So we were thrilled to discover that with the Mansions flat (http://www.londonguestsuites.com), we could have both. The Mansions is an Edwardian building on Earl's Court Road in South Kensington made up of 29 "serviced apartments." We chose it because it was well located — steps away from the Earl's Court tube stop, within easy walking distance of the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert, and, most important, it had a reasonably priced three-bedroom, three-bathroom flat (we were traveling with my sister-in-law), which can be difficult to find. When we learned a car would pick us up, at no extra charge, at the airport, we were delighted. When we arrived and met the incredibly friendly staff who checked us in, we were excited. When we saw the spacious and lovely apartment and learned that there was actually maid service, we were, as the locals say, over the moon.
If the flat lacked personal touches that can add romance to a vacation rental, it more than made up for it by being spotless, bright and comfortable. No knickknacks to worry about with the kids, all modern appliances in the huge kitchen and, most important, a dining room table that sat eight and a living room in which we could all sit down together. There were enough closets and pillows, three showers, a huge bath tub, lovely high ceilings and windows galore. And the maids would put the dishes in the dishwasher for us, heaven bless them. The staff on the ground floor kept regular business hours and offered advice on everything from local grocery stores to the best Christmas pantomimes. When, on Christmas Day, all the lights went off and the water in the shower turned cold, we panicked — no one works in London on Christmas Day — but we called downstairs anyway and within 15 minutes the on-site manager came up, fixed the fuse and told us not to take three showers at once because, of course, the water heater isn't that big. On Christmas Day.
We will certainly rent flats and houses in other places that are owned by families or individuals, and they will be lovely too, but we'll be back at the Mansions because there aren't many places where you have the ease and space of an apartment and the amenities of a hotel.