour baths, Americans prefer showers.) This is the sister establishment to Hotel Elysee Regencia, which is just across the way, whereas Bassano is on a side street, so the properties can share an experienced and dedicated staff and you will find the same amenities. But La Residence Bassano, a charming habitation with a friendly ivory and cream décor and informal manner, delivers a relaxing residential experience as a contrast to the businesslike persona of its nearby counterpart. Location, space, comfort, and amenities make La Residence Bassano a fine choice for leisure travellers or longer-term business travellers. There’s a comfy breakfast room, in-room dining, and the identical wi-fi package as Elysee Regencia.

Hotel Plaza Opera

If you like the Lonely Planet style of travel, the 3-star Plaza Opera may be for you. A small Hausmann-era building sitting at a busy intersection at the bottom edge of Montmartre near Notre Dame de Lorette, this budget level property (€100-165) of 34 rooms is clearly the choice of intrepid tourists. Bilingual signs in French and Spanish attest to the popularity of the hotel with Iberian guests, but you will find English spoken as well. While accommodations are spartan and clean, rooms are small and amenities simple. There are, for example, no room safes- instead check your valuables in a numbered strong box at the front desk. You receive your own key and there is someone on duty 24 hours a day. The oval staircase which runs next to the small elevator is decorated with framed illustrations of vintage hot air balloons. You have a choice of rooms with bath (facing rue Maubeuge; say “Moe-boodge.”) or rooms with shower (facing the quieter rue Lamartine.) A very nice and typical breakfast served 7:30-10:00 in your room, or downstairs in the cozy basement breakfast lounge, which functions as a hub of amiable socializing. Many sleeping configurations available, doubles, twins, rollaway beds, kid beds free for under 2 years old, a honeymoon bed, and one king bed in a lofted top floor room with views of the rooftops of the surrounding quarter. The 2nd and 5th floors also have narrow balconies with tiny tables, which overlook the teeming streets below. You observe a neighbourhood tableau down there, where real Parisians go about their business. The location is central enough to walk to the big department stores, Opera, Sacre Coeur, the louche enticements of Pigalle, and a short constitutional to the enormous Tati store at Barbes Rochechouart. If you haven’t been to Tati, do it at least once in your life; there you pick through bins of cheap knockoffs, elbow-to-elbow with Algerian ladies, in a chaotic surrounding of humanity, color and texture. It’s madness, but you get some amazing styles, and you will be astounded at how far your Euros can go- abandon all expectations of luxury, and have a blast. Plaza Opera is also close enough to roll your suitcase to the Gare du Nord, without the hassle of taking a cab. It’s no doubt a good bet for small families travelling on a budget, a no-frills hotel distinguished by a devoted staff who really want to help people have a satisfying holiday experience. Madame Valiere and her hospitable team like to meet people, and give good advice and information. There’s also an intimate wood-paneled lounge off the reception area, where one can flop on a couch and enjoy a quick espresso, as you consider the day’s adventures. Wi-fi throughout, charged at €5 for ½ hour, or €25 for 24 hours. If it is to your taste, remember to request a non-smoking room, as tobacco lovers frequent this property.

Hotel Louvre Saint-Romain

An archetypal Parisian auberge of 34 rooms, operated in an unpretentious style, this 3-star hotel is most appropriate for middle price-range tourists, who make up 2/3 of its business. Perhaps the greatest advantage is location, literally steps away from the Palais Royal metro and the Louvre, just across the river from the Musee D’Orsay. The hotel delivers easy access to the most popular museums of Paris, at the east gate to the Tuilieries, and it’s only a stone’s throw down to the quai along the Seine that leads to the Isle de la Cite, where Notre Dame presides. A lot of history and culture close at hand, and minimal need for transit. There’s a truly authentic and natural style of operation here, at a fair price point (€170-up) mostly for the incredible convenience. You may want to find some meals across the river on the Left Bank, since the immediate vicinity doesn’t boast the most reasonable dining prices. The hotel’s ‘typique’ personality hasn’t been tainted by an overblown sense of self-importance; an agreeable staff keeps the place humming nicely, and full of repeat guests. Furnishings are largely natural wood, old style, and the structure is undergoing a gradual renovation. Request one of the four new bathrooms redone in September 2005 and you will be pleased with the clean tilework, thoughtful lighting, groovy showers and modern fixtures. It’s an old building, and there is an affecting charm to the labyrinthine hallways and quirky staircases. Also, there are two multi-level duplex rooms which sleep 4, and their eccentric architecture and configurations (dormers, eaves and tiny wood balustrades) may be just the detail the kids remember 20 years from now when you all look back together at your holiday. Breakfast €14 in room or buffet style in the stone-vaulted cellar. Cable internet access in rooms, but no wi-fi until late 2006.

Hotel Moliere

This property’s optimal location at the epicentre of culture and commerce near the Palais Royal is a great plus. But more than a hint of the seventeenth century world of theatre can be found at the entertaining establishment, which under any other circumstances (if Disney was in charge, for example) might have been called a concept hotel. As it is, the ambience of a stage set or parlor drama invigorates the décor, with interesting doorways and woodwork, classical details, televisions tucked away in stage trunks, ornate draped fabrics and old etchings of the Comedie Francaise everywhere. Tartuffe could walk in the door at any moment. M. Moliere’s image presides in many forms, painted in the elevator, staring down at you from the marble bust behind the reception desk, and in other incarnations. Pay attention. If you hunger for dramatic settings, this mid-range 3-star (€170-250) may be just the ticket you desire. The hotel’s 75% occupancy rate is split 50/50 business to tourism. While furnishings are largely old and in the antique revival style, there are a number of new white marble baths, of which the most interesting may be room 24, where a vintage Deco mosaic from an earlier renovation has been preserved above the tile bathtub. Rooms 35, 25 and 16 overlook a quiet courtyard. Be warned that room 16 has an atypically low ceiling, only a drawback if you play professional basketball. The hotel does have real élan and originality, and enjoys much repeat business. An airy breakfast room seating 16 looks out on the courtyard passage. Breakfast €16, or included in some packages. A welcoming lounge and bar just off the lobby performs perfectly as the setting for your own entr’acte, followed by an exit stage left out the front door to the next scene of your Parisian adventure: at the north end of the rue Moliere you’ll discover a beautiful Beaux Arts monument to France’s greatest dramatist, whose spirit and wit live on in this diverting small hotel.

Pershing Hall

This ultra-luxury 4-star property opened in 2001 and immediately established itself as an instant Paris classic. If the stratospheric price point of €390-1000 doesn’t make you dizzy, read on, for this is a truly spectacular hotel experience preferred by couture, media, entertainment and those who love to live well. In the years since its flash-popping launch, Pershing Hall has secured a well-earned reputation as a super-chic hideaway in the tony 8th arrondisment, near metro Franklin Roosevelt, west of the Champs Elysees, down the block from the metro Georges V, and in the thick of stores where one could easily part with the price of a chalet in Verbiers in the course of an hour. The building itself has a history, originally the HQ of General Pershing during WWI, later the palatial home of the American Legion. Pershing Hall’s trendy renovation focuses around a centrepiece courtyard open to the sky in warmer months, with an astounding 30 meter high flowering wall of foliage that blazes with color in the Spring. One has the choice of standard room, junior suite or deluxe suite, with every imaginable extra. This means 2-line phone, super Bang and Olafsun DVD CD radio unit, complimentary mini-bar, free wi-fi and a regal package of amenities. There’s something seductively inviting about the billowy duvets and pillows in stark relief against dark wood finish headboards, slate floors and luxurious bath configurations rich in thick towels and terry robes. With a 2:1 staff to guest ratio you can rest assured that any request will be honoured. The public areas have much to recommend them as well. Facing the courtyard on the first floor a vaulted bar called The Lounge is done up in a posh, clubby atmosphere where a DJ spins platters in the evenings and very fashionable people gather in clusters of beautiful leather chairs to enjoy their aromatic Cubanos. Down on the ground level the Pershing Restaurant, a culinary Mecca presided over by a chef formerly from Nobu, is open for all meals, not to mention 24-hour room service. There’s also a Sunday brunch for €39, which has come to be a favourite of locals. If you don’t want to sit in the courtyard, the dining room itself is a showplace rich in leather seating and soft banquettes, decorated with rows of red Murano glass in an elegant presentation of subtle light and draped fabric. An opulent and classical meeting room upstairs seats 120, ideal for your product launch event, press conference, or banquet. With only 26 rooms, the hotel has a spacious, uncrowded feel, which promotes a sense of the exclusive and insulated, with service and comfort at the core of the offering. At Pershing Hall, repeat business is defined as “guests who come back at least once a month,” of which there are many. There is no greater evidence of a property’s success than a credential like that. Highly recommended.

Hotel des Tuilieries

Hotel des Tuilieries is one of those rare, wonderful small inns which combine location, comfort and history at a very reasonable price (€125-250). Appealing equally to the leisure and business traveller, the hotel maintains a solid 90% occupancy rate and a loyal clientele. Optimally situated in the 1st, only a block off the Faubourg St. Honoré, near to the Louvre and Seine, the hotel is quite unusual in the rich and rounded experience it provides. M. Vidal, a third generation hotelier (“I was born in the kitchen,” he says.) can often be found at the front desk. Walk in the door and you may first receive an agreeable welcome from Cachou, the mellow hotel pooch, who presides from a chair in the lobby lounge. (Kids get a free Cachou toy as a souvenir of their stay.) This is actually quite a nice touch, and delivers a sense of the property’s ambience, what M. Vidal characterizes as “a hotel with a heart.” While the public areas are casual and informal, the rooms have just the right amount of distinction, 18th century oil paintings, revival style furniture, fine marble bathrooms with Compagnie de Provence amenities, lots of towels, terry robes, slippers, essentially 4-star bathrooms in a 3-star property. This aspect will be especially appealing to road warriors. The hotel has many luxurious touches where they matter, not in flash and show, but in details like room 1, which has a trousers press, iron, and ironing board, a real bonus for the business traveller. The €13 breakfast also looks like a good deal- there’s more variety than other hotels offer, including a very nice fruit compote bowl. The intimate, skylit breakfast room is an easy option to in-room service, and it is elevator accessible. The classic décor featured in the accommodations mirrors the building’s fascinating history, originally one of the hôtels particulier of Mme. de Pompadour. Hotel des Tuilieries next became a headquarters for the Sans Cuolottes during the Revolution. It’s an architecturally protected structure with a classic façade, a tall set of historic entry doors that belong in a museum, and a gorgeous staircase worth a look for its example of chef d’oeuvre craftsmanship which cannot be replicated today. During the excavation for the breakfast room, workmen unearthed Louis XIV era coins and other period artefacts. Staff to guest ratio of 1:2; the newest employee was hired 3 years ago, the oldest hired 20 years ago, a tribute to a harmonious workplace. Wi-fi throughout, charged on the sliding hourly system €10/hour to €24 for 24 hours. Cell phones don’t work on the ground floor (too many buildings in the way) but get fine reception on the upper floors. There’s a dresser drawer in the lobby filled with every possible plug converter and cell phone charger, available on loan. The hotel entrance is actually on the corner of a parallel street 2 blocks west of Rue St. Roch, despite what some maps may indicate. Lots of good eating spots in the vicinity favored by locals, many only a block away. M. Vidal knows them and you can trust his counsel. He truly enjoys meeting people and has a wealth of insider information. He won’t recommend a place he doesn’t know or like. His directions are precise. What a benefit to have this included in the package. There’s a lot of hidden value in this property, and you will certainly want to come back.

Villa Kerasy

Villa Kerasy, one of those exceptional small properties in an out-of-the-way location, permits you to live a luxurious fantasy at a very attractive price (€92-320), surrounded by a splendour of remarkable attractions. It’s the antithesis of EuroDisney, a haven of authenticity and living history well worth experiencing firsthand. The setting is Brittany, specifically the Gulf of Morbihan, where civilization dates from prehistoric times, where medieval Dukes built baronial castles, and where in the 17th and 18th centuries The East India Company launched fleets of galleons which brought back the riches of Asia to the capitals of Europe. It is the ports of call that those traders visited which inspire Villa Kerasy, a 4-star property unique in its class. The actual structure dates from only a century ago, originally a lingerie factory built in 1914. The innkeepers have overseen a renovation into a spacious 12-room auberge with each room reflecting a different trading post along the Spice Route. This means furnishings were collected all over the East, and assembled here into tasteful rooms where comfort and eclectic detail prevail. Every first class amenity is present: extra pillows, percale duvets, cordless telephone, room safe, elegant and modern marble baths, robes, thick towels, and even a thoughtful international electrical outlet by the desk with USA, UK and continental plugs. There are always fresh flowers, a full complement of Roger Gallet amenities, and a graceful turndown service with world class chocolates in an elegant mesh pouch placed on your pillow at sunset- wow! Your culinary odyssey begins daily with a marvellous breakfast served on palm-patterned Limoges, accompanied by home-made preserves (plum-coconut or apricot-ginger during my stay; it always changes according to chef’s whim…) An afternoon tea features home-made scones and Mariage Freres infusions. Later, you may simply enjoy a cocktail and book in the warmth of the sitting room. The city of Vannes boasts a number of fine restaurants, all walking distance, and the hotel will recommend and reserve the best for whatever suits your taste. Or, there is always the supreme indulgence: book the hotel’s Indian Suite, with its attached 4-seat private dining room, order the incredibly reasonable en-suite dinner (€14, fish or meat) and a bottle of local wine and dine overlooking the hotel’s zen garden, home to a pond full of contented koi. Perhaps the greatest dilemma in Vannes is choosing what to do, since there is so much on your doorstep. The hotel has packages appealing to every possible interest from hot air ballooning to yachting to degustation to archaeological sites. If I had only two days I would make sure to explore the medieval quarter (10 minutes on foot from the hotel) and study the typical exposed timber architecture (some facades dating back to 1200), then wander the open air market which occurs on Thursday and Saturday mornings. I’d drive out to the megalithic site at Carnac (about 30 minutes away) and on the same itinerary allow a couple hours to visit the nearby castle at Suscinio. I’d also try and sandwich in between my opulent gastronomic meals the must-see Museum of the East India Company in the citadel of Port Louis. And if time permitted I would ask Villa Kerasy to create a custom muscadet and oyster lunch. This is primarily a tourist hotel, and those travelling by car will appreciate the secure parking at night behind a locked gate. Management appear to have anticipated every need. The area is mobbed in festival season from May through mid-October, so travel just before or after could mean a calmer holiday. Another plus is the TGV, which runs directly from Charles deGaulle Airport to Vannes. The hotel can be found literally across the street from the train station, thus a car is not really a necessity. In the warmer months breakfast can be taken on Villa Kerasy’s terrace, facing the zen garden, under the watchful gaze of a placid Balinese Buddha, who peers out at you, framed by lush azaleas and rhododendrons.