Simon Calder: The mystery of the missing hatchback

The man who pays his way

Skagen, with its rich art, fresh seafood and classic characters, is an utterly delicious slice of Denmark. At least that's what my Lonely Planet book promises. The travel guide is equally glowing about the oldest Danish town, Ribe, describing it as "a must for any visitor to Denmark".

Despite my best intentions, I have visited neither. And here's why. Often, when I turn up at a car-rental office, they do not have the vehicle I have booked; they have a better one, and are effectively obliged to provide a free upgrade. If you, like me, always book the smallest, cheapest car, the only way is up. Or so I thought.

I had booked a cheap hatchback in Denmark and was due to pick it up in the port of Hirtshals after an overnight voyage from Stavanger in Norway. It was a one-way rental through Jutland, visiting hard-to-reach locations such as Skagen and Ribe before dropping it off at Billund airport. But the staff in the rental depot looked surprised when I arrived, and said, "Sorry, we have no cars, your booking is cancelled."

The story was confirmed by the empty forecourt outside and by the UK reservations office, whose computer also said "No".

"We've got another outlet at Aalborg airport, which is 53 miles away," I was told, "but they haven't any cars, either. Let me give you the number for Customer Service so you can claim a refund." All the while, the Avis logo was smiling at me and promising: "We try harder".

A public holiday in a Scandinavian cul-de-sac was not a good time and place to begin a discussion about how that slogan might be adjusted. Instead, I took a taxi to the station – a fly-driver with nothing to drive.

Danish trains, like most things in Scandinavia, are expensive but very good. My planned trio of Skagen, Ribe and Billund airport, though, do not appear on the national rail network.

By the time I got around to calling Avis Customer Service it was 5pm in Britain. A recorded message announced the office was shut. But I did manage to contact Nick Mountfield, the firm's head of marketing. He pronounced himself "baffled" that any Avis customer with a confirmed booking should be turned away. "Find a car, come what may, is our policy," he says – even at a distant Nordic outpost of the rental giant's empire.

All manner of problems can deplete the supply of cars to rent. When this happens, the usual Avis procedure is to find a vehicle from a rival company.

Similar policies are followed by other big multinationals. The leading broker Holiday Autos promises compensation if your car is not available, saying it is "responsible for losses you suffer" if you are let down. But smaller brokers may simply point to the passage in the small print where they say your contract is with the local supplier.

ppp If you have yet to rent a car for the summer, what's the best policy? "Book early," says Nick Mountfield of Avis. Agreed, he would say that. Yet already squeezes on capacity are beginning to show in key resorts this summer: August rates at Mallorca in Spain and Faro in Portugal are nudging €300 for a week, and no doubt plenty of internet chancers are preparing to take advantage of increasingly desperate holidaymakers. So, as they say, I agree with Nick.

Old Masters mark Vejle as a marvellous, modest gem

The Danish town of Vejle has a pair of problems in luring tourists. First, its name: difficult for Brits to master, and when correctly pronounced as "viler" it sounds like an unfortunate comparative. The other drawback is that the town does not appear anywhere in the Lonely Planet guide, except in a passing reference about bus connections to Billund airport – which is how I came to be there.

For every bad travel experience, an equal and opposite one is waiting to happen. With time to spare at Vejle, I discovered a modest gem of a town. A windmill – about to open to visitors for the summer – presides over the town from high on a leafy hill. The church of St Nicholas has the peat-preserved body of a woman who lived before Christ. And the local art museum has a remarkable self-portrait of Rembrandt as part of its formidable collection of etchings by the Old Master, all kept under lock and key until you ask to see them. Sometimes the best sights are concealed.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal