It often takes me a good day and a half to reach the stage of feeling that I am on holiday – impatiently padding around the pool, slouching with a book, tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable, before giving up and going for a wander or, more likely, reaching for my phone. So, the speed and certainty with which it hit me at La Maison Souquet came as quite a surprise.
The tall townhouse that the hotel inhabits was originally a fin-de-siècle brothel run by one Madame Souquet. The ground floor is divided into three rooms: at the front, the mosaic-walled lobby; in its heart, a bar with lights so low you could lose your morals; and, at the back, a winter room. We opted for the latter – the light, filtered through a shaded atrium, was muted as if reflected from fresh snow.
It was here that I found my moment of holiday bliss. It came as I nestled back into an abundant collection of brocade pillows on the velvet banquette. With hindsight, I should have seen it coming. La Maison Souquet stays true to the indulgent principles that underwrote its previous incarnation. From the fingers of incense smoke weaving through the air at reception to the scent of musk that's so thick you could be smelling it from a lover's neck, enticement was constantly on the tip of Maison Souquet's tongue. My phone remained firmly in my pocket as I looked around and – slowly but surely – exhaled.
Maison Souquet is the second hotel from Paris's boutique Maisons Particulières group and there are plans for a third. It's no surprise: the group's intimate take on luxury is hard to resist and has nuzzled itself a cosy niche in the city of romance.
The interior design is the work of Jacques Garcia – also responsible for the Costes empire of boutique hotels and restaurants, the re-imagining of La Mamounia in Marrakech and much else. The attention to detail makes for an exquisite setting. In the lobby, he has seen to the renovation of original Art Nouveau lacquer-work and tiling, all illuminated by sultry Hollywood lighting. If, as the L P Hartley line goes, “the past is another country”, then Paris is surely top contender for its capital, and Maison Souquet would be the place to stay.
As we left to explore our environs, the concierge asked if we'd like to book the private pool for the morning. The next morning, be-robed in a dressing gown that was so thick I felt like a puppy in a blanket, we were taken to the basement floor. At the end of a sumptuously carpeted corridor, behind a gold-tinted door, lay the 10-metre pool. The walls of the room were black and much of the light emanated from beneath the water. Constellations shimmered in gold across the cobalt ceiling. The bellboy informed us that he would return in an hour and, with a barely stifled grin, closed the door behind him. My companion and I looked at each other. Sadly, we have been good friends since school.
I came across this in the hotel's literature: “You must shut out the world to hear the voice of your senses. In the tradition of the finest pleasure houses, the Maison Souquet disorients its guests to speed their surrender.” A little Fifty Shades, maybe, but one would be hard-pushed to beat Maison Souquet for a romantic weekend away: my surrender was both involuntary and immediate.
Within bodice-tossing distance of the Moulin Rouge, this is the quarter of the city once known for the sating of carnal desires. Mounted on the wall either side of the hotel's front door is a red lantern. It's a 10-minute walk – up many stairs – to the Sacré-Coeur, or 20 minutes down to Boulevard Haussmann and Rue La Fayette.
The hotel lies at the western edge of a geographical band that stretches through the 9th, 10th and 19th arrondissements and encompasses the cusp of everything that's most “now”. Indeed, this part of town has been given a Manhattan-style acronym, SoPi (South of Pigalle), with all the hipsterdom that entails.
The building packs in 14 rooms and six junior suites across its five floors. Garcia has made a virtue of the limited dimensions of the rooms, each named after a courtesan. Ours had Chinese silk on the walls and enough gold leaf in the bathroom to make Kim Jong-Il blush. The bath was short but deep – perfect for Napoleon. Bathing products were by Hermès – who else? And the bed left nothing to be desired – apart from, perhaps, someone with whom to share it.
Maison Souquet, 10 rue de Bruxelles, 9th arrondissement, Paris, France (00 33 1 48 78 55 55; maisonsouquet.com).
Doubles start at €375 room only.
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