It was fitting that our final ‘home away from home’ of our twelve month grand tour was exactly the kind of place we love to settle into. The delightful flat in London’s West End was much more of a home than a rental.
A couple of the apartments we stayed at during the year felt exactly the opposite, more like a holiday apartment rather than a home away, such as the flat we stayed at in Kotor, which, while nice enough, was decorated like a hotel, without any of the personal touches that can make holiday rentals special. While we did our best to make it feel homey, it always felt a little cold and felt more like an investment property.
Houses like the ones we stayed at in Cape Town and Ceret were real homes, where the owners lived or went for holidays when there weren’t guests renting them. As a result, they felt ‘lived-in’ in the nicest possible way. Similarly, apartments like the one we had in Krakow were comfortable and inviting, helped along by hospitable gestures, such as the Christmas tree and presents the owners left us.
As we’ve written about before (here), it’s amazing how small gifts and thoughtful extras, such as a bottle of wine or beer, a vase of flowers, or a rustic loaf of bread and local jam, can go a long way to making guests feel welcome. The owners of this London apartment demonstrated the same generosity of spirit we’d experienced so many times before on our round-the-world trip, going as far as to provide a bottle of bubbly – greatly appreciated after all that port in Portugal!
After hauling all of our gear into the third floor flat (thankfully via an elevator), we immediately began to wish we were staying longer, and not just because we didn’t want to drag our bags back downstairs again.
For central London, the flat is a terrific size, with three spacious bedrooms, a comfortable living area, a lovely bathroom, and a brilliant kitchen that boasted the best stove we’d had all year. (Sorry, Rusty.) It was just a shame we didn’t have time to use it. Plenty of books, DVDs and mementoes of the owners’ travels, as well as loads of goodies in the kitchen, completed the picture.
While the London neighbourhood we stayed at a year ago, when we kicked off our project with a launch party at a swish penthouse, was residential, our final digs were located in the commercial heart of the city, with Oxford Street just a short stroll away. Still, with people coming and going to and from work and moseying by on their way out to eateries and bars in the evening, the area was more lively with locals, especially students, than tourists.
There were a handful of supermarkets close by and dozens of restaurants and pubs in the surrounding streets. There was a post office shop a few doors down where Lara spent a long time sending winter clothes back to Australia to store with family, while quickly becoming friendly with the Indian owners. Delays at the Apple store kept us from a scheduled meeting with an editor, who subsequently left some books for us to collect from the friendly staff in a neighbouring café. It was astonishing how quickly both the flat and the neighbourhood made us feel so at home that it felt like we were living in London, despite it only being for a few days.
I had a strong urge to shop, cook, work, watch movies, and stroll the ’hood with my dog. (Really, will somebody please start a holiday rental ‘rent-a-pet’ service!) And it’s that feeling that you get when you’re staying in a good holiday rental that makes all the difference to your experience of a place and sets a holiday rental apart from a hotel – that sense that you’re a part of the neighbourhood for a while, not just someone passing through.
Regardless of how fantastic a hotel can be, you never really mentally unpack those suitcases, even when you hang some shirts or a suit in the cupboard. I can’t ever remember saying to myself “you know what, I’d love to live here” while staying in any hotel or a resort – even when the concierge has memorised my name.
And that’s what we’ve most loved about our year of holiday rentals – that they’ve made us feel at home in their destinations, and at home in the world.