Going abroad and seeking home comforts combined with hotel chic? Book a stay in a luxury apartment, says Jane Duru, and enjoy a holiday in which you get to live like a well-heeled local, but with none of the cleaning up to do when you leave.
Standing on the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Paris, outside an anonymous but imposing wrought-iron door, my boyfriend and I are waiting in impatient anticipation for the keys to our dream apartment.
We’ve decided to take advantage of the latest travel trend – the luxury apartment stay. There’ll be no hovering at the check-in desk, waiting for the concierge to spot us. No unnecessary intrusions by housekeeping wishing to change the towels. No missed breakfasts because we’ve decided to sleep in. Nope, we’re on our own schedule, and we can’t wait to set foot inside our new – albeit temporary – home.
BORROW A HIGH-END HOME
Housetrip (www.housetrip.com) is one of the new breed of up-and-coming apartment rental websites. A hotel offers convenience, sure, but they have their downsides. Even at the higher end, you may end up disappointed, whether it’s because of the room size, décor, or customer service. The great thing about hiring an apartment is that lots of those factors are taken out of the equation – as we saw with our Paris apartment.
When the owner Julien finally arrives (he’s half an hour late), any annoyance is swiftly abated as he lets us into the building. The entrance hall is all curlicued bannisters, endless stairways, and parquet flooring. There’s an old-fashioned lift with iron gates. The building exudes the faded grandeur that Paris does so well. The apartment itself is similarly lovely – whilst it’s more modern in feel, the generous living space certainly puts any Parisian hotel room in the shade (rooms in the city are notoriously small). We’re shown where everything is kept; nowhere is out of bounds. There’s a DVD stash containing the requisite French movie classic Amelie, kitchen pre-stocked with basics like butter, salt and sugar should we wish to do any cooking, and helpfully, Julien leaves us with tips on where to find the best local restaurants.
European-based Housetrip offers 100,000 properties in over 15,000 destinations worldwide, with the greatest choice available in London, New York and Paris. The concept is similar to Airbnb, but unlike the US site, Housetrip properties are more likely to be owned by professional landlords who own several flats so apartments are usually let out in their entirety rather than on a room-by-room basis.
Browsing through the site throws up lots of options from the grand, old Haussmann apartments with views of the Eiffel tower to luxuriously-appointed loft spaces replete with sunken beds, exposed beams, and rain showers. Whatever your taste and budget, you’re certain to find something that suits your needs. Once you’ve whittled it down to three or four properties, contact the owner about availability – if you book well in advance, you should have your pick of a very nice crop.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Can’t be bothered to sort the wheat from the chaff? Whilst sites like Housetrip.com and AirBnB list thousands of properties that have been cursorily checked to prevent any fraudulent activity, staff can’t personally vet them all. Which is where UK-based onefinestay (www.onefinestay.com) steps in.
Vetted in person by the onefinestay team, each property looks like something out of Architectural Digest, with beautiful décor (be it quirky or classical), interesting architecture and well-appointed features considered a basic requirement. Prices aren’t cheap but if you consider that a whole family (who would need maybe two or three hotel rooms) can easily be accommodated in one home, then the value is undeniable.
Guests deal with onefinestay rather than direct with homeowners. The company will go in a few days before your arrival to primp and preen the property, providing clean sheets, towels and toiletries from White Company. Upon your arrival, you’re greeted by an employee who gives you a guided tour and an iPhone for use during your stay. The iPhone comes loaded with an app containing owner recommendations on what to do in the area.
The only downside is that properties only become available when the owner is away, so it might be difficult to get your requested property on your preferred dates. Additionally, parts of the home may be off limits to guests – onefinestay place tamper-proof tape on no-go areas (so they’ll know if you’ve been nosy!) For the moment, the company only has properties in New York and London, but there are plans to expand to Paris, Berlin and Barcelona in the near future.
THE RESIDENTIAL HOTEL
If you want to stay in residential style accommodation but need the reassurance of guaranteed luxury, a serviced apartment could be just the thing. These come with the added extras that a top hotel might provide – 24-hour concierge, access to a gym, pool or spa, in-room dining – as well as the basics such as spacious, comfortable rooms and great décor.
Launched three months ago, the Jumeirah-owned Grosvenor House Apartments (www.jumeirah.com/Jumeirah-Living/Destinations/London1/Grosvenor-House-Apartments) located in London’s upmarket Park Lane epitomise glamorous apartment living.
The 133 apartments, ranging from studios to 445-sq-m (4,800-sq-ft) penthouses, offer views over Hyde Park and Park Lane. With prices starting from £450 per night to an eyewatering £11,000 per night, guests can be assured standards are high – indeed, each room comes with an iPad, butler on hand 24 hours a day – and for those occupying the penthouses, use of a self-drive Aston Martin Rapide. With minimum stays of one week, it’s an option that’s proving popular with wealthy Chinese and Middle Eastern visitors to London this summer.
Across the pond, AKA offer a range of serviced apartments in several locations around New York, Philadelphia, the White House district in Washington and California’s Beverly Hills. Apartments here are aimed at those staying a little longer but short-term lets are possible.
As you’d expect of apartments graced by movie stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Diane Keaton, the surroundings are ultra luxurious, from glossy mod-cons to wood-burning fireplaces and state-of-the-art kitchens. If that wasn’t enough, AKA’s Live It! programme ensures that guests who want to learn a skill can do so, whether it’s mastering the perfect soufflé or learning to take photos like a pro.
There are lots of rental sites out there and not all of them are genuine so it pays to do a little homework in order to avoid scams. Here are our top tips:
Never pay by money transfer services such as Moneygram or Western Union, which offer no protection to buyers. For transactions over £100, use a credit card and you should have more chance of recovering your money should things go wrong.
Stick to reputable sites. Websites like Gumtree and Craigslist often have properties listed but they’re not vetted, which means you’re more vulnerable to scams.
Even on reputable sites, check out previous reviews, see if it’s been verified by the website (as this means it’s more likely to be as described), and communicate with the host. A good host should be prompt in their replies and happy to answer any questions about the property.
Check to see there are no hidden costs before you arrive. Often owners may ask for a security or late check-out deposit when you arrive, but if you’re not expecting this, it might put a downer on an otherwise great stay.
Book a stay at the Grosvenor House Apartments with World Travel Guide.