Caught in a web of de­spair

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - MAR­IAN McGUIN­NESS CAR­LING­FORD, NSW

Cau­tion­ary travel tales have been told for cen­turies. Here is my 21st-cen­tury ac­count of ac­com­mo­da­tion re­views on on­line travel fo­rums.

It is mid­sum­mer. My hus­band and I are trav­el­ling south from Paris to the me­dieval city of Albi to ex­plore Cathar and Cru­sader coun­try. We’ve booked into a 15thcen­tury chateau “10 min­utes away and over­look­ing the city” with “food and wine of­fered on ar­rival at the pic­nic ta­ble on the front lawn”. With pho­tos on­line of an arched wooden door, a me­dieval shield and a stone stair­well, we an­tic­i­pate our French equiv­a­lent of Camelot.

Ar­riv­ing in Albi, we tap the ad­dress of the chateau into the GPS. We’re ready to sup on wine and cheese and savour a vista. We weave through road­works and take the scenic route through the in­dus­trial area. Albi is no longer vis­i­ble in the rear-vi­sion mir­ror. The GPS states we’ll ar­rive at our des­ti­na­tion in 40 min­utes. Oh, heck.

We slide through vil­lages, sneak past ham­lets and whisk by what­ever con­fig­u­ra­tions are smaller than ham­lets. We drive across rivers where kayak­ers jockey the rapids and turn right down a bumpy track. Then come the for­mi­da­ble words from the GPS: “You have reached your des­ti­na­tion. It is on the left.”

Hand­writ­ten on a plank is the name of our chateau. Our hearts sink. In­deed, it is 15th cen­tury, com­plete with con­caved walls, rub­ble piles and me­dieval weeds. There’s no pic­nic ta­ble laden with food and wine. In­stead, there’s a junk­yard of toys, bro­ken chairs and a rusty bar­be­cue next to the derelict front door, to which is pinned a note: “Dear guests, I will re­turn at 5.15.” I check my con­fir­ma­tion email. Yep. 2pm ar­rival.

I give the chateau the ben­e­fit of the doubt. But rub­bing the muck off the kitchen win­dow re­veals a sink full of dirty dishes. Cob­webs fes­toon dust-creviced rafters. We wait un­til 6.30pm, but enough is enough and we trek back into Albi to a bud­get ho­tel smack-bang in the city cen­tre.

We email the chateau owner about the in­con­ve­nience and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and re­ceive a rude re­ply. At least Albi lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion, as we fol­low the foot­steps of its fa­mous sons, artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and ex­plorer Jean-Fran­cois de Galaup, count of La Perouse. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a copy of Flavours of Queens­land (Smudge Pub­lish­ing, $80), an il­lus­trated vol­ume of restau­rants, bars, cafes and farm­ers’ mar­kets from across the state, com­plete with recipes. More: smudgeeats.com.au.

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