PARIS — A small hotel. . . .
Several years having slipped by since our last visit to Paris, today we are updating our rating of the city's little hotels--several of which remain old favorites, along with a number of first-timers.
None that come to mind is more genuinely appealing than the little 21-room Hotel St. Louis at 75 Rue St.-en-Isle (75004 Paris). Only a whisper from Notre Dame, the St. Louis has risen to stardom since our earlier survey, this due to a fortune in francs that its owners have poured into its renovation--from lobby to loft.
New carpeting has been laid. Double windowpanes deaden street noise. Private baths are a feature of each room. And of particular joy to the St. Louis' older clientele, an elevator has been installed (although air conditioning remains a minus).
Once considered a trifle shabby, the St. Louis simply shines.
What has always made this little hotel particularly appealing are its affable proprietors, Guy and Renee Record. Both speak English. And, alors , they love Americans. Says big, boyish-appearing Guy Record: "We think of the St. Louis as a home for friends rather than a hotel for strangers."
And it is.
Guests return year after year primarily because of this gracious couple. The St. Louis is worthy of four stars: ****.
On this small island behind Notre Dame, the flavor of Paris surfaces like the fragrance of the flower stalls lining the Seine. From the upper floors of the St. Louis, one peers down on shops on either side of Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile. The boulangerie. The boucherie. Original paintings grace the windows of an art gallery. Flower peddlers continue to prowl this narrow and ancient street, and crowds still line the doorways of those landmark ice cream parlors, Berthillon and La Flore en l'Isle.
In the same neighborhood, candles flicker in a number of pleasant restaurants: La Castafiore and No Ancestres Les Gaufois (both inexpensive) and Le Monde des Chimeres, as well as L'Orangerie (the latter owned by French actor Jean-Clark Brialy).
Only doors from Hotel St. Louis, the newest rage among Paris' small hotels--the Jeu de Paume (54 Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile, 75004 Paris)--occupies a former private home dating from the 15th Century. With exposed beams supporting its soaring ceiling and ancient stone walls, the scene is a contrast to the modern glass lift that delivers guests to the Jeu de Paume's 32 rooms.
Without question, the Jeu de Paume is unlike any other hotel in all of Paris. A historic monument, the building was scrupulously preserved by architect Guy Prache, whose former wife, Elayne, does the honors as manager-greeter. The Seine flows nearby. Impatiens bloom in the garden. Roman columns rise beyond the reception desk, and a mini-mezzanine provides a hideaway for guests at the cocktail hour.
What with 11 million francs spent on its development, the Jeu de Paume is one of Paris' more expensive hotels (and breakfast is another handful of francs). We give the Jeu de Paume four stars: ****.
Not far from Ile Saint Louis, the 40-room Hotel Le Colbert (7 Rue de l'Hotel Colbert, 75005 Paris) got a sprucing up recently. Only moments from Notre Dame and a short walk from Boulevard St. Michel, Le Colbert is popular with those visitors wishing to be near the Seine. Our rating: ***.
On our list of old favorites, Hotel Duc de St. Simon at 14 Rue de St.-Simon (75007 Paris) is a combination of three former private residences. With 29 rooms and five suites, the 19th-Century St. Simon is a Paris gem that's favored by a number of celebrities. It is also expensive.
When in residence, actress Lauren Bacall occupies a suite just off the lobby with its museum-quality antiques. A grandfather clock ticks away the hours. Antique mirrors grace one wall and a small bar does business in an ancient coal cellar. At the St. Simon, no two rooms are alike. Each provides comfort, style and quiet, with several facing private terraces. In our survey the St. Simon is a five-star property: *****.
Still taking top honors in our little hotel lineup is Hotel de l'Abbaye near the Luxembourg Gardens at 10 Rue Casette (75006 Paris). Ivy climbs its ancient walls, and a small pond appears in the center of an attractive garden. Guests lounge before a fireplace in this former 17th-Century monastery and meet for drinks in an intimate little bar. With its carriage entrance and immaculate rooms, Hotel de l'Abbaye provides a feeling of well-being, and so we give it four stars: ****.
While less pretentious, the 29-room Hotel du College de France at 7 Rue Thenard (75005 Paris) is a bargain in a day of soaring prices. It is clean, with rooms that feature private baths, direct-dial telephones and color TV. Rising in the heart of the Latin Quarter, this small hotel is near the Sorbonne and the College de France, and within easy access of Saint Germain des Pres, Notre Dame, the Pantheon and the Cluny Museum. Our rating: two stars: **.