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San Francisco’s hidden French gem ‘Cornell Hotel De France'

If you’re the adventurous type and want a different kind of experience, perhaps off the beaten path, and have a flair for Europe, The Hotel Cornell De France is probably everything you’re looking for.
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The Hotel Cornel De France

There are many great hotels in San Francisco. Some are five-star behemoths that tower over the city with great views, luxurious accommodations and modern amenities.

But these aren’t your only choices, especially if you are visiting at busy time in the season, like I did, or there is a great big convention in town and your favorite chain is booked solid.

I happened to find one of the hidden gems located on Bush Street just a few blocks north of Union Square called The Cornell Hotel De France. .

It can be a tricky and sometimes aggravating task to look at where to stay in the city if you’re not sure about the neighborhood, or have hesitations about trying something new and off the radar.

I can put your mind at ease if Google search algorithms direct you to the quaint and colorful Cornell Hotel.

As soon as you enter over the threshold the air changes, transporting you to the heart of Europe and the beauty of a French boutique in the middle of San Francisco.

Entering this place is like entering into a rustic French Provincial home, complete with sitting room to the right and lounge to the left which offers complimentary lemon water, coffees and teas all day long (and freshly-baked cookies on an honor system).

You may encounter one of the owners at the front desk, Micheline Lambert, who may appear to be all business, speaking French to guests while trying to organize the inner-workings of her hotel as she has been doing for the last 50 years. 

But travel down the hallway a bit and you will encounter her husband Claude and their Golden Lab Michel, who entertain guests with tricks and laughter, a jovial break if the stress of travel has left you cranky. 

Hotel manager Franck LeGrand is also friendly and engaging, speaking with a heavy, but comprehensive accent, you’ll swear you just warped yourself out of America and into Europe.

After getting your keys, yes actual keys; one for your room and one for the lobby – in case you’re out past eleven, you make your way to another of the hotel's endearing features: the elevator.

This mode of transportation will be your friend if your room happens to be on any floor above the second. It’s a gate activated old-fashioned Otis elevator that will hold about three people including luggage through five floors of French artist themed backdrops.

Once I mastered the art of being a lift attendant, I found that the ride is smooth and well maintained. It’s a fun experience that only adds to the charm of this hotel and you will meet some guests along the way mingling with them in engaging small-talk.

The rooms are just as intimate. I happened to be in one of their larger rooms which overlooked Bush Street.

Again, this is a hotel that was built in 1910, and the rooms don’t have a modern feel, but this is exactly what you want. Charging your modern devices can be a bit of a hitch, but there are work-arounds which may include unplugging a lamp or the flat screen TV for an hour during the day. 

My bathroom looked as though it had just been remodeled. It contained a claw-foot bath tub and shower, with a curtain. Again very indicative of old-world ambiance.  

The queen bed was comfortable and the view only enhanced the French fantasy with the historic Mark Hopkins looming in the background and old brick buildings serving as city décor and living art framed by the sills. 

Leave the window open just a crack and you can hear the cable car bells ring as they pass over the steep incline of Powell Street, a half-a-block away; a comforting reminder that you are still in the throes of the Golden Gate. 

At night, looking out the windows and into the lit-up residences across the street reminded me of a different time and place and sweetly lulled me to sleep.

The neighborhood is not as upscale as some areas of the city, but it is safe enough to let your imagination wander a bit without the worry of crime. 

For the LGBT folks, the historic Nob Hill Theatre, a nude male revue emporium is just a few buildings down, but again there were no issues of noise pollution, loud talking or shenanigans; it's all quite tame. 

Another feature of this hotel is the authentic French restaurant on the basement level called "Jeanne d’Arc."

Nothing has been spared to give guests that continued French feel. Statues of French icons, stained-glass windows and European iconography are place throughout.

Franck told me that the owners constantly search out period antiques, continually adding items to their amass of period-piece treasures. 

Aside from some of the best hotel coffee I have ever tasted, breakfast consists of a fixed menu (omelets and pancakes), but if you really want to have the full French experience, reserve a table in advance for dinner.

The menu is made up of the finest and most authentic French food. I tried snails (Escargot) for the first time and it was absolutely delicious.

My companion had the rabbit which I tried, and was toothsome. 

My course was The Beef bourguignon; it was tender and rich with fresh mashed potatoes, both hot and satisfying. The service was attentive, even though as the evening wore on, many locals arrived filling half the house with large groups.

And what would a French experience be without dessert?

Leave plenty of room for the Tarte or the signature Grand Marnier Soufflé which you would want more of if you weren't so full already. 

San Francisco has plenty of room for travelers. It is one of the top destinations of the world, and depending on what you’re looking for as far as temporary living arrangements, has something for everyone’s tastes.

If you’re the adventurous type and want a different kind of experience, perhaps off the beaten path, and have a flair for Europe, The Hotel Cornell De France is probably everything you’re looking for.

Prices are reasonable and the service is more personal than some of the corporate chains just a few blocks away.  

Clean, comfortable and just plain charming this immersive experience is a great alternative for Golden Gate travelers. 

The Hotel Cornel De France is a gem in the crown of San Francisco.

For more information on The Hotel Cornel De France click HERE