I was prepared to love this hotel … its grand curving façade, its unique flag-bedecked entrance hallway transporting you from a medieval French plaza to a cheery modern courtyard lobby (excellent marriage of contemporary chic and Euro-classic), its quirky maze-like corridors, its sidewalk cafes overlooking greenery, fountains and a cobblestoned rotunda, and above all its unbeatable location right in the old heart of town (a very short walk to a Metro subway entrance, convenience stores, lots of shops, and main attractions from the Capitole to the Saint Sernin basilica). There were, however, quite a number of glitches that I think need fixing.
But first the great stuff. This is better than other Novotels I’ve stayed in, certainly (a notch above the Novotel in Canberra, several notches above the Novotel in downtown Moscow, perhaps at par with the Novotel in Palembang). The general atmosphere is terrific, and you don’t get that bland cookie-cutter feel here, this is a four star hotel with verve and character.
The food is terrific. A lunch buffet of small items (canapés, sandwiches, pastry, cheese selections, etc. etc.) served to us in the lobby bar was well received by our big delegation, even though we were starving after flying 16 hours with two stops and one connection from the Far East to Toulouse. The daily breakfast in the thoroughly modern breakfast hall was on the simple side --- a modest selection of breakfast fare that included cheeses, self-serve boiled eggs, sausage/bacon/ham, grilled vegetables, bread and pastry, etc. etc.) --- but unexpectedly tasty. Several co-travelers kept raving about the delicious sausages. Mind you, these were ordinary-looking breakfast sausages, the type you keep seeing in morning buffets all over the world, but they tasted good. (One prominent journalist in our group remarked that he preferred the Novotel’s breakfast to the fare in at least three prominent restaurants in town.)
I was given a regular superior room on the first floor (meaning the second floor) that appeared to be newly refurbished and quite clean. The room was of a small size with cramped dimensions (no surprise --- in an old-style rambling hotel, rooms tend to differ in size and characteristics), but the layout was fairly good and the décor cheerfully modern (psychedelic circles on the headboard, for starters). I liked it immediately. The bathroom is actually big, with a spacious shower area, though if you keep the bathroom door open you will find yourself staring all the way down at the toilet if you’re in bed.
It didn’t take too long for a number of problems or quirks to surface, though:
--- The room was warm, almost tropically so. I had to call (and approach) the front desk several times to report it and ask for a solution. Adjusting the temp controls, performing maintenance on the airconditioning ---- they tried everything, but all I got was a nominal improvement in the temperature. (It was very temperate in Toulouse, not too warm outside, not too cold either, so one couldn’t blame the post-summer weather.) I found this uncomfortable but I had to make my peace with the situation since the hotel was reportedly full.
--- The windows were, well, weird. They started from floor level and ended at waist height ---- so one has to crouch to see the view. (My room overlooked one of the side streets, quaint in some parts, but immediately across was the ugly concrete building of the public market.) Well, this was a harmless quirk. (Most of my co-travelers had big bright windows in their rooms, so it’s the luck of the draw.)
--- There were almost no closed drawers, no bedside table big enough to put papers or books, no desk drawers, etc. I finally had to store my papers and reading material in the safe!
--- The hotel had run out of adaptors (or at least the kind our delegation needed), so we had to live with dead-battery mobile phones, cameras and laptops for certain periods. OK, the hotel was full, but I think Novotel could do better here.
--- Being just one floor above the sidewalk, I had to endure a lot of street noise. Not cars but noisy motorcycles and lots of loud talk and laughter at 2 a.m. (apparently a lot of teenagers or young workers hang out in the street and do their partying there).
--- Novotel laid out flimsy plastic cups in the bathroom ---- what you’d expect from a dingy 2-star motel in the less salubrious suburbs of the U.S., not from a classy 4-star hotel.
--- To get to my room, I had to walk down long, twisty corridors--- get out of the elevator and turn right, then an immediate left, a bit further down to another left, then a considerable walk down a long corridor to yet another right, then a left, then through a doorway (and a step or two steps down) into what appeared to be a stairwell, past another doorway, then another right, and finally down a shorter corridor to my room. I actually liked this quirk (I love rambling hotels and mazelike layouts), but a few other guests complained about it and I thought I should mention it here. If you can, ask for a room closer to the elevators.
--- The TV channel selections were woefully limited for English speakers. Some channels (e.g., BBC) weren’t on all the time.
We didn’t get much warmth from the hotel staff, but they were properly friendly enough (but a contrast to the friendly, fun-loving personalities of some locals we met during our stay in Toulouse).
Big buses can’t go into the Place du Wilson (although I did see one bus parked on the cobblestones one day), so we had to walk with our luggage from a couple of blocks away. Fine with us, as the weather was pleasant and we needed a workout after our long journey, but what if it was a rainy day? (Lesson: Don’t go downtown in a tour-size bus from the airport!) To me, this slight inconvenience was a small price to pay for the great location of the Novotel.
Warning --- the hotel doesn’t provide slippers or a robe. Bring your own (plus a universal adaptor, if you can).
But I still give the hotel a “4” --- can’t beat the location, the food’s good, it’s got charm and character (more than you expect from a Novotel), and lots of potential. Just give it a little more work and fix a few things.
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