Travel: A worrying brush with the gendarmes: Departures

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The Independent Travel
RADIO 4's World at One presenter, Nick Clarke, reports that it is not only British motorists who can fall foul of the French police.

Mr Clarke's brush with the law came as he was enjoying breakfast at the Chateau d'Ayres hotel in southern France. The gendarmes had been called by the hotel's manager after a dispute over the Clarkes' bill.

'When we tried to make a booking, we wanted to stay for three days. The receptionist made it clear that we would be much more likely to get rooms in high season if we agreed to take demi-pension: room, breakfast and dinner for a fixed price. We resisted, for reasons of flexibility, but also because three full-scale, four-course dinners on the trot was more than we needed, either economically or gastronomically.

'We were satisfied, in the end, to agree to demi-pension on day one, and room-only on day two - on the understanding that we would probably have to change rooms. All went reasonably well. On the third day, as it happened we decided to take the demi-pension option, after a further room change.

'After all the negotiations, it was galling to be handed a bill on the final morning on which all the meals were charged separately, with no demi-pension advantage.'

The hotel's manager insisted that it was against the law to mix two payment systems: it was either demi-pension or pay-as-you-go. The dispute boiled down to a matter of pounds 14 - and it was for this that the police were called to adjudicate.

Mr Clarke suggested that since they had stayed in a different room each night, they could be counted as three separate visits: two demi-pension and one room only.

'The policeman smiled slowly, and looked across questioningly at the manager. We knew then that the battle was won. We grabbed our cases, paid the rest of the bill, and ran. Whether he really did have the law on his side, we have still not discovered.'

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