Monsieur Dominique Jean-Lavabre is not your typical Frenchman. He may work in the hospitality industry but unlike other Parisians, he knows India rather well having lived in Udaipur for over four years and travelled extensively across the country. It’s an asset he brings to his role as President and international promoter of one of Paris’ most beautiful boutique hotels as he works to attract more Indians to stay at 9 Hotel.
I am not a typical tourist in Paris either. I have been a frequent visitor to the City of Light for many years. My quest every time has been to find a hotel that offers me the best comforts at a nonoutrageous price in central Paris. 9Hotel, which I recently discovered, provided me just that.
Indian-inspired chillout music enlivens this 48-room designer hotel, located just off Rue Lafayette on Rue Papillon in the 9th arrondissement. The rooms are equipped with large flat screen TVs, free WiFi, and individual air conditioning, among other comforts. It is surrounded by wonderful restaurants and cafes, and is walking
distance from some of the biggest department stores, Gare du Nord, Montmartre, Grands Boulevards and other city landmarks. As I had three free days on hand during my trip, with Dominique’s help, I drew up a list of things to do when you are staying at a hotel in central Paris including the 9Hotel.
There are two places in Paris that I visit like a man possessed. The Ile St. Louis is where I stroll through narrow streets, feasting on delightful architecture and ending with two scoops of the famous and original Maison de Berthillon ice-cream. The other is Le Fumoir, cafe – martini bar – brunch spot, next to the Louvre. An oasis of calm, it has preserved its genteel, old-fashioned charm and always serves great food. If it is drizzling outside, you can park yourself on the plush leather couch in the warm lounge with neo-colonial fans and oil paintings, or at the long mahogany bar (originally from Chicago ) and sip exquisite dry martini. If the sun is out, grab a table outside, order a flute of bubbly and watch the world sashay past.
Yes, it is an oversized, overblown shopping mall, with shoppers hustling and bustling about with so much determination that it will give Robert Downey Jr inspiration for the next Iron Man sequel. Grab a map which will help navigate and guide you. Prices are comparable to New York stores and don’t pay heed to the talk about staff being unfriendly and not speaking English. Every big international brand under the sun is here along with many little known, but very classy, French ones.
Am I nuts to suggest visiting a cemetery on a holiday? But think of it as a romantic stroll through the most beautiful post-life resting place in the world, with gardens, rolling hills, thousands of trees, and winding paths with clearly depicted names. Parisians affectionately call it la cite des morts or city of the dead. If you are a Doors fan, you already know that Jim Morrison rests here. So do a handful of rich Indians, specially wealthy Parsis from the early part of last century, the most recent addition being J R D Tata. By tradition, Oscar Wilde’s admirers kiss his Art Deco monument wearing red lipstick, while Morrison fans just hang around the tombstone.
Last year, amidst much fanfare, Shah Rukh Khan’s statue was the latest Bollywood addition to this wax museum, the French answer to Madame Tussauds. Inside, Madonna, Picasso, Spiderman and Barak Obama strike familiar poses. Begin your visit at the Palais des Mirages – a giant kaleidoscope, first created for the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, with references to the dazzling decor of Hindu temples and tropical forests.
Early 1800s Paris saw the construction of several passages (covered galleries that linked many rues / streets) in the 9th arrondissement. Passage Brady is one of them, linking rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin and rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. It is now filled with Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis, under the banner of Little India. Not surprising that it looks like a mini Dadar. If you miss Indian food try out the decent Thali and Masala Dosa. The silk sarees and wooden Ganeshas though might not entice you, but it is worth a dekko.
A perfect small jewel of a museum. I discovered it back in 1988 and revisited again this time. It’s a large home where Gustave-Moreau, the famous 19th century Symbolist painter of mythological figures worked. In his will, he entrusted over 8,000 pictures, water colours, cartoons and drawings to the city of Paris which forms the core of this collection. He never visited India but many of his works were clearly influenced by the sub-continent. Worth the 8 Euro entrance fee.
LES CAVES TAILLEVENT
Chef Sommelier Brice Mancelet speaks fluent English and is ever ready with a smile to educate foreign palates The Taillevent cellars store started in 1987 and has an awesome range of over 1,300 French varietals from across the country. Monsieur Mancelet knows where each one of them is located deep below in the store’s cavernous cellars. You can spend all day tasting wines for a small charge. For those who are interested, apart from the cheaper wines, they also stock some of the most expensive and famous ones including exceptional vintages of Bordeaux greats like Chateau d’Yquem, Haut-Brion, Margaux, Latour, Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Cheval Blanc and Petrus.
The owners have also started a restaurant next door called 101 of Taillevent. It’s a novel concept. On the menu are 10 entrees, four fish dishes, six meat dishes, four cheeses and six desserts. Each item on the menu is paired alongside four wines with prices starting from 10 Euros a glass. With your Calamari entree for example, the Reuilly will cost you 7 Euro, the Hexagurt 13 Euro, Palette 20 Euro and Chassagne Montrachet 2004 50 Euro.
LES MURS DES JE T’AIME
Translated , it means the Wall of I-Love-You. When you visit Montmartre, go to Place des Abbesses, in the Square Jehan Rictus. When you see the Love-You wall , you will applaud its clever marketing idea. It’s a mural where love comes together in colourful ways. Composed of 612 tiles of enamelled lava, “I love you” is inscribed in 311 main languages and dialects of the world.
LE MOULIN ROUGE
Baz Luhrman’s 2001 glitzy film starring Nicole Kidman, was just one of the thousands of works inspired by this bohemian club from the Belle Epoque era. The current offering is often dismissed as being a mass-produced affair, with contrived performances. But dancing and dazzling acrobatics aside, the show achieves some spectacular moments. About halfway through, the stage gives way to a tank of water, where a female performer swims with snakes. And the larger-than life finale will have you gaping like a teenager.