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Retro Paris: stepping back into the 70s | Paris holidays

Retro Paris: stepping back into the 70s | Paris holidays

A visit to Paris’s fifth arrondissement can make you feel unusually nostalgic in the current climate. Home to the Sorbonne, student-filled cafés and all-round Rive Gauche cool, it’s a world away from France on the brink of change. Also known as the Latin Quarter, le cinquième has ready supplies of retro charm and specialist shops to browse and lose yourself in.

On an early-evening wander, I come across a shop on rue des Écoles that sells mandolins and a rare bookshop on rue du Cardinal-Lemoine with a window display of ironic protest material, including a copy of the Watergate Cookbook. Near the Seine, you’ll find the Jardin des Plantes botanical gardens and the Natural History Museum, all just a stone’s throw away.

Mostly, the area is comfortingly solid and unchanging, with its graceful 19th-century buildings and Emily-in-Paris-style boulangeries – until, that is, you reach rue de Poissy, and you’re faced with the Brutalist concrete facade of the new Hôtel Pilgrim. Once a garage, it is now ready to take guests on a different sort of nostalgia trip: back to the 1970s.

Pavement society: cafe lunch in the leafy Sorbonne area. Photograph: Oliver Strewe/Getty Images

If you’re old enough to remember it, that particular decade comes in all shades of opinion. But most agree it was a superb era for furniture, putting the focus on domestic comfort with groovy curves rather than sharp-edged elegance – an element that the Hôtel Pilgrim determinedly celebrates.

Downstairs, the sofas, including a Mario Bellini modular version in cheerfully fat blue corduroy, are squidgy rather than sleek. There are also 70s-appropriate batiks. Having grown up in this era, it feels like I’m coming home, but to an altogether more stylish version.

Naturally there’s plenty of orange. I was part of the least hip family in the universe, but even we had orange plastic Habitat kitchen chairs when I was growing up. The Pilgrim has embraced orange, but the general tone is gentler, less citrus, more like the terracotta hues of the chicken brick, which was my father’s pride and joy.

In all its pomp: the controversial Pompidou landmark, built in 1977. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy

I can’t help wondering if the Pilgrim’s designers were old enough to experience the 70s in its original format but, even so, the mood is refreshing. Colourful and comfortable, it’s a welcome change from midcentury with its steady diet of tapered chair legs and geometric-minded minimalism. As…

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