Quirky Paris hospital hotel just what the doctor ordered

The last thing you want while running around Paris is to have to check into a hospital. But there’s one that may be worth checking out because it’s home to a quirky hotel in a drop-dead location that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Seriously, all puns aside.

The Hospitel Hotel-Dieu is in the attic of an honest-to-goodness monument, said to be the city’s oldest hospital, dating back to the Middle Ages. (I found out about it after I’d booked somewhere else and stopped in to take a peek.) It’s survived fires, revolutions and wars, so it’s fair to say the ER knows a little something about trauma.

Parisiennes know all about its hallowed place in French history, but the tons of tourists that rush by the don’t have a clue. It sort of looks like a monastery or a police station.

They’re in too much of a hurry to get to the celebrity neighbor next door: Notre Dame Cathedral.

Both are on the Ile de la Cite, the heart of the city, where Paris got its start. All of the “must-sees” — the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe and Louvre — are also within easy walking distance. Couldn’t ask for a better location.

At about $172 a night for a single and $187 for a double room (prices have gone up since I visited) in a neighborhood that could command at least twice that much, what’s the catch?

Well, this is a far cry from The Ritz. It’s more like L’Hôpital General.

The only way to access the hotel is through the emergency room entrance. Needless to say, there’s no bellhop at the door.

Then it’s a walk down a dim hallway with heavy doors and arches looking out onto a pretty Gothic courtyard and garden.

Pieces of history are everywhere, down to the spooky, Tim Burton-esque hodgepodge of statues strewn around the courtyard and stairwells, if you feel like exploring. If not, continue to a dingy elevator that goes to the sixth floor, where the hotel is situated. Since you’re in a hospital, be prepared to the share the elevator with patients.

It’s hard to miss the double doors of the hotel entrance. It’s a dazzling mirage, the only sunny spot on a floor that’s as gloomy as the rest of the place.

Inside is another world.  This could be a boutique hotel anywhere, or a chic student dorm.

The lobby is small but smart. The 14 rooms are contemporary, with all the basics: a separate bath and shower, but no shower curtain; TV;  air conditioning;  free Wi-Fi. Each sleeps up to three people;two are designed for the handicapped. The rooms are spotless and smoke-free. Just what you’d expect from a hospital.

The only windows are skylights; half face those famous spires of Notre Dame. The cathedral bells are a a built-in alarm clock: they sound every morning.

The staff speaks English and is friendly and eager to please. If you don’t feel like messing with the touristy neighborhood cafes, there’s room service. It’s not much, though. The coffee I was served in the lobby was instant. There is also a reasonably priced cafeteria, but if you go farther afield you can spend the euros you’ve saved on lodging or a nice meal.

It may not be your cup of thé, as they’d say in French. But if you want Paris without the costly frills, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

That was the case with one guest. A young Australian woman told me she decided to stay on the advice of a relative who happened to be a doctor, and was glad she did.

Some of the rooms are reserved for patients or relatives, so book well in advance.

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