The Pines – interior photos

The Pines is roomy and luxurious and can accommodate up to 7 people – or even 8 with the option of a cot in one of the bedrooms.

Living room at The Pines with free WiFi

The Living Room – lots of light, a big flat screen TV, thousands of books and free WiFi

Bedroom at The Pines luxury holiday apartment

The Master Bedroom has its own en suite bathroom

Bathroom at The Pines luxury holiday apartment

The en suite bathroom

Large family dining room and kitchen

Large family dining room and kitchen

The kitchen at The Pines - well equipped and modern

The well-equipped kitchen at The Pines

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Holiday comfort: it’s all in the detail

Last week we took a break from our Sandboys gites and went to Brussels for a short stay.

Scanning the last-minute booking sites on the internet for a decent city centre hotel, we came across the Hotel du Grand Sablon, one of the NH Hotels group, 4 star rated, conveniently situated in the centre of Brussels and offering a bargain discount rate for the period we wanted. “Grand Sablon” sounded an ideal place for the sandboys, so we booked it.

4 star hotel not as comfortable as Sandboys Gites

The NH Hotel du Grand Sablon in Brussels - it needs a bedroom re-design

You would expect a hotel in a major group to offer pretty much everything its guests wanted, and at first glance our room seemed adequately roomy, comfortable and well equipped. It should be, after all, they probably have a whole design department that exists only to ensure that their rooms appeal to their clients. But it wasn’t long before we started to notice the errors and omissions.

First, the TV didn’t work – a maintenance worker was sent for and dicovered a loose aerial connection. The WiFi didn’t work, either, but that wasn’t of much interest to us so we didn’t make a fuss. The room’s major drawback, however, was a basic design error – something the corporate design department should have identified before investing group money in thousands of identical rooms, in dozens of their hotels all over Europe. The problem was one of a serious lack of mirrors.

Exterior of European Parliament building, Brussels

The European Parliament building

Now, we had been invited to Brussels to attend an event at the European Parliament building, so obviously a reasonable standard of turnout was required. Since the only mirror was in the bathroom, it wasn’t possible for Sue to put on her makeup or do her hair while I was in the shower creating lots of steam and condensation. After the shower, and an interval to clear the steam from the mirror, Sue could start to get her face on. Meanwhile I was choosing my suit (yes, I have more than one!) and trying on shirts but I couldn’t get to the mirror to see the effect, because the space in front of the mirror was now occupied.

Things got worse when Sue started to do her hair. Although there was a hairdryer fixed to the bathroom wall, her hair styling gizmo could only be plugged in in the bedroom, so she couldn’t get it closer than about 10 ft from the mirror. While she cursed, squinting through the bathroom door at her distant reflection, I dodged backwards and forwards in different suit/shirt combinations, trying to check my appearance without getting in her way.

Interior of Sandboys Pearl, one of our luxury seaside gites in Northern France

Inside one of our Sandboys gites

So, to come to the point, a little forethought in the NH Hotel Group design department would have led to the realisation that a full length mirror and a dressing table mirror, with an electrical socket nearby, would be absolutely essential to guests’ comfort. A little routine maintenance would have solved the TV problem before it became a problem, and if you advertise WiFi, you should make sure it works.

Now, we may not be running 4 star hotels at Sandboys, but we’re not charging 4 star hotel prices, either, so our bedrooms ALL have full length mirrors and, though there may not be space for a dressing table, there is somewhere for you to plug in your gizmos (safely) within reach of the bathroom mirror.

And our TVs are checked every week.

By the way, Brussels is about 3 hours easy driving time and Paris only 2 hours, from the Sandboys gites in Fort Mahon.

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A Bit of Local Tourism

Originally posted at 1:00 am, March 9th 2011.

We’ve lived and worked in the Pas De Calais region of France for almost 10 years now, and it’s perhaps because we feel so much at home here that we haven’t explored all the tourism possibilities as much as we should have. Or maybe we’ve just been too busy.

Well, today we decided all that’s going to change.

As it was my birthday today we decided to take a day off work. Well, not completely off, as we had to go to the post to send our business mail off, and then to the shops to pick up supplies for the great gardening offensive that’s going to kick-off any time now. Anyway, for this day of relaxation we thought we would investigate a place called St Joseph Village, a sort of open-air museum in the form of a 1930’s French country village. It’s at a place called Guines, not far from Calais, and very close to the site of the Field Of The Cloth Of Gold, where Henry VIII did a bit of tourism and showing off about 500 years ago.

It turned out to be an excellent choice. The village is full of interest – you can see the inner workings of a windmill, a water-wheel powered sawmill, a smithy and many other disappearing country sights and crafts. There are replica shops of the period, a garage, bicycle shop, printing works and a huge collection of old farm machinery. There’s also a decent gift shop and an authentic estaminet bar/restaurant where you can get a meal or some refreshment.

However, the star of the show for me was a modest display in a faraway corner of the agricultural machinery sheds. A glass display case contained some fascinating and uniquely personal souvenirs of the life and career of the great Bernard Hinault. Hinault is considered the greatest cycle racer of his generation, and arguably one of the 2 or 3 greatest of all time. He won the Tour De France no less than 5 times, which makes him a God in the eyes of most frenchmen. His other cycling victories, stage wins and podium placings are just too numerous to mention – look them up on Wikipaedia if you want to find out just how great he was.

Hinault retired from racing in 1986 and donated two of his bikes, several of his Tour jerseys and other memorabilia to his great friend M. Baclez, the founder of the St Joseph Village museum.

This little display of items so personal and important to the great champion was the big surprise of the day.

We rounded off the day out with lunch in Ardres, at the restaurant La Griotte which we can heartily recommend, and a leisurely drive home through the beautiful scenery of the Pas De Calais countryside, which is so varied it ranges from flat marshy fenland to roads of Alpine steepness with tortuous hairpins. I wouldn’t recommend a fast cycle ride on the back roads from, say, Desvres to St Omer – unless you happen to have the stamina and hill-climbing ability of Bernard Hinault, that is.

This won’t be the last of our tourism days out. We’re scheduling one day every couple of months to find out more about the local tourist opportunities in our part of Northern France

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