If you like the idea of a Paris city break but don’t want to be holed in a tiny hotel room with the kids, there’s always Airbnb. Alex Manson-Smith gives (and gets) an honest review.
I’d love to say it was the culture and history that drew us to Paris, but it had more to do with the fact that a) it’s an easy train ride away, and b) the kids had seen Ratatouille.
City breaks generally aren’t my first choice with under-5s. I foresee a lot of whinging and queuing for overpriced tourist attractions. And since taking young children effectively rules out shopping, restaurants and nightlife, i.e. all the things that make city breaks fun, it’s reasonable to ask, what exactly is the point?
But Paris is a low-commitment destination. You can get there in two-and-a-quarter hours from London (less time than it takes to get to Leeds). It’s easily fitted into a weekend, even during term time. Plus it’s nice to come at a city from a different standpoint: to embrace the zoos, playgrounds and crêperies, instead of galleries and dive bars.
That’s what you tell yourself, anyway. That, and you’ll sneak off shopping on the Saturday afternoon while their dad takes them to the park.
So you have to find a place to stay. Hotel rooms in Paris are notoriously pricey – and titchy. With children you are looking at a suite or at the very least a large double room, either of which cost roughly the same as a week in Mexico. And then you price up the Mexico trip, factor in the long haul flight, and resort to your best alternative: Airbnb.
Cost-wise, it doesn’t compare. For the price of a poky hotel room in a run-down arrondissement, yours is a vast apartment in the area of your choice.
We went for Le Marais because it’s filled with beautiful shops, bars and restaurants and we hadn’t quite accepted that we wouldn’t be indulging any of those Parisian fantasies. But also because it’s central and within easy walking distance of the Notre Dame and the Pompidou Centre.
As well as location, Airbnb allows you plenty of say in terms of style: if you’ve always wanted to live in one of those Haussmann apartments – the ones with the L’Egoïste shutters and rickety, wrought-iron lifts – now’s your chance.
With options like this, you don’t feel short-changed by going the cheaper route. ‘Our’ apartment was far more chic, clean and comfortable than an equivalent hotel. It was uncluttered and immaculate, the sort of place that might trouble the pages of ELLE Decor. Clearly some lucky person’s pied-a-terre, rather than a family house.
There are other advantages to the Airbnb option – namely that you don’t get stiffed on breakfast. That means you can go to some swish café you’ve read about, rather than silently eyeing up other guests across a forlorn buffet. Or, if you’ve got an eye on costs or have children who simply can’t sit still, you can always grab some fruit and pastries at the supermarket.
On the downside, there are no facilities. That means no swimming pool, gym, or pretty receptionist to greet you when you come in. It also means no one makes your bed or carries your luggage.
You are a real Parisian, with real responsibilities when it comes to locking the door properly and putting the rubbish out. You are chief cook and cleaner, just like at home.
The lack of amenities can be a drag, especially if it rains. On day one you will inevitably overdo the walking and sightseeing, which means that by day two you’ll all be hankering for some downtime by a pool, or even in a hotel bar or lobby. Hanging out in a stranger’s apartment simply isn’t as convivial. It actually feels a bit weird. You will end up going out again, and thoroughly knackering the entire family.
But that’s not the biggest mistake you can make.
The biggest mistake is to take your family to an immaculate pied-a-terre, rather than a cluttered family house. Because, like they do at home, your kids will blitz it in 5 seconds flat. You will be left picking oat cake out of the carpet and cursing yourself for not listening more intently to the owner’s instructions on how to use the washing machine.
You’d have thought I’d have been a bit more switched on when I chose the chicest option I could find on Airbnb. After all, my kids have form. But, blinded by the prospect of affordable accommodation, I’d only thought about them in terms of how much space they’d take up (not much), rather than how much damage they’d cause (loads).
When they returned the owners were so appalled by the sticky handprints my kids had left on their brand new leather dining chairs – handprints I didn’t notice because I’ve grown so used to living in a house with Biro scribbles on the desk and Spiderman stickers on the windows – that they gave us a bad review, wiping out the promise of any future family city breaks in reasonably priced homes from home.
Which is when I realised the main advantage of hotels: they don’t review their guests.@youresomummy