Paris’ Piscine Molitor, Art-Deco Pool Featured in “Life of Pi”

Piscine Molitor at the Molitor Hotel in Paris/Accor Hotels Group

Like many people, I saw and enjoyed Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed 2012 film “Life of Pi”, based on the book by French Canadian author Yann Martel. While I appreciated the magical realist movie’s surreal 3D renderings of tigers and whales as much as the next person, I was far more charmed by the protagonist’s back story, in no small part because some of the flashbacks of his youth take place in mid-century Paris, imagined in the grainy, retro colors of old photographs from the ’50s or early ’60s.

The plot, in a nutshell: a young and brilliant Indian boy living in colonial-era Pondicherry, Piscine Molitor Patel, is named by his Francophile father after an eponymous Art Nouveau swimming pool in Paris’s 16th arrondissement. The film included scenes of the pool in a retro guise circa 1950-something, and after leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help wondering what had become of the place.

As it turns out, and perhaps coincidentally, the now-iconic pool, first opened in 1929, has seen a major comeback in recent years after falling into disrepair and abandon. It re-opened in 2014 as part of an enormous luxury hotel-spa-restaurant-art collective complex called, simply, Molitor (look out for a full review in the coming months).

Unfortunately for some, though, this means that in its new incarnation, it’s no longer run as a municipal public pool open to everyone at a small fee: the five-star hotel and private club features some 117 rooms and suites at relatively high rates, and day access to the club will cost you a pretty penny, too. Nevertheless, it’s worth a stay for a special occasion, or if you’re interested in a glamorous stay in a historic city hotel.

A Bit of History

Bathers at the Piscine Molitor, circa 1933
Bathers at the Piscine Molitor, circa 1933

From 1929 through the 1960s, the Piscine Molitor was one of Paris’ most popular (and fashionable) municipal pools, highly coveted by Parisians for its sumptuous art nouveau architecture and lavish amenities. After falling into disuse and closed in 1989, the beautiful but badly dilapidated  complex was nearly torn down, but protests followed and it was instead deemed a city historical monument, saving it from demolition.

It’s been restored to its former glory, art-deco stained glass and all, after having served as a creative space for Paris street and graffiti artists since the early 1990s, who covered the pool in their designs. As a result, the re-opening of the pool was not without controversy: some were unhappy that the site has been privatized and turned into yet another luxury hotel in the upwardly mobile west end of the city. It seems, for some, to be the landmark of yet more gentrification in a city that might appear to cater increasingly to the ultra-rich.

{Related: The Rebirth of La Samaritaine, an Iconic Parisian Department Store}

The Pool and Hotel Today

The complex features two pools, one olympic-sized one outdoors (pictured) measuring 46m/150 feet, a smaller indoor pool measuring 33m/108 feet, a hotel with over 115 rooms and a Clarins spa/club that can accommodate up to 1,000 people.

There are also restaurants, bars, and a dedicated space for artists (presumably as a gesture to those artists who had occupied the premises during its defunct years).

{Where to Stay in Paris: A Complete Guide for Beginners}

The box-office success of Lee’s “Pi”; will no doubt draw curious tourists back to the Piscine Molitor, but with a price, of course: to use the pool, you have to be a guest at the high-end hotel. Still, if it fits your budget and style, the new Molitor complex looks like a little slice of retro-style heaven.

Piscine Molitor: Location and Contact Details

  • Address: 13 rue Nungresser et Coli, 16th arrondissement
  • MetroMichel-ange Molitor (Line 9) or Porte d’Auteuil (Line 10)
  • Tel: +33 (0)1 56 07 08 50
  • Visit the official website

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