The city of love lays claim to another great distinction. Thanks to esteemed writers such as Simone de Beauvoir and Victor Hugo who have walked in the shadows of Paris’s iconic Haussmann buildings and breathed in the air of the River Seine, it fully earns the reputation as a literary hotbed. Full of rickety bookshops, cafes with quiet reading nooks and landmarks where wordsmiths can pay their heroes homage, its citizens have risen up to honour their bookish legacy. And the latest addition is in the guise of a hotel.
Parisians’ love of literature is borne out in the very bricks of Pavillon des Lettres. It’s a four-star boutique hotel near the Champs-Elysees of a different order, where a restful night’s sleep comes courtesy of Proust and Flaubert. As a self-confessed bookworm who loves the idea of being rocked to sleep amidst the words of Madame Bovary, even I am a little apprehensive about a concept hotel given the number of gimmicky and outlandish establishments out there. But Parisians aren’t known for their gauche approaches and I’m happy to report there are no book covers that serve as doors, nor is the staff dressed up as characters from Les Miserables. This is a literary hotel done in the French way – it’s classy, elegant and understated.
In fact, the hotel is almost blink and you’ll miss it. Pavillon des Lettres’ reception is welcoming but decidedly non-showy. It does, however, lead onto a long sumptuous lounge filled with cosy seating and lined with thick, heavy books. Many of these weighty tomes bear the names of the very authors displayed on the doors of the hotel rooms themselves. And there are 26 rooms and suites in total: one for each letter of the alphabet.
My room for the weekend is typically Parisian: small but well designed, neatly furnished in warm tones of copper and cognac for a cosy, luxurious feel. There’s a narrow wrought iron balcony that offers a rooftop view of the city and a vista of the Eiffel Tower in the distance – nothing says welcome to Paris in quite the same way, does it? My room displays a quote inscribed the wall above the bed – a theme replicated in every room in the hotel. What is noticeable is the insistence of two writing tables in this rather restricted space. There’s no doubting it; this space is calling you to be creative. Come, sit down, write – it beckons!
Before I pen my seminal novel (ahem) I’ve got a date with a Citroën 2CV and a Frenchman who is going to show me the literary landmarks of Paris. Like a walking stereotype, my guide rocks up in a Breton tee, beret and retro car. My instinct is to enquire about the missing baguette and string of garlic around his neck. But for all his touristy image he’s a true Parisian born and bred, equipped with the equivalent of a London taxi driver’s knowledge of the streets and a bookish brain that whizzes us from Victor Hugo’s house on Place des Vosges to Opera to discover what inspired Gaston Leroux to bring his famous phantom to life. He points out where Voltaire, who penned Candide, lived on the banks of the Seine, and then dashes through the Left Bank where I imagine Francoise Sagan, Sartre and Beckett drinking coffee, pen in hand.
While France has plenty of writers’ names to put up in lights, Pavillon des Lettres isn’t just about native wordsmiths; it celebrates scribes from all over. The English will delight in seeing Virginia Woolf’s deserving placard above one of the hotel’s doors and of course, one dedicated to The Bard himself. And to borrow words from the great man himself, Pavillon des Lettres’ philosophy is rounded up thus: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with a sleep.” Bravo.
A Parisian Literary Affair with Pavillon des Lettres costs from €790 based on two sharing a two night stay in a Superior Room on a B&B basis. Price includes a VIP welcome on arrival, a tour of Paris by 2CV and a walking tour of St Germain de Pres. Tours are subject to availability and must be booked at least a week in advance. For more information see the Pavillon des Lettres website or telephone +33 1 49 24 26 26
Julie travelled to Paris with Eurostar. It operates up to 18 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare Du Nord with return fares from £72. See www.eurostar.com or telephone 03432 186 186 for the latest prices.