If Carlsberg made hotels…….

Credit: someecards.com

Do you remember that advert; If Carlsberg made hotels they would probably be the best hotels in the world?
Well after our abysmal travel disappointments of earlier last week, I told you that we still had our anniversary celebrations to look forward to.

I can now happily inform you that last weekend, we spent a wonderful weekend away and for perhaps the first time ever, I have ZERO complaints!
That is correct; None, Nada, Nicht, Rien, Zilch.
Well, apart from the several huge mosquito bites that I picked up but that is not really avoidable unless you go out wearing a full head to toe mosquito net, like the one below and I rather feel that it would have spoilt the overall glamorous look that I was going for. 

Credit: unknown

Our delightful weekend started on Thursday evening after my husband finished work, where we had our traditional wedding anniversary afternoon tea. It was a bit later than is customary for an English afternoon tea since my husband was busy sorting out a problem at a customer and did not arrive home until 7 pm, after which his work phone was promptly switched off, the Bubbly was popped and we enjoyed our sandwiches and scones and cakes  that I had spent all afternoon preparing…..no seriously, it may only be some sandwiches and cakes but it is rather a fiff-faff, it’s just as well I made more than we needed so that we also had a lovely picnic lunch for Friday.

The following morning we arose at a reasonably decent 8 o’clock and after showers, a quick breakfast and final checks of our packing, we were ready by 9 am to set off for Chatelaillon Plage, approximately three hours drive.

We arrived at our Ibis Styles Thalasso hotel which I had booked several months ago.
Normally Ibis Styles are only slightly better than the usual bland business hotels, but this is something else entirely.
This is more like a 5-star resort. This particular Ibis hotel is incredible.

We checked into our room at midday, in all honesty, I hadn’t even spotted that the allotted check-in time at this particular hotel was actually from 16h00, we are so used to being able to check into any Ibis at 12h00 so that’s what time we naturally planned to arrive in order to make the most of our short stay. However, there was no problem at all we were straight into our lovely quiet, peaceful room with its maritime décor and furnishings a whole four hours early as it turned out.
That Ibis Platinum membership must count for something.

Whilst I laid out our picnic lunch (essentially a second round of afternoon tea and another bottle of bubbly) my husband returned to reception to pick up a brochure for the Grand Terrasse Spa. We flicked through it, trying to make head or tail of the tariffs but eventually concluded that it looked very much like it would be €99 each for a half-day access to the Spa. We had naturally fully expected a charge for use of the facilities but also decided that on the basis of it costing €198 for the two of us, that would make for an expensive swim and that instead we would probably just take a quick dip in the outside pool once we had returned from our walk along the seafront that afternoon. We might have gone for a dip in the sea if it wasn’t miles and miles out at this point. Knowing a little about tides, I guessed it would probably take a good 6-8 hours for the tide to turn and for the sea to return anywhere near the beachfront.

After our lovely lunch and bottle of bubbly, we set off along the enchanting seafront, feeling rather stuffed but also very relaxed. We have visited this town before and it’s faded, vintage charm reminds me so much of my hometown in Deal, Kent where we were married five years ago. I think this is why I particularly love this place with it’s very laid back feel and it’s lovely, long sandy beach which has a promenade running alongside it with various trendy bars and chic French restaurants amongst the prominent seaside villas that stand proudly on the first line.

The sun was shining, barely a cloud in the sky and after an hour-long amble along the beach and promenade in the rather warm 30 degrees, we were ready for a bit of shade and some refreshment. We spotted a pretty little park and a perfectly positioned Gelatterie right next to it, so we purchased two ice creams and found a spot in the shade in which to enjoy them, this is when I picked up the first two of my several mosquito bites from a huge black mosquito that decided to snack on me whilst I sat under a tree to enjoy my ice cream. Consider that your ‘last supper’ you little bastard, I thought as I squashed it under the palm of my hand!

After our brief rest and despite the welcome shade, we were still feeling rather hot and sticky and had started to turn a shade of pink since it hadn’t occurred to either of us (with a combined age of 96!) to take any suncream with us on our beach weekend during a heatwave, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a refreshing dip in the pool, after which we could think about showering and preparing for a romantic evening out.

Having changed and readied ourselves into swimming attire with some overclothes, which in my husbands case consisted of his identical outfit that he had been wearing earlier that day; jeans, a shirt and loafers since he also had not packed any shorts or flip-flops or anything in the least bit practical for going to either beach or pool, we headed to reception to enquire about some pool towels. She instructed us to follow her where she led us down a flight of thick carpeted stairs, through a set of heavy doors marked ‘Spa Marin’ and into a wonderful fragrant Spa and beauty centre, with gleaming glass doors everywhere leading off into different treatment rooms and a row of desks where we were introduced to the Spa concierge who in turn took us to the Spa check in desk where, after providing our room number, we were handed beautiful soft, fluffy white robes, and a bag each with a set of slippers and a large towel and told we could change in the changing rooms which she indicated through a large black door ahead.

We gulped and realised that there had obviously previously been some misunderstanding in our request, surely we weren’t supposed to have fluffy robes and slippers in a bag just to visit the external pool and we were now being admitted to the full Spa centre, it would seem.

At the likely possibility of having 198 euros charged to our room my husband swallowed his pride and with a little embarrassment, explained to the lady, that we just wanted access to the ‘free’ pool on the terrace. She smiled her radiant smile and jabbered something very quickly in French which ended in “Oui, c’est tout gratuit” as she pointed to the robes and our bags and indicated that we should go ahead to the changing rooms.

We sheepishly did as we were told, but whilst I was changing in the luxuriant female changing rooms, that were extravagantly appointed with plush upholstered armchairs in each changing room, private showers, keypad lockers, they even had a posh mini tumble dryer to spin your wet bathing clothes in after use, it suddenly occurred to me that she probably thought we were asking if the ‘robes and slippers were free’, or rather included in the entrance price of the Spa. I made my way out of the changing room and found my husband stood there in his identical robe and slippers and explained what I thought had happened, so again he returned to the woman at the check-in desk and again she smiled and told him it was ‘gratuit’.

Well, there are only so many times you can ask the same question before it becomes completely and utterly embarrassing, so at this point, we did what every other English person would do in the exact same situation, we entered the Spa in the knowledge that there was every possibility we were going to be charged €198 to our room for a quick swim, but far too embarrassed to make any more of a scene.

We walked through the main doors and saw a wonderful pool with various massage areas and jacuzzis, surrounded by sunbeds, most of them were already adorned with robes and bags, outside was a sun terrace with a large tree which was fashionably trimmed in the Bonsai style, and inside there was a huge, comfy sofa area where you could help yourself to a drink and lounge about.

It was totally gorgeous and knowing that this level of luxury does not come cheap, we also concluded that it was without a doubt, a chargeable service so we decided to just get on and enjoy it.

We spent two wonderfully relaxing and cleansing hours in there before we started to go very wrinkly and decided to leave.

We returned to our respective changing rooms and I showered with wonderful products, dried my hair, gave my swimwear a quick spin, returned to the check-in area where I expected we would return our towels and robes.
My husband was still not out of the male changing rooms so I decided to have one more crack at establishing ‘the tariff’ by wording it slightly differently, this time I said in my rather poor French but with a huge smile “I can’t understand how all of this, can be offered for free, no charge” I expected to see her face change, for something to click and for her to have to explain that there had been something of a misunderstanding, but again she just laughed and explained to me that it was free to hotel guests, it is only chargeable if you want to have ‘les soins’ e.g. beauty care, massage, therapies etc.

At this point, I was the one to be genuinely shocked, as it did indeed sound very much like it absolutely was free for us to use.

My husband joined me at this point and the lady told us to keep our towels, slippers and robes in case we wanted to use the Spa again during our stay and that when we leave, simply to leave it all hanging in our rooms.

As we walked out, I explained to my husband the conversation I had just had with her and said, that I did now believe it was free.

He looked at me stunned “You mean it’s free to use?” he said looking puzzled.

Yes” I said laughing at him

“THAT! Was all free?” he asked again, shaking his head in astonishment.

“Apparently so” I shrugged.

“No. I don’t believe it” he said, “we’ll see when we check out”.

After our lovely relaxing Spa and showers, we returned to our room, switched the aircon on to a steady purr and had a bit of a lie-down whilst idly thumbing through our phones and tablet. At some point, we both dropped off for a little snoozette. It is totally exhausting doing absolutely nothing!

At about 8 pm when we were finally up and dressed and presentable again, we decided to take another walk along the beach and find somewhere for a few cocktails, perhaps a bite to eat if we started to feel hungry, though we were both still feeling full from our picnic lunch.

We enjoyed a lovely evening stroll along the same promenade that we had walked earlier that day but in a more ambient heat this time and with the setting sun, everything looked slightly different.

We still couldn’t feel hungry enough to partake of an evening meal at one of the many restaurants but we enjoyed a few drinks and had a ‘late’ night for us, I think it was 11 pm before we finally returned to our lovely, quiet room.
Quite a departure from our usual Howard and Hilda 9 pm bedtime.

The next morning we rose early for breakfast having finally rediscovered our hunger. To my man-child’s absolute delight, the breakfast room had a machine that was loaded with whole oranges for making freshly squeezed orange juice, one of his favourite things. Apparently, this will be a ‘must have’ when we finally move to Spain. During our leisurely breakfast, we decided that we would visit the Spa again when it opened at 9 am.

This time we changed in our room and walked the one flight of stairs down to the Spa in our robes and slippers and walked into the Spa area with a new confidence, we knew the drill, we knew where to go. It was comparatively empty since we were early birds today and most of the loungers around the pool were available, we placed our items on a single lounger, we would be spending our time in the pool and fountains and jacuzzi’s so felt no need to take up two loungers. We enjoyed several circuits of the pool and its various massage areas before making use of the sauna, steam room, hammam, ice machine, there was even a cubicle with a large wooden bucket that was filled with ice cold water if you wanted to douse yourself.

We left the Spa with just enough time to shower and dry and return to our room for our midday check out.

Upon check-out, we handed over our key and waited for any bill to be prepared.

We had already prepaid the room and also paid for our drinks as and when we had them but my husband was still convinced that a charge would be levied for the Spa.

The receptionist smiled at us and said that there was nothing outstanding to pay and that she hoped that we had enjoyed our stay, we both nodded, still a little shocked but said that it had all been perfect and that we would definitely return.

What an amazing place!

The first two hours of our journey home were in almost complete silence, as we sat there in the car with huge grins on our faces feeling completely relaxed from our wonderful 24 hour holiday. It’s amazing what you can pack in to just 24 hours, I could scarcely believe that it was only the previous morning that we had left our own home.

As we approached Confolens we decided we would make a rare stop at the English fish and chip shop to get some lunch, if we could make it in time. I checked Google, they would close at 2 pm, it would be very tight! There roadworks all the way through the town and my husband pulled up outside at 13h59. I ran up the path and through the door asking if I was too late, she told me they had just switched everything off and were closing. Boo…..I asked if they had anything left at all. A chicken and mushroom pie and just about a portion of chips was the answer “Great, I’ll take them” I said, knowing that we would happily share.

“I’ll just charge you for the pie” the sweet lady said
“We would have only thrown the chips away anyway” her husband chimed in.

I thanked them both and we chatted for a while whilst she packaged it up into a nice neat little disposable box (not a rank wooden board that smelt like old dishcloths or a dirty ashtray or anything! see last weeks blog if you are confused about this comment), I told her about our wonderful experience at the Spa hotel and that I could thoroughly recommend it, she told me they were leaving the following day for a two week holiday to Spain which they were really looking forward to, I wished them a great holiday said goodbye and climbed back into the car. We drove the short distance to the parking area along the riverside so that we could sit and eat our pie and chips with a lovely view of the river and the old hospital, built in 1671 this has just been sold to a heritage developer to turn into apartments and restaurants.

Panoramic view of Confolens river

After our lunch, we walked to a café in the square and ordered a beer for my husband and a glass of rosé wine for me and sat in the sun and enjoyed them and chatted happily about the wonderful two days we had just had.

Was it really only yesterday morning that we had left our home? I could still hardly believe it.

An hour later we were back home, our small case unpacked and the kettle was on.

What an absolutely idyllic couple of days it had been and our trip to Beziers and Ales earlier in the week now seemed like an entire lifetime ago.

I know it must seem like a complete departure of character for me not to finish on some barb or sarcastic comment but I really could not fault it at all.
I’m sure I’ll be back to my old self by next week though 😉

Wishing you all a lovely weekend
The Virtual Recluse