Sunday, 28 February 2016

No place like home

In my last piece, I promised that I’d say more about the accommodation here. Unfortunately I don’t think I can do that without writing about some of the other places we’ve stayed, simply because it’s easier to compare. We have stayed in some really interesting buildings and enjoyed a breadth of experiences.

There was no plan; or rather the plan was to turn up in a place and see what they had. After two days of panic and late night driving exhaustion, we had relied on the French chain Citotel. Even this was pure chance because when we arrived in Bourges after an abortive attempt to follow a more interesting accommodation choice, we’d ended up on a dirt track in the middle of the French countryside. Sometimes you have to admit defeat.

We asked google maps to find a hotel on the edge of town and luckily there were a number to fall into, but they were always going to be a chain. When we saw the neon signs of the Aurora, to be honest, we were too tired to be worried. Was it going to be clean, quiet, and have vacant rooms? The Mediterranean aspect of the reception with the 1990s décor was pure cheese, but the welcoming duo were almost reassuring in their comedy double act.

The room there was warm, comfortable and clean so for immediate rest purposes, perfect. This is why we checked to see if there was a Citotel in Montpellier because we were covering so much distance, and needed some reassurance that rest was relatively guaranteed. The second place was never going to be as good as the first, but we knew what we were getting. This time though, the Mediterranean colours of the place seemed to fit much better now we were in the south. I wonder if the smell of pine and sunshine affects the perception of colour?!

I think the laissez-faire attitude of the south had affected us, because we had started to slow down and think of more creative solutions to our nightly stays. I had started to dream of Tuscan farm houses, spa town grandeur, and tiny B&Bs. I was navigator, and it was my trip so why shouldn’t I start thinking a little more imaginatively.

I’ve always had a problem with thinking big.

So I emailed the first place I found on google ‘rural grasse B&B’ – this wasn’t even tripadvisor or, this was just an email to the owner. Marianne came back almost instantly with an offer of a room and so we nominally had a place to stay. This time nothing was guaranteed, apart from parking and breakfast. There was a slight query on whether it was a double or a twin, and that happily stressed me out all day, only to be comprehensively resolved on arrival, when naturally, it all turned out perfectly.

You may recall that that Grasse was the place where the satnav discovered it could make the driver cry. Not only were the roads insanely narrow and tracklike, but some keen French gardener had been in action and left shrubbery clippings all over the road. Our final destination turned out to be an absolute oasis of calm, with unmistakable French style, built around subtle scent. The marble and rough tiled bathroom was huge, with a window allowing in natural light – you could shower whilst looking out at the garden. Every shower should have a view… This place had a stunning garden with a pool and spa but at this time of year, we were just happy that it was sunny. We had the place to ourselves which made breakfast the usual relaxed event, where we were free to drizzle honey on cake without being judged by other patrons.

So we had discovered that with a little foresight we could actually stay in beautiful places, without spending much more than we had been. Who knew?

Morning became a time of research to reflect my previous life. So whilst we were sat in the charmingly elegant breakfast room, I started to look for the next place, which sat well with destination planning. Acqui had been of interest because of the spa, so I came over all Agatha Christie, and started looking for a place of splendour which had seen better days. The Grand Hotel with an art nouveau feel seemed to fit the bill. As it was in town it would offer a contrast to the rather secluded B&B.

We arrived frazzled from the traffic, but in relatively good time. The room was large, with an equally massive bathroom overlooking the hotel roof. I had asked them for a quiet room, so I guess this was their solution. Mildly disappointed, our baggage had not been brought in by one of those bellboy carrying cages, and neither was there any shoe shine stuff, nor, more urgently, an ironing board. And the bar shut quite early. I’m nitpicking, but, damn it, I wanted grandeur. On the bright side it had a shower that could wake the dead…perhaps I should have put the wifi in there?

So this is why in the morning I was struggling with the flirty one’s shiny mac thingy. All my tech had refused to speak with the hotel wifi, which was making research rather difficult. I’d found a converted convent in Volterra the previous night and I was unable to see whether there was room or not. After confirming that there was, I was excited about this one. An ancient building in a medieval was everything you’d want it to be. On the top floor, with a dizzying view of the street below through the tiny shuttered windows, our ceiling went up and up. Perfectly co-ordinated furnishings finished the look.

You will already know of the wifi trials there, so it was in a rather odd little café that I went looking for something special. Each time we came away from a place, there was a feeling of expectation that it couldn’t be beaten in terms of interest, contrast, location or comfort! We had tried many things, old/new, garden/town, private/chain…what could we do now?

I had been going through the top places in Castigleone del Lago on Tripadvisor and an incredible looking place kept coming up. I tend to ignore reviews because people are generally intolerant and stupid, and I’d rather make my own mind up. I asked the posh one whether she fancied a Palazzo and there was a hasty nod, and a ‘book it now’. I did. Now, I have a thing about Italian townhouses, especially ones that go up and up from an unpromising doorway; the most stunning places being hidden behind the plainest edifices. The lady of the house showed us the suite we’d been allocated as it turned out the one we wanted only had a kingsized bed. So we ended up in an actual home-from-home.
  • We had a view of water…which we had a lovely walk around this morning.
  • We had a private balcony…where we could have breakfast and cackle like usual.
  • And I’d unconsciously chosen the bedroom on the left, just like home. 
  •  Not to mention the nearest supermarket being a Lidl. We may have laughed a lot at this.
It didn’t take us long to decide that we were never going to top this, so decided we should stay two nights. Now entering into our last day in Italy, I feel like it will be hard to leave here because it is so homely.

Although the places we have stayed have been wildly different, I guess the creatures of habit will make themselves known, regardless. It also shows that home is wherever you have milk-teabags, quiet conviviality, and wifi. Somethings are hard to get away from.

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