Here’s a confession: I’ve never really ‘got’ Paris. Yes, that Paris. The one in France. The city of lights, the romantic capital of the world, the place that Rick and Ilsa will always have. In my view, they’ve always been welcome to it.
I know, I know, I’m a Philistine. How can I not ‘get’ Paris? It boasts one of the world’s most famous landmarks in the Eiffel Tower. One of the world’s most famous rivers in the Seine. Arguably the world’s most famous cathedral in Notre Dame. Surely the world’s most famous art gallery, housing the world’s most famous work of art, in the Louvre and the Mona Lisa respectively.
I’m not disputing the global renown of Paris. I’m not even arguing that it’s undeserved: not getting Paris is my problem and my loss. I’ve visited the city several times in recent years – interviewing a racing driver, covering a music gig – and every visit I hoped would be the one to make me fall in love with a city that millions of people adore unconditionally.
Nada. While I never hated the experience, or even particularly disliked it, my heart refused to quicken and my spirit remained earthbound. I respected Paris. I admired Paris, albeit in the manner I’d admire a three-hour arthouse film shot from the perspective of a tree. Impressive, sure. But not for me, thanks.
And you know what? I didn’t even mind. I quite liked not getting Paris. It was my thing. One of my few hipster credentials. “Yeah, I’ve never really felt Paris,” I’d say with a mixture of regret and smugness, like somebody claiming the Beatles were overrated or that Tamburlaine the Great crapped all over Hamlet. “Just not my vibe, man.”
All was well – until my most recent visit, when something absolutely terrible happened. I visited Paris and had a fucking brilliant time. I sipped cocktails both beside the Seine and on a rooftop with a view of the Eiffel Tower. I gawped at the magnificent stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle. I lunched on crepes. Dined at a bistro. Stuffed my fat face at a restaurant favoured by Anthony Bourdain. I only went and bloody got the place.
(The bistro was Pharamond, a remarkably affordable Belle Époque joint with queues stretching down the street; give your name at the door and wait at its sister bar round the corner. The Bourdain-blessed bouillon was L’Avant Comptoir, a standing-room-only tapas and wine bar so popular its customers spill onto the pavement.)
My newfound appreciation for Paris was also helped by my accommodation: the Nolinski, a hotel nearly as sexy as the city itself. Situated on the Avenue de l’Opera (now there’s a street name), the entrance is so minimal that you could easily walk past it. The foyer also opts for intimacy over opulence, a compact hallway that gleams like a marble shell. The elevators are concealed by a literal velvet curtain.
Although the building dates back to the 19th century, the hotel itself only opened a few years ago – so you can expect all the modern amenities to accompany the historical grandeur. Celebrated designer Jean-Louis Deniot deliberately eschewed bright surfaces in favour of polished greys, blues and greens. Imagine a very sophisticated sea cave, the moonlight reflecting off its waters. There’s even a mural of stormy skies running up the staircase.
Although the hotel spans six floors, there are only 45 rooms and suites: which tells you plenty about both their size and the detail that’s gone into them all. (Deniot designed every item of furniture in the hotel.) While I can’t say I inspected each individual dig, I can attest that my bedroom had all the gorgeously understated chicness of Bridget Bardot sipping a kir royale.
Speaking of cocktails, you can knock back a few signatures in the Grand Salon, a sleek little bar, thickly carpeted and heavily curtained, whose grey walls whisper of intimate evening hours whiled away with a loved one. And while I didn’t dine in the hotel’s restaurant, you can rest assured you’re in good hands: executive chef Philip Chronopoulos won two Michelin stars with the Palais Royale five minutes up the road.
Oh, and I still haven’t mentioned the spa. It’s a small spa, featuring a subterranean swimming pool, a sauna and a steam room that could fairly be described as ‘compact’, but it’s still more of a spa than most Parisian hotels offer. The swimming pool in particular is very cool. Plus there’s the option of all manner of massages and beauty treatments to ensure you feel and look your best.
If, like me, you’ve never quite managed to understand the Parisian appeal, I strongly suggest you give it another shot. If you’re among the millions of people who love the city then consider this your reminder to revisit. C’est bon, c’est bon indeed.
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16 Av. de l'Opéra, 75001 Paris, France; the Nolinski Hotel