Paris is good at showing off. The haute couture, the Michelin stars, the muscular Haussmann architecture. But you get the feeling that it knows it, too. And less is more, right? A palace hotel is all very well, but where's the glamour in that elegant, doormen-shielded entrance sitting next to a string of souvenir stalls peddling Eiffel tower snow-globes and Toulouse-Lautrec posters? Paris-luxe comes with crowds attached and all the accoutrements that follow.
For a truly sophisticated experience of Paris you have to go slightly off the tourist map. The Marais is no secret, but Paris's oldest quarter bears none of the big-hitting attractions that attract long queues and wheeling hawkers. This bourgeois district is of palatable proportions, made up of atmospheric lanes, bijou museums, boho cafés, a Jewish quarter and 17th-century architecture.
At its heart is the 1605 Place des Vosges, the city's oldest planned square that, pre-Revolution, was known as the Place Royale. It's a suitably regal location for the Pavillon de la Reine.
The hotel is tucked discreetly behind some serious-looking art galleries on the square's northerly arcade – no Toulouse-Lautrec posters here. The building, commissioned along with the rest of the square by Henry IV in homage to his reine, is an exercise in measured elegance. For a start, there are no doormen. You'd almost miss the entrance if you weren't looking for it: an alley siphons off the arcade to emerge at a small lawn and behind it, the ivy-clad hotel.
To step inside is to enter a warm, cosseting environment – all low ceilings, genial staff and regal hues of red and gold. The ambience is suspended somewhere between a very impressive private home and a chic guesthouse. The service is personal and relaxed, the proportions intimate, the lighting dusky and the décor inviting. Which is perhaps why guests – many of them as illustrious as those that originally frequented the building – keep returning.
Tucked behind the northern arcade of the Place des Vosges, a square of well-tended lawn, box trees and fountains that is surrounded by elegant red brick and stone buildings with steeply-pitched roofs. It shares its location with the Victor Hugo museum where the legendary writer once lived, but this is the only place you're likely to encounter any bustle. Otherwise, it's a tranquil spot that allows you to melt into the everyday life of this elegant corner of town.
The Marais is far enough from the maelstrom of the Louvre and Tuileries but still within walking distance of the main tourist sites. Closer to hand, the district is stuffed with small-scale attractions such as the Picasso and Carnavalet Museums, cafés and boutiques.
A recent refurbishment has upped the decadence quotient in the 54 rooms, with a reputed €120,000 spent on some of them. It's patently obvious in some, like the Suite de la Reine with its double-height ceilings and oversize panel of Victor Hugo's handwriting reproduced above the bed.
My junior suite was perfectly well-dressed but a little demure for a hotel with such history – and a €700-a-night rack rate. Walls were lined with oatmeal-hued felt and photography of purple tulips, windows were hung with heavy linen curtains – but overall the lines were sharp and a little plain. In fact, it wouldn't have looked out of place in a five-star business hotel. Happily, the majority of the rooms here are rich with sultry atmosphere and romance, with 17th-century beams, silk damask wallpaper and velvet sofas. Some of the smallest aren't to be overlooked either, especially those in the eaves with dormer windows overlooking the peaceful streets.
The refurbishment has also added a spa, branded by Carita (creators of Brigitte Bardot's iconic hairstyle). It offers indulgent treatments, a gym, Jacuzzi and steam room.
Breakfast is served in the drawing room, where orange damask wallpaper, gilt frames, white tablecloths, velvet armchairs and a bookcase stocked with anything from Raspail to encyclopaedias set the scene.
Later in the day, an honesty bar takes over. There's no restaurant, but with so much to tempt you off the premises, it's of little significance; plus it keeps the hotel to the guests. Here, less is definitely more.
Pavillon de la Reine, 28 Place des Vosges, Marais, Paris, France (00 33 1 40 29 19 19; pavillon-de-la-reine.com)
Doubles start at €381.50, room only. Breakfast from €28Reuse content