The Apostrophe Hotel, Paris
You can't miss the hotel, in a side street in Montparnasse, with a trompe l'oeil facade of foliage. Inside, the small lobby doubles as the breakfast room. Even in a recession, sceptical and detached is usually the order of the day at the reception desk of a Paris hotel, unless you speak flawless French. But the Apostrophe is new, up and running barely six months before I stayed there, and aims to be out of the ordinary, so there are cheerful smiles from the outgoing man in his 30s who seems to be permanently on duty at the reception desk. He turns out to be Pascal, a friend of the owners, the Gatiens, who have finally opened a hotel of their own after years in the business as employees, with their third-generation hotelier daughter, Isabelle, as general manager. Pascal gave up a job as a political PR to join them, and while he may have dumped the politics, he has clearly held on to his PR skills. He recommends an authentic old bar, Rosebud, near by, and suggests a few local restaurants where I might like to have dinner before showing me upstairs.
The hotel is in the Left Bank 6th arrondissement, once the haunt of literary figures such as Hemingway. The Luxembourg Gardens are two blocks away and Saint-Germain-des-Prés a 10-minute walk, along with numerous dark little neighbourhood bistros, bookshops and old cafes such as Le Dome and La Rotonde. The street is plain but feels typically Parisian, with Le Cameleon, an old-fashioned neighbourhood restaurant, across the road. And - so convenient! Total thrill! - there's a Vélib' bike-hire stand near by if you want to be super-on-trend and cycle around Paris.
There's not much of it, since the hotel serves only breakfast, but the rooms are spotless and Pascal and Isabelle are both warm and helpful - dream concierges, really.
Small, rather weirdly decorated, but with a very comfortable bed and lots of light from a loudly curtained tall window (facing the street but double-glazed). All 16 rooms (ranged over five floors) have been individually done up, with a calligraphic or typographic theme, some more successfully (ie less weirdly) than others. Very much better equipped than the average small Parisian hotel room, though - Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV, reading light, reading pillow, blackout curtains, soundproofing, power shower and DVD players available. Oddly, though, and this is true of every room, the bathroom is so en suite it's actually in the room, although the loo, mercifully, is separate.
Breakfast is the only meal offered but it's absolutely brilliant - really good coffee, warm croissant, fresh smoothie, all for ?10 (Dh45). The choice is limited but the quality is excellent, and it's served from 7am to noon. You can eat downstairs in the open-plan lobby if you want - useful for simultaneously consulting the ever-present Pascal about how to plan your day. Or you can have it brought up to your room, with a tray on legs so you can eat in bed.
Perhaps because the hotel belongs to the 70-strong Paris group of Hoosta Style hotels (www.hoosta.com), the other guests, when glimpsed (they're mostly either out or in their rooms), look predictably cool. They're English, Japanese, Mexican, Russian - an international mix. "But at weekends we get young French couples who check in with a pile of DVDs and stay for the weekend even though they live in Paris," Pascal explains. "If their apartment is not so big or they share, this is a nice holiday for them."
Being able to use public transport painlessly all the way here from London - Tube, Eurostar, Metro line B direct from Gare du Nord to the Port Royal station, five minutes away - and to arrive feeling unfussed, efficient, thrifty, and instantly at home. If you drive, they have - unusually - private parking.
The curtains - much too loud. And, at first, the open-plan bathroom, although it's convenient to be able to watch the news in French while brushing your teeth.
A rather wonderful discovery. I loved the home-from-home feel - again, unusual in Paris - and getting insider advice on where to go, eat, etc. But despite the effort that has gone into the design, not everyone will like the rooms, so it's best to have a look at the website before you book. Nicest is the top-floor room where you can lie in bed and see the Eiffel Tower.
Rooms cost from ?140 to ?350 (Dh632-Dh1,580) per night, including taxes. (3, rue de Chevreuse, Paris 75008 (http://apostrophe-hotel.com; 00 33 1 56 54 31 31).
Updated: July 3, 2010 04:00 AM