When my husband and I were young, childless, and living large with double income, we used to stay in Paris hotels that were so fancy, they defined luxury. When I have trouble falling asleep, I close my eyes and try to recall as many details from those amazing hotel stays.
We were at the Ritz when Woody Allen first stayed there with Soon Yi Previn, his ex-wife Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter. Paparazzi were lined up at the front doors, desperate to get a glimpse of the scandalous couple but in the gym on the treadmill, Allen seemed completely oblivious and untroubled as he sweated next to Steve. At the Four Seasons George V, we wore big sunglasses and tried unsuccessfully to get the paparazzi to believe we were famous, but still received royal treatment from the concierge and hotel staff. But now that we have three kids in tow and only one income to draw on, our hotel choices when we come to Paris are in a very different style.
Instead of luxury hotels with staff fawning over our every need, we now stay at little family-run budget hotels, but we’ve found that we love them even more. After a few nights, the staff know the kids by name and greet us with warm smiles when we wander in exhausted after a day of Paris adventures. Breakfast is available in the dining room next to the entrance or you can opt to get a butter croissant and cafe au lait delivered to your tiny, but cozy room. For 195 euros a night, it’s pretty close to paradise.
This trip, we stayed at the Hotel Henri IV, right across the Seine from Notre Dame and around the corner from the Rue de La Huchette which offered dozens of crepe stalls to choose from. We’ve also really enjoyed staying a few blocks away on the picturesque cobblestone streets of the Ile St Louis at the Hotel de Lutece but they had no rooms available that would accommodate three people. Most hotels in Paris have teeny tiny rooms, and you’ll have to do a lot of calling to find one room to sleep a family of four. We embraced the fun of having a girls room and a boys room on separate floors, rooms we barely saw as we were so busy exploring Paris day and night.
2012 Update – We tried a new hotel in the summer of 2012 – the Hotel Parc St Severin, still in the heart of the Latin Quarter. The lobby is not as fancy as the Henri IV but the rooms are a little larger. The price of both hotels are in the same range.
Here are my tips when choosing a hotel in France:
- Rent an Apartment. When we’re coming to Paris for close to a week, we rent an apartment through a family friend. It works out to be about $150 a night and gives the kids a little more room to relax as well as a great kitchen to play Julia Child in. If you have the time, definitely rent. Email me and I will give you our family friend’s contact info.
- Location, location, location. As Paris is such a walking city, choose your hotel based on location. We love to stroll on the banks of the Seine until we are ready to drop and would hate to have the hassle of finding a taxi late at night to get back to our hotel.
- Private baths are a luxury. Don’t assume that you’ll have a private bath if you’re booking a two or three star hotel. Unless you want to make friends with other hotel guests in a very intimate manner, make sure you specify that your room has a shower or bathtub.
- Tiny Doesn’t Even Begin to Describe It. Paris hotel rooms can be incredibly small. They will give you a new appreciation for your closet at home. Do not assume that you will be able to fit a cot or a crib for a child. If you plan to fit a third person in your room, be sure to specify when reserving.
- Avoid the Chains. When traveling to Paris, instead of choosing an anonymous American chain hotel, go for a smaller, more intimate French hotel. I guarantee that you’ll be better treated and will have a richer experience.