Thursday, March 31, 2011

Paris Hotels - My Pick

Before I left for my solo trip to Paris last October, I  checked out over 45 hotels through travel guides, Tripadvisor and websites. Google Maps is a big help determining the suitability of neighbourhoods and route-planning.

My criteria for choosing a hotel was:

1. That my hotel be small, less than 50 rooms. I don't do North-American-style hotels when I travel. Well, I guess I do when I'm in North America. Anyway - a pension-style hotel with a breakfast room is all I need.

2. That it be within easy walking distance of  the Île de la Cité. Although I've got a wheelie-bag and good walking shoes I wanted to be less than a mile from Notre Dame. For easier figuring I took a reading from Saint-Michel RER stop. 1 mile = 1.6 km

3. That it be less than $250 Canadian per night. Today (March 31, 2011)  $250 CA = 182 Euros.

4. That it received good reviews on Tripadvisor.

5. That the bedroom consist of  non-IKEA-style furniture.

Regarding Tripadvisor,  it's a good tool. I don't hold too much with other people's reviews because everyone's got their own set of criteria. But every picture's worth a thousand words. I know right away by checking out reviewer's hotel pictures if it's the right place for me.

On a general note, the hotel had to look like it would make me feel secure and comfortable returning to it after a long day.

I pared my list of 45 down to a final 8. Here are the finalists.

1. Hotel des Grandes Ecole

115-140 Euro
1.3 km from Saint-Michel RER stop.
51 rooms
This lovely pink and toile hotel is set in its own sizeable garden off the Rue Cardinal Lemoine. Charm at reasonable prices. I've wanted to stay there since 1992. Now I can afford it, they didn't return my email. It's so popular that they tell you when to attempt a reservation, (4 months in advance). I'm not staying here.

2. Hotel des  Grand Hommes

100-270 Euro
1.1 km from Saint-Michel RER stop
31 rooms
Amazing location overlooking the Paris Pantheon. Beautifully decorated and larger bathrooms than most hotels.  Would not accept a reservation request through personal email. They wanted me to use the automated booking which frankly I don't trust.

3. Hotel du Pantheon

100-270 Euro
1.1 km from St. Michel RER stop
36 rooms
Located next door to its sister hotel, the Hotel des Grand Hommes. It's gorgeous too. This is where I ended up staying. I couldn't recommend it enough. My room and my view was superbe.

4. Hotel Britannique

129-167 Euros
600 m from Saint-Michel RER stop
39 rooms
So close to the Louvre and the Seine, the Hotel Brittanique, located at 20 Avenue Victoria, originally appealed to me because of its history of being run by English-speakers.

5. Hotel Beaubourg

95--> Euro
1.2 km from Saint-Michel RER stop
28 rooms
The Beaubourg appealed to me because of its funky furnishings and its claim of a garden. It's on a small side street that empties out at the Centre Pompidou.

6. Hotel Henri IV Rive Gauche

159-185 Euro
.3km from Saint-Michel RER stop
23 rooms
The side-street rooms at the Hotel Henri IV Rive Gauche have amazing views of the Église Saint-Séverin.

7. Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

145-185 Euro
1.3 km from Saint-Michel RER stop
19 rooms
The small rooms at this equally small hotel, located in the Marais, look absolutely charming.

8. Hotel de Lutece

155-195 Euro
1.3 km from Saint-Michel RER stop
23 rooms
Located on the Ile Saint.-Louis, (to quote Liz Lemon "I want to go to there"), the Hotel de Lutuce is a one minute walk to Berthillon, where I intend on having an ice cream.

 I did almost as much research in 2003 when I went with my family and the Hotel du College de France put us in a small "courtyard" room on the 1st floor overlooking the kitchen and the laundry room. You just never know!

A Miracle of Light - Sainte-Chapelle

On the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, just a stone’s throw away from Nôtre Dame, is Sainte-Chapelle. But people who visit glass houses (of God) should not throw stones; at least not at the mainly-glass Sainte-Chapelle. While smaller and less famous than Nôtre Dame, Saint-Chapelle is equally one of the most thrilling experiences in Paris. The stained glass in this chapel, set in a delicate framework of arches and buttresses, is considered to be some of the best in the world. The fifteen stained-glass windows in the upper chapel – each one over 50 feet high and 14 feet wide - literally surround you from floor to ceiling with a masterpiece of colour and light.

My husband, son and I visited in the spring of 2003. This was the only venue on our trip in which we subjected to fairly tight security. The chapel itself is now surrounded by the Palais de Justice and it was quite common to hear the “wee-wah, wee-wah” of the French police cars as they drove into the adjoining grounds, but we didn't encounter the Jackal OR Inspector Clouseau. 

Originally built by Louis IX in the 13th century to house sacred relics brought back from the Crusades, Sainte-Chapelle is the epitome of High Gothic Architecture.

Sainte-Chapelle has two levels. The ground floor is rather dark and close. After lining up to enter, I was worried that this was all that we had come for. But the second level had the radiant, tall windows. Slender columns of blue and red camoflagued the supporting pillars that led to a vaulted ceiling of star-strewn blue, seemingly floating above the magnificent stained glass windows. The Gothic architecture of Sainte-Chapelle is a prime example of an architectural style called "Rayonnant" which strived to achieve a sense of weightlessness.

We waited without success for the noon-day sun to shine through the glass. I think it would have been miraculous. The pictures we took that day are good but not remarkable.

Two-thirds of these windows are original and represent the most complete collection of 13th century stained glass art. Although seriously damaged during the French Revolution, the windows were remarkably restored in the 1800s.
Sainte-Chapelle has been a national historic monument since 1862.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

La Mosquee de Paris

After posting the last couple of pictures of the Paris Mosque I got a couple of comments on The Clever Pup, "A mosque that's a restaurant?" and I realized I should have explained myself. La Mosquée de Paris is a mosque, but it also has a restaurant, a salon du thé, a hammam (spa or turkish bath) and a souk (market). I visited the Mosque early one morning in October but I was really to timid to do anything but take photos.

I'm going to paraphrase freely here from Wiki. The Great Mosque of Paris, la Grande Mosquée de Paris, is located in the 5th arrondissement at 39 rue Geoffrey St. Hillaire. It's the largest mosque in France and the third largest in Europe. It was founded after World War I as a tribute to the 100,000 Muslims in France's North African colonies who died fighting against the Germans. It was completed in 1926. During World War II it served as a refuge for those persecuted by the Axis powers and provided safe-shelter and passage and even fake Muslim birth certificates for Jewish children.

It really is a fascinating place. Anyone who's seen the film Paris Je t'aime has seen the Muslim girl and her grandfather leaving the restaurant.

Here's a link to the French site. and a slightly more irreverent bilingual site which romantically details the drool-worthy menu and describes the souk and the hammam. I know next time I go to Paris (when ,and not if) I'll try a lamb tagine with prunes, almonds and onions and maybe with my mint tea I'll have the Sheherazade icecream bowl; strawberry,coconut sorbet with almond milk and fruit salad. I can't recommend the spa, because I didn't indulge but it does sound intriguing.

More Photos - Paris 2010