If this spectacular green wallpaper with gilded Oriental peacocks could speak it would protest, “Not guilty.” At the aptly named boutique Paris hotel, L’Hotel the wallpaper in a certain famous suite was once suspected of homicide. Well, sort of.
Oscar Wilde, the great Irish poet, playwright and conversationalist passed away in this Left Bank hotel in 1900 and right until the end couldn’t resist a quip.
His last words reportedly were, “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death: either it goes or I do.”
Ever since, L’Hotel guests have viewed their wallpaper with curiosity if not extreme caution, and nowhere more so than in the Oscar Wilde Suite.
Oscar’s eponymous rooms might be L’Hotel’s star turn but there is far more to the story of this fine St-Germain-des-Prés hideaway than one celeb send-off.
With just 20 bedrooms, L’Hotel, built in 1828, is the smallest five-star hotel in Paris.
Those rooms are lavish yet uncluttered recreations of the Victorian era (plus television, WiFi, et al) but the décor never dips to bordello-esque faux Victoriana.
My room, 35 metres square and named for femme fatale and alleged spy Mata Hari, has French windows (with blackout curtains), antique desk, a discrete chandelier, wine-dark walls and a semi-canopied bed, but the piece de resistance is the bathroom — specifically, the bath-tub.
Deep and long, elevated and curtained, it suggests a glorious crypt in which one could happily soak for a well-scrubbed eternity.
The circular, six-storey hotel, featuring a central light well with spiral stairway, boasts plenty of creative cred beyond poor Wilde’s sojourn and swan song. Like Oscar, the great
Argentine scribe, Jorge Luis Borges, a frequent visitor between 1977 and 1984, is also honored with a commemorative plaque on the street-front façade.
The guest register carries the scrawls of Dali, Sinatra, Grace of Monaco, Taylor and Burton, and Jim Morrison, among other notables.
L’Hotel sits unobtrusively amid private art galleries on Rue Des Beaux Artes, a five-minute stroll from the Seine.
Five minutes in the opposite direction up Rue Bonaparte you come to Rue Guillaume Apollinaire and Place Sartre-Beauvoir with its celebrated Café Les Deux Magots, the former hangout of namesakes Jean-Paul and Simone, plus Hemingway, Camus, Brecht, Joyce and Baldwin.
Welcome to St-Germain-des-Prés, preferred turf of demised scribes.
L’Hotel’s celebrated ground floor eatery (named, naturally, Le Restaurant?), is justifiably billed as one of the most romantic and seductive in Paris and amid its plush seating, columns and silk-draped walls, you might expect Oscar’s glamorous pals like Lily Langtree or Sarah Bernhardt to make a swirling entrance.
If not there, then surely sipping absinthe in the tiny alcove bar — called Le Bar, of course — or even drifting diaphanously in L’Hotel’s beautiful, blue-tiled, subterranean pool, The Hammam.
Meanwhile back in Room 16, the Oscar Wilde Suite (which is not generally open for inspection) has several of his still unpaid bills framed on the wall, plus the manager’s letter of demand.
As Wilde quipped, “I am dying as I have lived — beyond my means.”
But the truth must out. The bed, a grand double, is not the one on which Oscar set sail for the great salon beyond.
His actual cot, I am told, was an austere single. But what of the room’s sumptuous albeit infamous wallpaper? The motif peacocks that strut upon its silken stage refuse to talk.
History, however, reveals that the room has been re-decorated many times in the 117 years since the poet posted his last epigram. Not only may the discrete peacocks rightly insist they saw nothing — they weren’t even there, Your Honour.
In fact, this first-floor suite was not even Wilde’s room. His humble digs were on the ground floor and demolished long ago, to boot. Thus: wallpaper acquitted. Case dismissed. Even so, like its brilliant former resident, L’Hotel remains intriguing, even inspiring.
L’Hotel, 13 Rue Des Beaux Artes, Paris, is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
More: Call 1800 219 010
The writer stayed at L’Hotel courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.