It is sad when an American mother has to write about the cliche of mean French people. I speak French, and have worked with French people for over 10 years–but the people who run this hotel are just downright rude and ignorant. I see there are positive comments about this place, but my guess is the reviews are mostly by older, retired people (75 to 80 percent of the guests at the hotel) and not for young families. Especially if you are American.
So, here is the story: After a long year with our new baby, my husband and I decided to take a "tranquil" holdiay in Provence. After a search online, I found the Charembeau. I emailed the hotel and booked online. Here were the issues from the moment we set off for the hotel:
1) Unfortunately, on the way we got stuck in traffic (we were driving in from Switzerland) after taking a local road by accident, and when we called the hotel to make sure we were on the right track, they ignored our request and interrupted us to demand we had better hurry up or they would lock us out. After spending 8 hours on the road, and when I told them we had an infant in the car, and we did not know the area at all–the women on the phone told us it was too bad, "she sent an email and it was written the doors are locked by 9pm. What a way to start a vacation eh? Well it turns out we could have taken a freeway (A51) if they had just listened to us and told us to get off the side roads (which are labeled D etc.). My husband drove like a race car driver to get there in time before they left us outside to sleep in the car with no water and a baby. Thanks for the help.
2) Everything here is set up with rules. The pool for example, closes promptly at 8pm. So by the time you get your baby to bed, you have to just sit and look at the pool from your hotel room. What kind of hotel closes the pool in hot weather in the summer when there is still two hours of light left?
3) The hotel is rated three stars–rightly so. The bathroom was not clean and had black stains on the bathtub tile. It looked like it badly needed new fixtures. The room itself is very standard with no amenities. There is a tiny refrigerator (we were staying for the week and needed some place to store milk for the baby in our room) but guests are not allowed to use it. It is only for the few cans of cheap drinks they have in the minibar. We ignored this rule and stored our milk anyway. Babies need fresh milk!
4) When we left our room one day the owner ( an angry, pudgy blonde lady named Sandra) saw that my baby had dropped a piece of bread, she picked up the crumbs and glared at me. I smiled at her so she forced a smile back but I could tell she was annoyed with us for not controlling baby spillage. Excuse us! My husband tried to take a towel out of the room and they came out of reception and stopped him and reprimanded him for using a room towel to go to the pool. He had a feeling he was being monitored. It was so creepy! There is also no place for babies/kids to go crawling and to play–the grass was do dry my baby would get splinters every time he crawled on it— hardly the sprawling green gardens you see depicted in the photos on the website.
5) The owner (a grumpy man) never said a word to us and one day when we were walking on the road–I waved and he ignored us and sped by us annoyed that he had to stop for our baby playing in the fields. The hotel says on their website they are happy to drive you into town, but I would never want to be in the car with that man. Their son, mopes around all day mowing, cleaning and doing endless work to a point of exhaustion. I would hate to be their kid— I guess the photo of this family on the website as a "happy, French farm family" is a big hoax.
6) The biggest mistake was ordering a cold plate (assiette) for a meal. The hotel serves no meals other than an overpriced 10 euro (15 dollars) breakfast of a few hard rolls, a lille fruit and jelly. Eggs and cheese are extra. There is no dinner and no lunch and the hotel is tucked away so it is hard to go anywhere especially with a baby monitor and a few hundred meters radar. We were stuck at the hotel eating cheese and bread from their picnic tables every night and one night saw a man with guests opening wine he had brought from his car and eating some food the hotel brought out. We asked about the cold plate and were told we could order two for that evening. Great right? Well, I went and got a bottle from Forqualquier (a nice town/village near by) and waited at the picnic table for the cold plate. The recpetion/waitress (the one who told us she would lock us out) came out and this is what she said shaking her head with a frown: "In France, since you do not know French culture, we do not bring our own wine. It is very impolite." I thought to myself, why am I being lectured by this woman? Should my husband and I not be allowed a little relaxation after our baby is asleep to just sit and eat in peace? I told her that the eveing before we saw a man bringing his own bottle, and that we sat on these same picnic tables night after night with our own food and wine and no one complained before. She just shrugged and told me to talk to the owner (Sandra). That was it for me, I went in and spoke in English (since apparently trying to be respectful to these people did not work) and told Sandra that I know French culture very well and do not need to be lectured and if you are going to serve a cold plate in plastic dishes with a duncan hines cake wrapped in plastic on top of the entrees then I would hardly call this a proper French restaurant. Sandra just shook her head and said she would charge me whether I ate it or not and too bad. Well, folks, we had it by then with the Bergers and their Charembeau.
Yes, it is true the setting is lovely, but it is not beacuse of the Charembeau- it is Provence itself. There are hundreds of auberges to stay in – and this one is best left avoided if you are looking for a positive environment with your kids. Good luck.