Kirsty McLuckie: Squeeze in a city break

Over the last couple of decades, changes in the holiday lettings market have revolutionised the way we book accommodation away from home, but there are pitfalls.

Residents in tourist destinations decry the loss of community, and the noise and disruption caused by holidaymakers, in places where short-term rentals have saturated the market.

And there are woeful tales of scams, such as the owners of desirable homes who have travellers show up at their door after the address has been fraudulently posted on a booking platform. Would-be guests, who have paid, end up with nowhere to stay, while equally bewildered owners have to defend their innocence.

My own experience this week was not exactly a scam, but perhaps we have a case of misrepresentation.

Image: Adobe Stock

An old friend from school had booked a week in Paris for her family and, when her husband couldn’t go, she invited me and my adult daughter to accompany her and her two adult children for a cultural and culinary trip.

Quelle chance, I thought. The flat she had chosen was in a great spot by the canal in the 10th Arrondissement, slept six and, although described as “cosy”, had two bedrooms and two sofa beds.

Not ideal for five adults travelling as singletons, but workable. I pored over the photos before we left and could see nothing amiss.

On arrival, we discovered what the word cosy meant. It was, in fact, a Parisian bedsit. This pied-à-terre was not big enough to swing un chat.

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One double bed was behind a curtain in the lounge, the other necessitated a crawl up steep stairs above. On arrival on the bed, you couldn’t actually sit up as the head room wasn’t high enough.

There were two sofa beds in the main space, as described, but they were at right angles to each other in such a small area, so only one could be extended at a time.

Thankfully, we know each other well, and with an air of grin-and-bear-it, we sorted out the sleeping arrangements. The girls topped and tailed in one double bed, while my friend’s son was the only one lithe enough to brave the mezzanine.

My friend, Charlotte, who is much taller than me, took the big sofa bed and I slept on the unextended couch next to her... with my feet hanging off the end.

There were further indignities.

The shower room was only divided from the living space by a curtain, so we had to perform quiet ablutions within touching distance of the crowded dining table.

The adjacent loo was so small and had such a flimsy partition that sitting down on the seat risked hitting the door with your knees, causing it to swing open to display an unwelcome mise-en-scène to those enjoying their petit dejeuner.

And here lies the problem with holiday booking sites – unlike estate agents, there is no need to include a floor plan in the description.

Looking back at the original listing, there was no quantifiable size quoted. The square footage would have at least given rise to some hesitation before handing our money over.

And the photos, we now realise, were skillfully taken to disguise the cramped layout.

What’s French for caveat emptor?