We all associate Paris with romance – and on a short break, its small, individual hotels offer a mix of urban glamour and villagey charm, comfort and privacy. Here are six of my favourites
Whether it is walking over the Seine in the early-morning mist, looking out over mansarded rooftops or sunning ourselves in the metal chairs of the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris remains the world's most romantic capital. If I'm looking for somewhere equally romantic to stay, I prefer not the sometimes intimidating grandeur of the palace hotels with their legions of staff but the intimacy and charm of Paris's characterful small hotels.
7 rue de Berri, 75008 Paris. Double from €520, suite from €930
Romance factor This classy small luxury hotel near the Champs-Elysées is just the place for a quiet weekend à deux. Built as a private house in the 19th century, it was extended and converted into a hotel in the 1920s. Beautiful, individually styled rooms are decorated with antique ormolu clocks, marquetry furniture, old master paintings and opulent satin fabrics, with the prize for sensuality going to the languorous lilac-toned suite where Marlene Dietrich hid out for three years. This is luxury with discretion and courteous service to match, with all the mod cons you could want and a chauffeur-driven car on hand. Extra pluses are the comfortable salons, the Japanese-style courtyard garden and La Table de Lancaster, serving light, inventive modern French cuisine masterminded by chef Michel Troisgros.
The area You're just steps from the Champs-Elysées but also only a few minutes walk from the rolling lawns of Parc Monceau, peppered with fine old trees and fragments of mock antique ruins.
5 rue du Pré aux Clercs, 75007 Paris. Double €240, suite €450
Romance factor If the definition of romantic Paris is feeling as if you live in the place, then the Saint-Vincent offers a taste of aristocratic St-Germain-des-Prés in a golden stone mansion converted a year ago into a comfortable 22-room hotel. A fine carriageway entrance leads into a glazed courtyard lobby and lounge bar. Bedrooms mix contemporary and Napoleon III touches with high ceilings, sweeping curtains and subtle lighting; spacious suites have herringbone parquet floors, antique desks and period fireplaces – and, if your romance levels are more budget, the same owners also run the less expensive Hôtel St-Thomas Aquin next door.
The area Classic Left Bank: well-placed for the café terraces and fashion boutiques of St-Germain, the antiques shops of the Carré Rive Gauche or learning about amour, 19th-century Impressionist style, at Musée d'Orsay.
28 place des Vosges, 75003 Paris. Double from €380, suite from €610
Romance factor For many, the Marais is the most romantic district in Paris, with its beautifully preserved streets of 16th- and 17th-century mansions, and the arcaded place des Vosges – originally place Royale – the city's loveliest square. Gorgeous Pavillon de la Reine is set behind a pretty creeper-covered façade at the rear of a courtyard off the square. Downstairs, panelled salons and oil paintings give an atmosphere of calm seclusion. Upstairs, some rooms feature beams and wrought-iron four-poster beds; others, including several duplexes, are more contemporary. You can complete the sensation of cocooning at the hotel's recently-opened spa, where unusual treatments include papaya facials and hot volcanic stone massages.
The area The Marais is beautiful to stroll around, shopping opportunities abound, (even on a Sunday) and Victor Hugo, whose own love life resembled an entangled ménage à trois, lived in an apartment across the square – now the Maison de Victor Hugo.
7 rue du Champ de Mars, 75007 Paris. Double €95
Romance factor If pretty florals are your thing, then this pristine little hotel, lovingly tended by owners Françoise and Stéphane Gourdal, is just the place for couples on a budget. An elderly dog dozes behind the desk in the boudoir-style lobby and the 25 decent-sized rooms, all named after flowers, are surprisingly sophisticated, with pretty toile de jouy walls and curtains in cornflower blue or yellow, creamy quilted bedspreads and throw cushions. Two ground-floor rooms overlook small flowery courtyards, while some streetside upper rooms offer glimpses of the Eiffel Tower. Appropriately, the tiny lift cannot possibly take more than two.
The area Offering a taste of chic residential Paris, with the food shops and pavement cafés of rue Cler market just round the corner and the Eiffel Tower at the end of the street, the district is at its most romantic if you splurge on the Jules Verne restaurant or when Paris is illuminated at night.
44 rue Madame, 75006 Paris. Double from €220, suite €500
Romance factor This friendly hotel was totally transformed earlier this year by decorator Michel Jouannet, who has recently revamped the Cipriani in Venice, bringing in plush velvet chairs and marble bathrooms yet keeping the feel of an elegant hideaway with fresh flowers, original artworks and the owner's own collection of oriental ceramics. The personal service is what you might expect of a hotel with just 28 rooms. There's a lounge bar with open fire and bookshelves, and a small courtyard garden. Most romantic are the three top-floor rooms where you can relax behind a screen of plants on wooden decked terraces offering ever-so-Parisian mansarded rooftop views.
The area This is romantic Left Bank territory: elegant streets, upmarket shopping and the Jardins du Luxembourg, just ripe for flânerie, flirtation and sunning yourself in the park's metal armchairs.
11 rue du Dôme, 75116 Paris. Double €195-€275
Romance factor This is just the sort of pleasant surprise you come across in Paris. In an area you would expect to be full of business hotels, you suddenly come across a tranquil residential street where this long, low Napoléon III villa sits at the top of a small flight of steps. This good-value small hotel was totally refurbished in 2008, with a cheerful living room (all neo-Louis XV chairs, wicker bergères, fresh flowers and outsized vases) and tasteful rooms where sophisticated fabrics and soothing colours are enlivened by Gotof's colourful abstract oil paintings over the bed.
The area The Arc de Triomphe is one of the best places for gazing down on the city with its bird's-eye view of the avenues radiating out beneath. There is plenty of designer shopping and the glitz of the Champs-Elysées nearby – but also good places to eat in surrounding streets.