As lovers of literature will testify, sometimes there’s nothing better than an evening spent curled up with a good book and a glass of decent wine. Which is why Le Pavillon des Lettres, a literary boutique hotel in the centre of Paris, more than piqued my interest for a solo weekend getaway.
Reading is, for many, one of the greatest solitary pleasures. Unlike watching television or a film – an essentially passive act throughout which you can text or catch up with your emails, one leg firmly grounded in the real world – a book requires you to stop whatever else you’re doing and get lost in it.
Literature’s imaginary world is conjured up in the interplay between the act of reading and the prose already present on the page. As the Tracy Chapman song goes, fiction is created in “the space between” the words and your imagination. And this space demands your full, undivided attention, as you conjure up images, sounds, smells, tastes and textures.
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There was no place better to do this than at Le Pavillon des Lettres, the brainchild of Paris hotelier Jérôme Chevalier, where the reading experience is valued most highly. Designed by interior designer Didier Benderli, the hotel’s literary nods are everywhere: from the type-written wallpaper and dedicated library to the 26 rooms alphabetically named after different authors (Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Baudelaire, Pedro Calderon...you get the picture). I was in the James room, for Henry James – and the interior included a copy of his short story, ‘Daisy Miller’).
For my evening’s entertainment at the Le Pavillon des Lettres, I had no other than me, myself and I – oh, and a whole library of award-winning literature. While it’s rare to see a public experience designed for the individual rather than for a couple or group, the hotel’s trademark literary wine pairing is by its nature best enjoyed by yourself.
Compiled by Elle's Literary Editor Marta Bausells in collaboration with wine expert Gabrielle Vizzavonna, the innovative "literary wine list” recommends which tipple to pair with the novel you select from the library – mercifully, copies are available in both English and French. I went for Elena Ferrante's 'My Brilliant Friend', its depiction of the passion and violence fuelled Neapolitan culture of the 1950s offset by a bold, spicy Chateau des Estanilles red.
And I needn’t have worried about soaking up all that delicious wine. The hotel offers a complimentary "tapas" bar in the evenings – available from 5pm to 8pm everyday – which boasts a selection of cheeses and meats to keep even the most discerning palate happy. That evening, I spent a delightful three hours of reading time in the hotel’s charming salon area, sinking into the plush velvet sofa and enjoying the flickering glow from the fireplace.
The next morning, after a continental breakfast of croissants, scrambled eggs and fresh grapefruit, it was time to depart from Ferrante’s fictional world and re-enter the real world – after all, I was in Paris. The hotel is located just off the Champs-Élysées, which is fittingly a one minute walk away from independent book shop Librairie Lardanchet Beaux-Arts – so that was my first stop to browse their glossy selection of fine art books, as well as a smaller selection of rare and precious illustrated books dating back to the fifteenth century.
And then on to exploring. While otherwise the hotel’s immediate setting – is not the most literary, its centrality and proximity to Madeleine tube station allows you to easily travel to the spots favoured by the likes of literary greats Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Simone de Beauvoir.
The Air BnB experiences app prove a useful tool for booking things to do alone. During my stay, I checked out the Left Bank ‘Drinkers & Thinkers’ tour, run by the lovely Amarens and her partner James, which provides a hugely informative (and enjoyable) insight into the city’s rich literary history, and the badly-behaved individuals fuelling the fire. During the tour, we visited Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore, adjacent cafes frequented by literary greats de Beavoir and her on-off lover Jean Paul Sartre, Arthur Ribauld and Paul Verlaine, and later Oscar Wilde. Later, on my tour guide’s advice, I travelled further down the river to visit Shakespeare & Company. The three hour tour included a pitstop in the scenic Luxembourg Gardens to enjoy a glass of kir with the group.
I also took part in the Feminists of Paris tour, run by students Cécile Fara and Julie Marangé, which gave me a mind-expanding insight into the art, street art and architecture of Paris, and its interrelation with issues such as prostitution, gender rights and patriarchal history. The tour took us everywhere from a six storey artists’ collective at 59 Rivioli, to the vivid murals and sculptures (the latter by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle) present at the Stravinsky Fountain near Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern and contemporary art.
My weekend away was bookended (ahem) by the ever-trusty Eurostar service between London St Pancras and Gare du Nord. Aside from being much, much easier than flying (want to bring your 200ml bottle of shampoo? No problem!), the experience was nothing short of delightful throughout.
I was lucky enough to be hosted for Eurostar's Business Premier service, which is well worth the extra cost if you're feeling flush. The benefits before and during your journey are multifold, including a faster check-in and swanky lounges at both terminals to relax before your train. The lounge is no instant coffee and pack of digestives affair – it boasts a Gatsby-esque sunken bar with complimentary cocktails, an array of different snacks and a state-of-the-art coffee machine. Not to mention a brilliant selection of magazines, including the latest editions of Vogue, Grazia and New Statesman.
On board, there is spacious seating with the option to spread over multiple seats if it’s not too busy (which, despite my journeys being on Friday and Sunday afternoons respectively, it wasn’t). There’s also a fully-catered dining service with a menu devised by Raymond Blanc and a selection of soft and alcoholic beverages. With the ease of a train surface and all the comforts you could want, I can’t imagine a more delightful way to travel.
The Literary Wine List at Pavillon des Lettres is available to all hotel guests. Stays at Pavillon des Lettres from €199 per room per night based on two sharing on a B&B basis. To book, visit www.pavillondeslettres.com or phone +33 (0)1 49 24 26 26. Business Premier fares are £245 one-way based on a return journey from London to Paris. Tickets are available from www.eurostar.com or 03432 186 186.