Hotel du Petit Moulin copyNestled in the Haut Marais district of Paris – the area that is the Williamsburg or Hackney of the great French city – is a real gem, Hotel Du Petit Moulin. Christian Lacroix’s mad-hatter house of hospitality elicits charm and quirkiness in equal measure, from the moment you approach its doors.

Outside, the sign still reads ‘Boulangerie’ an elegant remnant of a bygone incarnation of the site; inside, visitors are immediately greeted with a madly colourful and intricate – though faded with time – ceiling mural. A first sumptuous taste of eccentric things to come.


Christian Lacroix, who designed the hotel  himself described his creation as follows:

“It brings to mind a dolls house, or those cross sections of buildings you might see in 20th-century encyclopedias, with very different atmospheres from one floor to the next.”

My own room in the hotel contained “very different atmospheres” within its own four walls; the wall against which the bed rests is decorated by a kind of abstract Indian theme – images of metal artwork superimposed upon a backdrop of reds, velvets and burgundies. Move one foot along the adjacent wall and you reach a faux Greek pillar jutting half out of the wall (one of three in the room). There were two mirrors in my room, one that bulged like the reverse of a spoon and distorted everything in its gaze, the other impossibly high to see into (fortunately there’s a full-length ‘regular’ one in the bathroom), but this contrariness gives a good sense of a room where I often half-suspected the designer was playing a joke on me.

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I expect that some people could fall in love with this room, and this hotel, while others would find both garish and distasteful. To me, Hotel Du Petit Moulin constituted a wonderful place to get away from the world, and forget that any such thing as humdrum or routine exists.

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The one conventionally beautiful element of my room was the ceiling – a gorgeous old wooden affair, made of huge bulging beams that looked like they’d be perfect to cast in concrete for the roof of some hipster speakeasy in East London. Which is particularly apt, as the area that surrounds the hotel is as rich in beards and brogues as anywhere on Kingsland road, from Shoreditch to Dalston.

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Much like London’s hipster hub, Haut Marais owes its recent history to an explosion of immigrants and industry. At the beginning of the 20th century the district was transformed by the arrival of Central European immigrants into what became the Jewish quarter. It was then that a large number of fabric production workshops began to appear.

Out of these seeds of enterprise and humble fabric working grew an area now famous for fashion and art; the Picasso museum is a short walk from the hotel, but the surrounding streets are studded with more modern galleries, vintage shops and fashion boutiques that will make you wish with all your heart that your pay packets bulged just that little bit thicker.

Just as in New York and London, this explosion of culture has brought with it a bustling night life and very good food, coffee and music. Inside Hotel Du Petit Moulin is a well-stocked honesty bar to practice your skills as a bar-keep, while outside traditional bistros and wine bars brush shoulders with organic shops, vegan burger joints, juice bars and a truly fantastic street food market, ‘Marche Des Enfants Rouges’.

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Florence Tamagne, author of “Paris: ‘Resting on its Laurels’?”, wrote that Le Marais “is less a ‘village’ where one lives and works than an entrance to a pleasure area”. I certainly can’t imagine working here, but I can imagine living. I came home from my weekend in Paris utterly enthused by the La Marais vibe and with my head spinning, half bemused/half delighted by the extraordinary, mad, and delightful Hotel Du Petit Moulin.