I have just returned from a vacation driving down through Spain. Actually, it was supposed to be a drive just through Spain (from Santander to Malaga) but, due to strike action by the seafaring staff at Brittany Ferries, it ended up as a trip through France as well. And, believe me, that is a drive and a half.
It didn’t help that we only had last minute notification. But to the credit of the land based staff of the ferry line, an alternative crossing (Dover to Calais) was provided to us gratis – as it was to all disrupted passengers.
So this meant a frantic half hour of internet surfing to find a hotel in the South West of France, followed by a scramble to la voiture for an immediate dash to Dover in order to ensure a place on the (now crowded) alternative boats.
24 hours later, with several hundred miles of rain soaked English and French motorway under our belt, we arrived in Bordeaux – and checked in to what proved to be the worst hotel I have ever stayed in.
If there was a blueprint for producing dismal accommodation and providing atrocious customer service, they had found it and followed it precisely. And, judging from reports I have read at my leisure, they were very successful at doing so.
Apart from the staff being unenthusiastic, unfriendly and downright rude in some cases, it is the only hotel I have ever stayed in where you have to repeatedly press a button for the bathroom light and heater to stay on (not that it mattered much, because the bath was too small even to sit in properly). It is certainly the only hotel where I have experienced a connecting door between two unconnected parties which is kept unlocked (both to my horror and that of the person in the room next door). Whilst the handyman was summoned to lock it, he arrived with his football still tucked under one arm and was less than co-operative in resolving the problem.
I should have known this hotel would be awful from the moment I set eyes on the place. It had shutters on all the room windows and the entrance to the hotel and car park were guarded by high gates, which remained locked at night (unsurprisingly, I don’t remember the high security gates being featured on the website). To be fair the other pictures of the hotel were accurate, but I suspect they were taken a long, long, time ago.
And this hotel was not cheap.
However, upon reading some of the reports on Booking.com, I had a lucky escape. A fellow guest reports entering his room and finding a staff member taking a shower. I doubt if that was on the official room service menu.
Parador Lerma Exterior
So it was with both relief and delight that we crossed the border (as early as possible) the next day and arrived at one of several Paradors that we had planned to stay in.
Paradors, for anyone who has not experienced them, are generally magnificent historic buildings (convents, monasteries, castles, manor houses) that have been lovingly and expertly restored by the Spanish Government and transformed into high quality hotels. Having been to several of them, I can tell you they are a joy.
Apart from the fabulous architecture and obvious atmosphere associated with such beautiful, ancient buildings, the interiors are often modern and very comfortable and the staff are just delightful. The majority are English speakers and they are very helpful.
As we arrived at one of the hotels, at a place called Chinchon, an hour or so South of Madrid, we became aware that parking was remote from the hotel and somewhat difficult for such a large car.
The staff explained that the area outside the Parador was a public square and therefore overnight parking was not permitted. Within a short time it would be bustling with activity as the locals came out for the evening.
But sensing my concern, the receptionist, not uncommonly, went the extra mile for us.
He rang the local Police and asked permission for me to leave the car on the square and the Police agreed, obligingly taking details of it so they could make sure it was safe. It was a kind gesture and very much appreciated.
Thankfully we didn’t have to make the return journey through France, as the industrial action had come to, I guess, an agreeable conclusion.
And, on the day I got home, my credit card statement dropped through the letterbox – with the ferry refund already on it. Thank you to Brittany Ferries for not making me apply for it.
So I learn’t a valuable lesson here – consider customer experiences over and above the ‘official’ photos before you choose a hotel (or anything else), even when you are in a hurry.
And a reminder of an important principle – when you get something wrong, make it right with your customer and do so quickly.