A Fine Domain in France

Needing to spend some time deep in the countryside of northern France, DonQui looks around for a good place to stay.

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Not far from the medieval city of Laon, he stumbles upon the Domaine de Barive. It is a great find.

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Set in in its own grounds amongst farmland, miles from anywhere it is approached by a long lane lined with poplars. With spa, outdoor terraces and a highly rated restaurant it looks like just the sort of place DonQui can enjoy a few days of tranquil contemplation along with a good meal or two.

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His room is comfortable and spacious. The bathtub even comes with its own rubber ducks, for those who go for that sort of thing.

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Breakfast is a typical French offering, made special by the fine selection of fresh, locally baked breads and pastries along with homemade jams. There is even champagne available along with juices, coffee and other hot drinks.

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Best of all is the Restaurant des Epicuriens. DonQui arrives late after a horribly long wait for his rental car from the very inefficient Avis counter at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

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As in most French restaurants, the set menus offer very good value for money but at 9pm DonQui does not feel like a full 4-5 course meal so he orders a la carte, choosing the ‘turbot en trançon’ (turbot filets with spinach in a crispy phyllo pastry) with kumquats and mushrooms in a champagne cream sauce.  It is utterly delicious.

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To finish off he opts for a selection of cheeses from the very tempting cheese board. The choices are so overwhelming that DonQui leaves it up to the very pleasant waitress to help him with his selections.

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Very knowledgeable and helpful, she suggests a sampling of 5 different cheeses, all of which are perfectly ripe, providing a wide range of different flavours.

Thieves and Vandals

DonQui knows that the Vandals took over much of Spain in the early 5th century. He thinks that some of their descendants still live their today.
Continuing his tale of car woes — in Tarragona the radio antenna and front licence plate were stolen from his car while it was parked overnight.

In Granada DonQui woke up to find that thieves had smashed in the back window and then attempted to access the boot by pulling down the back seat to see if there was anything there worth stealing.


There wasn’t but the bright Gold Car sticker on the back had obviously told thieves that it was a rented car and may have stuff inside.

Now DonQui had a car without a back window. As he previously pointed out in All that is Gold Does not Glisten what he thought was full insurance was anything but.

Taking a deep breath he called Gold Car.

A very nice lady on the other end of the line told DonQui to take the car to Granada airport where it would be exchanged for a new one.

So far so good.

At Granada airport there was again a big queue at the counter. When DonQui got to the front an angry man told him he would have to wait until all other customers had been dealt with.
“We have to do a long report because of all the damage you have done to the car,” he barked.
When DonQui pointed out that he did not do any damage the man simply replied that it was DonQui’s fault for not taking out extra insurance on top of the extra insurance he already had and that he should go and wait in the café until they were ready to deal with his case.
Half an hour later a different man (not so angry) told DonQui that they were ready for him. He again pointed out that as DonQui did not have insurance with them he would have to pay for the damage himself and then try to claim it back of the non-insurance he had taken out with rental cars.com.

He told DonQui that he had two choices:
1: get it fixed himself and the man at the counter gave DonQui an address – CarGlass – where it could be done; or
2: They would exchange the car in which case they would charge more than what it actually cost to fix and “an additional €42 per day that the car could not be rented our while waiting to be fixed.”

“How long might that be?” DonQui ventured.

The man shrugged — a few days? a few weeks? He did not know.

DonQui went for option 1.

He now has a plastic rear side window fitted by the very friendly and efficient people at CarGlass and is waiting for the real window to come in. The men at Car Glass pointed out that Gold Car was actually fully covered for glass on their insurance policy so even though they would have charged DonQui huge sums it would have cost them nothing to fix it.

The Moral to the Donkey’s Tail

Before signing up for any extra insurance policy from any of the car rental websites check out the details and make sure that you understand the fine print. All the web booking sites such as rentalcars.com and holidayautos.co.uk seem to offer full insurance when in fact they are selling a separate policy to cover you if you have to pay something for not having insurance. Even when you read the fine print this may not be obvious as the websites dress it up to look very much like full insurance buy using words such as “full protection”.

By all means use web comparison sites to see what is available but if you want full insurance in most cases you will need to buy it from the car rental company.

If you rent from a budget company such as Gold Car, be aware that, like Ryanair, they make money by selling you all the extras such as a tank of petrol, drop off charges and their overpriced insurance policies. It may end up being cheaper, not to say less frustrating, to go to a larger more established company. Also many budget companies are off site in big airports like Heathrow so it may also involve a shuttle bus trip as well.

In Spain Gold Car’s low starting prices seem to ensure there will be very long queues at the airport and you may have to wait an hour or two before you get to pick up your car.

Car theft is a major problem in Spain so never leave anything at all inside the car. If you can take off all advertising stickers that tell would be thieves that it is a rented car.

All that is Gold does not Glisten

DonQui wanted to get around and see a bit of the Spanish countryside so he looked on line to see what a rental car would cost him. He saw what looked like a pretty good deal on rentalcars.com £75.00 for 8 days, pick up at Seville and drop off at Alicante with “Damage Excess Refund — Full Protection.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Well quite a lot actually.

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DonQui’s heart sank when he saw the queue at Seville airport. The car was booked with GoldCar and if DonQui had read the reviews on TripAdvisor he would have avoided them like the plague.

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It took one and a half hours before DonQui made it to the front of the queue. There were three people working at the counter but it took them ages to process each person.

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DonQui cast his eyes dolefully at the other rental car counters – no queues and when someone approached they were processed quickly and efficiently.

“You do not have full insurance,” the man behind the counter said after signing, photocopying and doing all kinds of stuff with lots of pieces of paper. “We recommend you take out ours.”

“Ah… but I do have full insurance,” DonQui replied smartly. He handed over the voucher, feeling pleased that he had signed up for the full coverage when he booked on-line. It cost more than the daily rental but he felt it was better not to take any chances.

“This is not insurance, this is ‘damage excess protection,” explained the gruff man across the counter.

Surely this was the same thing.

No it wasn’t at all.

The ‘non-policy’ that DonQui had bought from rentalcars.com had been dressed up to look like a full insurance policy but if he had read the fine print DonQui would have realised that it provided no coverage at all. What it did say it would do was to reimburse DonQui if he had to pay any excess to Gold Cars in case of accident or theft. They would take a €950 deposit, or block a credit card for that amount, and if something went wrong DonQui would have to pay and then try to claim it back from rentalcars.com.

The man behind the counter gave DonQui a rather patronising look and again recommended taking out additional insurance.

Not wanting to throw good money after bad, DonQui declined.

“Now you just need to pay for the tank of petrol,” gruff man informed him, “…And the drop off cost at Alicante.” That came to €100 each. When DonQui snorted in protest, gruff man tapped on the fine print in the contract. Gold Car’s policy was to sell you a tank of petrol at double the price and then the renter can return the car empty rather than the usual return with full tank. Although the car had been booked from Seville to Alicante for the £75 price quoted by rentalcars.com at the bottom of the contract was the note that explained the requirement to pay the car rental company an additional drop off charge. Gruff man’s face had an even more patronising look than before.
More than two hours after joining the queue at Seville airport DonQui was finally in the car and on his way to Granada.

“Thank God that is over, DonQui thought to himself,” with a sigh of relief.

However his car troubles were only just beginning!

To be continued…