Secret Hotels of Paris
In a city known more for romance than thrift, there are still hotels that combine the best of both. Here are six blessedly under-the-radar options—spread across some of the city's most charming arrondissements—all for well under $200 a night.
Ermitage Hôtel Sacré-Coeur
A hidden gem high above the rooftops
Constructed in 1895 as a gift from a banker to his mistress, the 12-room Ermitage Hôtel Sacré-Coeur is a relic in the best sense of the word. The landmarked building, on a hillside near the Montmartre cathedral, has had only five owners, a rare continuity that enhances the hotel's trapped-in-amber feeling. The current proprietors, the Canipel family, have held the keys for 36 years, and their heirlooms (a grandfather clock from the 1800s, a turn-of-the-century wood china cabinet) are perfect complements to the English floral tapestries that appear everywhere from footstool to ceiling. Modern conveniences are notably absent—don't expect central A/C or an elevator. But while the dated atmosphere may seem like a by-product of neglect, every choice at the Ermitage is deliberate, from the cash-only rule (which helps keep prices low) to the no-TV policy ("You can always hear a television through the walls," explains Sophie Canipel, the hotel's manager). Canipel even maintains a strict reservations policy: only by phone. "It's just friendlier to talk directly with someone," she explains. "You can answer specific questions much more easily that way." Such singular attention to comfort keeps guests coming back, time and again. A handful of American families have returned to Ermitage every year for three decades, and a number of repeat visitors first stayed here as small children. Each regular has his or her favorite room—the two garden-level doubles (with their matching terraces perfectly positioned to catch the sunrise) are particularly popular. Whatever their history with the hotel, everyone is treated to one pretty sweet perk: A daily breakfast of just-baked croissants, strong European-style coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, delivered right to your door. 18th arrondissement, 24 rue Lamarck, ermitagesacrecoeur.fr, from $131, breakfast included.
An offbeat art hotel
Raised by two hoteliers in the Alpine resort town of Val d'Isère, Laurence Raymond, owner of the Hôtel Mayet in Paris's Les Invalides neighborhood, has hospitality in her blood. So it makes a certain kind of sense that her own foray into the family business would take tongue-in-cheek inspiration from an office building. Upstairs, the 23 rooms stick to a bold gray-and-crimson color scheme, with oversize analog clocks, and file cabinets instead of bedside tables. Downstairs, the Mayet's lobby serves as the office building's no-rules break room. Two brightly colored, abstract murals—one by graffiti artist and bad-boy-about-town André, featuring his signature "Mr. A" motif; the other a swirling, fantastical work by another big-name local tagger, JonOne—instantly set a playful tone. The twin lounge areas flanking the front door are filled with Raymond's flea-market finds (a metallic saddle-seat stool at the computer station), art-show objects (wing-shaped pendant lamps), and stacks of books and magazines. Add to those surprising touches a rainbow-striped floor in the breakfast room and a stack of free postcards (with stamps included) at the reception desk—and it becomes quite clear that the Hôtel Mayet is anything but institutional. 6th arrondissement, 3 rue Mayet, mayet.com, free Wi-Fi, from $177, breakfast included.
Hôtel de la Paix
A classic remade for modern travelers
For 130 years, the seven-story building that houses the Hôtel de la Paix earned its keep hosting French business travelers drawn to its reasonable prices, attentive service, and central location, a seven-minute walk from Jardin du Luxembourg in Montparnasse. But thanks to a transformation at the hands of Charlotte and Georges Ferrero, who bought the 39-room property in March 2009, the hotel is now welcoming guests in town just as much for weekend sightseeing as weekday work. "Before, we used to be booked Monday through Friday but so quiet on weekends and in August," says Daniele Letourneau, who has run the front desk for the past 13 years. "Now we're busy all the time." While many hotels in Paris gravitate toward opposite ends of the style spectrum—spare at one extreme, prim at the other—Hôtel de la Paix forges its own inviting look: a modern take on a 1950s French schoolhouse. In the rooms, pale-painted walls and white linens pair with wooden window shutters repurposed as headboards; vintage educational posters and school desks with articulated task lamps serve as accents. A jumble of antiques collected on Charlotte's various excursions to the countryside—a set of weathered, leather-bound dictionaries, a scale model of a schooner encased in glass—punctuate the comfy communal seating area. And when it's time to join the passersby making their way to the area's famous cafés, guests need look no further than the front desk to assess the weather. There, a chalkboard is updated each morning with a hand-scribbled forecast, complete with charming drawings of sunbeams, clouds, and raindrops, depending on the day. 14th arrondissement, 225 blvd. Raspail, paris-montparnasse-hotel.com, free Wi-Fi, from $114, breakfast $12.