The streets of Paris are full of French spirit, a love for beauty, and an appreciation for great food. Hidden throughout the arrondissements, Orso Hotels offer an intimate look into French culture and the city’s history with individual boutique hotels that welcome every guest and embody the spirit of each neighborhood.
The Orso brand was born in March 2020—when just about no one was going to hotels—and stayed alive through the pandemic with true hospitality at its heart. Its founders, Anouk and Louis Solanet, brought the hotels to life beginning with Hotel Rochechouart at the foot of Montmartre. They continue to bring French flavor and simple, thoughtful touches to every guest’s stay at each of the now seven boutique hotels.
How did you begin Orso Hotels?
Louis Solanet: We were in the hotel business for a long time in my family. Usually we were working with big hotel brands, like Hilton, and at some point we realized that we couldn’t find the right brand for small boutique hotels in Paris. So we decided to create our own way.
Anouk Solanet: We really like hotels we would like to go to ourselves, and our friends and family and people around us—
LS: And maybe other people too, because we don’t have enough friends and family to fill all the hotels.
AS: Of course!
What unifies the individual hotels as Orso hotels?
AS: Something we didn’t like in the hotel experience is standardization. Creating a personalized experience is something we really worked on. It was one of the first ideas when we launched the brand.
LS: We didn’t feel very good with this lifestyle trend where you have to do more and more things to impress the client. When Anouk and I travel, our best experiences are very simple experiences. We had an amazing experience in a small bed and breakfast, lost in France. We asked the host if they could help us arrange a babysitter during a wedding and then they said, “OK, we are going to take care of them. Don’t worry. Go to your wedding.”
AS: It’s those small, really human things that we really like. We wanted to combine that with all the basics we know from working with brands—clean rooms, sleep and comfort in a good bed.
LS: Good wifi, hot water.
AS: And then we wanted to add good design and put all those elements together to create something a little bit different. The idea is to make it all look simple, but behind the scenes it’s a lot of work.
What makes hospitality an art?
AS: I think it’s a human art. It’s about welcoming guests and making them feel that they’re invited, even though you pay for your room. We’re expecting them and happy to have them.
LS: It’s about improvisation as well. If you ask a hotelier, his normal day is always different. You always have to improvise a bit, and it’s the same in art. I think the best hotels are the most sincere. The best artists are also very sincere.
One of the personal touches at the Orso hotels is the slice of cake that every guest receives at check-in. What inspired that?
LS: It’s always good to have something when you arrive, especially if it’s a long trip. We prefer to offer something good, fresh, and homemade.
AS: French people really like food! I mean it’s not only that they like it, they talk about food all the time. So it was really important to have this French touch.
How is each Orso location different from the others?
AS: They’re all in different neighborhoods. You have a really local life, real Parisians who live and work there. You have the architecture of the building, and we really look into the history of the place.
LS: We have to adapt ourselves to what we find, because it’s not easy to build in Paris. We try to adapt ourselves to the building, to the neighborhood, and to the rooms to reveal the potential of the place. We really tried to do something very different from one building to another, and tried to work with different young architects on each project.
For example, we worked with Festen Architecture at Hotel Rochechouart, which is our most iconic hotel. They told me they couldn’t have done Hotel Ami, and it was very smart what Gesa Hansen did there. And Gesa on the other hand said, “Rochechouart would have been impossible for me. It was very different from my style.”
You’ve worked with a lot of young architects and designers to create these hotels. What is that process like?
LS: With the design, we want to work with young interior designers who have a real talent and a freshness. They often come from private apartments or restaurants or boutiques, but not a lot of them did hotels. It’s a lot of work to adapt their ideas into the reality of a hotel, not just the day of the opening but during the next 10 years.
AS: Always, in the beginning of a project, the storytelling is very important. We need a mood board, and we need to be on the same level as the interior architect, to understand the same thing and—
LS: Stick to the plan a bit.
AS: Yeah. Then we give them a lot of freedom because we want to have their signature. We have a lot of input as well, but we try to really stick to their ideas and the storytelling we create together.
LS: Next we are renovating the rooms of one of our hotels called Hotel Cabane, which means “shelter” in French. Cabane could be like a house lost in France, something like that.
AS: More like a wooden cabin.
LS: We got inspired by mid-century cabins, like Sea Ranch in California. We tried to do that and not something typical to the French countryside.
Do you have a favorite feature of an individual location that does a really good job of bringing out the local and individual spirit?
LS: They’re all our favorites. But for example, we created the Mikado, the dancing bar in the basement of Hotel Rochechouart. This is really the continuation of the story of the building. It opened in 1929. There were parties there, Edith Piaf sang there and all those artists. We re-created this place as it could have been; we didn’t have a lot of pictures, so we imagined something that could have been the Mikado at the time.
How do you think your approach to hospitality has changed since the inception of Orso Hotels?
LS: Not really much, because we launched it in March 2020.
AS: Really like the day after the lockdown started.
LS: Nobody was really expecting us at this time. But it reassured us about what people want. After Covid they were expecting good and simple things, maybe not too many “bling” things. This is when we saw that our values were the right ones. So I think we didn’t change. We are more convinced.
AS: Of course it was difficult. Everybody was closing down and we were opening hotels. But we had to reinvent ourselves and come with new ideas.
LS: When they invented the curfew in France we saw hotel guests could still be in the restaurant. So we invented a small offer where if you had a room in the hotel, the only thing you had to do was eat in the restaurant. The price of the room was really low then, but you had to come and have dinner in the restaurant.
AS: A lot of Parisians who live in the neighborhood came over because they just wanted to go out and do something else. They were fed up staying at home. So it was really nice.