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.
Oh Vero, your post has made me so happy!
I stayed at this hotel for 3 or 4 nights about 10 years ago and loved it.
It was family owned and run — a Sacramento California woman married a Frenchman and they completely renovated the hotel which had been owned by his family. And it was clearly operated with love. It sounds like it still is.
I haven’t stayed there again because it is a bit on the outskirts and takes some time to get into the center of Paris but I do appreciate that it’s out of the tourist zone with actual Parisians living there.
Maybe I’ll stay there again in May after my RS Sicily tour…
I am also glad that you found relief from the heat.
Bonjour SharYn. How wonderful to hear your excellent review of the hotel! I believe it is still family-owned and by the same couple. I met a Paris-based friend on Friday who knows them and immediately knew what hotel I was referring to when I brought it up. Good places don’t change, and that’s a good thing. The new RSE Sicily tour sounds like a lot of fun. Good for you for trying it out, and yes, l’Hôtel de la Porte Dorée would be the perfect Parisian home base to recover from a busy few days on the road. A bientôt!
Smart move! You escape the heat and get to share a lesser-known corner of Paris with you readers. Win, win 🙂
As a travel blogger, you know the golden rule, Sylvaine: Always be on the look-out for worthwhile material to share while traveling… or surviving a heat wave. 😉 I am astounded at how many articles cover all the “been there, done that” sections of Paris, and how few actually introduce places like the 12th arrondissement. Got to keep the Parisian dream alive, I guess! I am lucky to have readers who enjoy looking “on the other side of the fence,” too.
So happy you found a place to stay with AC. In the years I had a flat to use on the Place des Vosges, I had a Parisian friend who lived in the 12th in an ancient building in a lovely neighborhood. Enjoyed some local restaurants and shopping as well as parks. Here in Delaware on the East Coast of US, we have had few days under 90 + degrees, some reaching 100 and feeling like 116 with the humidity included. Of course there is AC everywhere, a necessity for May through October. Love “touring” all corners of Paris with you. Stay cool!
Bonjour Diane. Thank you for stopping by, and for traveling with me. I am glad your friend introduced you to less touristy parts of Paris. Staying in le Marais vs. the 12th arrondissement is almost like being in two different cities. 😉 I am familiar with the East Coast (my favorite section of the United States since all my early travels took place there,) and know it would be hard to live without AC in those parts. Stay cool! It looks like things are fast improving in Paris where we have had some rain over the last couple of days. A bientôt.
Very smart move… I might keep this place in mind when I next visit Paris (2021)
You would be well advised to, with the caveat listed in the story of course. 🙂 A bientôt.
I’ve never LOVED Paris the way so many Americans of my acquaintance do. But about 10 years ago, I used part of an inheritance to travel whimsically around France. I didn’t make a single reservation before I left the US, except for the first 3 days. I’d just decide where I wanted to go next, a few days ahead of time, would find a hotel online that I felt I could afford, book, and go. It was on this trip that I fell in love with Avignon.
I found myself in Paris three times during that trip. I began to become somewhat fond of her when I stayed in a very worn hotel—I think it was 2 stars—that I found at the last minute near the Porte de Vincennes métro on the 12th side of cours de Vincennes. There was something about the 12th that was so NOT the Paris one reads about—so unrosy—and yet quintessentially Parisian—the Paris of my great-aunt in her 5th floor (that’s French 5th floor) walk-up , who I’d met when I was a dizzy 19 year old.
This last trip, I stayed in a swapped apartment in the 11th and enjoyed Paris very much, the way one does when you meet an old friend with whom you have some history, but about whom you have yet more to learn. And Paris seemed so much more diverse to this former New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. I had a stroll around “the old neighborhood” in the 12th (as well as an outing to Bois de Vincennes—the islands were closed for some reason, but I walked around the lake). You had not yet returned, Mme V, or I would have begged you to meet for thé ou café to thank you for the many years of fun writing and insights and the ones yet to come.
Bonjour Sasho. What a lovely message, thank you! It sounds like we enjoy traveling the same way. Your description of the 12th arrondissement is perfect. I am so glad there are visitors out there who truly appreciate Paris “off the beaten path,” in all her ethnic and social diversity. Those visitors typically don’t stay where tourists do, and are rewarded with more realistic experiences in the French capital. Paris has changed so much over the last two decades! I am grateful for areas like 12th arrondissement that help keep things real. It was the first section of Paris I went apartment-hunting in before I relocated to France earlier this year. (I previously lived in the 11th before it became trendy, very close to Place de la Nation.) Since I could not find a rental there, I settled for a small place in la “Petite Ceinture,” at the intersection of Vincennes, St Mandé and Montreuil, a location that’s authentic, and so peaceful! A bientôt peut-être!
Glad you found a/c in a relaxing place! Thank you for sharing your pictures with us. I probably will never see France so I enjoy the pictures. Here in the US where I live we had 110 degree heat index last week. I stayed inside with the a/c.
Bonjour Nancy. I am glad you have A/C and even happier you get to travel to France vicariously through my stories. I write for many “armchair travelers” and love hearing from them. A bientôt.
Vero-this small hotel had me at the library corner! Good choice and so happy you survived the heat in such pleasant surroundings. Bisous, Amy
Bonjour Amy. Thank you for stopping by. I survived la Canicule 2.0! Now let’s hope Paris does not decide to impress us with a third one this summer!
Merci Vero for the review of the hotel, what a lovely find. Your photos of the park are fabulous. I have many parks on my must visit list and le Bois de Vincennes is on it.
Avec plaisir June! Definitely add le Bois de Vincennes to your list. It’s rewarding and extremely easy to get to!
Hi, Vero. Sorry the heat chased you out of your top-floor perch last week, but thanks for calling this hotel to our attention. Our trip this year is already booked and partially paid, but this hotel, even with breakfast, is substantially cheaper than either of our Paris rentals. Plus, it’s pet friendly. We’ve bookmarked it for next year. We aren’t put off either by its room size or location.
Our trip this year begins in about five weeks. We’ll be there for two months. We start and end in Paris (near Rue Oberkampf and then on Rue de Montmorency). We’re bringing our dog. She’s excited about it. ???
Bonjour Bruce! Two months is wonderful! Plenty of time to explore Paris and France, as I know you love to do. Yes the Hôtel de la Porte Dorée is pet friendly. In fact, there was a cute (and very well behaved) pooch staying there last week, and I met her and her owners on a couple of occasions. I bet you and Sharon are looking forward to your trip! Happy August until then et… à bientôt.
I love the 11th and the 12th. Headed there in a few weeks.
Good for you! Bonne visite Sue.
As always a fun read that put me back in France. Merci
Avec plaisir Joyce. Thank you for stopping by!