22nd August 2019

Why do businesses lie?

Everyone knows a story or several about the salesman who told a whopper in order to clinch the sale. In my industry (IT) it is sadly still too common to find suppliers promising “features” in software that don’t yet exist – there’s even a name for such features … phantomware.

But telling lies is not a winning strategy. It is a loser’s game. In the end it can only lose you goodwill and custom. Yet companies still do it. Whether it’s a young company that “over-promises” on what it can deliver – then works like stink to try to fill in the missing pieces – or an established business that lies to win business, hoping that customers will either put up with the disappointment of finding what was promised isn’t delivered or will just pay their bill (kerching!) and be one more sale. Even if they will never darken your door or put money in your till again.

I became disabled after a series of strokes took away the use of my legs and left me reliant on an electric wheelchair to move around. That’s everywhere – from my bedside in the morning to my bedside at night. The only time I am not in a wheelchair is when I am behind the wheel of a car. Either way I’m never out of a chair.

I’m not going to bore you with the long list of problems that attend wheelchair life but just ask you to accept that an individual wheelchair user will have a set of needs – quite a few of which are “must-haves” when it comes to buying services such as accommodation, dining or travel.

So, it is a great pity that in my experience some of the greatest liars on the planet work in the travel and hospitality industry.

I have a short list of (to me) absolutely essential needs that (say) a hotel must provide if I am able to stay there. These are not comfort issues, they are factors that affect my ability to stay in the hotel. At the most extreme, one lie from a hotel puts me at risk of life and limb or might, less dramatically, put back my health by several months.

If a hotel tells me from several hundred miles away that it is “fully wheelchair accessible” and that the accommodation it offers is also “fully accessible” and meets all the specific needs that I set out to them before I book then I have little choice but to accept what they say, Sadly I do not have a network of spies or disabled hotel inspectors to check whether they are truthful angels or lying villains before I hand over my credit card and make a reservation.

I could divert here into a long discussion on the value of TRUST in any business transaction but I fear that would divert from what will already be a long tale. Leave that aside for another day.

Let me relate my most recent experience of what happens when a hotel answers some very simple, straightforward questions with outright lies. This is, sadly, not the only example I could write down and I doubt it will be the last but the scale of damage to customer and business alike should become patently clear.

To business owners everywhere – especially those in the hospitality industries – make sure all your staff are trained not to lie.

Better by far to be honest and lose a sale (or booking or …) than to end up having to deal with an angry customer demanding you deliver what was promised – even if that means finding alternatives from another (inevitably more expensive supplier) or have your business reputation dragged through the mud by someone who can prove every little bit of the malfeasance you tried to pull and is motivated to ensure that you don’t get the chance to pull the wool over anyone else’s eyes.

At worst, what starts as a quick, thoughtless lie to clinch a sales target ends up in consequences to your customer and your business that far exceed anything that might be gained by hitting the monthly sales target or bonus quota.

Part of what follows has been posted to TripAdvisor but I am posting it here as I think any business-person who reads it will understand that what starts out as a simple lie can quickly turn into a major threat to your business. There are lots of business lessons within the article that follows. If you get the impression that Le Vieux Logis is a failing business desperately trying to keep going then you would not find me disagreeing. But take time to think through the lines and observe how its management are simply rushing towards its end – instead of acting rationally to recover and rebuild. Lying to a potential customer just to get a room and dinner booking while potentially placing the entire business at risk is not a strategy I would recommend anyone to take.

Read on …

Le Vieux Logis, Tremolat

This is not a dispute. The manager of the hotel has refunded our entire 934.10 euro bill (for a one night stay) – having accepted that my booking had been taken under false pretences and the standard of accommodation and food provided were far beneath the standard expected or deserving such charges.

Why were we refunded?

  1. The hotel sold us accommodation it falsely described, could not provide and caused me (a disabled wheelchair user) considerable pain, discomfort, loss of personal dignity and exposed us to totally unacceptable risks of serious harm.
  2. The hotel is NOT in any way wheelchair accessible contrary to what was stated to me and described on its web site and Relais & Chateaux listing – quote: “Accès handicapés: Accès aux personnes à mobilité réduite”.
  3. The general state and condition of the hotel property is poorly maintained and shabby. Regardless of disability I would have been asking for a refund based on the state of the room alone. Elsewhere in the hotel carpets are threadbare and even cheap 5 euro doormats have been completely worn through and not replaced.
  4. The quality of food and service we experienced is not worthy of a Michelin star.

More on this below. I apologise if any of this reads as if I am some kind of spoiled brat expecting flunkies to drop at my feet. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the exact opposite of that.

And this is not a rant from a whining disabled person expecting “special treatment”. Yes. I am disabled and have to use an electric wheelchair. I make my “special needs” very plain every time I book a hotel and base my decision to book or look elsewhere on the answers I am given – precisely to avoid the kind of problems we experienced at Le Vieux Logis.

I simply expect a standard of accommodation, service and food commensurate with the claimed status of a hotel (and the price they charge) and – above all else – simple honesty in its dealings with me.

I am neither a hotel nor restaurant critic. I am only a customer of these establishments. That said, before I became disabled I travelled the globe on business and for pleasure, usually in first-class and commonly staying in 5-star hotels and dining in fine restaurants – some even with Michelin stars. My yardsticks are based purely on the standards of accommodation, food, service and management I have experienced in those hundreds of establishments over decades.

Le Vieux Logis in Tremolat is a Relais & Chateaux hotel. Relais & Chateaux award the hotel 4.5 crowns and the restaurant holds one Michelin star.

It deserves neither.

Regardless of disability I could not recommend this hotel to anybody. If I could give it a negative score I would.

RESERVATION PROCESS

I booked a one night stay in mid-August to celebrate my wife’s birthday. I phoned (call recorded) and spoke to Emilie, receptionist, explaining that I am a disabled electric wheelchair user and asking her to confirm the hotel could provide wheelchair accessible accommodation with a wet-room (“douche-italienne” in French) stepless shower and that the room and the hotel generally was wheelchair accessible. She assured me that they had one room suitable for my needs – a junior suite for which she quoted 515 euros per night. The lower 475 euros rate offered on the hotel’s own web site was not offered. Regarding the rest of the hotel she insisted the entire hotel was accessible, though did say I may have to enter the dining room via the garden.

Based on these assurances I booked the junior suite and reserved a table for two for dinner mentioning that the purpose of the stay and the dinner was to celebrate my wife’s birthday. I subsequently received an email stating “We can put a candle on your wife’s dessert for her birthday if you wish” – call me spoiled but hardly the kind of response I expect from such an establishment .. an offer to present a (chargeable) birthday desert would be at the lower end of my expectations. As check-in is an unusually late 4pm I asked if towels and changing facilities could be provided so that my wife could use the pool while we waited

ARRIVAL

Anyway – we drove the three hours from our home to Tremolat. On arrival at the hotel at around 2pm we immediately hit the first problem – the entrance to the hotel has a well-worn stone step too high for any wheelchair to climb.

Entrance step at Le Vieux Logis – for which the hotel had no ramp. It doesn’t look that high in this photo but I can tell you that a full size electric wheelchair would not be able to climb it.

As my wife and I stood before the hotel discussing how to tackle the problem the hotel manager, Estelle, appeared, welcomed us to the hotel and called to staff inside the hotel (in French) to bring a ramp. The worried reply came that the hotel had no ramp.

I did not need to ask the question how the hotel could claim to be wheelchair accessible when they lacked a ramp to grant access to the building – Estelle’s worried expression and clear state of panic said more than enough.

Estelle called two passing groundsmen and told them to run off and construct a ramp “vite!” While I waited my wife walked the 100+ metres back to our car and brought out the lightweight folding ramp we carry with us for such cases. Why 100+metres? Because the ONE and only disabled parking space next to the hotel entrance was occupied by a small car displaying no disabled parking permit – hence we had to find a parking spot at the far end of the parking area.

To be fair, the groundsmen certainly understood “vite!” because they arrived back at the same time as my wife. Unfortunately the “ramp” they had constructed consisted of a too narrow and too short sheet of shiny melamine faced chipboard to which they had screwed two blocks of wood to raise one end to somewhere near the level of the stone step. The end that lay on the ground still presented a 2.5cm step – being the thickness of the sheet of melamine. Unless you are an electric wheelchair user you are unlikely to understand just how unusable and downright dangerous this contraption was – I’ll abbreviate by saying that to use it would require a standard of precision driving of which most electric wheelchairs are incapable – the likelihood that one or other leading castor wheels would twist while mounting that 2.5cm step causing the wheelchair to head off the side of the “ramp” is high – and the slippery melamine surface provided no traction, result: as soon as the wheelchair’s drive wheels were on that surface they would spin and, again, the wheelchair would be likely to fling itself off the ramp, tipping me to the floor.

And, saving the best for last, if I had managed to climb the contraption, the chipboard / melamine sheet would snap in half as soon as the weight of wheelchair and passenger (me!) made it half-way up.

It took some persuasion to get the hotel staff to remove their “ramp” and let us place our 300Kg rated rubber covered, aluminium honeycomb ramp on the step – which proved more difficult than it should have because (a) the front step is so worn that its surface looks more like a wave than a flat surface and (b) the staff insisted on “assisting” (translation: interfering) with my wife’s placing of the ramp in the one position at the far side of the step that offered any stability.

Our ramp – its length (1.25 metres) and the angle from which the picture was taken make the step look lower than it actually is

(To add insult to injury, the staff grabbed our ramp from us as soon as I was in the hotel and ran off with it to take down the details of the manufacturer and website. Getting worse … the staff used our ramp to allow other guests to roll their heavy suitcases down the step – without so much as asking whether we minded).

Why am I making so much of just our arrival at the hotel?

  1. The hotel claimed it is fully wheelchair accessible. It is very evidently NOT.
  2. After driving for three hours I was in urgent need of a toilet – inside the hotel, which I could not access
  3. The lies told to me that persuaded me to book this hotel turned what would have been for any able-bodied person – and therefore should have been for me as a wheelchair user, given their accessibility claims – a 30 second process into a 15 minute fiasco … during all of which time my need for a toilet became ever more urgent.

INSIDE THE HOTEL

So, after >15 minutes we managed to get 2 metres inside the front door to the reception desk. I asked for a toilet and was told that the only toilets were on a lower floor – but not to worry – as they had a ramp!

There are ramps and there are ramps.

The norm for a wheelchair ramp is a gradient of no more than 1:12 (or 8%). The ramp that descended the staircase was nothing more than a plank of wood laid on top of the staircase and covered in worn carpet. The slope of this ramp was the slope of the staircase – about 30 degrees, a gradient ratio of ~1:1.7 or 57%.

In other words, it wasn’t a wheelchair ramp it was a ramp that someone might be able to drag a wheeled suitcase up. For a wheelchair it was a ski-slope akin to jumping off a cliff.

The “ski-slope” – again the photography does not do justice to its vertiginous gradient.

But my need for a toilet was by now quite desperate so with my wife hanging on to me for dear life I descended the ramp. There is NO WAY a powered wheelchair could descend such a steep ramp unaided – even at its slowest (absolute crawl) setting, the chances are that the wheels would lose traction and you would become a very unwilling passenger on the way to a nasty accident.

Now might be a good time to mention that we had taken our “fancy” car out for this trip so I was using my tiny, lightweight, folding wheelchair that weighs “only” 25Kg and has a significant excess of power. Had I arrived in my normal wheelchair (what you would imagine as a “standard” electric wheelchair) it would have been impossible to stay at Le Vieux Logis. Why?

  • Width of wheelchair: Lightweight = 65cm – Standard = 75cm (significance will soon become apparent)
  • Weight of wheelchair with passenger: Lightweight = 125Kg – Standard = 260Kg

So, my normal (comfortable) wheelchair is 10cm wider (standard wheelchair width) and weighs (with me in it) over a quarter of a ton! Yes, really. Read on – there is absolutely no way anyone in a normal sized electric wheelchair could stay or dine at Le Vieux Logis.

Back to the toilets. Having barely made it down the ski-ramp with my wife’s assistance we come to the toilets. To discover that the gent’s toilet is entirely inaccessible as accessing it would involve a 90 degree turn in a corridor barely wider than the wheelchair so the ladies it was. Both toilets had no more room than to sit down and press your nose on the opposite wall. There was no way to drive a wheelchair into the room – the doorways were too narrow for a wheelchair (even a narrow one) to enter and the room was so small it would not have been possible to close the door.

The only guest toilets inside the hotel – Gents to the right. Note how narrow the corridor is – no way to turn a wheelchair into the Gents

So, I had to park my wheelchair outside the toilet, heave myself to my feet and drag myself into the room. Not a pretty sight – and not a pleasant experience – and not without risk to my health or from falling.

Dignity? I think that left the moment we arrived on the premises.

Inside the room, there were no handrails or support bars and the toilet seat was low. Getting up involved a lot of strain, pain and absence of dignity. Having managed to reach a sink and wash my hands (soap dispenser barely reachable) I discovered there were no towels. I’d expect a high-class hotel to provide a basket or pile of small hand towels. Nope. A single towel? Nope. Instead a box of ordinary supermarket tissues had been placed next to the basin and (as was clear from the already filling waste bin below the sink) had been the intended means for guests to dry their hands for some time.

GETTING BACK UP THE STAIRS

Enough about toilets. We now had to get back up the stairs.

My wheelchair has plenty of power but its maximum rated gradient specification is 1:10 (10%). The “ski-slope” presented a gradient almost six times that maximum. The problem is not power in a wheelchair like mine, the limit is the angle that the wheelchair can safely be tilted before it either tips over backwards or the passenger falls out of it. Neither is good.

So, without any offer of assistance from staff my wife had to hold my body weight in the chair while I very slowly reversed my wheelchair up the almost 60% slope. The ramp was so narrow that one tiny twitch of the joystick would have seen a wheel fall off the side of the ramp – and a disabled passenger (and probably his wife, too) take a very nasty fall down a flight of stairs.

I’ll say no more other than this hotel claimed to be completely wheelchair accessible.

How plainly can I say this? IT IS NOT!

CHECK IN

Having made it back up the stairs, there was a state of considerable confusion over whether our room was ready or not. Estelle first said it was but was immediately contradicted by her staff. We decided to go into the garden (of which the hotel makes much in its publicity) for a drink.

Here came the second problem. The doorway at the rear of the reception area is so narrow that my tiniest wheelchair could just squeeze through. Sadly the same cannot be said for the bag that carries my necessities that hangs beneath the armrest – and protrudes by maybe 3cm (I’m being generous). My mind fully focussed on navigating my wheelchair through the tight doorframe (on the other side of which there was a depression in which sat the quarter remains of a rush doormat – presenting another hazard to wheelchair progress) I forgot about the bag – which was consequently ripped straight off. As I could not reverse back through the door (front casters by now trapped in the well where a cheap doormat should have been) my wife had to squeeze her hand into the space between the door and wheelchair in order to remove what was left of the bag.

Next problem, Not a metre outside the door, the staff member appointed to accompany us told me to turn 90 degrees left as some idiot had placed the only ramped access down to the garden at the side of the exit. As my wheels were now firmly stuck in the dead doormat well that was impossible. So, with all the diners in the garden looking on, my wife and the staff member had to bodily man-handle my wheelchair – with me still in it – out of its rut and into a position where I might move once more.

THE GARDEN

So, we reach the garden. Points for consistency. Consistent lack of maintenance and upkeep. Consistent poor management.

The garden, while attractively laid out with flower beds, an avenue of white painted trees and copious topiary across a couple of acres of lawns, just looked sorry for itself. Flower beds were full of dead flowers. Paths were strewn with dead leaves and other detritus. The topiary was in serious need of trimming and, like the rest of the hotel, just looked shabby.

All the flower beds looked as bad as this one – which was next to our dinner table

Poor management? We had seen numerous ground staff and gardeners scurrying about the property in golf buggies and doing – well, who knows what. Our visit was at the very height of the peak season and the hotel and restaurant were fully booked with events such as wedding receptions thrown in. On the morning of our departure, flowers arrived for what was obviously going to be an expensive wedding. So one might think that management would prioritise the gardening staff on ensuring the key dining areas and fancier garden areas (covered in topiary or around the pool for example) would be pristine. Nope. Ground keeping staff ran back and forth on their golf buggies but not one of them took a pair of shears to the topiary, swept the dead leaves, smoothed the gravel or did anything to make the main part of the garden look presentable. I feel sorry for the couple who had booked their wedding party in that garden in expectation of a beautiful back-drop for photos. I feel sorry for their photographer who was going to have to be really creative to get some good pictures while avoiding the mess and shabbiness all around.

Dead leaves and detritus in the garden dining area – 5 minutes with an air blower would clean up this mess, Where are the management?

As lunch service was still in full swing all the shaded tables close to the main hotel were occupied leaving us to find somewhere to sit half-way down the garden.

Problem. All the outside paths and dining areas are covered in gravel – the great enemy of the electric wheelchair. Also, in order to get to a section of garden with a free table it was necessary to cross a wooden bridge. Yup – no ramp though I could climb the step by reversing on to it. Trouble was, the gravel before the bridge had been allowed to gather so deeply (lack of maintenance again) that my wheelchair got stuck and eventually slid into a gutter alongside a wall – prompting a kind young lady to interrupt her lunch and rush over to offer assistance.

My multiple attempts to perform a simple 180 degree turn … on gravel too deep for wheelchair wheels to keep traction – the final successful attempt was the one assisted by the young lady diner – no staff assisted though plenty stood just a few metres away.

We eventually reached a lawned area where the only available tables were. Problem: All the lawns in the garden are raised and edged with 6cm high metal strips. After a search I found a piece of path that had seen no maintenance (allowing the gravel to build up) but heavy foot traffic so solidly compacted it made an unintentional ramp to the lawn.

I had pre-arranged for my wife to use the pool while we waited for our room to become ready. A staff member brought a single faded and worn towel. No bathrobe. One worn towel. My wife went for a swim. I would have liked to go with her. But I couldn’t access the pool area at all as it was in the middle of a lawn surrounded by the highest metal edging strips and, even if I might have managed to reverse on to the lawn I didn’t feel like risking shredding my wheelchair tyres if they lost traction in the attempt. So, I sat alone on one side of the garden while my wife went for a dip.

Happy Birthday darling – this is why we came away for the weekend – so you could spend energy weightlifting me and my wheelchair over unnecessary obstacles and we could spend time apart. Not!

The only other guest toilets in the hotel – these for guests using the garden – clearly wheelchair accessible … to a flying Dalek!

The table we found was adjacent to the entrance to the only outside toilets available for guests – wheelchair accessible as long as your wheelchair can climb three tall, tiled steps and navigate several 90 degree turns in a space too narrow for any wheelchair to even fit through. So, wheelchair diners at LeVieux Logis have the choice of navigating back into the reception area and risking the ski-slope again – or wetting their pants.

Did I mention a total disregard for dignity on the part of the hotel yet?

THE ROOM

At 4:10pm a staff member came to tell us our room was ready.

I will preface my remarks by saying that the room was the exact opposite of an accessible room. Apart from it unsuitability to wheelchair use it lacked any adaptations – not even a cheap handrail.

  1. The entrance door was the same width as that at the back of the reception area. That is <67cm wide. Just to get into the room I had to navigate my way through a door with less than 10mm space on each side of my wheelchair.
  2. The bedroom in this “luxury Junior Suite” was about half the size of an accessible bedroom in a Novotel. It was less than half the size of the guest bedrooms in our home.
  3. The bedroom furniture consisted of (a) a bed, (b) a chest of drawers, (c) a cane and rattan night-stand that you can buy in any flea market for less than 10 euros. That’s it.
  4. A door gave access to a small wardrobe. A second door on the opposite side of the room gave access to … ??? I have no idea because the door had been painted shut so tight that somebody’s previous attempt to open it had resulted in ripping the door handle off. The brass door handle had been “refitted” using steel woodscrews too small and too short to be of any use. How do I know? Because I gingerly touched the door handle and it fell to the floor along with the screws.
  5. The toilet and bathroom were situated at the end of a short corridor so narrow that I could not even drive my small wheelchair through it.
  6. The bathroom and toilet were a ridiculously small fraction of the size of a wetroom in a Novotel or even a basic IBIS Styles hotel. In case it’s not obvious, that means both rooms would be useless for wheelchair access – even if you could get a wheelchair to them.
  7. The toilet was a room less than 1 metre square. It had no support handles or bars and no way to lift myself off the toilet. There was barely enough room for my feet while sitting on the toilet. To access the toilet I had to leave my wheelchair in the bedroom, stand (thankfully I can still lever myself upright to transfer) but then drag myself along the corridor to the toilet, make my way inside and fall onto the seat (no support bars, remember?) To get out of the toilet my wife had to squeeze into the space occupied by my feet, bend and physically lift me. Did I mention lack of dignity? Pain (for me and my wife)? Risk (of falls and medical complications brought on by physical stress)?
  8. The bathroom was quite simply worn out. The basin tap had lost all its chrome and leaked. The shower controls were so stiff they could only be moved by wrapping a small piece of rubber material round them to get enough purchase on the otherwise slippery controls – then applying a LOT of effort to move them.
  9. Precisely two, faded and worn small bath towels and a pair of hand towels were provided. That was it. Two sets of small, cheap toiletries were provided – not even enough to have one shower – let alone allow someone to (say) shower before dinner at the end of a hot day and then again in the morning.
  10. Adjacent to the bedroom was a similar size room containing a well worn sofa, two worn matching tub chairs, a desk and a leather “captains chair” whose leather was so worn out it had cracked and I would not have wanted to risk sitting on it.
  11. Beyond this sitting area, a small (even narrower) door led to a patch of grass described to us as “your private garden”. The grass needed cutting – badly. The door was ajar, held from fully opening by a safety chain. When I tried to close and lock the door the latch would not engage no matter how firmly I pulled it. The reason? The external wall was constructed of thin timber slats covered in hardboard and the doorframe was twisting as the door closed preventing the latch from meeting the keep. I eventually pressed weight against this “wall” while firmly closing the door – which allowed the lock to latch – but also caused an external false window pane to partially fall off.
  12. Flooring throughout this tiny “suite” was parquet. There had obviously been a problem near the garden wall that had required the flooring to be lifted. Rather than refix it properly it had been crudely screwed down with the kind of cross-head screw intended never to be seen but now proudly on show in this 500+ euro per night “luxury suite”
  13. The only decoration in the entire suite was a few faded old prints in cheap frames scattered across the walls – the largest (thankfully) mostly hidden by the single flatscreen TV in the bedroom. There was no other TV or entertainment facility anywhere in the suite.
  14. Our “Welcome gift” was two reusable (by the hotel) bottles of tap water – which our hostess smilingly told us were free.
  15. Of the kind of welcome gifts you might expect in a hotel room being charged at over 500 euros per night there were none. No small tray of chocolates or delights, no bowl of fruit and certainly no flowers to be seen – neither in the room nor in the garden.
Yes, that is the entire toilet room in our 515 euro per night “luxury Junior Suite” – clearly perfectly suitable and well adapted for use by a disabled person
… and clearly accessible – just as soon as you’d used the hydraulic ram you’d packed in case some walls needed widening, smashed through the wooden pillars blocking the end of the corridor, removed the toilet door, taken a pneumatic drill to remove a couple of walls an jerry-rigged a curtain to maintain some privacy – even if you were still to be denied dignity because you stupidly forgot to bring a dozen hand rails and support bars to help you get back off the toilet.
The corridor to the toilet and bathroom – should have remembered to pack my jack-hammers and pneumatic drills and general “room adjustment tools” in my overnight wash bag – they did say this room was “fully wheelchair accessible” … they must have meant that I had to gain access myself..
This is the way to maintain and present a 515 euro per night suite – take a picture away but leave the hook in place and make sure you swing that picture from side to side to make really sure you have thoroughly marked the walls – then don’t bother to clean or redecorate.
In fact, why bother cleaning at all? Just let the mould and grime grow up the walls/
Nah, nobody will notice or mind if the mould and grime reaches the door locks – after all this room is only likely to be occupied by people wearing Paris couture dresses and Saville Row suits – why would they care if their clothes get mucky?
… and nobody would ever cast their eyes down to see the rotting woodwork and paintwork applied by a five-year-old who can’t be trusted with a sanding block.
So somebody painted the wardrobe shut and a former guest ripped the cheap brass handle (< 8 euros per pair) off in an attempt to open it – just whack a couple of mismatched steel screws you happen to have in your tool box – nobody will notice. Oh, the next guest ripped the door handle off again because the door is still painted shut – well, just push the screws back in place and surely nobody will notice.
Shhh … noone will notice this wall is made of wood slats covered in hardboard and noone will notice that the concrete lintel is too small to carry the weight above it and is about to crack in half – and, never mind the messy, amateurish paintwork – this room is only 515 euros per night
Hey – if they didn’t notice the lintel cracking above the window they surely won’t notice it about to give way above the door
The jaunty angle of the fake Georgian window panes is the result of me simply closing the garden door – at wich point the window pane started to fall off.
The luxurious bedside table that made the third and final piece of furniture in the bedroom – to you? €10 delivered to your door if ordered on-line … or 50 cents at any vide-greniere (yard sale) any weekend across the South of France.

I could go on and on. The room was just awful. Judged on fitness for purpose, for an able bodied person I’d give it no better than 15% as a disabled person it’s minus 100%.

A crime to even offer it to a person with reduced mobility – let alone a wheelchair user.

We asked to change rooms – only to be told that this was the only room in the entire hotel that a wheelchair could possibly get into and had no step between sections or in the bathroom/shower.

Recall the published claim “Accès handicapés: Accès aux personnes à mobilité réduite”.

Foolishly, I decided to stay (see below) in the expectation that, at least, my wife would enjoy a fine dining experience. Had I realised just how much pain and risk that room would cause me and my wife and known just how sub-average the dining experience would be we would have turned and driven home – or booked into a nice, comfortable, cheap IBIS or Novotel in Perigueux and enjoyed whatever restaurant we could find.

RESTAURANT AND FOOD

My wife and I have a simple rule when deciding to dine out anywhere (unless we’re travelling and just want refuelling). It is this – the food served has to be of better quality than my wife can serve up at home.

Le Vieux Logis failed this simple test – by a HUGE margin.

It’s worth looking at Le Vieux Logis. Its restaurant holds a Michelin star. My wife doesn’t have a Michelin star so passing our simple test should not just be easy – it should be a given. At the standard of a Michelin star every plate of food that is served should bring an “Ooh!” – a sense of excitement and anticipation followed by “Mmmmm…” as the food plays with your taste buds.

Oh dear. Does Le Vieux Logis disappoint.

We each had the “Caprice Gourmand” – the most extensive tasting menu on offer costing 130 euros per head without wine, water and sundries. A tasting menu is supposed to allow a chef to show off his finest work and greatest delights. So we eagerly anticipated a garden of delights.

What we got was a mish-mash of the same old food served up dish after dish in different combinations. Central to the entire oeuvre was a spoonful or two of finely diced mixed vegetables cooked in a simple stock. This appeared on its own, underneath a sliver of lettuce topped with too much shaved truffle and accompanied by what was described as a “Vichysoisse” but was actually a thin, tasteless broth completely overpowered by the truffle.

And the Star of the show (if price is any guide) the stuffed choux-fleur. 56 euros (á la carte) for a cauliflower flower with some diced vegetables spooned in. Someone is surely having a laugh at someone else’s expense, non?

Not one dish placed before us made us lick our lips – let alone go “Ooh!”.

There was no flow to the meal – every plate was just the same basic ingredients served up again in a different combination. No hint that thought had been put into presenting dishes which while distinctly different led the diner on a journey of discovery leading to a destination. No thought put into presentation at all. The food had no excitement – no joy. None of it felt as if it had been prepared by someone in love with what they are doing. Even the pigeon (which could be argued to be the co-star) was cooked well, but in a super-sticky sauce … and then smothered in a “pigeon jus” that had no shine and added nothing of value. Tasting it with a piece of bread I would have got more excitement dipping the bread in a jar of Marmite.

When it came to desserts the first – a plate full of beetroot jelly, candied beet and various fruits … accompanied by a splodge of mousse in the centre of the plate (my wife says thank you for the candle planted in hers – it reminded her of when she was five) my question again is a simple Why? The jelly was tart and in combination with the other flavours and textures on the plate was – just plain horrible.

The second dessert – a combed “smear” of chocolate and praline/hazelnut topped with some white meringue or honeycomb with some nuts inside. What? Why? The two stripes of mousse presented tasted anything but special on their own and less special in combination. As for the meringue / honeycomb / nutty thing, it might be very cheffy clever but as a texture contrast to the chocolate slime it was just horrid.

M. Arnould, I have some sad news for you. On the evidence of the meal you served us last Friday my wife cooks better than you. Our local village restaurant serves tastier, more exciting and seasonally changing food that would kick your food and your Michelin star into the next departement. We often go to a little back-street bistro in Bordeaux – so unpretentious you’d think it was an office workers’ diner if you didn’t have to book a table a month in advance all year round – and the food there would boot you out of France.

My wife and I are fortunate. We can afford to spend 400 euros for a special dining experience. But, the key word there is “special”. The food in our local restaurant is to a standard my wife aspires to. We appreciate it and go back time after time alone or with friends and family.

When we visit a restaurant with a celebrity chef and a Michelin star we expect to be wowed, excited and taste combinations of flavours and textures we have not experienced before.

You served us a dinner where we crossed our fingers before each course, hoping for something “special” to arrive – only to be disappointed each and every time to find it was either more of the same in a different package or something any simple village restaurant might offer if you asked nicely.

If that tasting menu represents the best you can do I have no idea who or how you were awarded a Michelin star. Because that meal did not deserve one.

And I can’t finish without noting that a Michelin star is supposed to take into account the ambience of a restaurant and the quality of service. So why are you seating your guests at cheap patio tables whose mosaic tiled tops wore out a decade ago and are now just a breeding ground for germs and whose legs lost their paint so long ago they are mainly rust?

The actual table we sat at for dinner – minus white table cloth
Neighbouring table showing how rotten the tables are – and how happy lady guests must be when their fine dresses get snagged on the rusty edges and their legs grazed by the rough, rusty legs – or what’s left of them.

Why are you expecting your guests to sit on cheap, plastic garden chairs (yes – the 5 euro kind – absolutely filthy under their covers, by the way) covered in ill-fitting cotton covers that force diners to sit in a kind of fabric hammock while the arms of the chair are pulled in to wedge them in place?

Morning backlight reveals the true nature of the dining chairs – cheap (€5 at most) plastic barbecue garden chairs covered in cloth covers made to fit something else entirely
Filth and grime wasn’t confined to the room or the garden – as seen here even the chairs on which guests are invited to sit in their finery are absolutely filthy. Can nobody be bothered to clean ANYTHING? Where is the management?

Where was your sommelier? Where was your maitre-d’? Where were the service section supervisors? Why were so many of the staff who served us so nervous they couldn’t decide which language to speak (hint: just ask the customer if you’re unsure) and gabbled through an explanation of the dish they were serving while giggling like immature schoolgirls?

Which Michelin inspector thought the absence of all those people was of no importance? Which inspector considered dirty old tables I’d expect to find in a vide-grenier and service station quality plastic garden chairs – filthy at that – to provide a Michelin star-worthy ambience?

Because these customers noticed the absence of staff and the consequent poor service quality and found the ambience some long way short of appealing.

There is a difference between fading charm – or “shabby chic” – and straightforward, crumbling neglect. Le Vieux Logis are presenting the latter. It is unacceptable.

Seriously, my wife and I went to bed on Friday night sharing the same thought – Emperor’s New Clothes. Personally I can’t think of a single reason to eat at your restaurant again. And I cannot begin to fathom the thinking of those who do.

It saddens me to write this but I am being honest.

GOOD POINTS?

  • The wines we chose were nice. But then as we live on the edge of the Bordeaux wine region we know the wines well and could buy almost any on the wine list locally for 15~25% of the prices charged by the hotel.
  • The selection of cheeses offered was OK (not exceptional) and all we tried were in good condition with the exception of the Comté which was too hard, past its best and a restaurant manager should have noticed and thrown it in the bin. The theatrics surrounding the serving of the cheese course were just plain silly.
  • Almost all the staff speak English well – but then as we live in France our French isn’t that bad either.

CHECKOUT

At checkout on Saturday morning Estelle was conspicuous by her absence. Emilie (she who had originally told me in person that the entire hotel was wheelchair accessible and the room offered entirely wheelchair accessible including the toilet and shower) said not one word to us but merely printed out and handed me the bill to check. Roughly speaking 515 euros for a room that I would have rejected as an able bodied guest and 400 euros for a meal that neither of us thought worth a tenth of that. I asked her where Estelle was and she answered she was “in the back”. I had to ask “Would you ask her to come through, please?”

She called through and there was an indistinct reply from the back room. While waiting for Estelle, Emilie demanded my credit card and charged the full amount.

Only after this did Estelle appear. I explained our discontent with both the accommodation and the meal. She replied with a list of excuses that the former owner had died in January but for years had refused to pay for any maintenance or other than absolutely essential upkeep on the property – as if this sorry tale should cause me to shrug my shoulders and say “Oh well, if you’re having to struggle like that I totally forgive you mis-selling accommodation you cannot provide, putting my health and very life at risk and serving my wife and I a dinner that was – all things considered – actually unpleasant”.

When I put it to her that French law had required the hotel to be “reasonably” accessible to all regardless of disability since as far back as 2002 and the latest regulations would see the hotel closed down if rigorously applied and – as I am not litigious and have no intention of calling the inspectors in – she and her colleagues should either be honest when people call and tell them they have no accessible accommodation – or – spend a fraction of one night’s takings and install ramps, wheelchair lifts, widened doors, new door mats, truly accessible and disabled-friendly toilets in public areas and guest rooms and at least one hard-surfaced path through the garden.

But … in my case I considered that the hotel had defrauded me by telling me a pack of lies in response to some very simple questions. In doing so they had painted both of us into a corner where we had little choice but to make the best of a truly appalling room and then top it off with a truly awful meal.

She became heated and started to demand to know what I wanted. I calmly related some of the problems we had experienced described above and said that they had deliberately sold accommodation and service they now admitted they could not provide. It was a a deceit of the highest order. Suddenly, as other guests arrived to pay their bills and check out (most of whom had witnessed my struggles around the hotel and were listening to our one-side-heated discussion) she demanded to know if I wanted my money back. I replied that if she was offering to repay me I considered that the least she could do. She processed a credit card refund.

CONCLUSION

Le Vieux Logis is a disgrace. It is a shabby, fading, failing hotel with untrained staff and management that is either non-existent or appallingly bad at their jobs.

Having given solid assurances as to the accessibility and quality of the establishment in order to obtain my booking the reality is that the hotel simply lied about everything they said – on their websites, in emails and in telephone conversations. In so doing they created enormous problems for me, exposed me to risks and dangers that should never have been, caused me to suffer great pain (some of which I am still suffering five days later), robbed me of dignity – and ruined my wife’s birthday as she spent the entire time either having to expend enormous amounts of energy helping me cope with the inadequacies of the place and worrying about MY well-being when the whole point of us going to Le Vieux Logis was to give her a restful break from her usual full-time carer role.

I accepted a full refund of the cost of our stay as the minimum I feel entitled to. If people want to tell lies to obtain advantage, causing customers to incur travel costs and then have to put up with shabby, worn out accommodation, sold as accessible while being the very opposite of that so causing pain and distress they should be made to pay for the consequences of their actions. They should feel themselves lucky that I am not a litigious person but I hope this review dissuades many, many customers from wasting time and money at this awful place.

Stupidly, the hotel also caused themselves problems. Had they just, simply and plainly been honest and said, “sorry, we are not accessible and have no accessible accommodation that meets your needs” my response would have “Eh bien, dommage. Merci” – and gone on to search for somewhere that could meet my needs. Instead their stupidity caused us to waste our time travelling there, and they exposed themselves to the risk of law suits and regulatory and statutory penalties – not just for the distress and pain they caused us but imagine what would have happened (to take but one example) had I made one slip on that ski-slope of a ramp – the consequences of a disabled person tumbling down a flight of stairs on to a tiled floor are never less than life-changing. The subsequent legal consequences to a hotel that actively encouraged that disabled person to use that ski-slope of a ramp just to access so basic an amenity as a toilet had I fallen or suffered another stroke due to the physical strain I was subject to can easily be imagined.

Had I – as, with hindsight, I should have – very reasonably rejected the room offered to us the hotel would have had the problem of finding us alternative accommodation of a similar standard though properly accessible and a restaurant to serve my wife’s birthday dinner. The same would have been an absolute need had I arrived in a normal size electric wheelchair which would not have even gotten into the room. At 5:00pm on a Friday afternoon in the midst of peak tourist season in the Dordogne the chances of finding another hotel room and restaurant table are zero. Had such a mythical room become available the costs to the hotel would most likely have far outstripped anything they would have received from us.

It was clear from observing the staff that they all know they are doing their best to work round a tired and, frankly, unacceptable establishment. The staff are almost all young and while some said they had worked at the establishment for 3~5 years and were happy they were unsupervised and mostly inadequately trained. None of them looked happy or content.

The excuses offered to us for the condition of the hotel, its rooms and decorations were pathetic. We were told the former owner died last January and, while alive, had refused to spend any money improving or performing essential maintenance on the hotel. We were told that the managers planned to meet in November to discuss long overdue changes – including providing disabled access that complies with common sense, never mind the law. When I asked why, now that the financial constraints had allegedly been removed, they still hadn’t replaced worn out doormats or dining tables whose mosaic surfaces were so badly damaged they should have been sent to the tip years ago- eight months after the financial constraints allegedly came off – and were still selling sub-standard accommodation at top-dollar prices when they admitted they knew of all the faults and deficiencies … the answer was silence and a raised, resigned eyebrow.

Relais & Chateaux and Michelin are doing themselves and their customers a disservice by continuing to include Le Vieux Logis in their guides.

EPILOGUE

  1. Before leaving Estelle again assured us that they would start in November to think about work to refurbish the property and all would soon be gleaming again. Nothing was said about the quality of the food, the staff or the general management of the place. I told her to contact me if they ever reached a position worthy of 4.5 Crowns and a Michelin star and could offer real wheelchair accessibility and disabled usability and I would come back to give the place another look. I don’t expect to receive that call any time soon, if ever.
  2. The following night we stayed at the delightful Jardins de Brantome boutique hotel in Brantome (see my review). While chatting with the owner, Florence Dupuy, she mentioned that she and her husband had stayed at Le Vieux Logis in January this year while the former owner was still alive. She said that there was no heating in the hotel or their room. In mid-winter. In a part of the Dordogne that gets very cold in winter. Disgraceful doesn’t begin to cover it.

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