A few months ago, over the holidays, I rented an apartment in Paris that looked, as a friend put it, "like a stage set for La Traviata."
It was on the "second floor," or what we'd call the third in the U.S., of an old mansion, the floor with the highest ceilings. The interior was totally covered in wood boiserie from the 18th century. There was a marble fireplace, which didn't work but sure was pretty to look at. An alcove swathed in pale apricot velvet held the bed. The kitchen was teensy but rather newly outfitted and workable, the bathroom also newly equipped and with a huge tub, perfect for a soothing soak after a long day sightseeing.
But the best part was that one entire wall consisted of three sets of French doors that opened onto a little balcony, not huge but big enough that I could stand there with friends and a bottle of Champagne on New Year's Eve, overlooking the Pont Neuf and a view of the Seine that swept up past the Louvre all the way to the Grand Palais.
All for less than the cost of a mid-class hotel.
My apartment rented for between €160 and €180 a night, depending on the length of stay, which could range from seven nights to one month. Other apartments in the city can be rented for vastly less -- or of course more.
Renting an apartment was a wonderful choice. Every time I wanted a cup of tea, I could just go make a pot myself, using my latest purchases from Kusmi without having to spend the time and money waiting for room service. Practically every day I wandered over to the rue de Buci to pick up a fresh baguette or fromage or fois gras for a relaxing light supper at "home" after spending the day in museums and concerts or simply walking the streets of Paris. And I could enjoy my supper in my bathrobe, after a bubble bath, while looking out over the city and watching the bateaux mouches glide down the Seine.
Sound like a wonderful way to visit the city? It's as simple as booking a hotel room.
I Googled "short term apartment rentals in Paris" and found dozens of agencies providing this service, each representing dozens if not hundreds of apartments, in every neighborhood, at every size and price. You put in what you are looking for, check availability and press the "book" button. Voila, you have an apartment in Paris.
Unfortunately, the first apartment I fell in love with, up in Montmartre with a view of the city, was on the website www.parissweethome.com. It was listed as available during the dates I needed, but after I submitted my request I was told by the company that the apartment was now handled by their partners, www.allorenta.com. Allorenta wrote back that the apartment was in fact not available, writing, "we are sorry to inform you that we are not the sole agent for the apartments and the owner might have rented the apartment through another agency. Therefore, the calendar is not always updated."
Both Paris Sweet Home and Allorenta sent me links to other apartments that were available when I needed, but they all had the whiff of college dorm room about them. So I tried other sites.
That's when I found 68, quai des Orfevres, on www.apartment-living.com. Before I put down my 30% deposit, I telephoned the manager, Francois Brunel, and was reassured that there was actually a person on the other end of the line. (I did fear, all along, that I could show up at 68, quai des Orfevres to find out it was somebody's home, already taken, didn't even exist, or was a total fleabag, despite the numerous enticing photos on the website.)
But the apartment did exist, and it was lovely and couldn't be better situated: on the Ile de la Cite, around the corner from the Place Dauphine, one of my favorite spots in Paris. The arrangements worked smooth as silk. Francois scooted up on his motorbike right on schedule to let me in and show me around and collect the remaining payment. The room was clean, the bed was made and there were more fresh towels and sheets waiting should I need them than I could possibly use. The kitchen was equipped with sufficient wine glasses and plates and pots that I could have thrown a dinner party.
It also had one of those combination washer/dryers, which meant I didn't have to constantly hand-wash my clothes. Maid service is provided once a week, with fresh linens put on the bed and fresh towels in the bathroom. There was a telephone with free local and US calls. A flat-screen TV offered mostly French programming -- lots of talking heads, old US movies, music videos (I love you Adam Levine!) and, thankfully, CNN and SkyNews.
When it was time to leave, Francois zipped in again right on time, gave me a reading for the electricity charge (which came to about €40 for the two weeks), then helped me get my bags onto the shuttle bus to the airport.
I returned to Paris recently and stayed at a friend's apartment. But I found myself walking by the quai des Orfevres and gazing up at "my" windows in "my" apartment and looking forward to the time when it would be mine again. Or there's a little studio apartment in the Marais I've had my eye on, that's half the price, tucked under a mansard roof, with two tiny balconies overlooking the rooftops of Paris. Or maybe the one on the Ile St. Louis, with the wood beamed ceiling. I've always wanted to stay on the Ile St. Louis...
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