Category Archives: Hotels

Stylish sleeping on the Left Bank

The Left Bank is synonymous with literary cafes, the Existential philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, bourgeois art galleries and gauche chic designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Sonia Rykiel.  Nowadays, the philosophers may have decamped from the Café de Flore, but there are still plenty of students from the Sorbonne university and academic bookshops to keep up its ‘intellectual’ atmosphere.

On one of our many Paris visits last year, Steven and I stayed at the Hotel Design Sorbonne, which is just a few steps away from the Boulevard Saint Germain, the Pantheon, Luxembourg Gardens, the Seine and of course, the Sorbonne.

The hotel is tucked away on a peaceful side street and is accessed by a quaint courtyard. The reception/lounge area is a mix of a typical French salon interior and bold, contemporary colours, flock wallpaper and striped velvet seating.  There are a number of coffee table books, magazines and Paris attraction maps, as well as an iMac for web browsing. 

 hotel sorbonne lobby

The corridor looks like something surreal from a Jeunet and Caro film, with custers of quirky photographs and lines of poetry emblazoned on the carpet. 

hotel sorbonne

Our room had a dark, romantic atmosphere due to colour scheme of chartreuse, silver and black – even curtains and doors were black!  The bed was extremely comfy, with fluffy pillows, crisp cotton linen and a throw in complementing colours.

The bathroom had beautiful dusky brown and gold flock tiles but was pretty tiny, although I’ve heard that they have rooms with larger ones if you’re staying for longer and need more space.

Like most forward-thinking hotel, they have installed an Apple iMac in each room, so you can access the web and watch TV and DVDs without hassle.  It seems that hotels now want to give guests a more homely experience, rather than leaving us detached from the world, charging guests 10 Euros a day for using wifi. It also eases them off unnecessary concierge duties!

 hotel sorbonne

We ate breakfast outside and tried out the bakeries around the rue de Buci for a croissant and café crème, although the breakfast room at the hotel looked delicious.  

One thing that impressed me most about the hotel is that they have since kept in touch by email and regularly report on their fabulous meanderings around the city on their Paris newsblog.  I had serious food envy over their tasting session of mille-feuilles by legendary Paris pâtissier, Pierre Hermé and am planning to eat at La Bouche, a laid-back restaurant with innovative cuisine in Ménilmontant, which they visited and recommended.

hotel sorbonne breakfast

Hotel Design Sorbonne is part of the Hôtels de Paris Rive Gauche group, that runs three other boutique hotels on the Left Bank, with the hotly anticipated BJ luxury design hotel (formerly the Hotel Ferrandi) opening next Autumn.  If you want a ‘home away from home’ or a more private stay, they also have a designer studio in the Marais, a bijou apartment by the Canal Saint Martin for up to four people and a luxury apartment in the Mouffetard area.

Hotel Design Sorbonne is the perfect base for Paris newbies, as it is within walking distance of the chic designer shops on the Boulvard Saint Germain, the buzzy Latin Quarter, the markets on Rue Mouffetard and of course, the Seine.  The hotel is quiet at night due to its side street position, so if it’s all about getting up and out  in the morning, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

Photo Credit

Rates range from 100 – 350 Euros per night and a continental buffet breakfast is 12 Euros.

Hotel Design Sorbonne, 6,  rue Victor Cousin, 75005 Paris. £

Metro: Line 10 : Cardinal Lemoine, Cluny Sorbonne. RER B : Luxembourg.

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Boutique hotels on a budget in Paris

Christmas time in London is always magical, with ice skating at Somerset House, German markets in Hyde Park and Covent Garden’s piazza all lit up, but after what feels like a lifetime since the last summer beach holiday, I’m just dying to get away for a few days.

Next month I’m going to Paris (my ‘third home’) for a few nights and now is the time when I obsessively search for the prettiest hotels in the area I want to stay in and then trawl the net for the best deals.  For most people may sound like a pain worse than death, not a secret indulgence, so if you’re planning a winter city break, I’ve done some of the leg work so you can pick the best affordable boutique hotels – I’ve stayed in all of them and would definitely visit again.

A while ago, I went to Paris with my mum and as we planned a night at the Opéra Bastille and particularly love the Marais, we booked to stay three nights the affordable design hotel Le Quartier Bastille Le Faubourg, an affordable design hotel in the 12e arondissement.

le quartier reception

The hotel is sleek and contemporary with retro features like curved leather seats, fringing and glass orbs in the reception/lounge.  When you arrive, you’re hit with the kind of seductive, wood and musk aroma that you’d expect from Hôtel Costes.

Neutral tones with bold statement colours are the order for the bedrooms and they have cool design touches like perspex chairs, a flatscreen TV and a very touchable fibre optic light feature.  The beds are so comfortable that you just can’t wait to curl up in the crisp, cotton linen and catch some zzzs after a long day walking in the city.  They also place delicious Granny Smith apples on your pillows each morning to help you get your five a day amid the steak and fromage overload.

le quartier hotel

The best feature of the hotel is its beautiful outside terrace with wooden decking and red tables, beautiful plants and flowers and gardening can watering features. Paris is full of secret courtyards and Paris fashionistas flock to them for brunch or drink with a bit of secluded people-watching.

le quartier hotel

We didn’t have breakfast at the hotel (although it looked delicious), but we found an adorable bakery on the Rue du Faubourg St-Antoine where you could sit and have a café crème and pastries.

Le Quartier are a small hotel group that used to own a property near République and now also run Le Quartier Bercy-Square on the nearby Boulevard de Reuilly.  The staff were friendly and talkative and there are plenty of coffee table books and magazines like Madame Figaro to keep you amused.

Rates seem to start at 110 Euros a night for a double classic room in November and December, but check around the web for the best deals (we paid 95 Euros when we stayed).

Le Quartier Bastille Le Faubourg is best suited to second-timers in Paris who are familiar with getting around on the metro.  The location doesn’t have the grandeur of the Louvre area or the Left Bank, but you get a boutique hotel with individual design touches without the sky-high prices of more central hotels.  It’s one of the best places to sleep in style and still have enough Euros left for late-night aperitifs.

Le Quartier Bastille Le Faubourg, 9 Rue De Reuilly, 75012 Paris

From Prado to Palm Beach in Marseille

Ever since studying French hip hop and the lyrics of rap group IAM at uni, I’ve been intrigued by Marseille. So, to get some end of summer sunshine, Steven and I booked a cheap Ryanair flight and headed to the south of France for three nights.

Marseille is like an intruder on the chichi vibe of the Côte d’Azur (its nickname is planète mars) due to being a large port town with North African influences and a laid-back Mediterranean culture. It can be a bit dodgy in places (we almost got pickpocketed in the old port), but it’s ancient history and super friendly people add to its rugged charm.

vieux port

Being on a pretty tight budget, we decided to spend two nights at the moderately priced Mercure Marseille Prado and stay for the last night in the luxurious Pullman Palm Beach spa hotel.  I’m not usually a fan of big chain hotels, as they always seem to have more properties than they can cope with, but Mercure has been pretty good to me over the years.  This one was comfortable and basic (we got it for £156 for two nights and wouldn’t pay much more) but the main draw was the incredible breakfast, served on the terrace each morning.  The hot selection was dubious, but there was a good selection of mini pastries, fresh baguette, local cheeses and heavenly buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup. 

The location is quite far out from the centre on foot, but it took less than 1o minutes on the metro and it is just 20 minutes down the tree-lined avenue to Prado beach and our next stop, the Pullman Palm Beach.   

ocean view at Pullman Palm Beach

The Pullman Palm Beach is a sleek design hotel that overlooks the famous Corniche J.F Kennedy, next to a yachting club, and has an outdoor infinity pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym.

We were in a double patio room which was decorated in a subtle nautical style and featured prints by a local artist, a massive flatscreen TV and the most incredible bed that felt like you were curled up in a marshmallow. 

The bathroom had both a shower and a bathtub, bois d’orange toiletries by Roger & Gallet, some seriously fluffy bathrobes and velvety slippers – everything you need for a relaxing spa stay.

bedroom at Pullman Palm Beach

Most of the guests were business delegates and I was so tempted to gatecrash their champagne and macaroon receptions at night (I resisted, of course), but there are probably more regular travellers in the high summer. This wasn’t a bad thing though, a we almost had the pool and sauna to ourselves.

The hotel is all about relaxation, so it’s very quiet and peaceful, especially in the library on the first floor, where you can read coffee table books and international newspapers in an armchair, overlooking the sea.

Library

We didn’t eat at the restaurant, although the food looked amazing, but we had a drink at the bar before going into town for dinner.  We had a Pina Colada and a Tequila Sunrise (both 12 Euros) from the classic cocktail menu, but maybe a spirit or beer would be better, as they were a bit too weak and filled with ice.  We got a massive tasting plate of olives, nuts and tapenade bruschetta with our drinks though, as well as a sunset view, so it was well worth it.

Pullman at night

The best thing about the Pullman is that staff are around when you need them, but they leave you to get on with your own thing without hassle.  The spa facilities were amazing and there was no shortage of towels, sunbeds, extra toiletries and even free healthy snacks in the spa area.  We were even upgraded to an ocean view room on arrival. 

We got a decent deal at £130 a night, as a double room at walk-in price costs upward of £300, but it was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in and was worth every penny.  I’m already plotting a way to return next year – I wonder if Marseille has a film festival to be reviewed?

Mercure Marseille Prado, 11 Avenue de Mazargues  13008 Marseille

Pullman Palm Beach, 200 Corniche J.F Kennedy 13007 Marseille

Chocolate Unwrapped in Mayfair

Sampling some of the world’s finest chocolate in Mayfair sounded like a glorious way to spend a Sunday afternoon, so I headed down to the May Fair Hotel for Chocolate Unwrapped, the first show dedicated solely to delicious cocoa goodness.  It was like entering Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir, with an intoxicating scent of chocolate and tables laden with exquisite morsels and pretty, shiny wrappers – I was in heaven!

chocolate festival

Part of the UK’s Chocolate Week, Chocolate Uncovered featured exhibits from 25 of the country’s most respected and innovative chocolatiers and talks from Rococo founder Chantal Coady, the MD of Hotel Chocolat and Visit Mexico.  Samples were unlimited and plentiful and aside from atempting a full-on sugar coma, you could peruse dessert cookery books from Foyles and admire the incredible chocolate sculptures by renowned artists and chocolatiers.

I adored Rococo’s fragrant earl grey and rose scented chocolate bars, Paul Wayne Gregory’s salted caramels, Pacari’s cocoa nibs and Paul A. Young’s gooey ultimate chocolate fudge brownies.

Chocolate dress

Being the geek that I am, I had to make it an educational trip, so I attended the talk given by Visit Mexico and the co-founder of the authenic Mexican restaurant Mestizo, on the history of chocolate and its importance in Mexican cuisine.

I discovered that cocoa was drunk by the ancient civilisations of Central America, including the Aztec and Maya communities from as early as 2000BC.  It was taken back to the court of Spain in 1527AD and eventually reached England in the 1650s and, like gin, was used for medicinal purposes.

But the main part of the talk was the celebratory role that chocolate plays in Mexican culture – chocolate skulls are exchanged like Valentine’s roses on the Day of the Dead and mole (pronounced ‘molay’) is laboriously prepared for weddings, funerals and religious holidays.

mole

Mole is an aromatic sauce that usually accompanies different kinds of meat and is created using a blend of onion, garlic, tomatilla, dried chilli, nuts, seeds, spices and of course, chocolate.  There are many different kinds of mole originating from various regions in Mexico, all with different colours and flavours.

We sampled the brown Mole Poblano, slow-roasted with chicken and it was one of the most complex, flavoursome sauces I’ve ever tasted.  It reminds me a lot of my favourite Iranian dish, Fesen Joon – a textured sauce made from ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses and served with chicken.

Chocolate Unwrapped’s chocolatiers will be hosting a series of talks, tasting sessions and demonstrations around London for Chocolate Week.  There will be also chocolate-themed afternoon teas and set menus at selected restaurants as part of London Restaurant Festival.

Chocolate Week runs from 12-18 October and events will be held at venues across London.  Check out  www.chocolate-week.co.uk for more details.

Andaz

One of my best birthday presents from the boyfriend was a surprise 2 night stay at Andaz, formerly the Great Eastern, next to London’s Liverpool St Station.

The red brick Victorian facade speaks of traditional railway hotel glamour, but inside, Andaz is a vast, modern space dedicated to contemporary art and minimalist luxury. 

Andaz

There is no reception desk as such, so staff seat you in the ‘living room’ and check you in on a cool portable computer (no, not exactly a laptop) while you get comfortable.  After coming out of the lifts, you enter an other-worldly ‘atrium’ – an eerily clinical beehive meets mini Guggenheim.  Rooms on the new side of the building have windows overlooking this unusual little ‘village’, but it’s a welcome retreat from the Shoreditch sirens (those of the police, not the gentlemens clubs). 

The rooms are exceptionally large and are kitted out with the most sumptuously soft bed, Frette linen, REN toiletries, fluffy bathrobes and an fully-loaded iPod (ask concierge).  The oversized furniture and burnt ochre touches fill the space and give the room a more homely feel.

Andaz guestroom

The bathrooms are also massive and have that clinical but sexy thing going on, adding to the oddness of the hotel. During our visit, it poured down for 2 days solid, so the furthest we ventured out was to Spitalfields. Instead of sightseeing, we checked out the hotel’s art collection and snooped around the hotel like mischievous boarding school kids.  Andaz is like Wonderland, with concealed messages and hidden staircases and to make it even more mystical, there is a Masonic Temple.

Andaz bathroom

One night, after the London rain treat us so badly, we ordered cocktails from room service – some of the best-mixed concoctions I’ve ever tasted, served by a zen-like model-waitress in a black

267 rooms

 

Miyaki, George pub, 1901, Catch oyster bar and Eastway.

We ordered cocktails from the room

 

 

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Mama knows best…

After years of searching for that perfect Paris hotel, I never thought the answer to my prayers would be found way out in the 20th arrondissement! Le quartier Saint-Blaise may not have the elegant appeal of Hausmann’s linear boulevards, but it is a charmingly untouched and arty area that is sure to be heralded as ‘the new Belleville’.

I am a huge fan of Marie-Antoinette decadence and usually seek out hotels decked out in the most elaborate toile de jouy, but the Hackney girl in me screamed out for more postmodern adventures…

Mama Shelter reception

A ‘luxury industrial refuge’ seems like a rather abrasive contradiction in terms that, but Mama Shelter does have a sense of humour and a surprisingly warm and vibrant atmosphere – no snooty model/receptionists peering down their noses at you.

After getting used to the exposed concrete walls and dangerous-looking giant power switch, the Phillippe Starck-designed rooms feel like a home away from home (albeit a très stylish abode). They feature a multi-purpose Apple iMac, kitchenette with a microwave, more-than-travel-sized Kiehls shower gel and shampoo and those dreamy beds that make you sleep in and miss your alarm!

Mama Shelter room

Mama Shelter is all about affordable luxury and has clearly been tailor-made for design-conscious folk who don’t want the cultural experience to end when they head back to the room for the night. It’s a real labour of love created in pain-staking detail by French hotel powerhouse the TRIGANO family (co-founder of Club Med) and philosopher Cyril Aouizerate, whose intellectual presence is very much sewn into the fabric of the hotel.

Mama Shelter restaurant

But the real jewel in Mama Shelter’s crown is the buzzing but cosy restaurant and terrace. Hotel guests seem to get priority, but you still need to book ahead as it gets pretty busy. The bar staff are painfully good looking but friendly and a little bit flirty (well, why not), oh and the food is rather fantastic too, but more about that later.

There is now a guide to all the coolspots in Saint-Blaise that you can download from the Mama Shelter website and they’ve recently opened the rooftop terrace for lazy, summer BBQs – what more can you want? Well, maybe a spa, but I’m not going to push my luck!

Stroll along to:
Gambetta, Belleville, Ménilmontant, Cimetière Père Lachaise, Rue Oberkampf.
Drink in: La Fleche D’Or, Le Gambetta, La Bellevilleoise
Put on your iPod: Friendly Fires ft. Au Revoir Simone, Paris (Aeroplanes remix)

Mama Shelter, 109 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020, Paris.
Rooms start at €79 a night and the best deals are on their website.