Is this the best hotel pool in the world?
Hotel pools are usually designed for sitting in a pool bar and sipping those expensive drinks with little umbrellas. Not to say that this activity doesn’t have a role in life: it does. However, if you want to do a few laps hotel pools are usually way too short, they don’t have straight black lines with a line of flags five metres out, they are full of folk from places that don’t know how to do civilised laps the way I like, and they (the pools, not the people) have silly curvy shapes and are shallow.
The Piscine Molitor has just reopened in Paris, with a very different hotel pool. Built in 1929 in the Art Deco cruise liner style, it has an important place in local hearts. Johnny Weissmuller, having won three golds at the 1924 Paris Olympics, spent a season there as a lifeguard. The first bikini, designed by the engineer (!) Louis Réard, was modelled there in 1946 by Michelline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. We even swam there 25 years ago, before number one child was born.
Piscine Molitor closed in 1989 and fell derelict, vandalised, graffitied, and used for rave parties and other sordid activities. However, a hotel group has taken over and refurbished the outdoor piscine d’été and the indoor piscine d’hiver as part of a new hotel and private club (3,300 euros per annum - WTH). They have kept many of the old features, including the beautiful stained glass windows. The architect of Piscine Molitor, Louis Barillet, also designed the Piscine Pontoise (5th arrondissement) and the Espace Sportif Pailleron (19th). These pools are public and cheap, although the process of actually swimming in them is enough to drive one loopy.
We spent a night at Molitor, taking advantage of the prices in the first week of it’s ‘soft opening’. The outdoor pool is stunning – 46 metres long, black lines and 28 degrees water temperature – and the surrounding cabins on two levels have been artfully turned into hotel rooms. There was no one in the pool except us, watched by some pleasant but bored lifeguards. When one of them said I had a good glide in my stroke, I knew my money had been well spent. The poolside bar is cute, even though the drink prices are eye-watering high. The indoor pool was empty as Rafa, Serena and mates were doing some French Open photo shoots (Roland Garros is just up the road), and Boom-Boom Boris was at the breakfast buffet. The Stade Francais rugby team were also doing breakfast before their afternoon home game against London Wasps at the adjacent Stade Jean Bouin. We chatted to the ‘Molong Mauler’ about his gig playing rugby for Stade Francais and living in the middle of Paris. Tough, it is.
As a nod to the recent history of the pool, the foyer has a graffiti-covered Rolls Royce and unpolished concrete pillars - not sure they quite get what the old underground movement was about. A texta scrawl on the newly painted exterior said ‘rendez-nous notre patrimoine’, loosely translated as ‘give us back our heritage’, a most reasonable sentiment as a fine public facility has disappeared into the hands of the well-heeled. Still, if you have the money, it really is a stunning hotel pool for ocean swimmers to keep in trim.
Rafa, Serena et accolytes in photo shoot.
Rank and file Parisian punter Megan Phelps swims the European way.