It was a dark and stormy nightÃ¢â¬¦
Just after 9 p.m. Friday evening, myself and my travelling companion, Gregor Brown of Cycling Weekly, arrived at our hotel, Le ChÃ¢teau De Boisrobert, located 15 kilometres north of the Tour's stage seven finish in ChÃ¢teauroux.
Though the name was impressive as the 19th century castle that stood before us, we were unsure what to expect.
online traveller's bible for rating hotels, TripAdvisor, ranked it the
number-one hotel in Neuillay-les-Bois. Problem was, it was the only hotel in Neuillay-les-Bois. In fact, from our vantage point, it was the only building for miles Ã¢â¬â we could not see another bÃ¢timent in sight.
those not in the know, TripAdvisor ranks places of rest based on
traveller reviews, and although the ChÃ¢teau De Boisrobert had been
running for 15 years, so far only one guest had chosen to put pen to
paper, so to speak.
Posted 28 August last year by an English
couple from Devon, the headline read: "Most unwelcome Ã¢â¬â don't stay
here!" and included the following appraisal:
"We stayed here
for one night on our return from Provence. The hotel was hard to find
and very isolated. We were not made to feel welcome on arrival and were
led up some dark and dusty stairs to our room.
"There was no
information about the hotel or its facilities in the room Ã¢â¬â only a menu
for the evening meal which was to be ordered in advance. Of the two
choices for main course, we chose chicken. The dining room had one large
table and we shared this with a Dutch family who had finished their
main course when we were shown in. Our starter was OK but the main
course was a very fatty unappetising looking dish which we eventually
learned was veal. We said we had ordered chicken and were told that the
menu in the room was wrong!
"However, they did agree to cook
chicken for us and took our vegetables away. The chicken arrived about
20 minutes later with the vegetables which had been kept warm. The other
family were then served with their dessert!
"We finished our
main course and waited. When no-one arrived, we looked and found the two
staff in another room, smoking. They then brought our dessert which was
not very nice. This was the worst hotel we have ever stayed in all the
years we have been coming to France.
"We arrived for breakfast at
the earliest time and the croissants were already on the plates with
juice, tea and coffee. Those arriving later would have cold croissants!
We left as soon as we could!"
Coming from a south-western
English town heavily reliant on tourism, even though visitation to
British seaside resorts have been in the decline since the middle of
last century, one would expect a couple from Devon to know what they're
Then again, the Poms are known the world over for being habitual whingers. Cold croissants for petit dÃ©jeuner? Good heavens! Harden the f*** up, I say!
So, after being greeted by co-owner Anne-Marie and led up the stairs, I walked into Le ChÃ¢teau De Boisrobert with an open mind.
staying with us was Australian photographer Mark Gunter, on his
inaugural Tour de France voyage and loving every minute of it, who had
checked in a few hours before (photographers almost always get their
work done first).
"I don't know if I'm going to be able to sleep tonight," said a frightened Gunter, "I think this place is haunted."
'Oh, come off it, mate Ã¢â¬â there's no such thing as ghosts, you big pussycat!' I retorted.
before we could even think about sleeping, it appeared Monsieur Fabian
Schaul, the proprietor and husband of Anne-Marie, had given away one of
When we tried to tell him we had booked three separate
rooms as per our confirmation, Monsieur Schaul demurred: "I've had a
long day, you've had a long day. Don't push me Ã¢â¬â otherwise I'll push
But we did push him, as Monsieur Schaul finally
relented and granted us our third room. Though we didn't push too hard,
for his wife had yet to cook us dinnerÃ¢â¬¦
I couldn't find a Luxembourg girl to do the work so I had to marry a French girl, but don't write that
Arriving downstairs for le dÃ®ner,
Monsieur Schaul first took us to the breakfast room and sat us down,
offering some aperitifs while we perused an enticing menu of regional
But 10 minutes later, when we came to order, he told us it was late and all of us had to eat the same thing.
Gunter and I did not want to push Monsieur Schaul, as he already seemed
at tipping point. So we did not ask what kind of pÃ¢tÃ© he served us for
entrÃ©e, or what kind of meat comprised the main (we think it was veal),
or what flavour the ice-cream for dessert (which was more whipped cream
than ice-cream, something I've never seen done before, and for good
But as the night rolled on with the carafes of vin rouge,
we discovered another side to the eccentric Monsieur Schaul, who had a
great sense of humour and a laugh that made you too want to LOL.
Schaul was a Luxembourger who used to breed horses, a special kind
native to Africa known as the 'Barb', its name derived from its initial
upbringing on the Barbary Coast of North Africa. Stamina and hardiness
happen to be the typical traits of the Barb, as well as a fiery
temperament Ã¢â¬â just like Monsieur Schaul, I thought to myself.
"I came here to retire," Monsieur Schaul told me.
couldn't find a Luxembourg girl to do the work so I had to marry a
French girl," he added, belting out a few belly-deep guffaws. "But don't
'Oh, no,' I replied, typing away, as if I was writing something else.
'When you saw the outside of the chÃ¢teau,' I asked, 'how long did it take you to buy it?'
"I took 10 minutes to say 'yes'," replied Monsieur Schaul, grinning.
54-year-old then told me his four children also live in the house,
which is only open for six months a year to paying guests. 'Do you like
what you do now?' I asked him.
"Yes Ã¢â¬â but if someone pushes me, I push them back."
I've heard that line before, I thought to myself.
the evening done, Gunter and I trudged up three flights of stairs that
creaked with every step, to retire to our rooms shortly before the
stroke of midnight.
And as we lay in our beds, we waited for the
ghosts of ChÃ¢teau De Boisrobert past to visit us. I thought they might
be hungry, so I left them a few packets of madeleines I scored from the
press room that day.
But alas, they never came.
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