The Molitor is certainly a historic establishment, well-known across Paris throughout its 90-year lifetime, but it was not always a hotel, initially opening as an ocean-liner inspired community pool in 1929.
Designed by architect Lucien Pollet, the “Piscine Molitor Grands Etablissements Balnéaires” was inaugurated by Olympic swimmers Aileen Riggin Soule and Johnny Weissmuller, featuring the well-recognised 46-metre art deco pool and 33-metre indoor winter pool; the former transformed into an ice rink during the winter months before closing in 1970.
The pool fell into decline in the 1980s, however, and shut in 1989 before being classified as a national monument, closed for the foreseeable future… or so they thought.
Instead, the property embarked upon its second chapter as a stomping ground for street artists, with graffiti and murals emblazoned across the drained pools. Its derelict underground image also made for a visually impressive backdrop for events – a rave organised by Heretik Sound System filled the drained basins with 5,000 people in 2001.
An abandoned building, however, was more suited to the grungey areas of the city rather than the bourgeois neighbourhood of Boulogne. With this in mind, the Paris City Council awarded Colony Capital and Accor the bid to restore the buildings in 2010. The lidos were restored to their pristine condition and with it came a 124-room M Gallery by Sofitel hotel, which opened in May 2014 to coincide with the start of the neighbouring Roland-Garros tennis tournament. Next month, the building will celebrate its 90th anniversary.
What’s it like?
Architect Jean-Philippe Nuel designed the hotel with its rich history in mind, retaining original art deco elements while also incorporating 250 works of contemporary street art into the interiors, in homage to its underground years.
There are nods to its past everywhere, from beautiful stained glass windows illustrated with swimmers and ice skaters to posters and framed art from its heyday, some of which are on sale – Accor’s CEO Sébastien Bazin, who frequented the pool as a child and was heavily involved in the reconstruction project, recently purchased a print of its derelict days.
The hotel is recognisable by its yellow tango façade, the original colour of the Molitor building. There are separate entrances for the hotel’s different facilities along the left-hand side of the building, including the spa, pool and club, and restaurant.
Its artistic heritage is evident as soon as you enter the lobby, where the focus lies on artist JonOne’s graffiti-tagged Rolls-Royce, displayed beneath low hanging lights and exposed industrial ceilings. There’s also wall art depicting a boy taking a photo (reflecting what most hotel guests, including myself, are doing).
To the left is a cornered off waiting area, with table football and comfy armchairs, and a concierge where you can leave your bags or take home a piece of the hotel – they sell canvas bags, Molitor-branded bathrobes, and the recently released documentary photography book “Ceci n’est pas une piscine” (this is not just a swimming pool), a fair description of the building.
Guests can also pick up an art guide here (also provided in-room), where you can tick off all the artists you’ve spotted throughout the hotel. You can see all of the works online here.
My bag was taken as soon as I walked in and check-in was quick and easy. We had a brief chat about the weather, usually reserved for British small talk but this proved to be a hot topic in Paris in the days following the 42 degree heatwave.
From the lobby, you can access the Brasserie Urbaine restaurant and the meeting rooms downstairs (more on both of these later). There are two lifts which take you to the four guest floors, one of which also goes to the rooftop and spa.
Where is it?
Guests have one foot in Paris, one in the leafy Bois de Boulogne neighbourhood. The hotel is located to the western edge of Paris in the affluent 16th arrondissement, a two-minute walk from the péripherique, Paris’ ring road which encircles the city. This provides access to both Paris airports (Orly within 30 minutes and CDG within 45 minutes) and saves you from traversing the inner-city traffic.
While it’s not in the heart of the city, it’s only a 25 minute ride to the city centre from either Michel-Ange Molitor (line 9) or Porte d’Auteil (line 10). I had meetings in various parts of Paris during my stay here and found it easy to travel in and out, and pleasant to return to this urban retreat at the end of the day.
The hotel is also in the heart of the city’s sporting complex, facing rugby stadium Stade Jean Bouin on one side, and Roland-Garros on the other. Out of view is Parc des Princes, the football stadium for Paris Saint-Germain, which Accor will sponsor for the next three years.
The carpeted hallways on guest floors act as a timeline of the hotel, tagged with art deco, bikini (creator Louis Réard unveiled the first of its kind here in 1946) and urban art. Large windows flood the hallways with natural light.
All 117 rooms and seven suites have a classic contemporary design, characterised by a colour palette of whites and pale blues and minimalist modern fittings. Each room features a couple of works of art but departs from the hotel’s otherwise bright and colourful aesthetic; this works well as you’re not overexposed to graffiti, and it makes walking round the hotel more interesting. All rooms come with access to the heated summer pool, winter pool, fitness suite, spa, and Club House.
My only qualm with the guest floors were the confusing elevators. My room (220) was next door to the lift, which was very handy when I wanted to visit the rooftop but less so when I wanted to leave the building or go to breakfast – for this, the elevators on the other side of the floor were more useful.
All rooms feature the same amenities – a 40-inch flatscreen, bathrobes and slippers, a safe, Clarins toiletries, a Bose speaker, a wardrobe, a Nespresso machine and tea making facilities. There is a small fridge with two complimentary bottles of water (still and sparkling). The classic rooms have queen size or twin beds and start at 21 sqm, while deluxe rooms (28 sqm) and executive rooms (30 sqm) have king-size beds.
The hotel has a couple of executive rooms (35 sqm) with a jungle-like 80 sqm terrace and view over the 16th surroundings. These rooms have a bath too, and are designed for families. The pool suites (50 sqm) have a separate room and living room, two of which have a balcony overlooking the summer pool. The largest room is the Grande Suite (60 sqm) but doesn’t have pool views.
The beds are large and comfy, with firm pillows, soft duvets and a rod-like light fixture emerging from the headboard. There are also three lamps near the table and a light switch by the bed turns on both of these, though I would have preferred just the former as it was too bright for bedtime reading for my liking. There is also a plug socket by the bed, and plenty more near the table. Unfortunately, the guests in the room above mine were rather noisy, seeming to move furniture around past midnight.
The bathrooms are bright and clean, with a large walk-in shower and powerful shower head. Shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are provided by Clarins – you don’t tend to see conditioner in French hotels so this was a bonus. The hotel also provides cotton pads in a small black box. The toilet is in a separate room by the entrance.
While not the largest in the hotel’s portfolio, the three executive rooms with the Hublot window are the best in-house, thanks to the porthole view across the pool. The window’s art-deco geometric design is also reminiscent of the hotel’s logo. These rooms also have a skylight, with a blind that can be operated from a button beside the bed – a nice touch for those of us that want to wake up to natural light while cocooned in the duvet. The bathroom has a similarly shaped oval window which looks directly through to the Hublot window. A curtain behind the bed can be drawn to hide the window when you’re having a shower.
Hotel Molitor follows Accor’s Planet 21 programme, and incidentally was the first hotel in the collection to use larger bottle dispensers for soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.
There are signs asking you to reuse your towel and bathrobes to help fund reforestation projects while a card must be left on the bed if you want it changed. Other ‘green’ efforts include recyclable espresso capsules, eco-friendly straws and locally sourced food (where possible) in the restaurants. Read more about Accor’s sustainable steps in our recent feature on Green Hotels.
Food and drink
Breakfast takes place at the ground floor Brasserie Urbaine, an art-deco room with outdoor seating near the pool. The buffet is very generous, with all sorts of pastries, cakes (the gluten-free carrot cake was a real treat), fresh fruit, and cereal options. There’s also a fridge with cold meats, smoked salmon, yoghurts and cheeses. On the cooked side, you’ll find porridge, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages, along with steamed baskets of yakitori. I also enjoyed the range of fresh juices on offer, which are more exciting than the conventional orange. Aside from the buffet, you can order avocado toast, crepes and pancakes, and Molitor’s brioche version of eggs benedict, royale and florentine.
In the evenings, the room transforms into an à la carte restaurant, with most guests choosing to dine beneath glistening fairy-lights on its shaded terrace, a prime spot to watch the sun dapple across the summer pool. While it’s on the same level as the pool, the tables feel removed from it thanks to the white railings, affording guests more privacy. Those that prefer to be immersed in the poolside atmosphere can instead sit at a high table.
I opted for the cold pea velouté (€12), presented in a stoneware bowl with cream cheese and peas before a waiter poured the soup around it from an iron teapot. While the flavours were subtle, I enjoyed the kick of the mustard engrained in the cheese. For main course, I picked the delicious turbot with lemon confit, fennel salad and chargrilled courgettes (€34).
Having seen other tables at the dessert stage, I was enticed to try one of the pastry chef’s creations, each of which has a chocolate plaque printed with the hotel’s recognisable logo. The raspberry and elderflower cheesecake (€12) was divine, a light fruity pâtisserie with layers of raspberry mousse, traditional cheesecake and a crunchy biscuit base. While I couldn’t pinpoint the elderflower flavour, this hardly mattered. The restaurant also has a well-valued three-course menu for €37.
The rooftop restaurant is undoubtedly the place of choice during Paris’ summer season, open from May through to September. Arriving by lift, you’ll be met in the bar area by the reception staff before being taken to your table, each of which feel private thanks to the various pot plants and foliage dotted across the terrace. There’s a relaxed jazzy playlist during the day while DJ sets take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. For those eating at unconventional hours, the rooftop offers a tapas menu from noon to 11pm and a select few à la carte dishes from 3pm to 7pm.
There are plenty of views to please, whether that be the bird’s eye view of the summer pool, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, or the new Simone Matthieu court for the Roland-Garros tournament. While you might only catch a third of the court action, I’m told that the atmosphere is electric, with tennis stars like Serena Williams in such close proximity. Understandably, the two-week tournament is the hotel’s high season. The hotel has no partnership as such with Roland-Garros, though it released tickets with a one night stay deal last year.
There’s a large menu offering a range of lighter summer dishes, with plenty of organic fruit and vegetables, fitting with the garden-like setting. Expect mezze dishes along with salads, grilled steaks, and marinated fish. The menu has a key, with dishes marked as wellness, gluten-free and vegetarian.
I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands so quickly ordered a main course and was immediately served a bowl of delicious olives. The chilli-topped jumbo grilled prawns with seasonal vegetables and a chermoula topping (€35) was perfect, arriving within ten minutes alongside a crusty loaf of bread divided into quarters.
There’s a business centre in the lobby, with two Macs, and a lounge with plenty of sockets available.
There are seven meeting rooms encompassing a total of 500 sqm throughout the hotel equipped with wifi, air-conditioning, overhead projectors, a screen, and Nespresso coffee machines. The winter pool can also be reserved for receptions. Al-fresco venues include the 200 sqm solarium on the rooftop, and the 75 sqm shaded terrace at Brasserie Urbaine for lunch and cocktails.
Meanwhile, the lower ground floor has various artistic event rooms. “La Manufacture” is a particular highlight, a 135 sqm room with every wall covered in artwork – one wall, for instance, has been chipped away at with a sledgehammer by Portuguese artist Vhils. The benefit here is that companies won’t need to do much, if at all, to decorate the room.
The Molitor pools are the main attraction of the hotel, and understandably so. Passers-by have to pay for access but hotel guests are provided with colour-coded wristbands for daily visits. Maintained at 28 degrees and open year-round, the summer pool is the most famous of the two, popular with those lounging and appreciating the weather, while the indoor winter pool beneath a glass ceiling is a more peaceful venue for those doing laps.
The real draw, however, are the 78 blue “cabines de curiosité” set across two floors above the winter pool, former dressing rooms which have been transformed into miniature art galleries. Each cabin is devoted to an artist’s vision, and makes for a really interesting activity post-dip. One minute, you’ll be appreciating block coloured walls and dripping paint, the next you’ll be gazing at lifelike portraits or experiencing a 3D effect by looking across at the cabins opposite.
A book on the artistic cabins will launch next month to coincide with the hotel’s anniversary. The outdoor pool, too, has these cabins however they can’t be opened and just retain the blue door for visual effect only; the first floor (a space reserved for members only) is purely aesthetic while the second floor has guest rooms behind.
There’s a fitness room next door to the pools, and a 1,700 sqm Spa by Clarins on the lower ground floor with private treatment rooms, a hammam, nail bar, hair salon (there’s also talk of a barber shop coming soon), and sauna.
The hotel also has its own 1,500 sqm private members club on the ground floor, Club Molitor, which has a bar and a shop. Here, you can buy retro Lacoste apparel, which the staff are also dressed in, and the hotel’s own swimwear label.
A beautifully restored building which doubles as an art gallery. Yes, it’s further out than most Paris hotels but offers a nice respite from the busy city centre, while still having good transport links. Staff are friendly and the facilities are great but it’s the hotel’s art scene which really makes it worthy of its five-star status. With its anniversary taking place next month, I’m keen to see what’s in store for the next 90 years.
- Best for A light lunch at the rooftop restaurant followed by a leisurely dip in the summer pool
- Don’t miss Exploring the 78 “cabines de curiosité” in the indoor winter pool
- Price Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in a classic room in August start from £198
- Contact 13 Rue Nungesser et Coli, 75016, Paris, +33 1 56 07 08 50, mltr.fr