PARIS — Part of the fun of traveling is the random discoveries, the things one doesn’t look for but just appear — what the painter Bob Ross calls “the happy accident.” That’s how we ended up in the Le Swann Hotel Littéraire.
Much of our European trip had been planned, but leaving room for some flexibility we had not booked a room for the last two days in Paris before flying back to the States. Most of the time we find an Air B&B, but a few good deals on hotels can be had and the Best Western Premier Le Swann had a good rate and was located in a good area.
When we arrived, we noticed the lobby was full of books and artifacts but, frankly, we had just traveled on the overnight train and were only mildly interested. However, after a good nap, we discovered that it was a literary hotel dedicated to the French existentialist philosopher Marcel Proust — not what one expected at a Best Western.
Each room is named for a character in Proust’s seven-volume magnum opus “Remembrance of Things Past” (or “In Search of Lost Time” according to the translation from the original “Á la recherché du temps perdu”), and contains an original watercolor of the character, or it is named for an artist or writer Proust admired. Our room was named for Docteur Cottard, a regular at the Verderins’ salon.The hotel is named for the first volume of the collection “Swann’s Way.”
In addition, each of the six floors is named for a place mentioned in his works, and a short descriptive passage is found on each floor (and yes, I am the geek who walked the stairs to each floor).
Jacques Letertre, the owner and driving force behind the hotel, says, “Because Marcel Proust’s work delights readers for its finesse and its humor, its tolerance and its humanity, I wanted to give our guests the desire to go further and enter into this universe that has captivated me for so many years.”
Located at 15 Rude de Constantinople in the Luthier district in the 8th arrondissement, only a short walk from the Gare Saint-Lazare, it was built in the period of the Universal Exposition of 1889. The French poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire lived at 9 Rue de Constantinople and was a frequent visitor at the hotel.
Aside from the collected writings and pictures that adorn the rooms and stairways, Le Swann also houses costumes designed by Jacques Doucet, a designer from la Belle Epoque. The Proustian details are even found in the handwriting that adorns the frosted glass bathroom walls.
The architect responsible for the building’s renovations, Aude Bruguiére, writes, in the hotel’s booklet, which is full of information about the hotel itself and Proust’s world, “…the Swann is like a permeable and quivering film caught between present and past, inviting us to discover or explore through its prism the incredible labyrinth of the Proust’s master work.”
Guests are actively encouraged to borrow some of the 500 books around the hotel. Letertre has another literary hotel dedicated to Gustave Flaubert in Rouen, and has plans for one dedicated to Marcel Aymé in Montmartre and another for Violette Leduc in Clermont Ferrand.
The hotel is cool, and it is also modern and comfortable. For a literature lover, it is well worth a visit.