A trip to Spain in the 1970s was still a rather exotic adventure for many, but two British couples travelling there in 1970s had a far more exciting experience on the journey down than any they had on the holiday itself....
Their trip began in Dover at the beginning of October 1979. Geoff and Pauline Simpson and their friends Len and Cynthia Gisby were to get a ferry to France and drive down to Spain, stopping off on the way for a break at any hotel they could find.
That is how, on October the 3rd, they found themselves exhausted and looking for somewhere to stay near the French town of Montelimar, France.
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The local Ibis was full, but a helpful man dressed in an old fashioned plum coloured suit in the lobby pointed them down the road to a hotel that might be able to put them up for the night.
The road they travelled down was cobbled and narrow and they couldn't help noticing very old fashioned posters for a circus lining their route, they stopped at an inn for further directions and eventually found themselves by two buildings, one a police station, the other an old fashioned two storey building marked "Hotel". Upon entering the Hotel they found themselves in the hotel bar and discovered that although the owner couldn't speak English he understood their requests for a room and after dinner they headed up to see them.
They found the rooms to be clean but very outdated. There was no glass in the window but wooden shutters instead, the door could be locked only by means of a wooden catch, there was no telephone, there were bolsters but no pillows and the plumbing was antique. But though basic it was perfectly acceptable for their purposes; a nice long sleep.
In the morning they awoke and headed down for breakfast. They were startled by the appearance of a few others in the hotel. One was a woman wearing a long dress and button-boots and carrying a little dog. Two gendarmes came into the hotel wearing clothes unlike any other gendarmes the couples had seen.
The couples finished up and prepared to leave. They asked one of the gendarmes for directions back to the autoroute and on to Avignon but he didn't seem to understand the word. The couples put this down to their poor pronunciation. He gave them some directions which they later found led them onto an old out of the way road.
When they settled up their bill they were in for another, not unwelcome, surprise. In total their bill came to 19 francs, which was about 1/13 of what they would have expected. They enquired with the gendarme again as they felt there may have been some mistake but he assured them all was well and they handed over the paltry sum and were off to sunny Spain.
On their return trip they were unable to locate this hotel, despite "finding the right road" and, when they enquired at the Ibis, they were told that they knew of no such nearby hotel and they denied the existence of anyone in a plum coloured suit working for them.
The couples were forced to stay in a hotel in Lyon and pay over 200 francs for a room. When they got home they found the pictures they had taken in the hotel were missing. Not blank, nor obscured but gone and the reel had been filled with other pictures. Later investigation found the reel showed markings half way along showing the camera had tried to take pictures but had failed.
They have been back to visit since but they have found no trace of the hotel, although somewhere similar was found they denied this was the hotel they stayed in. They later identified the uniforms worn by the gendarme as those used before 1905.
So what happened to them? Did they travel back through time? Was this an entire ghost building?
Alas, again, I feel there is little evidence to prove that they experienced anything truly weird. I stayed at a "hotel" in Paris in 2001 which was actually not too dissimilar. I entered the bar to find the furnishings would not have been out of place in the 18th Century and the clientele were... interestingly eccentric. I was desperate for a room as all the other hotels were full so despite my misgivings handed over 19 euros (about 10 quid, for a room for the night!!) and found my room to be.... basic... if there was ever a hotel out of time that was it! Although mine didn't even have the benefit of being clean...
Why didn't anyone remark on their odd mode of transport (a 1970s car in pre 1905 France? Would this have not brought crowds??)? Why did the hotel owner not refuse to take their strange, foreign money (as a coin collector I can tell you that francs had changed quite a bit between 1905 and 1979)? Could the fact that they had driven down the road at night lead to their inability to find it during daylight? Things can look a lot different in the light of day.
Alas I feel this time slip might again have been caused by confused foreign visitors allowing their imaginations to go wild in a country that might have seemed strange and unusual to them. France is still strange and unusual when compared to Britain with it's much quieter countryside and intelligent populace.
A camera malfunction? Well we are in the seventies here, I remember my old film cameras which proved to be unreliable... although mine were very cheap...
So yet again I find myself sceptical of their claims. One day I'll find a story I'm not sceptical about... I promise!!