Monday, 8 February 2016

Firs Cottage Bed & Breakfast, Kington, Herefordshire

A couple of years ago we visited Hay on Wye for my birthday.  It was, by far one of the best weekends away we've ever had as a couple and not just because I got to spend two days completely surrounded by books.

As my birthday was the weekend before the Hay on Wye festival a lot of accommodation was closed so we ended up having to look further afield than the village itself and this led us to Firs Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Kington.

We pulled up outside a gorgeous chalet-cabin type building, with a wrought iron table and chairs outside and were met by the owners of the B&B, Sue and Les.

On arrival we were provided with hot drinks and a slice of cake each which was made by Sue.  This little touch was just lovely and was very welcome indeed after our long drive down.

The log cabins are separate from the main house and there are two, side by side.  They had just been newly completed when we stayed and the attention to detail was evident.  From the luxurious bathroom suite to the furnishings which were all locally sourced, we were more than a little impressed.  In fact, considering what we paid, we definitely got a good deal.

There was a small balcony with table and chairs outside and a dining table inside.  Breakfast is included but additional meals can be arranged; as we were out in Hay for the two days we didn't make use of this service but we did have a quick look over the menu and the food looked divine.  If we were to stay again we'd definitely give this a try.

The complimentary breakfast was served in our room, at a time specified by us the night before and was well cooked with a good selection.  You can also opt for fruit and cereals as well if you wish.

There is no bath, but the shower was more than adequate and I loved the lighting.  It gave the bathroom a really modern and upmarket feel.

Complimentary wifi is available but I really struggled to get any signal.  This wasn't necessarily a bad thing but as a blogger it was something I picked up on!

Overall we thought that the accommodation was excellent for the rate.  Prices start at £45 per person, per night which is very reasonable compared with other B&B's in the area.  It would be the ideal choice for a romantic, luxury break away.  Obviously it would be possible to book the two chalets at the same time if you were a family but I would say only if you had older children as you would have to be in two separate cabins.

Kington is located in Herefordshire, a gorgeous part of the country and there is lots to do in the surrounding area.  It was about 20 minutes from Hay and half an hour from Hereford itself.  Herefordshire is stuffed full of quaint little villages which you could easily spend the day exploring or, alternatively there is kayaking on the River Wye and horse riding in the vicinity as well.

I would love to return to Hay, possibly again this year for my birthday and Firs Cottage would be top of our list as a place to stay.

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this review and we paid for our accommodation at Firs Cottage ourselves.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

AirBnB: Our Experiences and Tips

I first came across AirBnB about a year ago when someone I follow on Instagram shared their photos from a lovely weekend away.  It immediately piqued my interest; getting to stay in an actual home rather than a generic hotel seemed like a rather unique concept and I spent the next few months researching and 'favourite-ing' places all over the country I would like to visit.

If you haven't come across the concept before: AirBnB is a rental site; people rent our rooms in their apartment or home, or they rent out their entire home to guests.  You can book properties in around 200 countries all over the world and there are approximately 600,000 homes available on the site.

I didn't get chance to actually book using AirBnB until August last year when we decided we wanted to go to London.  We were travelling with my parents so a hotel wasn't really going to be suitable and we wanted to be in a central location.  Cue the decision to book with AirBnB.  Both James and my parents were understandably hesitant: What if we turned up and it wasn't a real home?  What if it wasn't in the place it claimed to be?  What if the owners came home? All real and valid questions.

Me?  I was mostly excited that we were going to finally be using one of the beautiful properties I had been eyeing up for over 12 months!  

Any concerns we had about using AirBnB went straight out of the window when our request was accepted and we immediately had a phone call from our hosts.  They went out of their way to ensure that everything would be perfect for our arrival, even calling us on the day to check we had found the house and the keys without any issues and offering us guidance on how to beat the traffic when they realised we were stuck.

Our next AirBnB test was a little bit more risky; we decided to use it when going to Oslo late last year.  There's a slight difference between being stuck in London, a city we know and where we speak the language to travelling somewhere overseas and potentially being without somewhere to stay but again it went absolutely smoothly.

Now I'm not claiming to be an AirBnB expert because I have used it without any hiccups but I did a lot of research before booking and wanted to share some tips I had picked up:-

Is it safe?
This is probably the main concern that we had before completing our first booking but AirBnB go out of their way to ensure that the process is safe for both hosts and guests.  You have to provide identification (scanned ID like a driving licence) and a phone number which will be verified before you can make a booking or become a host.

There is also a star rating and review system so you can see what other people have found at the properties you are considering.

Payment goes through AirBnB and generally speaking AirBnB will cover up to £600,000 in damages for hosts.  AirBnB's customer service is available 24/7 so you can always get in touch with someone if something should go wrong with your booking.

Of course there are always going to be horror stories as with any accommodation booking.  How many times have you been to a hotel and found you've been let down or it didn't quite live up to expectations?  There are certainly ways you can try and prevent this from being your experience but nothing is ever 100% guaranteed.

When does it work?i
I think there is a lot to be said for staying in a hotel but there are some times when AirBnB just works better such as when you are travelling in a group (like we were in London) or you want to stay in a specific area of a city perhaps.  We also found it was cheaper for us as a family of 4 than staying in a hotel when we were looking into going to Oslo, so it is always worth comparing the two when looking to go away.  You have to keep in mind however that you don't get the perks which come with staying in a hotel; no pre-cooked breakfast or concierge service available here!

It's also not a great choice if you are looking for somewhere last minute as there is no guarantee as to when your chosen host will reply and whether their availability calendar has been kept up to date.

How to avoid a bad experience?
Make sure you read the ratings and reviews from people who have previously stayed in the property.  If the host is new and you have any concerns then I'd stay away until you are more au fait with the AirBnB process. You can see from a host's profile whether they have been verified and so on, so take the time to read in detail about any potential property and host until you are satisfied.

Check the amenities list carefully to make sure that everything is above board and as you are expecting and it's also worth reading the cancellation policy as these vary (being set by the host not AirBnB) and you should know where you stand with regards to refunds due to cancellations.

When you request to stay ask any questions you think may be relevant to your stay such as the distance from the airport or train station, access to public transport, wifi availability, whether your room locks etc...anything which you would need to make your trip the best it can be.  This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether the home is right for you.  I would also recommend being honest about why you are travelling; both in London and in Oslo the hosts were only too happy to recommend local places for us to visit and try out once they knew why we were coming and who we were travelling with.

Remember that a host is under no obligation to accept your request so again, don't leave your booking until the last minute.

Final Tips
- I would recommend getting a telephone number for your host and having that to hand in case of any issues.  If you are staying a room and not booking out an entire home I would also pass on your transport details just in case there are any delays.

- Be considerate guests, leave the home in the condition that you found it even though you might be paying a cleaning fee.

- Leave fair feedback which is an honest reflection of how the home was advertised versus what you found.  Remember that a host is not in control of the weather, whether the people in the adjoining apartment were noisy or if something happened whilst you were out sightseeing and believe me I've read some reviews where people have complained about the above!

- You are given the option to leave both public and private feedback for a host so if there is some way you think a home could be made better, you can tell the host your opinion without blasting it all over their review page.

And enjoy!  I can't wait for our next AirBnB experience...possibly Stuttgart in September?!