A courtyard garden with chirping birds. Balconies with views of Notre Dame. Rooms dressed up in black-and-white designer style. You wouldn't think you would find any of this in Paris for less than $200 a night. But everyone who loves the French capital knows that it is full of surprises - and secrets. The country-style Hôtel des Grandes Ecoles keeps its leafy courtyard hidden behind a big green door, while Hôtel Chopin lies within a glass-roofed 19th-century arcade. The Jeanne d'Arc is in the heart of the Marais, but on a side street that could easily go unnoticed.
Some of these hotels rely on their quirky charm, while others provide lifts, airconditioning, double-glazed windows and concierge services. Given the value for money they offer, all have a clientele of repeat customers, so be sure to book well ahead (the best prices are usually to be had by contacting the hotel directly rather than booking through a travel website). Here are our pick of the city's hidden accommodation gems, all for less than $200 a night.
HÔTEL DES GRANDES ECOLES
Everything a Paris hotel should be but rarely is, the Grandes Ecoles has a clientele of regulars who know to book four months ahead. Behind the huge green door that shields this hotel from the street lies a well-groomed courtyard with potted flowers, breakfast tables and birds whose warbling echoes the staff's chirpy spirits.
Antique wooden furniture and patterned wallpaper add to the quaint feel of the 51 rooms, which are spread between three four-storey houses with views of the garden. There is a little more space than you might expect at this price, and the bathrooms are modern. In a peaceful part of the Latin Quarter with the cobbled rue Mouffetard market nearby, Grandes Ecoles is also walking distance to the Ile St-Louis, the Marais and St-Germain.
75 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, +33 1 4326 7923, www.hotel-grandes-ecoles.com.
Nearest Métro: Cardinal Lemoine or Place Monge.
HÔTEL JEANNE D'ARC
The cheerful mosaic sign beneath the wrought-iron lanterns outside Hotel Jeanne d'Arc suggests that this budget hotel doesn't neglect the details. Mosaics also feature on the giant coat of arms-themed mirror in the lobby, an extravagant touch in the otherwise classic French décor that mixes antique furniture and contemporary light fixtures. The 36 rooms, decorated in warm tones, have a provincial feel that's accentuated by views onto the pretty courtyard.
The location couldn't be more desirable, in the heart of the Marais a couple of steps from the 17th-century place des Vosges and the bucolic place du Marché St-Catherine (site of a dazzling new pastry shop from Philippe Conticini). What's the catch? Obtaining a room at short notice is a feat even Joan of Arc herself would have considered heroic.
3 rue de Jarente, +33 1 4887 6211, www.hoteljeannedarc.com.
Nearest Métro: St-Paul.
This Latin Quarter hotel in an 1865 building between Notre Dame and the Institut du Monde Arabe is aptly named, as the enthusiastic owner will make you feel like one of the family. Although it has two stars, the Familia offers many of the little luxuries of a boutique hotel: balconies in eight of the 30 rooms, some of them with views of Notre Dame; wooden furniture custom-designed by an artisan; sepia frescoes of Paris by an artist from L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts; and refrigerators, bars and satellite TV in all the rooms.
Familia's breakfast room is particularly pleasant, its tapestries recalling those of the nearby Cluny Museum. Guest rooms aren't especially big, but they are very clean and the bathrooms have modern fixtures. Most romantic is the room with a four-poster carved wooden bed against the exposed stone wall. Ask for a courtyard room if you're sensitive to traffic noise.
11 rue des Ecoles, +33 1 4354 5527, www.familiahotel.com.
Nearest Métro: Cardinal Lemoine.
HÔTEL NEW ORIENT
There's so much more to the 8th arrondissement than the Champs-Elysées and its palace hotels, as this friendly and immaculate two-star proves. It's not quite as close to the major sights as some of the other hotels in our selection, but this lively residential area near the Parc Monceau, Gare St-Lazare and Montmartre will give you a taste of what it's like to live here.
New Orient's helpful owners go beyond what's expected of an affordable Paris hotel, offering airconditioning and perfectly sound-proofed windows. Beds are made of carved wood or brass, and floral or patchwork bedspreads brighten the small rooms. To complete the Parisian experience, some of the upper rooms (reached via a tiny lift) have balconies with geraniums.
The breakfast is pricey, but it will give you an excuse to rub shoulders in local cafés with musicians from the nearby Conservatoire de Musique.
16 rue de Constantinople, +33 1 4522 2164, www.hotelneworient.com.
Nearest Métro: Villiers or Europe.
HÔTEL DE LA TULIPE
Only the smaller suites in this 22-room hotel meet our strict budget criteria, but even they will leave you thoroughly charmed. From the tile floors and wooden beams in the lobby to the rattan furniture and printed fabrics in the rooms, the Tulipe feels like a little piece of Provence. Rooms are accessed via the leafy courtyard, where guests gather at day's end to exchange tips and anecdotes, and there are connecting rooms for families (note: there is no lift and the stairway is narrow).
Staff are exceptionally helpful in pointing you to the nearby sights, which include the Eiffel Tower, rue Cler market and the Musée d'Orsay. And you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants, with three great bistros (L'Ami Jean, L'Agassin and L'Affriolé) located in the same small street as the hotel.
33 rue Malar, +33 1 4551 6721, www.paris-hotel-tulipe.com.
Nearest Métro: La Tour-Maubourg.
Artists and writers have long been drawn to Montparnasse, so it's no surprise that Paul Gauguin once lived in this building. Just down the street are Le Dôme and La Coupole, two Art Deco brasseries that recall the area's heyday in the 1930s. Montparnasse has changed with the times, as shown by the chain stores down rue de Rennes, but the neighbourhood's side streets still hold plenty of surprises, including this hotel.
Striking the right balance between traditional charm and modern comforts, the Delambre offers outstanding value for the price, with bonuses such as airconditioning (a lifesaver in summer) and a 24-hour concierge service. Families should aim for the mini-suite on the top floor: two adjoining rooms with sloping ceilings and views over the city's rooftops. The generously sized (for Paris) rooms are classically decorated in bright tones of yellow, orange and blue, with wrought-iron details.
35 rue Delambre, +33 1 4320 6631, www.delambre-paris-hotel.com.
Nearest Métro: Edgar Quinet or Vavin.
Run by world travellers with bohemians in mind, this is the hotel of choice for undiscovered artists, who leave sketches and scribbled thanks in the guestbook. It's dirt cheap, at $40 for a small single and $80 for a triple, but this hasn't stopped the owners from furnishing rooms with antiques and painting walls in tasteful shades of red, orange, yellow and blue. Throughout you'll find objects from their travels, such as African bedspreads and Chinese prints. Double and triple rooms are remarkably spacious, with original floor tiles and marble fireplaces. Most desirable are the few rooms in the small annex at the back of the courtyard garden.
During fashion week the hotel is mobbed with up-and-coming models, but the atmosphere is otherwise low-key. Just off the Place de Clichy (with its two Métro lines), the hotel is within easy reach of Montmartre, and on Saturdays there is an organic market along Boulevard des Batignolles.
Speaking of food, Eldorado has its own hip restaurant, the Bistrot des Dames, with a hidden courtyard terrace.
18 rue des Dames, +33 1 4522 3521, www.eldoradohotel.fr.
Nearest Métro: Place de Clichy.
HÔTEL CHOPIN During his years in Paris, Chopin was one of the many artists and intellectuals who liked to linger in the glass-roofed shopping arcades built along the Grands Boulevards in the 19th century. The romantic décor of this 36-room hotel in the passage Jouffroy, which houses the Grévin wax museum alongside old-fashioned boutiques selling used books, wooden toys and pastries, is a tribute to this composer.
The façade and rooms are as old as the arcade itself, dating from 1846. All of the brightly coloured rooms look onto the passage rather than the street, ensuring quiet nights. If you can stretch your budget a little, you will be rewarded with more space and light; best of all are the top-floor rooms with views over the Paris rooftops. While you're in the neighbourhood, be sure to visit the scruffy-yet-charming passage des Panoramas and the upmarket passage Vivienne.
10 boulevard Montmartre (46 passage Jouffroy), +33 1 4770 5810, www.hotelbretonnerie.com/chopin.
Nearest Métro: Grands Boulevards.
Who says budget hotels in Paris have to be quaint? Around the corner from rue Cler market and up the street from the Eiffel Tower, the Valadon is sleek and chic in black, grey and red, worthy of a far pricier boutique hotel. With just a dozen rooms and a warm welcome from the owners, who have been in the hospitality business for more than 30 years, this is one of the most coveted addresses in Paris.
Rooms are far from cramped, and families or small groups can easily colonise one of the five floors. A separate cottage in the courtyard accommodates five people in two adjoining rooms. Guests are made to feel at home with a shared refrigerator for lunchtime picnics, direct phone lines in each room and plenty of reading material on hand. There's even a resident beagle, Othello.
16 rue Valadon, 7th, +33 1 4753 8985, www.hotelvaladon.com.
Nearest Métro: Ecole Militaire.
LES DEGRÉS DE NOTRE DAME
This 10-room hotel is no longer the bargain it once was, with double rooms starting at $190, but its location on a quiet street near Notre Dame and unique charm still make it worth including on this list. There is no lift and the wooden stairs are narrow, but your reward for the effort is a décor that takes you back hundreds of years (in a good way). Most rooms have exposed wooden beams, complemented by antique furniture and art from the owner's collection; don't look for airconditioning, flat-screen TVs or WiFi access.
One of the perks of staying here is the quality of the hotel's restaurant, which serves both French and North African cuisine (try the tagines and couscous). Two rooms have views of Notre Dame, but you will pay extra for the privilege. The hotel also has a spacious apartment across the street that's perfect for families.
10 rue des Grands Degrés, +33 1 5542 8888, www.lesdegreshotel.com.
Nearest Métro: Maubert-Mutualité.