Quirkily historic hotels in Paris

by Natasha.Edwards

Why build a hotel when you can convert one from a bakery, tennis court or brewery? In Paris, the new Banke Hotel (think mahogany cash desks) is only the latest example of accommodation with a history

Banke Hotel (Grands Boulevards)

Banke Hotel (Grands Boulevards)

Banking crisis or not, the early 20th-century headquarters of the Crédit Commerciale de France provides the perfect pomp for a grand hotel, with its heavy wrought-iron gates and showstopping central rotonda. The hotel has kept the glazed dome, original mosaic floor and mahogany cash desks – now decked out in Pompeian red with black columns, porphyry cladding and gilded mouldings, as the frontispiece for a tapas bar on one side (with golden bar stools and an extra-long Chesterfield sofa) and a Franco-Hispanic-Mediterranean restaurant on the other. The latter is already a lunchtime haunt of the bankers and insurance brokers who frequent this businessy area near Opéra. In this, the first Parisian outpost of the Derby Hotels group, the 94 bedrooms have a distinctly Spanish touch, with hardwood floors and woven leather rugs and bedheads; some have glitzy silver mosaic bathrooms, others come in florid green marble. In the basement, it’s breakfast croissants rather than deposit boxes, but glass cases on the upper landings suggest a new interpretation of bankable objects, with owner Jordi Clos’s collection of Egyptian and African jewellery and sculptures. Doubles €220-€380.

Hôtel du Petit Moulin (Marais)

It still says Boulangerie over the window of what was once the oldest bakery in Paris – former customer Victor Hugo is said to have left debts here – and signs for pain and viennoiseries lure you into the reception of the luscious small boutique hotel, designed by Christian Lacroix above two linked early 17th-century Marais houses. The shop’s pretty belle-époque painted glass scenes are now accompanied by sofas and taffeta curtains, while each of the 17 bedrooms evokes a different mood and history. The fashion designer’s flair for colour and pattern abounds in lush fabrics, vibrant clashing colours, trompe l’oeil details, blown-up fashion sketches, a starry sky mural, a Venetian mirror here or 60s chair there, making this one of the most romantic places to stay in Paris. Double €190-€350.

Hôtel du Jeu de Paume (Ile St-Louis)

Looking at the tourists dawdling along the street, it’s hard to believe this was once the fitness centre of Paris – but when the Ile St-Louis was growing up as a fashionable residential district in the 1630s, this secluded hotel was the city’s first jeu de paume or real tennis court. When the game went out of fashion in the 18th century, the court became a warehouse but happily its structure remained intact, its triple-height wooden vaulted space now the spectacular breakfast room at the centre of the hotel. The bedrooms and duplex suites, most of which open off galleries around the court, are simple – beamed ceilings, plain colours – and although the hotel has a billiard table, sauna and a gym, the mood today is more conducive to relaxation and utter tranquility than sport. Doubles €285-€450.

Hôtel Saint Merry (Marais)

Climb the worn stone stairs to the first-floor reception and you find yourself in the midst of the Gothic excess of one of Paris’s most eccentric hotels. The 18th-century former presbytery of the Eglise St-Merri cheerfully perpetuates the medieval spirit of the church next door, with a touch of Agatha Christie melodrama thrown in. Everywhere is crammed with faithfully reproduced Gothic furniture, converted confessionals, bits of pew, linenfold panelling, spiky chairs, fragments of religious sculpture and heavy wrought-iron chandeliers. Don't expect much in the way of services but there’s lashings of atmosphere. In some of the top-floor rooms (beware no lift), gargoyles practically leer in through the window and in room No 9, a pair of flying buttresses soar out of the wall over the bed. Doubles €160-€230.

Kube Rooms & Bars (northern Paris)

The former headquarters of the Brasseries de la Meuse brewery was almost derelict before being resurrected as a futuristic hotel in an unlikely corner of town (don’t believe those who claim it is in Montmartre: La Chapelle is no restaurant or shop territory, though it is convenient for Gare du Nord). Once past the listed 19th-century façade, you are as likely to drink vodka as beer these days, thanks to the artily lit ice bar, where you are provided with coat and gloves before going inside for vodka cocktails in sub-zero temperatures. Rooms are witty and salubrious, with cube motif bedside tables, underlit beds and fake fur curtains. The ultimate? The Nordic Room, where you sleep in your own ice bedroom. Doubles €300-€900.

Is this your kind of holiday? To make a booking, compare prices and find out more about your destination, see Make It Happen (top left).



I am a regular contributor to Condé Nast Traveller, the Daily Telegraph and Elle Decoration. As well as several guidebooks to Paris, I have also written guides to Provence, the Côte d'Azur, Lille, Biarritz and the Pays Basque, Bordeaux, Reims and French food for, among others, Time Out, Berlitz, Insight Guides, Dorling Kindersley and Thomas Cook.

I came to Paris over 15 years ago for all the wrong reasons (love!) and have lived here ever since. I still adore exploring the city and today write about art, design, food, travel and French culture in general.

My Paris

Where I always grab a coffee: Le Rostand café on place Edmond-Rostand: it's my unofficial second office, right opposite the Luxembourg Gardens.

My favourite stroll: Although I think I know the city pretty well, there are always places to discover or rediscover. The district I always come back to, however, is St-Germain for its mix of history, small streets, cafés, shopping, people watching, the local and the cosmopolitan... in short, Paris.

Fiction for inspiration: Georges Perec's Life: A User’s Manual: a mind-boggling, jigsaw puzzle of life in a Parisian apartment building. For an insight into French character, the Asterix comic strips are pretty accurate, too!

Where to be seen this summer: Café terraces all around town. If your style is St-Germain, then it's between hip Bar du Marché and newcomer Germain on rue de Buci, if you are more Canal St-Martin, then the waterside Point Ephémère. Gourmets are going to be sniffing out the restaurant at Le Crillon, which has just appointed a new, young chef.

The most breathtaking view: The view of the city that gradually unfolds as you rise up the escalators at the Centre Pompidou.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: The Jardin des Plantes for its combination of botanical garden, scientific institution and local park (perhaps not so quiet). The 19th-century greenhouses are reopening this summer, and it's surely the only place in Paris where you see ostriches when you drive past.

Shopaholics beware!: Artfully distressed concept store Merci, for its totally desirable mix of up-to-the minute and second-hand fashion, housewares, oddities and cult design items.

City on screen: Parisians adore cinema and there's something cinematic about the whole city. I love Jean-Pierre Melville's film noir Le Samourai, for its vision of Paris low life, nightclubs and the metro, with Alain Delon as the cool, lean, beautiful hitman, and, for something completely different, brilliant animation film Ratatouille, for its witty, sentimental, tongue-in-cheek evocation of Paris and its restaurant culture.

Don’t leave without...Visiting a Paris food market – one of them, all of them, preferably on Sunday morning, the best time for catching up on gossip as well as gourmandises.