To visit Paris is to stay in a hotel, but to truly experience Paris as a Parisien, there’s no other choice but to stay in an apartment, something countless visitors to the City of Light have discovered over the last decade or so.
After all, Paris is one of those rare destinations where sophistication is a way of life, regardless of budget. Who hasn’t read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and longed to recapture the romance of just sitting in one of the countless cafés lining the avenues and grand boulevards of the city, sipping a cup of café au lait and talking about art? Or doing more than simply visiting the postcard-ready landmarks, but really digging in and exploring the places most tourists avoid but that the locals adore?
Staying in a vacation apartment gives you access to all of that, affording you an interaction with the locals that you just can’t get when you’re staying in a hotel. Once you have the building access code, it seems as if you are afforded entry into a whole new level of Paris.
Dick and Demaris Mills learned this during a visit a few years ago, when they inadvertently locked themselves out of their apartment. The building’s concierge wasn’t available until the next morning, leaving the Mills temporarily homeless. A neighbor, one they’d never even met before, handed them the key to her apartment and asked only that they not let the cats out.
The Mills had been visiting Paris for many years, enjoying stays at some of the city’s most luxurious hotels. But the Francophiles realized that to experience the real Paris, they had to live like the locals. So, five years ago, they made the switch to apartments.
Likewise, Sam Spektor and his wife Ann have become apartment converts, although their reasons are more practical. “We didn’t want to have to eat all our meals in restaurants,” explains Mr. Spektor. “We wanted to shop and cook some meals at ‘home.’ We also wanted more space than a hotel room gave us, and didn’t want the ‘hassle’ of a hotel.”
Those “hassles” include things like room service and housekeeping, deal-breakers for some travelers, as is access to spas or fitness facilities. The idea of being without them prevent more than a few travelers from considering a vacation apartment.
Erica Berman, owner of Haven in Paris, says vacation apartment dwellers don’t have to go without those luxuries.
“It really depends on the type of experience you’re looking for,” says Berman, an American who splits her time between Europe and the States. “We provide housekeeping service once a week, but if a guest wants the apartment straightened up more often, we can do that, too, for an extra charge. We also give our guests a listing of some services they can bring into the apartment, like massage therapists, personal cooks and yoga instructors.” Berman adds that these are things hotels would also offer as an a la carte service, but the advantage here is that you can enjoy these things in a private, spacious apartment.
Berman’s company offers over two-dozen apartments throughout Paris, ranging from cozy studios to lavish three-bedroom penthouses. Guests are met at the apartment by a “greeter,” a person who gives them the keys, shows them the apartment and how to work some of the more unfamiliar appliances.
“I have greeters who’ll even take the client into the market and show them how to shop for food,” says Berman. “That’s something you just can’t get by staying in a hotel.” She adds that her apartments all have computers with free high-speed WiFi and free unlimited calls to the U.S. (and Europe).
So what about cost? That’s the question people often ask when planning their visit. Is it more economical to stay in an apartment? The answer is, “usually.”
If you’re traveling with your family or a group, it can certainly cost you less to rent a multi-bedroom apartment than several hotels rooms. Eating at restaurants every day, three times a day, can add up, so cooking and eating in saves money.
But most people who stay in apartments during their Paris vacation aren’t necessarily out to save significant money. That might just be the bonus. When asked, most people will cite the fact that an apartment gives them more space as a big draw. But Ellen Cull sums up the main reason vacation apartments were a great choice for her: “It was like having a home away from home.”
Paris Perfect – Friendly company run by a husband and wife who are passionate about Paris. Quality, central Paris apartments; local offices staffed by friendly team make your arrival and stay easy. (+1 888 520-2087, www.parisperfect.com)
Haven in Paris – Offering more than two dozen short-term apartments for every type of traveler and budget. (617/395-4243, www.haveninparis.com)
Perfectly Paris – A collection of independent owners who offer vacation apartment rentals throughout Paris. (www.perfectlyparis.com)
Feels Like Home in Paris – Another agency offering vacation apartments in Paris, specializing in Montmartre (www.feelslikehomeinparis.com)
Guest Apartment Services – Two Frenchmen offer stunning luxury apartments almost exclusively on the Ile Saint-Louis. (http://www.guestapartment.com)