How can you stay in the heart of the city for less than a hotel, try the produce but cook it yourself and sip a G&T that didn't come from a minibar? Hire an apartment and live like a local
Words: Liz Edwards.
For some people, a holiday's not a holiday unless the comers of their toilet roll are folded up every morning. But when it comes to the ultimate in city-break relaxation, hotels don't always fulfil the brief. Ever ordered breakfast in your room, but been told you can't have what you want, when you want? Or been given a great view, but the room's too small to enjoy it? And what about that guilty feeling you get when you know the cleaners are waiting for you to vacate your room in order to finish their work? It's niggles like these (and more) that far outweigh the lure of toilet-roll origami.
The solution is to book yourself into an apartment, a far more laid back and independent option. With more character than anonymous hotel rooms, and locations in colourful residential districts, you experience the city from a less touristy angle and it's the closest you'll get to living like the locals do. There are no hovering doormen, no snooty concierge, but there are cooking facilities so you can have the odd night in without having to feel like a party pooper. And the
short-term rent on an apartment is usually much kinder to your purse than the equivalent length of stay in a hotel. Bring a friend -- the more of you there are, the cheaper it gets.
The apartment-renter's destination du jour
And the award goes to... Paris - an eternal favourite, and it's not hard to see why. For one thing, breakfasts are infinitely more enjoyable. Sweet-talk your other half into going out for croissants, and you've got yourself a deliciously lazy start to the day. Or you can both head for the local patisserie's pavement tables, where people-watching over breakfast will be much more fun than sitting in a hotel breakfast room, wondering whether a second trip to the food table will make you look greedy.
Lunch can be a picnic concocted with fresh produce from the nearby market or épicerie; and dinner made in your apartment kitchen, using delicious local ingredients, beats the tourist restaurants every time. After a few days, you'll start to feel like a genuine Parisian.
The secret to apartment renting...
... is not to let the seasons rule you. You might think city breaks are best left for spring or autumn, but an August Paris shows you a different side to the city. Apart from the usual sights and museums, the alfresco options increase in August.
This year, the city authorities are repeating the hugely successful Paris-Plage - the banks of the Seine are transformed into a chic resort with imported sand, palm trees and beach bars. The Parc de la Villette hosts open-air cinemas, theatre, music and a circus, or you could take the kids to jardin du Luxembourg and sail toy boats on the pond. If you're brave, try Rollerblading, safe in the knowledge that the super-cool Parisians will have decamped for the coast and won't be around to see the initial stumbles.
August in Paris also sees evenings at their laid-back best. Head for Le Marais or Montmartre, pick a terrace cafe table, order a goat's cheese salad or croque monsieur and a glass of wine, then just sit back and enjoy the gentle temperature and atmosphere. And with no hotelier to impose a curfew, you can stay out as long as you like.
Whereas average prices for a mid-grade hotel room are around £106, Manhattan Getaways (www. manhattangetaways.com) or New York Habitat (www.nyhabitat.com) offer furnished apartments with daily rates from around £81, including linens, local phone calls, gas and electricity.