Paris: What makes a budget hotel special?
As my regular readers will have caught on to by now, I’m a huge fan of budget hotels, and specifically those in Paris. I visit them, stay in them and follow their changes (and sadly for some, their transformation into boutique hotels). I see them as a force of good in travel, a way for so many to afford to travel and, in the best cases, experience a local culture up close.
But what are these “best cases”? What characteristics do my favorite hotels share, aside from their relative affordability? Let’s look at what makes a regular old cheap hotel a great budget hotel.
(Note that most of the hotels mentioned in this piece are listed in our guide to cheap Paris hotels. Click through to read the full reviews.)
1. Location, location, location
Sometimes it looks as though only those haughty, self-promoting luxury hotels with regal names have the ability to boast a prime Parisian address. Not surprisingly, this is a key factor in defending their prohibitive prices.
Fortunately for us, a good many small and independent Parisian hotels aimed at the frugal traveler have also managed to stick stubbornly to their enticing roots—both in the geographical and the budgetary sense. With enviable locations in the city center (or immediately around it), these prized gems have been applauded countless times in these pages and this surely won’t be the last time we celebrate their presence—either in the Right, or in the Left Bank, or even in between.
“Location, location, location” is my first and most important rule. The following hotels are well-located and some of my favorites in EuroCheapo’s guide to cheap Paris hotels:
• Near Ile de la Cité: Hotel Esmeralda, Hotel Henri IV, Hotel-Dieu Hôpital
• Near the Louvre / Grands Boulevards: Hotel Tiquetonne, Hotel du Cygne, Hotel Chopin, Hotel des Boulevards
• Latin Quarter / St. Germain: Hotel Diana, Hotel Stella, Hotel St. André-des-Arts, Cluny Sorbonne, Hotel de Nesle
• Marais: Hotel Rivoli, Grand Hotel du Loiret, Hotel du 7e Art and Grand Hotel Jeanne d’Arc
Even the not-so-central Cheapo-friendly properties manage to position themselves in charming, quiet and practical areas, or in trendy districts that are on the rise in the Paris popularity meter.
The presence of personable owners is another winning characteristic shared by many of this site’s picks. Often, the same family has owned the hotel for decades. This privileged tenure—and the refined art of a good hospitality—turn the property into your home away from home, the genial proprietors into your special hosts and the hospitable staff into your extended family.
In addition, some dose of “proprietary eccentricity” is not only benignly tolerated but encouraged by the patrons. Some owners are true curators of the attractive objects and antiques that decorate their property, as is the case of Monsieur Éber of the Hotel Éber Mars. The friendly management of the Esmeralda presides over the premises with a slightly amused air. The gregarious owner of the delightful Hotel du Nord oversees his convivial property in the company of his dog Pluto, a house regular. The couple that runs the Saint André-des-Arts has its own group of fans—including us!
3. A touch of class
Our favorite hotels have a touch of personality and entice travelers with their stylish touches or quaint charms.
In the Right Bank, the delightful little Hotel Chopin lies at the end of a 19th-century covered passage lined with cute shops.
West of Montmartre, the increasingly trendy Batignolles district is home to the unique sleep Eldorado, where original artwork and antiques mix with flea-market finds in such a natural way that every item seems to have found its natural habitat.
And, in the very improbable case that you haven’t yet heard of the Hotel Tiquetonne, winner of the EuroCheapo award for “Best SuperCheapo,” we can tell you that its amazing central location and exceedingly convenient prices are augmented by a grandmotherly-type air of nostalgia, a candy-colored reception and spacious, vintage-cool rooms.
Further east, in the Marais, the neighborhood’s darling hotel—the Grand Hotel Jeanne d’Arc, situated off the tranquil Place du Marché St. Catherine—is a quaint property that looks more like a country house than a downtown prototype. Tucked away south of rue St. Antoine, the unique Hotel of the 7e Art—a cinema-themed sleep—enchants everybody with its numerous pictures of vintage movie stars. Last but not least, the Hotel du Nord (popular among other reasons because it offers free bicycles) is a little jewel in the 10th arrondissement with artistic touches in the lobby and an ivy-covered and flower-boxed exterior.
In the Left Bank, a distinctive feature of several of our friendliest budget hotels is that they are housed in historic, old buildings with attractive exposed wooden beams. One of them is the old-fashioned and romantic Stella, with big windows that open onto flower boxes. Not far from there, the popular Esmeralda wins over travelers with its 17th-century building, its “dollhouse” interior and its title as EuroCheapo’s “best location in Paris”—not to forget its reasonable rates. The Cluny Sorbonne, across the road from the University of Paris, is truly a reservoir of romantic and bohemian times past and inhabits a lovely 18th-century structure. Just to the north, the charming rooms of the friendly St-Andre-des-Arts go even further back in the past as they are housed in a 16th-century building.
In nearby St-Germain, the cozy Hotel de Nesle—winner of the EuroCheapo’s honor as the “most unique” Parisian low-cost hotel—is a veritable museum with its historically minded murals, individually painted by the owner and her son, and its funky furniture and statues.
The staff at these hotels is characteristically friendly and helpful, but not subservient. As they are an integral part of the owners’ vision, the staff often sees itself as part of the latter’s extended family and hence a partner in the owners’ mission. More often than not, the reception staff is multilingual. Its members are efficient and with enough individuality as to be known by their names by clients, as opposed to the archetypal cipher-type bellboys elsewhere that will bend over backward to take care of your every whim.
Since opinions about the service industry are not the same in some countries as they are in France, a certain segment of the international traveler community (you know them!) wouldn’t be entirely happy with our friends from the cheapo-friendly sleeps, since they expect staff to be by and large submissive. I believe that most of EuroCheapo’s down-to-earth readers would obviously not espouse such a view. They’d feel more comfortable sharing a sassy repartee with a staff member than uttering a machine-gun-like succession of orders.
5. Other details
The official websites of quality budget hotels are often quaint and very matter-of-fact, without too many sleek features. It’s as if the basic intent is to point to the property’s overall practicality and straightforward rates. An artificial gloss would only detract from this.
On these websites, pictures of the rooms are realistic and never presented with beautifying or aggrandizing special effects. Whatever amenities exist are tersely listed. Rates are always shown in a transparent way.
For a shining example, have a look at sites such as those of the Hotel des Boulevards or the Cosmos or Alfa Hotel Nation or the Hotel Rivoli. Every single room category has a fixed price—in sharp contrast with the more pretentious hotels, where it’s often difficult to find a clear indication of their prices on the website. In many of the latter, their rates fluctuate wildly depending not only on the season but also on the day of the week and numerous other factors.
Finally, a very gratifying feature of good budget hotels is that they reply promptly, courteously and thoroughly to reservations and requests for rate information. Their correspondence is transparent and authentic, and they’d almost never send you back to the hotel website (creating a veritable Catch-22), as many of the more expensive or less professional ones often do.
Some of our friendly Cheapo picks will even provide you with a list of alternative properties (i.e. their competitors!) in case they are fully booked. Sometimes the person who replies is none other than the property’s owner. Some of these owners are renowned for their consideration and great zeal in trying to find a solution to your predicament. The charming owner of Le Figuier, an Ivry-sur-Seine hotel, for example, is one of those propriétaires who would take a personal interest in solving your urgent appeal.
What makes your favorite budget hotel special?
Now you’ve read my list of winning hotel characteristics. What do you think makes a budget hotel special… or even “great”? Do you have a go-to spot in Paris? Why do you choose this hotel? Tell us about your favorite hotel, and what makes it stand out for you.