by Chris Leadbeater, The Telegraph, March 12, 2018
It is a remarkable door. It is staunch, broad, designed to repel any who would, without invitation, attempt to force a way through it. But it is also beautiful. It is painted a tone of blue that talks of ocean depths, and ornately decorated with wrought-iron accoutrements. Two metallic heads adorn the woodwork – a medieval maiden with her face turned away from a merchant, as if they are characters from a Chaucer tale. I want to know their story.
And yet, for all this, the door is entirely inconspicuous. So much so that, two mornings later, returning with breakfast from Brocco – a patisserie of utter Gallic glory on the adjacent Rue du Temple, where Paris sophisticates flutter around cabinets full of spiny baguettes, buttery croissants, golden chunks of pain au chocolat, glazed strawberry tarts, and lilac and green macaroons – I walk absent-mindedly past it twice, before I spot it.
There are no such issues when I first arrive. Partly because I have been emailed detailed instructions on how to find Rue Béranger. Partly because, when I press the buzzer beside the door, Myriam appears behind it. She leads me onward, into what is a picture of residential Paris – down a short covered corridor, lined with PO boxes; through an interior courtyard where bicycles and toddlers’ tricycles, those little ships of urban living, are casually littered; up a spiral staircase of creaking steps that wraps itself around a bijou lift just big enough to fit two people. The second floor offers another sturdy door, a jangle of a key. And there I am, in Myriam’s home. “Bienvenue,” she says with a smile.
And it really is a home. She will allude to the fact, without specifics, that she works “in cinema”, and her job is written across her apartment – shelves laden with classic DVDs and heavy tomes celebrating the icons of the silver screen in black-and-white imagery; a surreal portrait of Audrey Hepburn, where a slight stretching of the dimensions has given her a mildly amused expression; a perceptible design flourish to a small antechamber off the main bedroom, where petals of coloured glass have been used to give a dash of art deco elegance to a space used for quiet contemplation in comfy chairs. But there is a domesticity to it too. A polite, genteel domesticity, but a domesticity all the same – two bedrooms belonging to Myriam’s children, alive with toys and books; a cupboard stuffed with further DVDs, cartoons and Disney films; framed snaps on the walls. It is a kernel of Paris at its most elegant, but one where a family laughs and breathes, works and plays.
This is precisely the point. The apartment is part of the portfolio of The Plum Guide – a fresh presence in the holiday rental accommodation market, which is trying to offer a more exclusively upmarket product than competitors such as Airbnb and HomeAway. It is the brainchild of Doron Meyassed, an entrepreneur who was inspired by a stay in a palatial property in Tel Aviv for a friend’s wedding – and wondered if he could provide a similar experience on a commercial scale. It was launched in London at the start of 2016, and let loose on the finer flats of Paris in January.
In a sense, it offers nothing new – the properties it showcases have already been visible with other listings companies, and are the prize possessions of owners with a track record in the short-term rental game. But The Plum Guide has decided to focus solely on homes that provide a viable and comparable alternative to a luxury hotel suite in a major metropolis – and on house-proud urbanites who want fewer, but longer, bookings. The intention is to take this business plan worldwide – ideally to the likes of Barcelona, Madrid, New York, Rome, Tokyo, and Berlin.
“We have close to 100 properties in Paris now, and we intend to expand that to between 1,500 and 2,000. But no more than that,” Graham Foulds – who was part of the Plum Guide’s start-up team in London, and is now repeating these steps in Paris – will later tell me. The company has devised a rigid procedure to assess whether a house or apartment is suitable, and has assembled a small task-force of testers – experts who arrive on the doorstep armed with iPads and 150 probing questions. “We look at everything from how the locks work, whether the keys are tricky to use, and if there is an intercom – up to the number of champagne flutes and the quality of appliances in the kitchen,” Foulds says. “We give higher marks for brand benchmarks, such as Smeg dishwashers and kettles – rather than flat-pack furniture.” Not everywhere makes the grade. “Many properties fail the test first time,” he adds. “But then we ask the owners to make the necessary changes.”
Myriam’s apartment does not appear to have any obvious glitches. She shows me around, indicates essentials, such as guest towels and spare bin-liners, and hands me a large folder of information, containing operating instructions for the television and the music system, the Wi-Fi code, and a raft of local restaurant recommendations. Then she heads, literally, for the hills. She is going skiing in the Alps. And with a soft click of the latch she is gone.
So I find myself, suddenly, in charge of a place in Paris for the weekend. But not just a set of rooms where you stay for 48 hours. An oasis where you live as the owner would. Outside, the French capital is limbering up for the evening, the streets of this segment of the third arrondissement – where the north-east corner of the hip Marais district meets the swarthier Place de la République – awash with bright young things and a buzz of post-work Friday conversation. There are so many enticing eateries in Myriam’s folder that I do not know where to begin. I find myself wandering to inspect a few of them – dropping on to a stool at wine bar Le Barav, where charcuterie platters are gnawed and ruby glasses of bourgogne poured; halting outside tapas specialist Max y Jeremy, which is so thronged that I cannot see a reasonable prospect of eating in the immediate future. In the end, I pull up at an outdoor table at Gigi, a creperie where my galette comes weighted with ham, eggs, rocket and pesto – while diners fight the winter chill from beneath towering heaters.
It is a neighbourhood, a community. But it does not strike me as exclusive, an insider’s realm. When I return to the apartment after a day elsewhere in the centre, it is a welcoming beacon, not an impersonal hotel. I am so settled that, before slumping into the vast bed, I eschew the culinary delights down the road, and pick up a calzone from Pizzu, a gourmet pizzeria a short stroll away. For a few minutes, I am ashamed – that I have come to the City of Lights and grabbed a takeaway. But then it dawns on me. This is what I would be doing on a Saturday night, if I lived here. And for one moment, I feel Parisian.
Eurostar (03432 186186; eurostar.com) runs trains to Paris from London from £58 return.
The Plum Guide (020 3795 1390; plumguide.com/homes/paris/residence-beranger) offers rental properties in London and Paris. The Residence Béranger sleeps up to six people in three bedrooms – and can be rented from £411 per night.