secret basements of paris.

talk about a little extra surprise. have you noticed in paris that almost every little place-- a shop, a cafe, a restaurant-- has a secret (ok, not always so secret) basement?

recently, a monoprix in central paris discovered a spooky surprise when starting construction on a remodel of the store: over 200 skeletons, lined up in what appeared to be a mass grave. turns out, the site formerly belonged to a hospital cemetery between the 12th and 17th centuries.
a little research told me that paris has several layers of life underground. below the metro and the basements lie quarries, the stones from which were used to build much of paris. after inevitable instability and some tragic cave-ins in the 1700s, we hope that the careful engineering continues to hold up so that we can now appreciate and explore these dark corners of the french city.
like the catacombs: underground cemeteries used to replace above ground burials, which the soil couldn't keep up with, leading to too exposed, decaying bodies. the city worried about corpses spreading disease, so they started burying them in the other direction-- deep below the city's surface. the catacombs are pretty interesting to explore today. and if you're really daring, rumor has it that "cataphiles" illegally roam the underground tunnels, turning caves into a party here and there.
while not all basements hold human remains, they certainly hold some fun surprises. it makes perfect sense. the spaces are small, and most buildings in france have basements. fun fact #2: french law dictates that property owners rights have no vertical limit: they own the soil beneath them all the way to the earth's center.
why not make good use of them? you'll find bathrooms and kitchens (and full dining rooms, like at Spring), even breweries, tunnels, museums, & lounges (Caveau de la Huchette, a stone crypt where you can drink your sazerac where miles davis played and the knights templars had secret meetings).... and yes, probably some storage. but you'll almost always find something interesting. i encourage you to explore below the surface when in paris to see what kind of lagniappe you'll find.
stepping carefully down a twisty and steep flight of stairs at the Hotel du Temps, we were pretty giddy to find a cozy room with a piano and perfect art deco decor. it screamed late night fun.

 

(this photo isn't of the basement, but couldn't resist sharing the lobby cafe)

after drinks in the lovely courtyard at the Hotel Amour in the 9th, i found their little basement secret (no, it's not that it used to be a rent-a-room-by-the-hour place, although that is true). a foosball table. what.

 

and perhaps the best decision we made this last trip to paris was to spend the afternoon in the basement of the hotel costes. it was the ultimate cure for jet lag + a cold and rainy day. i can't recommend it enough. it might sound miserable, but they have transformed their basement into the coziest spa i've ever seen... a candlelit pool, private cabanas for lounging with a hot tea, a lounge reminiscent of a romantic train car bathed in red velvet. heaven after a long flight. 

it would be creepy to take a camera into a spa, so no photos of it here, but do check out their website.

 (hotel costes lobby restaurant)

March 12, 2015 by Katie McClure
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