Who says Paris hotels are outrageously, insanely overpriced thanks to the muscle-bound euro versus the flyweight U.S. dollar?
Just because the meticulously renovated five-star Hotel Meurice can command $1,200 plus per night for a basic room and another $50 for breakfast does not mean you can’t find a reasonably priced bunkhouse for a business trip.
Good news if you have to meet a new customer and your company just shaved your expense account. Or if you’re the boss of a growing enterprise and have to pick up your own travel tab. Here’s a purposely little-known hotel with Wi-Fi Internet access that won’t force you to take out a loan when you check out.
The 45-room Hôtel des Bains (www.hotel-des-bains-montparnasse.com ) in the 14th arrondissement, eight minutes by Metro from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, is rated a “one-star” hotel by the French government. However, a night clerk told me it was a “zero-star” hotel. Why downplay their ranking, especially when most hoteliers puff out their chests and regale you with amenities fit for a count or countess to get a booking, particularly when cost-conscious Americans are flocking to low-price destinations like Paraguay instead of Paris?
The secret is that every star in the hotel rating adds more tax. This canny hotel owner keeps his prices down, receives repeat business, apparently makes a good profit and doesn’t have to pony up extra to the tax collector.
The night clerk says: “We are really about a three-star hotel but we’d rather not promote ourselves.”
Karen Fawcett, president of www.bonjourparis.com , the savviest Web site for Francophiles, says: “To outsiders, Hôtel des Bains wants to be known as the worst hotel in Paris, but it’s a great value. You can get a single or double room here for 90 euros or about $140 a night at the current exchange rate of 1.58 euro to the dollar.” This is a steal for the budget-minded business traveler or anyone stretching their dollars this year.
The Hôtel des Bains is quite respectable, hardly a hostelry or YMCA. “The rooms are small and not a heck of a lot of space to run around in,” says Fawcett. The six-floor hotel (with elevator) may not be the Ritz, “but it’s more than acceptable when it comes to decor,” says Fawcett. “You don’t see any peeling wallpaper and the location is a three-minute walk to all the legendary, literary cafés on Montparnasse — Le Dome, La Coupole — where Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and the ‘lost generation’ of writers and artists drank. You can get a cheaper room if you’re willing to go farther out (from the center of Paris) and walk up fourteen floors.”
The small rooms contain a TV, a shower and a toilet, but no bathtub. Breakfast, by French law, is supposed to be included in the room rate; however, there’s no freebie here. Your $12 per-person breakfast includes orange and fruit juices, croissants, fresh fruit, yogurts, dry cereal, cheeses and coffee.
Business travelers will love the Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and the 2 euro or $3 cost. There’s no bar — in fact the hotel doesn’t sell alcohol — but the large living room with spacious tables is good for conversation, turning on your laptop and spreading out your papers. If it’s important to save 2 euros, you can go to any park or train station and pick up a wireless Internet access signal free.
Fawcett, an entrepreneurial American who’s been living in and writing about Paris for decades, has some other money-saving recommendations:
• In summer, bring wash-and-wear clothes. Hotel laundry and dry-cleaning costs are shockingly high;
• If you’re craving a Scotch, buy a bottle at the supermarket and sip in your room. Fawcett says she recently had the “smallest vodka” ever at a hotel bar and was charged 21 euros or roughly $35;
• France has banned smoking in restaurants except if there is an outdoor area. Some restaurants are doing semi-enclosed spaces with heaters, but they feel like those airport smoking lounges;
• Bring extra little passport-sized pictures. You will be continuously asked for them;
• Do not call for a taxi because you are charged from the minute the driver gets the call, not when you climb in the cab. Also, hailing a taxi is illegal in Paris. If you’re not loaded down with baggage and it’s not pouring rain, go to a cab stand and save;
• The Metro subway system is the fastest and most efficient way to get around Paris. It takes one minute to go between Metro stations. But late at night take a cab. Buses are clean and plentiful. For short distances, the adventurous type can even ride a bicycle and charge it to your credit card;
• Where to eat? Fawcett insists the paperback Hungry for Paris: Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants, by the witty gourmand Alexander Lobrano, is the best book of its kind. Find a used copy on Amazon.com for around $11.