Going local in Paris, part one
comment Comment Written by on November 10, 2008 – 2:09 pm

Also in Sat’s locals special in the Guardian was my account of a recent B&B visit in Paris. It follows below and is part of a larger piece on tips on where to stay around the world.

Françoise was a fun host and I was impressed with the agency, 2binParis.com. While I was in town I also meet with one of their representatives, Jenny Johnson. It is part of her job to visit all the hosts, to personally vet the accommodation, and make sure they fully understand what their role involves.

Here’s my review. And stay tuned for part two of the Going Local Paris experience, when things got even more interesting and I met one of the city’s greatest local legends.

The Parisian B&B

Françoise Rousse answers the door with a big welcoming smile. Well, smiles are to be expected given that she is a professional laughter coach and the founder of the French University of Laughter. This weekend, this flame-haired sixtysomething is also my host. She has established her own Parisian B&B, offering her spare bedroom to travellers looking to get a more personal perspective on this vast, enigmatic city.

B&Bs are currently enjoying a resurgence in Paris. For proof, thumb through the newly released Chambres d’Hôtes à Paris, a pictorial guide of the city’s 100 best (Hachette, €16). You don’t have to be able to read the French text to have your imagination captured by images of Le Bateau Johanna (bateau.johanna.free.fr), a houseboat moored by the Musée d’Orsay, or Chez Bertrand, where the bed is fashioned out of an old 2CV (chezbertrand.com).

According to Jenny Johnson of B&B specialists 2binParis.com, Parisians are signing up to the idea in order to “meet more people and earn a little extra money”. The plus points are just as obvious for the tourists: B&Bs offer the chance to tap into some local knowledge and are also a welcome alternative to overpriced tourist hotels.

Françoise’s 1930s apartment block is just off a tourist-free road in the eastern suburb of Vincennes. Inside, the homely decor is just as cheerful as the owner. Its bijoux dimensions are enhanced by a wall of mirrors and a bouquet of lilies; wooden furniture is painted in primary colours; and my bedroom is pastel purples and greens.

I nearly backed out when 2binParis.com told me I’d be staying in Vincennes, which looked far from central on my map. But it turned out to be just a 15-minute metro ride from the fashionable Marais district, on numerous handy bus routes (the number 29 takes you straight to St Lazare, for shopping at La Fayette), and there is even a Vélib stop so you can use Paris’s hugely successful public bike scheme.

But, best of all, Françoise alerts me to the nearby Promenade Plantée, a green-fringed footpath (cyclists and skaters welcome) that follows an old railway line and takes you all the way to the Bastille.

There are some drawbacks to staying in such a small B&B: you are constantly aware that you are a guest in someone’s home and you have to stick to a specified arrival time. However, it’s certainly a more personal and insightful experience.

As for me, I still have some way to go before I get fully under Paris’s skin, but I’d be happy to make my way through the 100 best B&Bs to get there.

• Françoise’s apartment, Courteline, costs €34.22pp per night through 2binParis.com (+1 47 34 01 50). There are around 120 B&Bs on the site, from €35-€100pp pn. Sister company bbitalia.it has over 4,000 B&Bs across Italy. Eurostar (eurostar.com) runs from St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford to Paris from £59 return.

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