Paris with all the fun of the fair
SIMON FRY DISCOVERS A MARVELLOUS, MODERN HOTEL IN AN HISTORIC PARIS QUARTER JUST A STONE’S THROW AWAY FROM AN AMAZING FUN FAIR MUSEUM
I seek a hotel nearby where I can prep, relax and discover something new about this great city.
The Pullman Paris Centre – Bercy does all this and more.
With four stars, 396 rooms and a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence, it’s bold and impressive, and yet comes with delightfully individual service.
Bercy was once home to numerous wine cellars, and the vine growing at this modern (built in 2000) hotel is a nod to history. Naturally, the hotel’s restaurant – ‘Spirit of the 12th’ (arrondise-ment) features an extensive and eclectic list.
Those keen on working up an appetite can do so in a fully-equipped gym, com-plete with sauna. Anaïs Souton, the guest experience manager kindly offers to print a jogging route for me, explaining that Notre-Dame is a 10Km round route. One of Paris’s quirkiest swimming pools – Piscine Josephine Baker – is housed on a boat upon the Seine – around seven minutes’ walk away.
Indeed, I can see the pool through the jaw-dropping floor-to-ceiling window of my two-storey room. Notre-Dame is also in view, with Sacré-Coeur on a far horizon.
What’s within my room is as impressive as what is beyond. Anaïs explains how the Pullman group caters among others for the ‘bleisure’ customer – those looking for business and leisure services during their stay. My spacious room’s wonderfully large desk allows for devices to be plugged in and worked from with room left over for a briefcase’s contents. Its sofas pull out, meaning this space can function as a family retreat as easily as an office…which makes perfect sense, because the hotel is convenient for Disneyland. On Saturday night a miniature Elsa from Frozen rushes excitedly into my lift as I exit, clearly still buzzing from what had surely been a fantastic day.
Heading out, I visit the astonishing fairground museum (Musée des Arts Forains) at Pavillons de Bercy, a mere four minutes’ walk away. Some Parisian friends had recommended it after taking their young daughters there, and I feel very in-the-know upon discovering this hidden gem.
Apart from open days in September and around Christmas, entrance is by prior booking, maintaining an almost word-of-mouth cachet. This ensures visitors experience the attraction’s full glory – the exhibits have no cases and no labels explain them; instead, guided tours bring them to life, with visitors allowed to ride the carousels and touch all items. Merry-go-rounds, shooting galleries, a bunco booth and paper music roll pipe organ, bagatelle and elaborate shove ha’penny tables bring all the fun of the fair, with the extra-ordinary velocipede (bicycle carousel) the undoubted pièce de résistance. Powered by the people sitting on its fixed bi-cycles, I am told it rotates at up to 60Kmh!
Despite this need to book in advance, over 300,000 people visit annually, enjoying other attractions like automatons performing opera, a room devoted to the Venice carnival, a theatre of marvels and tree-lined cobbled streets adding elegance to the enchantment.
The adjoining Bercy Village resembles Dusseldorf’s Altstadt in miniature, with around 30 restaurants offering everything from Japanese and Italian to British, Belgian and, naturally, French cuisine. Saturday night is in full swing and a very continental hubbub of food and conversation fills the warm air. It is utterly sublime to stroll through these streets enjoying an ice cream as you choose where in the world you wish to dine.
The hotel is around 120 seconds’ walk from Cour Saint-Émilion metro station, giving quick and easy transport to all of Paris’s charms. Its ticket office is still manned at 10pm, and I receive confirmation from a friendly staff member that trains will run on Sunday from 5.30am.
I turn in, and after a supremely restful sleep and the aforementioned jog, check out at 6.50am.
Alas, I forego a breakfast which is ranked among Europe’s top six at time of going to press. The hotel applied to the prestigious Prix Villégiature Awards for the ‘Best Hotel Breakfast in Europe’, welcoming the jury in June and being nominated for the final, where the other five candidates include Paris’s Plaza Athénée (currently ranked 16th out of the city’s 1,792 hotels.)
The Pullman Paris Centre – Bercy has also applied to the Lauriers du Voyage d’affaires for the ‘Best hotel service for business travellers’ category; I won’t be surprised if it wins…
Hotel website www.pullmanhotels.com/fr/hotel-2192-pullman-paris-centre-bercy/index.shtml
Funfair Museum website: www.pavillons-de-bercy.com