Winding through the streets of Le Marais, I found myself gazing in awe at the graceful buildings, atmospheric cafés and fashionable Parisians that surrounded me. With clear blue skies and crisp cold air, it was the perfect day for a wander around the oldest quartier of Paris, studying every rooftop and elegant street I stumbled across.
Perched on a quiet corner of Rue de Poitou, I strolled past what looked like one of the city’s many bakeries. But little did I know the narrow 17th century building, which displayed the word “Boulangerie” in striking bold paint above its windows, would be the chic boutique hotel I’d call home for the weekend.
With each of its 17 bedrooms designed individually by renowned French designer Christian Lacroix, the Hôtel du Petit Moulin is the perfect getaway for fashion lovers and those in search of a quirky bohemian experience. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a pistachio macaron-coloured reception area as a strong scent of perfume fills the air. A glass chandelier hangs above the desk and artistic ceiling tiles with paintings of swallows and flowers surround it.
The four-star hotel’s 1900 shop frontage is listed as part of French heritage by Historic Monuments and its classy reception area was famously once home to the boulangerie where writer Victor Hugo would purchase his morning baguette. The hotel has evidently preserved its history, retaining quirky perspectives and the labyrinthine manner of its layout. As I turned the solid gold key to room 201, I felt as though I’d stepped back into the Seventies. I was surrounded by daring bright pink walls. Classy embroidered curtains were draped over the traditional windows. It was modern and bold, yet harmonious and stylish. Black and white polka dots covered the feature wall, with a luxurious bed resting underneath. Wandering into the bathroom, I found a stash of Hermes toiletries, a fluffy white bathrobe and a roll top bath.
I was keen to relax in my newly found oasis but I soon remembered I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and streets of fashion boutiques awaited outside.
After a delicious dinner at Les Chouettes, a restaurant regarded highly by the hotel manager and just a few streets away, I enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep before discovering all that Le Marais has to offer.
The Hôtel du Petit Moulin is set in Haut Marais, known as one of the city’s most fashionable districts. It is also home to some of Paris’s most historic treasures. The charming quartier dates back to the 13th century, when monks started to cultivate the marshes – or “marais” – and by the 17th century the king had taken up residence here. It wasn’t until 300 years later that the district was transformed by the arrival of central European immigrants in the Jewish quarter and a large number of fabric production workshops began to appear.
Bianca, our Localers guide for the day, took us on a personal fashion tour and we spent hours discovering the area’s vintage treasures and lavish boutiques, stopping for cold drinks and cups of tea along the way. We visited Boutique YSE Lingerie, where we were shown how Parisian women shop for their underwear, and Repetto, where ballerinas are fitted for their pointe shoes, then on to Rue de Poitou, and gradually down Rue Vieille-du-Temple, where we stopped at Hod, a handmade jewellery store, and Manoush, full of the bold and dramatic. There was barely a chain store in sight.
We finished our tour at Merci, a hip concept store on Boulevard Beaumarchais, famous for its unusual merchandise and the tiny red car that sits outside. After shopping around the urban homeware department and picking up a few unusual bits and bobs, we headed downstairs for lunch in the organic café, feasting on salad and vegetable juices.
Staying at the Hôtel du Petit Moulin was theatrical, classy and a one-off experience. Perfectly situated to explore all that the lively Marais is famous for, it’s a hidden gem offering a unique blend of history and a traditional Parisian experience. The Picasso and Carnavalet museums are a stone’s throw away, while the Place des Vosges, Opera and the Bastille are all on its doorstep.
Other features that make the hotel unique include its antique honesty bar, where guests can pour themselves a drink among the bright walls, and relax on the retro seating. I was also greeted on both mornings with a delicious breakfast tray loaded with pastries, spreads and fruit, brought to my room, which was a lovely touch.
But Le Marais and the Hôtel du Petit Moulin has so much more to offer than croissants and macarons; it’s a Parisian experience I’ll never forget.
For the Localers package: from €443 (£280) based on two sharing an overnight stay on a B&B basis, with a three-hour personal shopping tour of Le Marais. Subject to availability, www.localers.com
Normal rate: stays at Hotel du Petit Moulin from €225 (£192) per room per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis, tel: 33 1 42 74 10 10, www.hotelpetitmoulinparis.com
easyJet flies from Edinburgh to Paris Charles de Gaulle up to seven days a week, with prices starting from £23.24 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking), www.easyjet.com