The Secret Hotels of Paris

The secret, (mostly) small, (mostly) family-run gems that give you great ambience at truly exceptional prices

By Margie Rynn,

A trip to the City of Light is a dream for many--yet one that can turn sour when you're faced with its abundance of Eiffel Tower--high prices. But finding a charmant hotel that won't leave you broke is not an impossible quest, as long as you don't expect huge rooms quite as amenity-packed as in the States. Even so, you can easily pay the same price for an uninspiring dump as you might for a comfy little marvel--had you known better. Here's to knowing better.

After visiting dozens of hotels, we've chosen 19 of the creme de la creme that offer doubles for under $80 a night (not including room tax, the equivalent of less than a dollar per person per night). And we've listed them below in ascending order of cost. Hotel Bonsejour 11 rue Burq, 18th arrondissement, Montmartre, tel. 011-33/1-42-54-22-53, fax /1-42-54-25-92. Metro: Abbesses. 34 rooms, nine with sink and shower, 26 with sink, all with shared toilet facilities, communal shower available on first floor. No elevator, no phones. Doubles: sink only ¬30 ($27), sink and shower ¬36 ($32), breakfast ¬4 ($3.50). An amazing deal. Yes, there is no elevator and the floors are uneven, but the rooms are spacious, well kept, and best of all, smack in the middle of Montmartre. Many rooms have lovely views of cobbled streets; the best are from corner rooms 23, 33, 43, and 53, which have nice balconies where you can have your breakfast. The owner is fiercely proud of the cleanliness of the rooms and the fact that he has invested in high-quality mattresses--a true luxury at these prices. A few rooms have showers, but shared facilities are immaculate and cleaned frequently. There is no denying that the premises are a little old and creaky, but its clear that the management has made a big effort to keep paint fresh and customers smiling.

Hotel de Lille

8 rue du Pelican, 1st arr., Palais Royale/Louvre, tel. 011-33/1-42-33-33-42. Metro: Palais Royale-Musee du Louvre. 13 rooms, seven with private bath, four with sink and shared bath. No elevator, no phones. Doubles with sink and shower ¬42 ($37), sink, shower, and toilet ¬49 ($43).

This funky little hotel has recently spiffed itself up with a new coat of paint and some periodesque furniture. It's amazing what a few Alfons Mucha posters and new carpets can do for a tired tourist's morale. Yes, you still have to haul yourself up a narrow staircase, but at least your final destination is cheery, if not luxurious. Rooms on the courtyard are very quiet, but darkness-lovers should request a room facing the calm street. Travelers converge on this hotel to take advantage of the low prices and the great location, a couple of blocks from the Louvre and the Palais Royale.

Hotel du Sejour

36 rue du Grenier St-Lazare, 3rd arr., the Marais, tel./fax 011-33/1-48-87-40-36. Metro: Rambuteau. 20 rooms, about half with private bath, half with sink (shared toilets). No elevator, no phones. Doubles with sink only ¬42 ($37), shower and toilet ¬54 ($48).

The sunny, cheerful rooms match the owner's smile at this friendly place, where a warm welcome takes the sting out of the long climb up the stairs. Lodgings are simple but clean, and several rooms have new bathroom fixtures and wallpaper--a decided preference for pink is detectable in the color scheme. The relatively spacious rooms are fairly quiet, with double-paned windows to keep out street noise. Museum lovers will be tickled with the locale, as the Pompidou Center is right down the street and the many museums of the Marais are within easy walking distance.

Hotel Eldorado

18 rue des Dames, 17th arr., Batignolles, tel. 011-33/1-45-22-35-21, fax /1-43-87-25-97. Metro: Place de Clichy. 33 rooms, most with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬54 ($48), breakfast ¬5.50 ($5).

Batignolles is one of Paris' more happening neighborhoods these days, and this fanciful place fits right in with the artsy scene. Lively reds, golds, and greens coat the walls, and furniture is covered in everything from African prints to old-fashioned comforters. Interesting architectural details like onyx mantelpieces and wood moldings have been preserved, and touches like modern art posters and mosaic bathroom mirrors have been added. The nicest (and largest) rooms are in the back building, with high ceilings and garden views. OK, there is some chipped paint here and there, but overall this hotel is clean, smart, and a terrific bargain. Be sure to check out the cool little bistro on the ground floor.

Hotel Le Petit

Chatelet 9 rue St-Denis, 1st arr., Chatelet/Les Halles, tel. 011-33/1-42-33-32-31, fax /1-42-33-32-45. Metro: Chatelet. 11 rooms, 10 with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬62 ($55), breakfast ¬5.40 ($4.75).

If you walk too fast, you will miss the entrance to this tiny hotel, hidden amongst a string of restaurants in the hopping Chatelet district. It would be a shame because it's really a gem-11 spacious rooms, each imaginatively decorated with African and South Asian motifs. Murals in some rooms attest to the owners' artistic leanings, as does the choice of art objects. Though hardly luxurious, the rooms have been recently redone, and the spotless bathrooms have showers. Large windows let in lots of sunshine and some street noise, despite the double-paned windows. Breakfast is served in the tiny restaurant downstairs. Book early--this place is popular with musicians who play in the jazz clubs nearby.

Hotel Saint-Honore

85 rue St-Honore, 1st arr., Chatelet/Louvre, tel. 011-33/1-42-36-20-38, fax /1-4221-44-08, parishotels.com. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli or Les Halles. 29 rooms, all with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬67-¬75 ($59-$66), breakfast ¬4.50 ($4).

You can't get much more centrally located than this unpretentious establishment, comfortably ensconced on the chic rue St-Honore. Strategically placed between the Louvre and Chatelet, just below Les Halles and just above the Ile de la Cite, Hotel Saint-Honore is a dream location, particularly for a tourist in a hurry. All the rooms have just been renovated in a simple, modern manner-sleek black headboards and desks make a stab at style. The new bathrooms are equipped with hair-dryers, and a few rooms have minibars. Rooms in the back are remarkably quiet for this lively neighborhood.

Hotel du Septieme

Art 20 rue St-Paul, 4th arr., the Marais, tel. 011-33/1-44-54-85-00, fax /1-42-77-69-10. Metro: St-Paul. 23 rooms, all with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬70-¬120 ($62-$106), breakfast ¬7 ($6.25).

The lobby of this well-placed property is a temple to the films of the 1940s through '60s-movie posters and autographed photos compete for space on the walls while Laurel and Hardy figurines pose coyly on the mantelpiece. The cinematic theme continues in the rooms, which are hung with posters of James Dean and other film heroes, but comparisons with Hollywood stop there. Though the rooms are clean and well lit, carpets are spotted, and the furniture is worn. Bathrooms, though small, are much newer and tiled. Its fabulous location makes up for its cosmetic faults--on a tiny street in Village St-Paul, a remnant of medieval Paris, the hotel is minutes from Place des Vosges, the Marais, Ile St-Louis, and Notre Dame.

Hotel Residence Villiers

68 avenue de Villiers, 17th arr., Villiers/Parc Monceau, tel. 011-33/1-42-27-18-77, fax /1-44-40-22-68. Metro: Villiers. 30 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬71-¬74 ($63-$65), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

Sometimes it pays to go a little way off the beaten path. This attractive number is in a mostly residential area that doesn't see much of the tourist hordes, and consequently keeps rates remarkably low. If calm is what you are after, you will be very happy with the soundproofed rooms and mellow atmosphere. Some rooms have small balconies, others have molded cornices, but all are in tip-top condition and offer that rarest of Parisian amenities: space. If you don't feel like walking 15 minutes to the Arc de Triomphe, a city bus right across the street will whoosh you to the Champs-Elysees sooner. Not only that, the fabulous Jacquemart-Andre Museum is very close by, as is the beautiful Parc Monceau.

Hotel Excelsior

20 rue Cujas, 5th arr., Latin Quarter, tel. 011-33/1-46-34-79-50, fax /1-43-54-87-10. Metro: Cluny-La Sorbonne. 66 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬72-¬77 ($64-$68), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

In the ever-popular Latin Quarter, trying to find a budget hotel that doesn't scream "fleabag" is usually an exercise in frustration. Which is why we bring these nifty lodgings to your attention. While nothing fancy, or even charm-enhanced, it's utilitarian yet offers simple, modern accommodations that are fresh and well maintained at a great price. Street noise is minimal, though the tranquility level ultimately depends on your neighbors as walls are thin. Rooms come in a multitude of shapes and sizes - some have exposed ceiling beams or stone walls, while others are strictly no-frills. Bathrooms range from large tiled affairs to odd arrangements with minimal privacy, so if your travel companion is not a blood relative, you might want to inquire when making reservations.

Hotel des Arts

5 rue Tholoze, 18th arr., Montmartre, tel. 011-33/1-46-06-30-52, fax /1-46-06-10-83, arts-hotel-paris.com. Metro: Abbesses. 50 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬74-¬78 ($65-$69), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

Yes, there is still a windmill or two in Montmartre, and this hotel is just down the street from one of them. The Moulin de la Galette, of Renoir fame, stands at the top of this cobbled lane and can be seen from the balcony of the rooms on the fifth floor. Rooms are in excellent shape and of decent size, but watch out for the twin beds--they are extremely narrow. Rooms on the top floor get the most light, but all are well lit and several have nice views of the city. Service can be a little brisk, but at these prices, you can easily console yourself with an idyllic stroll in this legendary neighborhood.

Hotel Saint-Andre-des-Arts

66 rue St-Andre-des-Arts, 6th arr., Odeon, tel. 011-33/1-43-26-96-16, fax /1-43-29-73-34, france-hotelguide.com. Metro: Odeon. 32 rooms, all with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬77 ($68), breakfast included.

A block from boulevard St-Germain, next door to bustling rue de Buci, a few minutes from Place St-Michel, Hotel Saint-Andre-des-Arts is an affordable oasis in the middle of high-priced tourist territory. Rooms are pleasant, with high ceilings and lots of exposed beams, but carpets are spotted and the locks on the doors can be flimsy. Bathrooms are neat and functional (some have been renovated with faux-marble tiles), and a few rooms have interesting armoires. It's clear that what you're paying for here is location, not style, but with all the action available outside you probably won't be spending much time in your room.

Hotel Aurore

13 rue Traversiere, 12th arr., Gare de Lyon, tel. 011-33/1-43-43-54-12, fax /1-43-43-53-20. Metro: Gare de Lyon. 30 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬78-¬81 ($69-$72), breakfast ¬6.50 ($5.75).

True, there's nothing particularly gripping about the neighborhood, but the level of comfort at this hotel may outweigh any concerns, particularly if you're making train connections for the south of France. Located on a small side street near the Gare de Lyon rail station (with lots of inexpensive dining nearby), the Aurore offers a bundle of amenities-air-conditioning, satellite TV, hair-dryers, free toiletries, modem plugs--at very reasonable rates. Rooms are cozy, with fabric-covered walls in mellow colors, and the spiffy bathrooms have complimentary shoe-polish cloths for Top-Siders in need of a touch-up. The location has its upside--views of the Seine are just steps away, and Notre-Dame is a 15-minute stroll.

Regent's Hotel

44 rue Madame, 6th arr., St. Germain, tel. 011-33/45-48-02-81, fax 011-33/1-45-44-85-73, france-hotelguide.com. Metro: St-Sulpice. 34 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬80-¬85 ($72-$76), breakfast ¬7 ($6.25).

Hiding out in the tony neighborhood of St-Germain amongst designer boutiques and stylish hair salons, this smart hotel dishes up high-quality comfort at impressively low prices. An elegant country theme pervades - rooms have plush blue carpets, carved wood headboards, and fluffy yellow bedspreads. Many have flowers in the window boxes, and those on the top floor have little terraces. Several face a pretty courtyard where breakfast is served in nice weather. The bathrooms have that just-unwrapped look, complete with hair-dryers and "old-fashioned" sinks. Easy strolls include the gorgeous Jardin du Luxembourg and the Place St-Sulpice, an excellent spot for cafe-squatting and watching the world go by.

Hotel Amelie

5 rue Amelie, 7th arr., Eiffel Tower/Invalides, tel. 011-33/1-45-51-74-75, fax /1-45-56-93-55, 123france.com. Metro: La Tour Maubourg. 16 rooms, all with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬80-¬89 ($72-$80), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

This tiny hotel is on a tiny street overshadowed by the hulking presence of the Eiffel Tower. Though you can't see the tower from the rooms, you can enjoy amenities like cable TV, minibar, and hair-dryers, not to mention geraniums in the window boxes and cushy new carpets. The rooms all look like they were renovated yesterday, with rich colors on the walls and pristine bedspreads and draperies. Rooms are small but not claustrophobic, and those facing the courtyard get loads of light and a nice view of Parisian rooftops. Though slightly pricier than some of our other finds, these rates are quite low for this high-and-mighty neighborhood.

Hotel Langlois

63 rue St-Lazare, 9th arr., Grands Boulevards, tel. 011-33/1-48-74-78-24, fax /1-49-95-04-43. Metro: Trinite. 28 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬83-¬90 ($73-$80), breakfast ¬7 ($6.25).

Formerly the Hotel des Croises, it has proudly taken the name it was given as a setting of this year's upcoming Jonathan Demme film The Truth About Charlie (a remake of 1963's Charade). It's easy to see Demme's reasoning - not only are the rooms huge and airy, but they also have authentic period furniture and detailing. You won't find many hotels in this price range with inlayed armoires and Art Deco ceramic fireplaces. Furnishings on the first four floors are from the 1940s to 1950s; the top two cover the Belle Epoque - would you believe Art Nouveau woodwork and Second Empire headboards? As if this weren't enough, the carpets and towels are as plush as the bathrooms are sparkling. If you can tear yourself away from your surroundings, you'll find you are minutes from the Opera and the grands magasins.

Hotel de l'Esperance

15 rue Pascal, 5th arr., Mouffetard/Gobelins, tel. 011-33/1-47-07-10-99, fax /1-43-37-56-19. Metro: Censier-Daubenton. 38 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬84 ($74), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

If canopy beds are your thing, this is l'hotel for you. Each bed in this enthusiastically decorated hotel is crowned with a small bundle of drapery that gently slopes to the floor. The proprietress takes great pride in the hotel's decor, which includes thick new carpets, matching bedspreads and curtains, and a breakfast room with period prints and hand-crocheted tablecloths. If the doll collection in the lobby strikes you as over the top, no matter; what's important here is that accommodations are comfortable, well maintained, and clean. Rooms are relatively spacious and have cable TV, and all bathrooms have tubs--you'll have to shower with the famous French shower-hose. Your proximity to a wonderful open-air market on rue Mouffetard should make up for this minor inconvenience.

Hotel du Cygne

3 rue du Cygne, 1st arr., Les Halles, tel. 011-33/1-42-60-14-16, fax /1-42-21-37-02. Metro: Etienne Marcel. 20 rooms, 18 with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬84-¬90 ($74-$80), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

Just squeezing under our limit, this comfy affair gives great benefits for your buck. Located close enough to Les Halles to be near the action, but far enough away for a bit of peace and quiet, the "Swan Hotel" is in the middle of one of the city's few pedestrian zones, so a room on the street is relatively quiet. Rooms were completely overhauled last year, and are not only spic-and-span but have period-style furniture and a touch of Parisian class--quite the bargain at these prices. Shiny new bathrooms have hair-dryers and toiletries, airy bedrooms have cable TV, safes, and exposed beams. The hotel's central location means the Louvre is within strolling distance, as are dozens of bus and Metro lines.

Hotel Malar

29 rue Malar, 7th arr., Eiffel Tower/Invalides, tel. 011-33/1-45-51-38-46, fax /1-45-55-20-19, hotelmalar.com. Metro: La Tour Maubourg. 22 rooms, all with private bath. No elevator. Doubles ¬84-¬91 ($74-$80), breakfast ¬6 ($5.50).

In this high-end neighborhood, Hotel Malar is a serious bargain. Completely renovated in 2000, rooms are decorated in delicate blues and light yellows, and the newly tiled bathrooms have nice thick bath towels--a rarity in Parisian hotels. Web fans will appreciate the modem plug on the phone, and CNN addicts will love the cable TV. Most visitors, however, will be hard-pressed to spend too much time in their rooms--the Eiffel Tower looms just a few minutes away. Rooms in the back building are larger, but darker, and open out onto a nice interior courtyard, where breakfast is served in summer.

Hotel des Grandes Ecoles

75 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, 5th arr., Mouffetard/Latin Quarter, tel. 011-33/1-43-26-79-23, fax /1-43-25-28-15, hotel-grandes-ecoles.com. Metro: Cardinal Lemoine. 51 rooms, all with private bath. Doubles ¬90-¬115 ($80-$102), breakfast ¬7 ($6.25).

It's a few dollars over our limit, but we decided that this prize is simply too good not to list. Set off the street, you enter the lobby through a peaceful garden, as if you have just walked out of the city and into a country residence. Quiet is a priority here--the hotel has dispensed with TVs, even though it clearly has the budget. Rooms are delicately decorated with period wallpaper, lace bedspreads, and country furniture. The bucolic illusion is reinforced by leafy views from the windows and the pervading atmosphere of calm. The inviting breakfast room includes potted plants and an upright piano, and in nice weather you can nibble your croissants in the garden. It's hard to believe you're in walking distance of the hectic Latin Quarter and just a few steps from hopping rue Mouffetard.