I was off to a good start.
It’s the beginning of my three-week sojourn in Paris. Solo. Even though it isn’t my first trip to the City Of Light (it’s my third in fact), it is the first time I’m here without a guide or a friend who knows the city well. And I have never stayed beyond a week.
I’m 6,700 miles away from home and everyone I know. What I do have: A suitcase full of clothes I hope are chic enough for St Germain and Avenue Montaigne; a beginner’s proficiency in French owing to six months’ worth of classes; GPS on my iPhone 5S and a mission to get to know my favourite city in the world.
I am as nervous as I am thrilled.
About 45 minutes after our departure from Charles de Gaulle, the taxi (which I’d pre-booked in Singapore) pulled up right outside my hotel in the 9th Arrondissement. Hôtel de Nell. Opened just last year, it’s a modern, elegant boutique hotel housed in a 19th-century building that I found — and finally decided on — on Tablet Hotels after hours and hours of research.
As is typical of boutique hotels in Paris, there is no grand entrance to be expected. Blink, and you’re likely to miss it. Given there’s a slight drizzle the morning of my arrival, I’m glad my driver spotted it without much trouble.
A front-desk staff swiftly emerges to help me with my luggage.
“Bonjour! Merci beaucoup!” (Voila! my first chance at flaunting French phrases I’ve been fervently rehearsing. How can I resist?)
Exhausted as I am from the 14-hour flight and what seems like no sleep at all, I do my best to take it all in as I wait to be checked in at the cosy, homey reception, which offers a pretty good idea of the hotel’s overall style of décor. The woodiness and clean, sleek lines give me a sense of ease and tranquillity. This is quite the perfect example of minimalism executed to maximum effect, thanks to French architect and designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte.
Tasteful, welcoming, clean and comfortable with an understated charm… I am off to a good start. So relieved. (You’ll agree that getting the hotel right is trés important — especially when you’re travelling solo.)
Mine is a Deluxe room. By Parisian standards, it is a lot more spacious than I’d anticipated at about 30 square meters. There’s no doubt that the French windows spanning the entire length of the room — and facing a charming Haussmann-style building — contribute to the sense of space. But, mon dieu, my absoloute favourite thing in the room, and the hotel for that matter, has to be the handmade Japanese bathtub in the capacious bathroom. After all, it is a signature feature of Hôtel de Nell.
As soon as the nice monsieur who showed me to my room and gave me the requisite tour was out the door, as soon as I was alone again, it was bath time! What ensued were 30 minutes (or was it 60?) of sheer bliss. By the time I got out of the tub, it’s au revoir, jetlag, and hello Paris! In fact, I felt so rejuvenated I postponed my visit to the hotel spa, Cinq Mondes.
10.30am. Fresh from a relaxing and therapeutic hot bath, it is time for le petit dejeuner at Bistrot La Régalade at the lobby before Day 1 of my Parisian adventures truly begins. (FYI: The bistro is helmed by acclaimed Parisian chef Bruno Doucet, and is a favourite among locals.)
I really couldn’t have asked for a better start. The breakfast, though a simple affair, was an affair to remember. Needless to say, I was famished. Even more so after a complimentary shot of detox juice to whet the appetite. So, rather uncharacteristically, I ordered the buffet. In addition to the egg omelette cooked à la minute to perfection (I’m not exaggerating), I couldn’t say non to the daily treats recommended by the hospitable maître d’.
“French toast or pancakes?”
“I’ll have both. Merci!”
If that’s not enough, there is also a small but handsome selection of pastries, cereals and fruits on the buffet counter.
Hôtel de Nell may be tucked away on a quiet street and not exactly a stone’s throw away from top attractions or must-sees on your list, but that’s not to say it’s not convenient or ideal. Quite the contrary. I’d read somewhere that the best way to enjoy Paris is to get lost in it — literally. That’s how you make surprise discoveries of off-the-radar shopping/dining gems. So, lucky, lucky me! I got seriously lost the very first day. After that amazing breakfast, I decide I was ready to take Paris on and make my way to Galeries Lafayette à pied (it’s about 20 minutes’ walk away) and Printemps for a spot of touristy shopping. Take it easy on Day One, right? And while I was there, I thought I could check out the Palais Garnier Opera House, too.
Even with the help of GPS and my almost-ability to ask for directions in French, it took me 90 minutes before I found my way back to the hotel. By which time, the jetlag had returned to hit me like the hammer of Thor, my body was screaming in pain from all the stress-walking with shopping bags in tow, and I was dizzy from hunger.
Thank goodness for the spa, dinner by Chef Doucet and my Japanese bathtub, all waiting to mollify me and bring me back on my Repetto-clad feet for Day Two…
Hôtel de Nell. 7/9, rue du Conservatoire. €180 (S$278) to €450 for a Classic Room.