Review by Fiona Duncan, published 9th July 2006.
One of my many work displacement activities, when staring slack-jawed at the computer screen, is to wander to tripadvisor.com – where hotels across the globe are reviewed by their guests – and play ‘spot the planted review’.
“Here’s one,” I thought, for how could the recently-opened Village Hotel and Leisure Club, bang opposite the General Hospital on the outskirts of Bournemouth, possibly deserve “Brilliant!!!!!…. Really good atmosphere….totally relaxed chill out place….breakfast is ACE….LOVED IT!!!!”?
Still, my curiosity was tweaked, not so much by the thought that this place might really be hip, but by its remarkable price. It’s the newest in a chain of low-cost Travel Lodge type hotels from the De Vere group, offering accommodation, three restaurants and a spa/leisure centre for an average of £32.50 per person per night. I decided to investigate.
We spent the day madly exercising and puryfing in the huge swimming pool, the spa pool, steam room, sunshowers, sauna, gym and aerobics suite – all for free. Though somehow more municipal (and chlorinated) than sybaritic, with well-meaning but slightly daffy staff, the leisure complex was calm, in pristine condition, well designed and attractively decorated, with a tropical flavour.
And the same can be said for the bedrooms: bland but not that bland, a fair amount of space, carefully designed, with good lighting and storage, and extras such as hairdryer, temperature controlled taps, internet access and evening room service. “But don’t open the curtains,” said my husband. Good advice: the room looked on to large car park and the blue-roofed hospital, A&E to the fore.
The free leisure centre had been a real bonus, and the room was fine for the money. So far so good. And now for dinner: we were ravenous after our sudden exertions. We could (and we should) have ordered pizza and ice cream and collapsed in front of the telly in our room. Instead, we tripped downstairs to Salingers for the full works. Salingers is Village Inn’s version of a gourmet restaurant….think Little Chef, but grander, with elegant touches. We ordered the house wine – horrid – and consulted our dispiriting plastic-coated menu illustrated, à la Little Chef, with off-putting pictures of some of the fancy dishes on offer. They were vile, and not cheap, foolishly missing the Little Chef principle that if you’re going to produce bad food, you should keep it simple. Our main courses, fashioned from bottles and packets at around £12 each, were wholly nondescript and wildly overpriced. My ‘red snapper’ was a large, dense, woolly and grey, and the husband’s beef fillet was as lumpen as it was tasteless. As for the moist concoctions lying motionless in self-service salad bar – they had lost all will to live. At least, when morning came, we were prepared for that ‘ACE’ breakfast that I’d read about on Tripadvisor: the congealed, greasy stuff of motorway service stations, doled out canteen-style.
So, £32.50 per person buys: a new, clean, well-designed building, an excellent, fully equipped leisure centre open from 6.30 am to 10 pm every day; an adequate bedroom; awful food; and a depressing location. Conclusion: if you don’t want to use the leisure centre, stay at home; if you do, you’ll get a notable bargain. And I still think that review on Tripadvisor was planted.
Wessex Fields, Deansleigh Road, Bournemouth (0870 606 3606; www.Village-Hotels.co.uk). Double rooms from £59 to £84 per night; weekend leisure breaks from £65. For reviews and recommendations by Fiona Duncan, visit www.thehotelguru.com.