A good spot to sleep the evening away by the fire. Puppies welcome
We were lost. Even I admitted it. Marigold had been wittering on for a while about asking a passerby for advice. I pointed out a) there were no passersby to be seen and b) even if there were, the chances of us following any directions provided were slim.
‘It's a hotel, there must be a phone number,’ Marigold countered.
‘What do we say when they ask where we are so they can provide directions? We’re lost and there are no road signs,’ I replied, ever so slightly testily.
‘Well, just drive around then.’
Okay, plan B appeared very similar to the plan A I’d been following for a while but we set off again. After no more than seventeen hours, well it felt like it, we found the elusive hotel.
‘You found us,’ the owner said. He sounded surprised, even amazed. ‘We’re not on sat nav.’
No, I thought, I know that.
‘Google Maps, perhaps next year,’ he said brightly, ‘but not this year. It is difficult, yes?’
We agreed it was indeed difficult, wondering why, given the circumstances, no hints of how to find the place had been provided. The answer soon arrived.
‘Many people book, but never arrive.’
‘Oh dear,’ Marigold said, ‘that's awful.’
‘No, not really. They pay in advance. No refund, so not a problem.’
‘Oh.’ Not much else we could say.
‘I am Fabio. I show you the garden,’ said our genial host. We blinked. Our bags were still on the floor at Reception and it had just started to rain. Well, drizzle, but even so. Of course we did what every English person does in these circumstances: we left our bags and followed him out into the rain.
I tried to count the dogs and cats that were gambolling all around us, but they moved too fast.
‘Oh, I think eight dogs, just puppies and some cats. Many cats. My…’ his voice tailed away as he sought the appropriate word. ‘My woman,’ he said at last, ‘She looks after them. She is from Lithuania.’
We nodded as if in acknowledgment of the well known fact that Lithuanian women were renowned dog and cat carers.
‘I speak English very well,’ he went on.
We nodded again. He spoke a version of the English language that was about the equal of my Spanish, so not exactly fluent.
‘We can speak French, if you want,’ announced Fabio. My command of French is rather better than my Spanish, but even so I had to go back over every
word carefully before I realised he was now speaking, or attempting to speak, French.
‘No, English is fine.’
‘Is good. My English perfect, yes?’
‘Perfect,’ agreed Marigold as we walked under an overhanging acacia tree, water dripping down the back of our necks. Over a slippery footbridge we found what was apparently an abandoned railway goods carriage. Fabio flung open the doors and revealed a full bar, well stocked and actually very impressive.
‘We come back after dark,’ Fabio announced. ‘You will drink with me, yes?’
We nodded once again. If nodding ever becomes an Olympic sport, we're in with a medal chance. We trudged along, inwardly grumbling but unwilling to interrupt Fabio’s monologue on the splendours of his garden, his prowess as a (former) racing driver – Formula 1, he said, but I’ve never heard of him and doubt his backside would ever have fitted inside a racing car – and his facility as a linguist. It appeared all the garden work, looking after the animals and every single aspect of the upkeep of the hotel was the responsibility of ‘my woman’ and we wondered what Fabio ever contributed.
The swimming pool was a vivid green, festooned with fallen leaves and probably the least inviting swimming pool I have ever encountered. ‘Natural, you see? No chemicals,’ Fabio explained. We nodded, again. If ever a pool needed the help of a few chemicals it was this one.
‘In the corner is jacuzzi. Very good. Hot water not working but is good place. Seats eight.’ I looked at the (cold water) jacuzzi, trying to imagine eight people crammed into it and failing.
‘Yes, very good,’ I agreed.
‘We come back tonight. It will be magnified,’ Fabio assured me. Magnified? Did he mean magnificent? Neither looked very likely. Did he mean we could try out the jacuzzi? Not much chance of that and Marigold was beginning to look a bit alarmed.
The excitable pack of puppies had been our constant companions and there was a minor drama when one fell into the murky green depths of the pool. ‘Is okay, he does that,’ Fabio said, walking off. We dragged the poor little puppy out and he rewarded us by shaking green water all over us.
‘That's it,’ Marigold said and stalked off to the front door. We went into a very pleasant lounge where a blazing log fire was waiting. We finished booking in and went up to our room. This had been a farmhouse, the family home of Fabio for several generations until converted into a hotel, and was rather scruffy on the outside. Inside though it was very different. Our bedroom was clean, beautiful and very welcoming and the bathroom was worthy of a palace. We replaced our soggy clothing and went back down to read our books by the fireside.
A few hours later we met up with Fabio again and met his ‘woman’ who was quite a surprise. Fabio claimed she spoke half a dozen languages fluently, but sadly English was not one of them. Neither of us could pronounce her name as it was decidedly Russian sounding, very long with very few vowels and we were reduced to politely smiling and shaking hands. She wasn't very big, but had the grip of a stevedore and poor Marigold’s knuckles turned white.
We went back outside, it had stopped raining, and Fabio displayed a talent for the theatrical by ostentatiously switching on a battery of coloured lights, transforming the soggy pathway we had traipsed along earlier into a magical grotto. The old railway wagon was now a welcoming and very appealing bar. The green pool was even more green under the lights and still looked distinctly uninviting, but everything else looked very nice.
What a difference darkness makes. Fabio poured drinks, we chatted away in a mixture of French, English and what we presumed to be Lithuanian with a surprising degree of success. It was all very pleasant.
About half an hour after we came back inside I remembered I had left my book downstairs and went to fetch it. The log fire was blazing away and both sofas were occupied by Fabio, his lady friend and several dogs, all of them fast asleep and snoring heartily. I tiptoed in, collected my book and crept back upstairs.
By now Marigold had worked out how to work the shower, which had completely baffled me for at least ten minutes. Her smug expression was quite unbearable.
The following morning we had a pretty good breakfast and went to pay our bill. The room itself was very reasonable, but we were surprised to discover how many drinks we had evidently consumed last night and were now paying for. Were we naïve to assume we had been invited so wouldn't be charged for drinks we hadn't actually asked for? Well yes, but what about everybody's drinks being added to our hotel bill? We only realised this much later when we examined the bill, of course. Would we have made a great fuss at the time? Probably not.
Oh well, it was worth it for the experience. A place we’ll remember for a long time. Would we do it again? Absolutely not.