If you are the kind of traveler that thinks staying at a Motel 6 or Super 8 is roughing it, Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera in the Bastille district of Paris is not for you. From my standpoint, there is nothing wrong with it: it is a small, fairly clean, inexpensive place with really friendly and helpful staff (not at all uncommon among small Parisian hotels).
My husband and I stayed there for a week and very much enjoyed the place. Being in a very non-tourist area made us feel more a part of the local scene. Then again, we have also enjoyed pitching a tent on solid frozen ground at 2 a.m. at the Grand Tetons. We have also traveled to Paris with one 22-inch rollerboard and a small backpack each. If you consider yourself any higher maintenance than that, do not stay at Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera. You’ll just be uncomfortable and end up writing a lousy review for it and ruining it for the more adventurous types.
Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera is located in the middle of a living, breathing middle-class Parisian neighborhood. There are no large restaurants, no designer stores, definitely no silly tourist places selling little Eiffel towers and “I heart Paris” t-shirts. Avenue Ledru Rollin, where the hotel is located, is lined with apartment buildings of every architectural style, small grocery stores where you can pop in for a bottle of Orangina at 2 o’clock in the morning, home decorating and remodeling stores, clothing shops of every size and price range, and – in the great Parisian tradition of making sure you don’t starve – bistros, brasseries, patisseries and boulangeries every fifty paces or so.
With the address smack dab in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, the hotel owners did a really good job sound-proofing the place. So, if you feel like you’ve had enough of the “bustling” part, just shut the window. If it gets too warm in the room (the heating is via an old-fashioned radiator), and you have to re-open the window to the busy street …well …just deal with it. The rooms and the bathrooms are tidy, but small with limited storage space, so conservative packing is a must.
If you are planning to visit Paris not just to visit the regular attractions, but to explore the city and immerse yourself into the local culture – this place is for you! There are three or four metro stations within walking distance (and if you are like me, you understand that the walking distance in France is not the same as in America). Learn to navigate the metro – and it will take you anywhere you want within Paris city limits. Or, if you wish to go further, you can take a stroll to Gare de Lyon – a kind of Grand Central Station of Paris, a glorious old building, whose opulent facade hides a convergence of train lines running to all corners of France.
The food in the area is fantastic, and there is every kind imaginable to be had. In addition to a dozen or so boulangeries and patisseries within a one-mile radius, the Bastille district boasts enough ethnic restaurants to represent if not every country, then at least every major political region on Earth. A Japanese sushi place peacefully co-exists with an Indian restaurant on one side and a small Thai food window on the other, with an Irish pub (complete with Guinness beer) and an American Subway across the street. To find the best places to eat, make a point of watching the locals. That was how we discovered a fantastic boulangerie within a five-minute walk from the hotel – there was a line out the door near it every morning, so we joined in and ended up having breakfast there for the rest of our vacation.
While the Bastille district is not as favored by tourists as, say, Montparnasse or Champs Elysee, wondering around and window shopping is just as much fun – the window displays are still beautiful and stylish regardless of the size of the establishment or the price of its wares. Do not be mislead by the narrow store windows – where they cannot get breadth, Parisian shop owners go for depth, so a store that appears small on the outside, it may go the depth of an entire building.
In short: if you like to travel light, definitely consider Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera as your Parisian home-away-from-home. You’ll sleep comfortably, eat well and have plenty to see.