“ Small hotel in the village of Jossigny, France. „
* Prices may differ from that shown
This white horse is an old nag
My 'dodgy hotel antenna' was twitching when I was asked to book a room at L'Auberge du Cheval Blanc in Rossigny near Paris. It was probably a suspicion that the place seemed to be pretty cheap (70 euros for the night) that sent me off to check what Tripadvisor had to say about the place. Mostly I found complaints about people being given rooms that stank of smoke and some scathing assessments of the service or more precisely the lack of it.
I probably would have been more wound up by the really poor service, the general sense of indifference of almost all the staff and the shocking decor of this place if I hadn't found these things oddly funny. I spent most of the time looking for the 'hidden camera' assuming that it had to be some kind of reality TV joke. Surely nobody would run a hotel this badly if they had any common sense at all.
~First Impressions can be Very Wrong~
The hotel looks quite promising from the outside. It sits on a cross roads in the centre of a cute little archetypal French country village. It's not an unattractive building if you can see past the builders' equipment clogging up the area that ought to be the pizzeria and before you enter, it's still possible to keep up a certain hope that it might be a little bit special. Once inside it's a very different matter - a theme park of the worst clichés of French shrugging indifference to compete with the theme park of forced American jollity which brings in most of L'Auberge du Cheval Blanc's customers, flocking to worship at the shrine of the cult of the mouse - otherwise known as Disneyland Paris.
The reception staff (with the sole exception of the young lady who did our check out) were absolutely disinterested and unhelpful. I was willing to speak French but they were seemingly just unwilling to talk to us if they could possibly avoid it. The reception area itself is very shabby and there is building work going on at the moment, leading to massive holes in the wall where we suspected they might be building a lift in what looked like a cupboard. Our check-in was fairly quick - accelerated perhaps by the reluctance of the receptionist to talk to us. We were asked for neither credit cards nor passports which was unusual and left me standing there with an "Is that it?" feeling. No explanation about facilities, no asking if we wanted a table in the restaurant and no indication of what time to expect breakfast or how to get wi-fi internet access.
I suspect my colleague Phil may start to refuse to travel with me as in combination we seem to have a shocking habit of getting put up in really substandard hotels. As we headed up the stairs we were open mouthed in wonder at the colour scheme which could only be explained by the assumption that it had been designed by someone profoundly colour blind. The walls were painted deep pink walls and stencilled in an effect that looked like mould. In some places the deep pink was contrasted with a particularly ugly bottle green. The carpet on the stairs was in grey and black broad stripes which effectively served to exaggerate just how uneven the stairs were. Take care to hunt down the light switches on the stairs as they need to be nudged to come on - if you find them already on, you'd better give the switch another nudge or you could be plunged into darkness halfway down the uneven stairs..
~Room for Improvement~
I didn't see Phil's room but from the shocked look on his face I suspect it was as aged as mine. According to the hotel's website the rooms were refurbished in 2008 so I'm unsure why it looks like someone took a load of 1950s furniture, threw it together and then painted a few bits of the walls deep orange. If you should happen to look at the website you can be absolutely sure that my room isn't one of the ones of which they're proudly displaying photos. Arriving on a scorching hot day, the radiator was turned up to full and made the room more like a sauna. Fortunately I was able to turn it off and open the windows wide to cool the place down although I could not have slept with the windows open due to the road noise. The furniture was old and shabby rather than antique or chic. The cupboards and the bed surround reminded me of 1950s post war furniture or early MFI flat-pack. My bed had a thin mattress that was surprisingly quite comfortable but looked 'cheap' and came with just a sheet, a thin blanket and a bedspread that was probably more expensive and better quality than it looked. In addition to the bed there was quite a lot of irrelevant and ill chosen furniture. I'll give them credit for a decent bedside table but I'm not sure why they though I'd need two dining chairs an undersized desk and a miscellaneous table that was doing nothing more than holding a lamp and taking up space. There was a small wall-mounted television but instincts told me it would probably only provide stations I wouldn't want to watch.
The bathroom was pretty ordinary with a loo, a sink, a bath with a shower attached to the wall and a not so standard bright orange small chest of drawer with towels perched on top. I don't want to sound picky but I think there should be a toilet roll holder and not just a half-used loo roll perched on the cistern. It was mostly pretty clean although one of the lines I thought was a crack in the tiles turned out to be a hair - and not one of mine.
~Free Entertainment - drunk Danes~
We went to the bar where we were shouted at by two overly friendly drunk Danes clearly engaging in a dirty couple of days away from his wife and her boyfriend. As the bar area was very small it wasn't easy to get away from them and the deeply ingrained sense of needing to be polite to foreigners even if they're barely capable of standing up, meant we were really unable to shake them off. The walls in the bar are hung with furry mock leopard skin fabric creating a look rather more like a brothel than a bar although the sofas and chairs are more suggestive of a genteel gentlemen's club.
Once we managed to get a barman to take notice of us we each got a beer - 10 out of 10 for having Leffe on draft - but after hearing how wonderful the restaurant was from the Danes, we totally failed to get any food when the barman told Phil that the kitchen was closed even though it was only 9.30 and they subsequently served a table of French people with pizzas. Perhaps that was closed to English guests only. The Danish lady asked me what time breakfast was and I offered to go and check with reception, leaving an pissed off Phil to take full brunt of her interrogations and this led to a stunning display of how to ignore someone standing right in front of you.
I stood at the reception desk and the receptionist started at his phone, then looked up at me briefly, avoiding making eye contact, before looking down again and dialling a call. After three or four minutes standing their patiently I gave up and walked away. When we passed by ten minutes later after reaching Danish saturation point, he was still chattering away. My invisibility cloak had clearly performed unintentionally well on that occasion. I can accept that if I walk up to someone who's already on the phone that they should continue their call, hopefully not extend it any longer than necessary and then talk to me. What I don't expect or accept is for someone to start a call when I'm standing right in front of them.
Breakfast the next morning was an overpriced joke. The selection of food was poor with bread and jam, a single sad looking slice of cheese and some cheap sliced meat, basic cereals, sad little cold croissants and coffee out of a machine. When I arrived the orange juice machine was empty and a young woman turned up a few minutes later to try to fill it. I wasn't paying attention to quite what she did wrong but she called out to me to go and find a colleague whilst she attempted to stop several litres of juice squirting all over her and the room. With no staff to be found, Phil and I tried to help her out by lifting the juice box out of the machine to stop the orange spurting all over the place. For this poor show we were charged ten euros each.
Wi-fi is apparently available in the bar and reception areas but not in the bedrooms. Quite where you could stand or sit in the reception to get it was a mystery.
~Don't do it - you'll thank me for that advice~
What looked to be a pretty good price of 70 euros for the night was inflated to 80 by the ridiculous charge for breakfast. Even if breakfast had been included I'd still say that the value for money was poor. L'Auberge du Cheval Blanc is exceedingly shabby and unpleasantly managed. The restaurant is allegedly excellent but of course we couldn't test that during the evening and our breakfast certainly was no advertisement for their culinary skills. If this place were not convenient for Disneyland and so reliant on foreign visitors who are unlikely to return, I can only assume it would surely have closed long ago.