Hôtel Particulier Montmartre sits on a cobblestoned passageway—leafy, romantic, and graffitied—that the plan de Paris does not even acknowledge with a name. This is rare for the city, where even the narrowest allées and most insignificant ruelles have designations. But the map isn’t totally disinterested in the passageway, which people who live in the northern 18th Arrondissement have used as a secret shortcut to get from Avenue Junot to Rue Lepic, and vice versa, since forever: three infinitesimal parallel lines sketched in by the cartographer signify a (steep) staircase. Of course, one look up at Sacré Coeur and you know that topography is destiny in Montmartre. Terrain trumps everything.
On the face of it, Amélie country—Place du Tertre and its ghastly daubers, Marché St.-Pierre and its divine fabric shops—is a brave and unlikely location for a hotel charging, deep breath, $600 a night. No one thinks of Montmartre in terms of spending the night, not unless you like Mercures and Holiday Inns. At dinner down the street from Hôtel Particulier at Aux Négociants, an old Doisneau favorite and the kind of “four-table family restaurant” beloved by Julian Barnes, Parisian friends who’d never heard of the hotel were unbelieving. Marie Bailhache, a design journalist, and her husband, Philippe Gronon, a noted art photographer, said only a pigeon (French for sucker) would pay that all the way up here.
But if, like me, you really have no better reason for staying in the First or Seventh than that it’s where you have always stayed since your first trip to Paris in 1972; if you have been looking for a way out of those bourgeois ghettos, prosperous and reassuring as they are; if their street sweepers and barmen, toddler-wear boutiques and butchers’ vitrines don’t quite do it for you anymore, $600 can seem like a bargain. I don’t think you can put a price on learning a new Paris neighborhood, not one with bistros this real and vest-pocket markets like Rue Duhesme’s. You cannot ignore a place with a monument to Dalida.
With only five rooms, Hôtel Particulier doesn’t have to convince the world that Montmartre is the new Marais. While the urban fashion for so-called “microhotels” has been around a while—the category was born in 2003, when Carla Sozzani launched 3Rooms in Milan—Hôtel Particulier proves their growing viability. And by applying the concept to a nearly freestanding Directoire house with a luxuriant private garden in the French capital—and by then adding a gripping contemporary-art–and-design subplot—it is changing the game and pointing the way.
Though there’s no official or even unofficial definition of a microhotel, most hospitality pundits cap the number of rooms at five. Microhotels came just in time for travelers in search of apartment-style accommodations that would help them to live like locals. Fashion designers are a big part of the picture, and not only in the way you might think: Azzedine Alaïa is a partner in the Paris outpost of 3Rooms, and Holland’s Analik is behind Miauw Suites in Antwerp and Amsterdam. Scratch a destination these days and you’ll find a microhotel: the Residenza Napoleone III in Rome, the One Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Obviously, small on its own guarantees nothing. Hôtel Particulier isn’t perfect. Service is a pipe dream. At any given time, the number of personnel working in the hotel may not even be one. Among the 111 things it must do before accepting another reservation is bag the lanterns lining the entrance walk. They create a terrible first impression. Marie and Philippe were scandalized, their national pride wounded. Did management think no one would recognize the lanterns from the wide aisles of Ikea Marseille and Paramus?
Until you breach the threshold, Hôtel Particulier looks like the home of a well-fed provincial notary, which is to say like the dignified foursquare house I think of when I think of my French dream house. A child could draw it: all the windows in the three-story façade line up with pleasing geometry; lead urns march up the steps to the front door, which is centered and framed by iron lanterns on brackets; a chimney puffs ribbons of smoke. In recent years, the building belonged to the Hermès family. The Louis Benech garden was not a deal-maker for Morgane Rousseau and Frédéric Comtet, Hôtel Particulier’s owners, though they realized it would be a big selling point with guests. Benech, who, with Pascal Cribier, renovated the Tuileries in 1997, is to garden design in France what Jacques Grange is to decorating. At the hotel, Benech says he sought the feel of a wild, impromptu garden, but one that has been brought to heel. He went out of his way to choose mostly evergreen shrubs and trees, so that all the intimate little corners and pockets he introduced—for reading, for cocktails, for listening to the owlsong—are plush even in winter. La vie en vert.