IRISH playwright Oscar Wilde moved into a hotel in Paris in February 1898 for what turned out to be the last 18 months of his life.
The Dubliner had been released from Reading Prison the previous summer after serving a two-year hard labor sentence.
It was the British Crown’s punishment for Oscar’s homosexuality.
The Wilde scandal had deeply shaken English society. After his release, the disgraced, hated and ostracized Oscar had to change his name and leave the country.
Under the disguise of Sebastian Melmouth, he fled to France.
Today, the place where Wilde took refuge in rue des Beaux Arts is called L’Hôtel.
It is now a unique and magnificent boutique establishment in St Germain-des-Prés, the most chic district of the Left Bank.
The Hotel, which has only 20 rooms, is a work of art in itself and is entirely decorated in elegant French Empire style decor. Sumptuous fabrics and details cover every surface.
But despite the opulence, there is an atmosphere of quiet reserve.
The staff are friendly and down to earth and guests are left on their own to wander around the place in complete relaxation.
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Today it is possible to stay in Wilde’s room, number 16. In Oscar’s time it was a low-end hotel and the decor at the time left much to be desired.
Wilde said of it: “The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.
The writer would probably approve of the modern color scheme.
His former bedroom is now decorated with impressive emerald green and golden peacock wallpaper.
The bedroom’s patio doors open onto a small private garden, where you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine.
The downstairs bar, called Wilde’s Lounge, displays pictures of many celebrities who have stayed at L’Hotel over the years; Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Mick Jagger, Sean Penn and English model and actress Jane Birkin.
In fact, it was after Birkin met French singer Serge Gainsbourg in the late ’60s that they moved into Wilde’s old bedroom and, legend has it, stayed there for a three-month romance.
The hotel has an excellent restaurant with an adjacent garden, again nicely decorated.
It was in this small space in the back that Oscar sat to read and drink.
In the basement, today’s guests have a small swimming pool as well as a hammam and a spa.
Every Thursday at the hotel bar there is a free jazz band for the aperitif.
The streets around L’Hotel are full of interesting bars, small art galleries, antique shops and high quality but affordable restaurants.
Just around the corner is the legendary café Les Deux Magots. It was a favorite haunt of Wilde and it stands opposite the church in which he was buried after converting to Catholicism on his deathbed.
In the 1920s, Les Deux Magots was frequented by fellow Irishman James Joyce, who drank there with F Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and the young Earnest Hemmingway.
The historical pedigree has a price. If you want to sit outside and enjoy a cappuccino, it will cost you €8.50.
You couldn’t ask for a more perfectly located hotel for exploring the city. A five-minute walk north across the Pont des Arts from L’Hôtel will take you to the Louvre.
If you head west along the Seine for ten minutes, you will come to the Musée d’Orsay, home to the best collection of Impressionist paintings and Art Nouveau furniture in the world.
If you walk east along the river for 16 minutes you will arrive at Notre Dame and if you walk south from the hotel you will be at the Jardin du Luxembourg in less than ten minutes.
During Wilde’s time in Paris, he crossed the Seine every evening and passed the Louvre, to have an aperitif at the Café de la Régence, which is still there today, rue Saint-Honoré.
Another of his favorite haunts was the Café de la Paix at L’Opéra, one of the city’s many literary venues.
He was also a frequent visitor to the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre.
One of his drinking partners during “The Roaring Twenties” was the painter Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.
Oscar at that time consumed huge amounts of alcohol due to the fact that he constantly suffered from an abscess in his ear.
A grizzly fact related to L’Hotel’s room is that here, Oscar had two operations on his ear. A few months later, he succumbed to his illnesses and died on November 30, 1900. He was only 46 years old.
Oscar Wilde’s grave is now the most visited in the Père Lachaise cemetery. It sits near the graves of singer Edith Piaf, Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray and Oscar’s great friend, French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Jim Morrison of The Doors is also buried there.
During the 1990s, visitors began the ritual of kissing Oscar’s grave and his magnificent sculpture, by American artist Jacob Epstein, became covered in lipstick, the oils of which began to damage the Pierre.
The Office of Public Works in Ireland came to the rescue and the tomb is now considered an Irish monument overseas. The lipstick was removed and a glass barrier erected to protect the structure.
So Oscar Wilde went from national disgrace to Irish national treasure and it only took 120 years. In 120 years, his childhood home in Dublin, at number 1 Merrion Square North, will undoubtedly be a national monument.
But for now, it’s the home of American College Dublin, which runs guided tours every weekend during the fall and winter.
If you can’t make it to Paris, log on to www.oscarwildehouse.com and book a house tour and walk in Oscar’s footsteps at his home.
Rooms at L’Hotel start at 350 a night.
The best airport for this area of Paris is Orly.
Vueling airlines operate a daily service from Dublin to Paris with fares averaging €70 return.