If you’re looking for an inexpensive place to stay in Paris with charming character and a great location, you needn’t look any further: the Hôtel de Nesle (pronounced “nell”) is your place. An acquaintance introduced me to this gem two years ago, and it has since become my regular landing spot whenever I’m in Paris.
The façade of the hotel is unassumingly located mid-block of a quiet street just off the Rue Dauphine, in the Saint Germain neighborhood. When you enter the front door, the hotelière herself meets you. She is the heart of the Hôtel de Nesle. An older, rotund woman from Morocco, she sits behind what looks like a dining room table. Her grand hand gestures and booming voice may startle you at first, I know they did me, but her charm will immediately take you over and you’ll soon feel right at home. Her customer service style isn’t what you’ll find at the Ritz, or even at the Best Western, but her grandmotherly commands and her trust in you to fill out the register properly and to grab the correct room key from her dented floral tin, will remind you that you were indeed looking for a hotel with character.
The décor of the lobby is as much a part of the character as the hostess. The ceiling is covered with suspended bunches of dried flowers and the background music is a television roaring with the French translations of cheesy American movies. Dark walls and warm light from lamps placed around the foyer lend a feeling of a living room. Be sure, however, to not be too distracted by the ceiling of blossoms and the TV, otherwise you may step on the ancient deaf and blind German Shepard that lives in front of the couch. He doesn’t like to be petted too much, but he’s harmless nonetheless. God willing, he’ll still be there when you visit.
When it’s time to head up to your room, you’ll be facing a mess of stairs. Like many Parisian hotels, there’s no elevator. Good luck to you if you have a lot of bags and you’re on the top floor. The spiraling staircase is steep and a bit unforgiving to jetlagged guests. Once you get to your room, though, you’ll flop on the bed with great pride as if you’ve just finished your first marathon. Again, it’s character.
After you’ve caught your breath, you’ll look around and see that the walls of your room have been painted in a cartoon-like mosaic depicting either a North African historical event or a French writer like Molière. The art is one-dimensional and a little silly, but it’s certainly better than plain white walls or a mass-produced oil painting. Each room has its own story to tell, some of them sporting mosquito nets over the beds just to carry out the theme of the walls.
Rooms vary in size. Some don’t have showers and toilets, but the shared facilities are very clean and rarely occupied when you need them. The single rooms are typically Parisian in size, meaning teeny-tiny, but if you’re going to be out and about all day, what more do you need, right? The beds sag a bit in the middle, but at the end of a long day they cradle you just so.