I’ve admired Orso Hotels, a French hospitality brand run by taste-making couple Louis and Anouk Solanet, from afar since its launch in 2020. This winter, I finally got to experience the hype for myself. I stayed at the brand’s flagship property, Hôtel Rochechouart, located in an utterly charming Art Deco building nestled among the legendary nightlife of the 9th arrondissement, idyllic cafes and boutiques of Pigalle, and unbeatable views of the Sacre Coeur in nearby Montmartre. It’s hard to exactly describe the magic (dare I say, je ne sais quoi) that Hôtel Rochechouart exudes, but as soon as you step through the doors and even after checking out, you become a part of the Orso family, as well as a fixture of the glamor and grit of Paris itself (if only in your mind), whether it’s your first or fortieth time in the city.
Born to Run (Hotels, That is)
Louis Solanet comes from a hospitality background, as his family runs a hotel management group based in France that spans 66 properties, while Netherlands-born Anouk began her career as a lawyer, which fatefully brought her to Paris. Upon meeting and marrying Louis, she finally found her true calling as a hotelier, and the pair have risen to the challenge of Paris’s rapidly evolving hospitality and travel landscape by launching Orso Hotels under the management group’s umbrella.
“Parisian hospitality had already been evolving for some time, and while this post-pandemic mood may have accelerated the guest mindset, we’ve been stepping away from ultra-luxe palaces here for a while now,” says Louis. “There will always be an audience for it, but I think that overall, people are craving more independent brands and attentive, personalized experiences.”
The Solanets are clear that they didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel when it came to providing new experiences for travelers longing for more authentic experiences in the second most visited city in the world, according to Mastercard’s 2019 Global Destination Cities Index. Rather, the couple and business partners brought their own unique vision as Parisians, entertainers, design enthusiasts, parents and most importantly, travel obsessives themselves, to breathe new life into the industry.
“Hotel experiences have been increasingly reliant on standardized experiences, and as travel lovers, we felt there was something missing today that we could bring back: original yet simple design, small but meaningful touch points, impactful gestures and just a more personalized approach overall,” says Louis.
The First Experiment: Hôtel Rochechouart
Upon establishing this formula for Orso, it was time for the Solanets to put this more laid back yet thoughtful approach to hospitality to the test. Anouk says the couple fell in love with an Art Deco building in the vibrant Pigalle neighborhood that dates back a century, and collaborated with design duo Festen to preserve the architecture’s old-fashioned, imperfect charm and infuse it with “a more contemporary and luxurious atmosphere” that would eventually embody the Hôtel Rochechouart. Many of the building’s original elements, from the glass elevator and marble staircase to the restaurant’s swoon-worthy tiling and moldings, were carefully preserved to help create a place with a well-collected feel that had a special history while promising an even brighter future.
“The idea was to create a space that feels lived-in, celebrates Pigalle and its grand history, while offering the classic comforts of a 21st-century hotel,” says Anouk.
Louis explains that this first property is different from the rest in the holistic experience it provides guests — you can sleep, dine and dance all under one roof. There is a modern brasserie-style restaurant and rooftop bar on the first floor, a historic cabaret and 1930s gambling joint-turned-speakeasy-style lounge in the basement and chic oyster bar next door in legendary painter Auguste Renoir’s former atelier.
Though the hotel opened its doors in that now-infamous winter of 2020, it has become a highly sought-after destination for travelers from all walks of life, as well as locals seeking killer city views and an amazing cocktail. During my stay, I snacked, dined and chatted among young French families wanting to experience Paris at Christmastime, London hipsters looking for a change of scenery to step up their TikTok games and doe-eyed American couples seeking a bit of that famed Parisian romance.
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Expanding the Brand
Since opening Hôtel Rochechouart, the Solanets have launched four more outposts across the city under the Orso name and also took ownership of two properties: Hotels Doisy and Léopold, under Louis’s family’s management company for a grand total of seven properties in three years. While each has its own personality and appeal, all offer a refreshingly authentic feel with a design-forward edge that makes them Instagram-worthy at every turn. And the best part is, they are all surprisingly affordable.
“Aside from Hôtel Rochechouart which boasts over 100 rooms, most of our other properties have 50 or less and don’t offer full-service dining, but we make up for that in different ways,” says Louis.
While he says that Rochechouart’s strength is in its 360-degree rooftop views of the city and culinary programming, the retro-chic, riviera-inspired Le Wallace Hotel & Bar in the 15th and brand-new Hotel Orphée in the 5th are more wellness-centric. Le Wallace boasts a leafy terrace and Nordic bath while Orphée houses an underground steam room, yet both offer all the pleasures and proximity one desires in an urban vacation. Hotel Doisy is aptly situated in the 17th and Léopold in the 14th near many of the city’s top attractions, while Hôtel Cabane in the 14th features a private, foliage-drenched cabin that’s separate from the main property and Hôtel Ami in the 15th offers a hidden, peaceful patio with small but affordable rooms for those seeking a more private Parisian getaway at any price point.
What Makes an Orso Hotel
“Paris is a competitive city when it comes to buying hotels and most of them are very small with tiny common spaces, so it really does all start with the building,” says Louis. “We are still very active in the family management company, so we’d like to think that we are tuned into what’s available and what might be suited to become part of the Orso brand. We always try to reveal the personality of the building through the lens of the neighborhood, so we tend to choose the designer whose style best fits with that particular story.”
What’s great about the couple’s deep roots in French hospitality is that they are willing to take design risks in order to create a more immersive experience that will best welcome guests to a hotel’s respective neighborhood. Anouk says they work with a different designer for each project while staying true to their hospitality mission, allowing guests to have unique experiences at each property while having their expectations of what a weekend at an Orso property met everywhere. Nearly all of these designers take on an Orso Hotel as their first foray into hospitality design as the couple is less concerned about creating a commercial feel and would rather the rooms and common areas have more of a residential vibe.
“All of the Orso Hotels still feel like they are a part of the same family, thanks to a few touchpoints we like to carry out brand-wide,” says Anouk. “These include the house-made cake guests can grab slices of upon arrival, the cupboard of magic items to make parents traveling with children happy — and sane — the Columba amenities that are created in-house and inspired by Louis’s upbringing in Corsica and even the Orso City Guides, which highlight the best attractions in all of the neighborhoods we’re in.”
Last but not least, providing a breakfast with the same attention to detail as the design, atmosphere and type of hospitality offered at each hotel is a top priority for the Solanets. Anouk says that the couple believes a low-key yet high-quality breakfast is an important part of French culture, but unlike the typical hotel buffets and five-star menus with endless options that cater to Americans, the brand takes a “less is more” approach. There is a select group of offerings available each day, but all are locally sourced or made in-house with the best ingredients possible. (I can attest to the impeccably flaky croissants and truly memorable lattes, and even asked the staff to bring out a bag so I could track some down for myself.)
“We have both been Parisians for a few decades now, so we know the city well, and we like to leverage the communities we’re in and give people that authentic, local experience,” says Louis. “We don’t try too hard, but we make sure we do everything in our power to leave guests with great memories.”
What Orso Hotels lacks in crystal chandeliers, butlers and the all-white aesthetic (not to mention stuffiness) you may expect from a top Parisian hotel, it makes up for in personality, comfortability, conviviality and warm, authentic welcomes that make every guest feel part of their respective neighborhood for the night or weekend. And at the end of the day, what more could one want in a city getaway?
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