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Saturday 25 May 2013

Funky Paris rooms around 100 bucks a night? It can be done.

Paris digs that are both stylish and affordable are extremely rare. If you want the privilege of staying at the George V, the Bristol, Le Meurice or the Plaza Athénée you going to pay for the privilege of being surrounded by the chicest of the chic with their personal assistants, suites and fancy bars. 

The 20th arrondissement is not on the radar of most visitors to Paris - particularly Australians. It's gritty, ethnically diverse and unashamedly working class. It's very much on the other side of the tracks from the  Avenue Montaigne and Champs-Elysees. 

One of the few reasons most tourists would have for visiting this part of town would be to explore the huge Pere Lachaise cemetery, where Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and composers Chopin and Bizet are among the current residents.

Until three or four year ago, that is, and the opening of a unique boutique hotel named Mama Shelter, which has subsequently spawned funky offspring in Lyon, Marseille and Istanbul. 

Mama Shelter Paris is an ugly duckling turned swan; a former derelict, graffiti-covered, multi-storey car park that overlooks a disused rail line.

With Philippe Starck behind the design and the Trigano family of Club Med fame running the operation, this former eyesore morphed into a hip location - and one of that is also extremely affordable with single rooms starting from just €79 a night and doubles from €109. 

The rooms may be small and service limited but facilities include minibars, televisions with free wifi internet access, microwaves and CD-DVD players. The beds, too, are hugely comfortable with crisp cotton sheets. 

The theme is quirky design chic; part op shop, part modern art gallery. There's nothing remotely stuffy about Mama Shelter: the bar area is covered in faux graffiti, a nod to the real thing on the former rail track that runs beside the hotel. 

The restaurant is overseen by one of France's leading culinary figures, chef Alain Senderens, who had three Michelin stars at his Lucas Carton restaurant before returning them, saying he wanted to create food that was fun. And that means there's a pizza menu as well as "home-style" cuisine.

The neighbourhood remains rough around the edges, although we never felt remotely threatened – and it is a 10- to 15-minute walk to the nearest Metro stations (Gambetta, Alexandre Dumas and Porte de Bagnolet are all equidistant). Handily, however, there's a stop at the door for a bus that makes its way to the Rue de Rivoli and the Louvre if the quirky local grunge bars in the 19th and 20th are not to your liking. 

If you are confident in Paris and have a smattering of the language then you'll enjoy this. I'm sure. 

Mama Shelter, 109 rue de Bagnolet, Paris, 75020. Phone +33 1 4348 4848.

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