12th arrondissement hideway
Heatwave 2.0 has come and gone, leaving Paris and the rest of the country exhausted. Like millions of Europeans, we all did our best to cope (with the exception of Brittany, that remained in the balmy mid-70s and became the envy of France.) I stuck it out in my top-floor studio under the rooftops until indoor temperatures reached 90F and stopped going down at night. By Wednesday afternoon, I found out all other tenants on the seventh floor had deserted the mothership, off on their summer vacation or enjoying cooler pastures. That was the last straw. I pulled out my credit card, logged into Booking.com, (where I qualify for frequent traveler status and sizable discounts,) and booked myself into a local hotel for the following two nights. By Thursday afternoon, I checked into a small, yet comfortable air-conditioned room with decent WiFi where I spent the next two days preparing for my next tour in absolute peace. I was saved!
Away from the mêlée.
In my price range (under $130 a night,) Booking.com came up with suggestions in the eastern sections of Paris. I stayed clear of popular locations like la Bastille or le Faubourg St Antoine, where crowds, buses and cars often compete for space. Instead, I picked a hotel on the outskirts of the 12th arrondissement, less than 100 feet from le Métro de la Porte Dorée, an area where few tourists venture (unless all other hotels are booked.) It was a good choice. Even if the neighborhood was low on action in the evenings – (and provides few decent restaurants within walking distance of the hotel,) there were enough grocery stores, boulangeries, small eateries (and a Monoprix!) to keep me hydrated and well fed.
I really enjoyed my two days at l’Hôtel de la Porte Dorée, an independent three-star property with air-conditioned rooms. It’s not for everyone because it’s not a chichi place, and you need to ride the Metro to get back to the center of the action. My standard double room was perfect for a solo traveler, but it would be tight for two people, which is not unusual in Paris. Still, if you are looking for super friendly service, nice touches to greet you (free spring water, free organic coffee, fresh flowers on every floor,) then this may be the hotel for you. The property feels like a family-run place. I see a lot of hotels in my line of work, and I did pick up on good vibes there. Even better, l’Hôtel de la Porte Dorée is a member of the Clef Verte Green Program and focuses on saving energy, water, and recycling. Their commitment is detailed in French and in English in each room.
12th arrondissement: A hotel with a great backyard
One of the reasons I chose this authentic, no fuss neighborhood, was the proximity to my own place, a short TRAM and Metro ride away. Contrary to popular belief, the non-touristy 12th arrondissement is not all residential, unglamorous streets. It also includes popular attractions (once frequented only by locals,) like La Promenade Plantée (aka la Coulée Verte,) and le Parc de Bercy and Bercy Village. L’Hôtel de la Porte Dorée scored big points in my book when I realized I could walk to one of the entrances of le Bois de Vincennes, my favorite Parisian backyard, where I walk or run daily. It is so massive I hardly ever make it to its eastern section: This was my chance! I went there both mornings before 9:00am, as temps were still hovering in the mid-70s.
I will not elaborate on the history of le Bois de Vincennes and le lac Daumesnil (an artificial lake) and its two islands, linked by a small bridge, l’Ile de Reuilly and l’Ile de Bercy. You can find out more in the short video I am sharing below. Let’s take in a few sights, shall we? Walking around that section of le Bois de Vincennes is like traveling back in time, to the 19th century, on a genteel and peaceful stroll in glorious surroundings. I mean, when was the last time you saw Parisians this relaxed?
A lake and two islands
There are old bridges, water fountains, swans, Canadian geese, ancient trees. There is a restaurant, le Châlet des Isles Daumesnil. On weekends, it gets busy. On a weekday, you can walk for 10 minutes without passing anyone. And we are in Paris, in the 12th arrondissement in the middle of the tourist season: Can you believe it?
Step on the first island and take a look: Does this romantic building on Ile de Reuilly look familiar? Renowned architect Gabriel Davioud built it in the 19th century and liked it so much he erected a similar one in le Parc des Buttes Chaumont, (19th arrondissement,) le Temple de la Sybille.
Between le Bois de Vincennes and the hotel stands an impressive building, le Palais de la Porte Dorée, with its art deco façade depicting scenes from France’s colonial history. It still houses an old aquarium that has entertained generations of Parisian children, and the National Museum of the History of Immigration. In the distance, the big, man-made rock of the famed Paris Zoological Park, seems to be so close you could touch it.
Heatwaves, like all good things, have an end. After two productive and enjoyable days in 12th arrondissement, it was time for me to return to my studio, “the 7th Heaven,” where I promptly opened all windows.
Le lac Daumesnil, Bois de Vincennes, a French Girl in Seattle Video
For additional reading about the magnificent Bois de Vincennes, I suggest you discover this excellent article.