First, the (many) positives. The house is stylish and furnished to a high standard. The frontage suggests that you are entering the smallest, most cramped, the most unprepossessing house in the street - but inside, the property opens out and all rooms, including the 3 bedrooms, dining room and separate sitting room are spacious and comfortable. The kitchen is well-equipped – dishwasher, washing machine and oven are well-known brands. There is much cutlery and crockery; there are enough cups, glasses and plates of all sizes for the maximum number of people that the house can hold. There are many pots and pans. The garden is secluded and quiet and has beautiful plants – especially the roses and the large fir tree. The house is close to the centre of La Rochelle – a 15-minute walk gets you to the old port restaurants. There is a well-stocked ‘Carrefour City’ supermarket 3 minutes away on the main road.
However there are some issues linked to the way that the property is managed. In response to the owner’s requests for information about the bed linen, towels, cleaning, we wanted, we replied promptly in French via the House trip website at 3:45pm on 7th September a full week before our arrival. In that email we gave details of our party and our arrival time. I asked explicitly for the owner to let us know beforehand how much money we would be handing over for deposits and use of bedding etc. so that we could budget before leaving England. There was no response. We arrived at the property at the time we proposed, 4pm, to find - no-one. Looking through the window we could see a pile of bedding on the floor. The house looked neglected and abandoned. We waited. We began to think ‘scam’. The neighbours however rallied round. One contacted the owner and finally the owner’s representative in La Rochelle. We gained entry to the house at 5:30 pm and full access at 6pm. One bedroom had not been made up but to be fair to Christelle, the owner’s representative, this meant we were able to choose which of the two available bedrooms we wanted. However, on inspection we noted that the oven was filthy and although Christelle dealt with the issue thoroughly and promptly we remained unsettled and anxious through it all. Not good.
Our panic at turning up at an apparently neglected house is key to the property management issue. The rooms are stylish and spacious – but there was a build-up of dust on furniture and under an open space in the top bedroom (I have photographic evidence.) The oven (once cleaned!) is sophisticated and powerful but the instructions in the property handbook about its use are insufficient. The same property handbook gives some information about what to put in the two separate bins but again insufficient - we asked the ever-helpful neighbours. The handbook asks that we empty the bins but they in fact had not been emptied for us and were 80% full of material that according to the handbook should not be there in the first place. The handbook is outdated – it talks of the fire at the La Rochelle Town Hall ‘in the past few months’. The fire was in June 2013. The kitchen is well-stocked but because of the hands-off style, people have not replaced any broken items with the same, but with similar. Everything is a mix of everything, especially the cutlery and the mugs. And can we make sure we leave enough toilet paper for the next guests, (as we discovered for the first time we read the handbook). We should have been told this beforehand. (We did leave some rolls for the next guests even though the previous guests had not emptied the bins for us.)
When we first stepped out into the garden one of our party nearly cut her face on a rose branch jutting into the frame of the door. (this is the rose to the right of the door on the first picture on the website.) We removed the branch immediately. Most importantly the garden decking is old and beginning to break down, creating many current trip hazards (I have photographic evidence). But it will collapse at some point in the future. – the breakdown of the decking has revealed a poor initial construction technique.
Finally, we did clean the house before we left as promised in our original email. Indeed, given our previous comments above about long-term dust and a filthy oven, we left the house in a better state than we had found it. Yesterday a day after departing from the house we received an email from the house owner saying Cyrielle was not able to be present at our departure but subsequently claimed that we had done the cleaning. As a result, the owner would retain 80 euros of the deposit. We do not know who 'Cyrielle' is and we were never asked for a deposit despite our request for details in the 7th September email. So no harm done - but this has made us angry and we would like to know what’s going on.
Some investment, some updating, some hands-on, generally ‘sorting things out’ type activity is needed to bring this house back to realising its exceptional potential. It deserves it and would certainly deserve a 5-star review.
The house - lovely
It’s a bit of a Tardis – it looks small from outside but there’s lots of space indoors – as you enter there’s a large double bedroom (one with a washbasin built in to a wardrobe) on each side of a central passage which leads to the back of the house – then on the right you’ve got the the lounge and stairs leading up to the very spacious bedroom in the loft area, and on the left you’ve got the dining room, and a wing leading to a galley kitchen, bathroom, WC and shed. Parking close to the house is possible, but not guaranteed – however during our stay we always managed to find free on-street parking within 2 or 3 minutes walk. At the back of the house there’s a small garden area which isn’t particularly pretty, but if you get the evening sun on your face while you’re sitting on the decking terrace, you’ll not mind too much.
The quartier and the town – great
There is a patisserie just a couple of minutes away (for which we were given a recommendation before we left Brittany), and also within easy walking distance we found a mini-supermarket, a boucherie, a traiteur and a boulangerie. The centre of town is 10/15 minutes on foot, and whether you head for the sea and the waterside promenade, or elect to wander through the park and the little “parc animalier”, you should enjoy the walk. There is a complicated one-way system for cars in the old town of La Rochelle, so driving is not recommended, however there is a large underground carpark at Place de Verdun which is convenient if you want to leave the car somewhere central and walk around the town. It’s a lovely place, easy to walk around, with lots of interesting architecture, four good museums and an excellent aquarium, not to mention a beautiful port area guarded by two magnificent towers.
Booking and general customer service – good
We booked through the Tripadvisor website, and exchanged messages through that site with Michele, the owner, in a mixture of French and English, Michele has good English, so communications are easy. I was a bit surprised to find that we had to pay a deposit of €600 on top of our final payment, but in fairness that was refunded fairly quickly after our stay was over. On arrival in La Rochelle we were met by Michele’s rep, who gave us a tour of the house, provided us with plenty of touristy info and gave us contact numbers in case anything went wrong…..and unfortunately it did, we had a big problem almost immediately – the central heating in the house failed. We arrived on a Friday afternoon in mid-September, the weather over the weekend was miserable, we shivered over the weekend, and it took until Monday afternoon for the plumber to arrive.
Would I recommend – yes, the central heating thing was probably just bad luck. I didn’t realise until we visited just how many daily direct flights there are from the U.K. to La Rochelle, and I want to go back - if I can get a couple of friends to join me to fill the house………………..
We had a lovely week in this house. Everything we needed, clean and well set up. Brilliant location for exploring the city. Highly recommended.