Staying in an Airbnb isn’t the same as a hotel holiday, says AN Wilson in The Times. The former is full of “tedium and chores” – not only must you cook yourself, you have to use the blunt knives and sticky pans in the rental cottage. And hotels don’t just provide meals, but “free theatre”: watching and overhearing the building’s motley cast of residents opens up a “world beyond your own”. No surprise, then, that inns and hotels have been a favoured setting for authors from Chaucer to Agatha Christie. Even the hopeless dysfunction of Fawlty Towers has a strangely “comforting” appeal.
Hotels are also a refuge for those unsuited to domesticity. Oscar Wilde and Margaret Thatcher, both perpetual outsiders, spent the last years of their life in hotels. Wilde died at the Hôtel d’Alsace in Paris, at one point observing: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go.” Thatcher died at the Ritz in London. Coco Chanel, “whose hard outlines made her unsuited to the domestic hearth”, made her home at the Ritz in Paris. But we can all shed our “unsatisfactory selves” when we check in, at least for a week or two. All the self-caterers get is a yearning for “a knife that actually slices through an onion”.