Rural Retreats. Nice places, high prices, zero service.
I used to be a big fan of the agency Rural Retreats (vacation rentals in England). Not any more. Each year that I book with them, I like them less.
I have used them in the past for two reasons:
1) I have been so busy with work (mine and Steve’s) the last few years that I did not have time to do a good search for England vacation rentals (we really need more England vacation rental reviews on SlowTrav!);
2) Some of their listings have phones and we need a phone or an internet connection.
Really, I have just been lazy. This year I used them only because we wanted to stay near Stroud and one of their listings that we stayed in before and loved is near there.
We are in Switzerland now. We spent three weeks in Switzerland at the start of the trip, then drove down into Italy for a week. We had a wonderful week in Italy, staying with other Slow Travelers at Villa Rosy near Assisi. We visited a lot of people and Thursday’s GTG was fabulous. I will post more about our week in Italy later.
After the week in Italy we were scheduled to spend three nights in the French Alps near Geneva (Annecy), then fly from Geneva to London tomorrow. We loved our time in Leysin so much that we cancelled Annecy and booked a hotel in Gstaad to have two more days of hiking here. We had a hellishly long drive on Saturday from Assisi to Gstaad (leaving at 9:15am, arriving at 10:15pm after driving the last hour on dark winding mountains roads in drizzle and fog), but it was worth it for today’s hike. We took the Wispile gondola up, hiked back into the mountains and then down to Launensee (3 hours), then took a bus back to Gstaad. It was sunny, but not too warm, for much of the hike.
On Sunday night we heard about the flooding in the Cotswolds in England, near the area where we were to be staying. WendyAsh posted on the SlowTalk board and emailed us, the owner of the cottage we rented emailed us and we saw some stories on TV and online. It was very upsetting for us to see what was happening and to realize that it was not over yet. Several places near where we would be staying were flooded. The cottage we had booked was okay – still had water and electricity – but many other places in the area were without both.
We decided to spend the rest of the week in Switzerland to see if things in England got better or worse.
Cancelling A Trip
We are not big believers in insurance, so we did not get travel insurance for the trip. I don’t think it would have covered this change in plans anyway.
It is easy to cancel or change a reservation with AutoEurope. I phoned them on a toll-free Switzerland number, they extended our Switzerland reservation at our same daily rate and cancelled the England booking (telling us we could easily rebook that if we changed our minds).
It was easy to find a vacation rental in Switzerland. We are in a hotel now and could stay longer here, but I am tired of eating in restaurants and want to cook my own brown rice and vegetables! I emailed the owner of the place we had in Leysin last week (Leysin Chalet), but it was booked. I did some searching on the Gstaad tourist site (vacation rentals in Switzerland are easily booked through the tourist offices), but the search did not work for the current week. Then I remembered a place we had liked in Kandersteg, Adams Alpine Eden, and checked their website. They had one vacancy this week. I phoned and booked it. They remembered us from our visit in 2000.
Changing the flights was not so easy. If we do not show up for tomorrow’s flight, our whole ticket, including the London – Dallas portion, would be cancelled with no refund. If we changed the Geneva – London flight, we had to pay $200 each. We could fly on EasyJet for $100 each! I had to pick a date for rebooking or lose our return flight. If I have to change it again, I have to pay the change fee again! I made my best guess and rebooked for Sunday. That meant we could have four nights in Kandersteg, drive to somewhere near Geneva for Saturday night, then fly to England on Sunday. If things in the Cotswolds look bad on the weekend, we will change the flight again, and pay the $400 again.
Changing our vacation rental booking with Rural Retreats was not easy and made me furious! I emailed to tell them we would be arriving a few days late because of the current flooding and they emailed back saying “As per our terms and conditions we will put the booking up for a re book, if we re-let the property you will receive monies back minus an admin fee of £23.50 if we fail to re-let the property then you will loose all monies paid.” I regretted sending them my sypathies for the flooding and began hoping their cottages were under water.
Of course I knew we would not get our money back, but I had hoped for a word of kindness (and perhaps not cancelling our booking) and telling us they would keep us posted as events evolved. They had not bothered to contact us to let us know anything was wrong in the Cotswolds; instead the property owner had contacted us. My dream was that Rural Retreats would allow us to stay extra days at the end for free to make up for the days we missed. I thought they might be happy we were not coming, so they would not have to deal with making sure we were looked after, but I was wrong. Sometimes vacation rental agencies are like airlines – it is all asses in seats (or beds).
I really don’t think there is anything to learn from this, except that climate change is real (as we all predicted 30 years ago) and as travelers we have to expect unusual weather. We always budget “emergency” money for any trip – to pay for rebookings, flight changes, the unexpected. I don’t think travel insurance would not have covered us not wanting to deal with being in England during the worst floods in 60 years. For us it is worth losing some money to not have to be there right now.
Maybe next time I would book British Airways as two flights: one return Dallas – London. Another return Geneva – London. We could have spent a few days in England on the way out and then our few weeks there on the way back. But, if I did that, I would book on MaxJet – which I had considered doing and in hindsight, wish I had done. MaxJet from the US to England, then another airline to and from Europe.
My BlackBerry will save us from Rural Retreats!
This is the first trip where I have traveled with a BlackBerry (a smart phone that you use on the cell phone system as a cell phone and to access the internet). It has worked great in Switzerland and Italy so that I can either use it to collect and respond to email or use it as a modem with my computer. As a modem, it is not as fast as broadband, but is better than dialup.
Why am I talking about my BlackBerry at the end of a rant about Rural Retreats? Because my BlackBerry is going to set me free from Rural Retreats. From now on when booking in England, if a cottage gets cell phone service, I can go online. Not all parts of the Cotswolds get cell service because of the lack of cell towers (masts) in the area.
The more I use my BlackBerry, the more I love it. During our no-internet-access week in Italy I was able to keep up with my email because of the BlackBerry. Steve also uses it for his email (you can download up to 10 email accounts). When my Talk Abroad cell phone was not getting good reception in Italy, I switched to my BlackBerry for calls paying almost the same for outgoing calls, but a lot more for incoming (but at least I could use it).
Viva la BlackBerry!! If I ever figure out how to install FreeCell on it, it will be perfect.
Goats, Bells, Tubas, Beach Volleyball
From our hotel, Hotel Olden, I can hear a goat bleeting, his bell ringing, kids playing, maybe cows too, a group practicing playing tuba. This week is the world Beach Volleyball Championship in Gstaad – yes, you read correctly – Beach Volleyball. They had to import the sand. The Swiss are so resourceful.