My friend, Peta, said to me this morning, ‘My father gave me a great piece of advice; never send an emotionally charged email; if you write it, don’t send it’. Peta’s father is a very wise man.
Hold that thought because we will come back to it.
Just before the end of the recent school holidays, it was predicted snow would fall not far from Sydney. I checked the weather forecast and it said there was a 95% chance of snow falling in Orange, a country town about a four-hour drive from Sydney.
I started googling places to stay in Orange and came upon the Stayz website. It appeared everyone must have had the same idea as most places were booked, however, I found a three-bedroom cottage advertised at $250.00 per night that said it was also ‘pet friendly’. There was one review on Stayz that said there was a fireplace and you’re given a ‘fancy breakfast every morning’. The Overseer’s Cottage is situated on the grounds of Mayfield Vineyard. It all sounded like we were heading for a perfect weekend in the country.
I sent through an enquiry and although it took a while for a reply, Jess, an employee who has worked for the owners for about nine years, phoned and said the cottage was available. She asked me how many people were coming and I said, ‘Well definitely three but if my older children get wind of a free holiday they’ll probably end up coming as well so there could be five’. She said, ‘That’s not a problem because by the time you get here all the beds will be made up for you anyway. Oh, and also, it’s $250.00 for the two of you and then $50.00 per night for every additional person’. Now that surprised me because firstly it was in conflict with what was advertised on Stayz and secondly, because I’ve booked a lot of houses, apartments and cottages in the past and there has only ever been an additional charge for extra people if extra bedding has to be wheeled in. In my confusion I thought she probably was referring to extra adults and so there wouldn’t be a charge for a child and that the additional charges must be because of the ‘fancy breakfast delivered each morning’. Jess asked for my credit card details to secure the booking and within an hour or so we were packed and ready to leave.
Yes, the young adults said they’d like to come as well as a friend of Archie’s so along with them and little Rosie and Barnaby the lodger, we packed into two cars and headed west.
When we were about an hour away, I realised we would be arriving after dark and thought I’d best advise the owners. I rang the number and the owner of Mayfield Wines, answered the phone. I apologised for our later than expected arrival and asked if there would be anyone there to greet us when we arrived. Richard said there wouldn’t be anyone there but that the back door would be unlocked so we could just let ourselves in and as he was expecting a cold night, he would make sure the heaters and lights were turned on ahead of our arrival. I thanked him very much and we continued towards Orange.
Mayfield Vineyard is situated on what was originally a large parcel of pastoral and grazing land. Today the property is much smaller and in 1998 it was bought by the current owner, a former investment banker from Sydney. He planted 40-hectares of grapes and started Mayfield Wines.
From it’s former grazing days there are original workers’ cottages on the property and these are now let for holiday rentals. There is the three-bedroom Overseer’s Cottage, the two-bedroom Settler’s Cottage, and the one-bedroom Garden Flat.
Back in the day, a school house was built so the children of the workers could attend school without having to trek into Orange. Today the school house has been extended and renovated and is the Cellar Door as well as a function room with a commercial kitchen.
Even in darkness, arriving at the Overseer’s Cottage is very picturesque. There are signs telling you to watch out for geese, the cottage with its welcoming lights appeared cosy, it’s surrounded by a white picket fence, and the atmosphere is peaceful, serene, and feels a long way from the city.
It was however raining, and as there is nothing undercover as you enter through the backdoor, we did get a little muddy. The cottage is cute, compact and clean. It’s decorated in neutral tones with some buttercup yellow and periwinkle blue in the main bedroom.
The kitchen is spacious and fairly modern. There isn’t a dishwasher although there is a space where a dishwasher would normally be however, that’s where the rubbish bin is being housed. There isn’t a freezer and the fridge is bar-sized which is probably a little small for a cottage that sleeps six. However, the kitchen cupboards are full of everything you need to self-cater including a variety of saucepans, lots of cutlery, plates and glassware, and even incidentals like paper serviettes, matches, salt and pepper shakers and dishwashing liquid.
But washing the dishes proved a challenge as the water coming out of the hot tap wasn’t very hot so I had to boil saucepans of water on the stove to effectively clean the dishes.
There was a laminated poster on the kitchen bench asking guests to write a review of their experience on websites like Trip Advisor. The poster said that if you do, ‘please let us know your address so we can send you a complimentary bottle of wine’.
For $450.00 per night I was surprised to see there was just one bathroom; quite a challenge for the six of us. The bathroom is rustic, compact and without a bath. There was very little water pressure in the hand basin making it challenging to properly wash your hands. There are plenty of fluffy white bath towels as well as a few toiletries plus signs on the walls about what can be flushed and how it would be appreciated if you limited your time in the shower. Well, yes, we did limit our time in the shower because just like in the kitchen, the water wasn’t very hot. You didn’t need to turn on the cold tap at all and as it is currently the middle of winter, some extra hot water would have been appreciated.
The combined lounge/dining room is also well equipped with a dining table that seats six and there are some placemats and candles if you’d like some soft lighting. The chairs around the dining table are directors’ chairs that you’d normally find outdoors but they’re perfectly functional inside as well.
Sadly, the fireplace stated in the review on Stayz is an inaccuracy as it has been filled with an electric heater that actually didn’t let out a lot of heat; you could barely tell that it was on. Beside it is a wall-mounted gas heater that was a lot better however if you sat too close to it, it would cut out.
The owner told me he brought extra heaters into the cottage because of the cold conditions and I’m assuming he means the small oil-burning electric heaters we found in the bedrooms. These heaters were actually too small to be effective and we found the bedrooms rather chilly. A further issue is that when all heaters were switched on, the electricity would ‘trip’ so Drew would be running backwards and forwards to the meter box. We found we couldn’t have all the heaters on at once so parts of the cottage were always cold.
The main bedroom is very countrified with its colour-scheme and use of floral prints. There’s a queen-sized bed with a blanket and doona and so we were cosy and warm during the night. While the bedrooms are clean and the linen fresh, there is no hanging space and no sets of drawers so there isn’t an opportunity to unpack your bags apart from making use of the single hook on the back of the bedroom door. It was stated there are electric blankets on all beds however one of the single beds was without one.
The ‘fancy breakfasts delivered every day’ mentioned on Stayz didn’t eventuate. On arrival we found a packet of muesli, a small loaf of olive bread, four tiny squares of butter, three pots of jam, some Twinings tea bags, milk in the fridge and a bowl of apples on the counter. As the owner later advised in an email, ‘We do not promise a “fancy breakfast” but local quality fare, to tide you over, if you have not had time to shop for essential provisions en-route’. Nowhere is this mentioned on the Stayz website.
And now we come to Rosie and Barnaby the lodger. The next day, Archie was speaking with Jess who was running the Cellar Door. She told Archie that the Overseer’s Cottage isn’t pet friendly and that dogs are normally only welcome in the Settlers Cottage. Archie came back to tell me and I was quite confused as I was sure it was stated three times on the Stayz website that the cottage was ‘pet friendly’. We then became quite anxious about having the dogs with us and every time they came inside I would wipe their paws with paper towel.
I did want to re-check the Stayz website however, wifi isn’t available. Mobile phone reception is at best, patchy if not entirely impossible and so I was unable to cross-check the information.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke to a winter wonderland. As predicted it had snowed in the night and outside the grounds of the vineyard looked magical. Our little guy was so excited he ran outside in his pyjamas to experience the snow. The dogs and the kids had a fantastic time playing in the snow and while out there, it started to snow again. Alfie just loved getting covered in snowflakes.
Later that day we thought we’d visit the Cellar Door. Jess was there and she welcomed us and said we could let the dogs come in from the cold. There was a lovely fire going in the very large fireplace and so we sat in front of it and chatted with Jess. I told Jess I thought the room was very welcoming with a lot of charm and Jess said I was welcome to take photos.
Jess is very knowledgeable about all the wines and gave us good information about each bottle. The vineyard has an extensive range of wines with everything covered including sparkling, rose, chardonnay, pinot and cabernet sauvignon. The wines aren’t cheap and start at around $20.00 per bottle for the Icely label and average around $30.00 per bottle for the Mayfield label. We had a very relaxed afternoon where it was warm and cosy and went ahead and purchased a mixed selection of 16 bottles for around $400.00.
Richard had left a handwritten note in the cottage saying if we had any issues we could call him on his mobile or landline. We did want to speak to either Richard or his wife about the situation with the dogs, the hot water issue, the tripping issue and query if the price we were being charged per night was in fact correct, however Jess informed us that they had gone out for the day. We didn’t actually ever meet our hosts.
The next morning Drew tried to phone Richard on both his landline and his mobile and left messages saying he wanted to discuss our account before our departure but he didn’t answer either call. It wasn’t until the end of the day that his wife returned Drew’s call and by then we were back in Sydney.
As soon as we were back in Sydney I phoned Jess and asked her to send me the account for review. She said she had already put through the full payment on our credit card. But I hadn’t even been given an account and as Drew had left a message saying we wanted to discuss it, it seemed egregious that the payment had been processed!
I then emailed Jess and told her we’d had a really lovely time at the cottage but that I believed the cottage was overpriced. For $450.00 per night it really needed a few more mod-cons like somewhere to hang your coat, a dishwasher and either a modern bathroom or a second bathroom. The cottage is just what you’d expect of an old worker’s cottage in the country; a rustic country cottage that’s cosy and comfortable and it should be priced accordingly. I told her I believed some of the confusion had come from Stayz and that as the one and only review was inaccurate and two months old, perhaps it should have been replied to or deleted to avoid a situation like mine.
Some 30-hours later I received an email from the owner. Remember when I said my friend had been given some very sage advice about not sending an emotionally charged email? Well here comes his response…
It was in point form of no less than nine points. He started with the issue of the price I saw advertised on Stayz and said, ‘This is news to me! Our website, which you no doubt visited, states a rate of $250 for the first couple plus $50 for each additional person per night! You say this doesn’t make sense! Surely you understand that each person incurs additional costs with laundry, housekeeping, electricity, gas etc and it would be uneconomic to charge the equivalent of $41.67 per person, unless it was in a third world country…We might be country peasants but we do expect more than a subsistence wage and we do not operate in a subsistence economy here west of the Great Divide’.
Well no, I’d never visited his website because when I googled ‘accommodation in Orange’, his Mayfield Vineyard website didn’t feature.
In relation to the dogs, he said, ‘Not only did six people occupy the Cottage but 2 dogs as well, which we normally confine to the Settler’s cottage or side room, as most courteous people advise of this beforehand’.
Well, both Stayz and his own website state the cottage sleeps six so that’s not really something worth mentioning. I again checked Stayz and three times it says ‘pet friendly’. As I’d had that assurance, I didn’t think it was necessary to advise we were bringing pets.
In relation to my comment that the review on Stayz should have been replied to or deleted due to its inaccuracies, he said, (with full understanding I am a blogger), ‘We are not responsible for warranting what people may post in reviews. The facts are set out on our official website as the authoritative source, as most people realise. We do not spend our valuable time, like some people, reading & correcting unreliable blogs, which are in essence a matter of superficial passing opinion & should be recognised as such.’
Ahhh, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t actively encourage reviews by leaving posters on the kitchen bench saying if you do a review you’ll be sent a complimentary bottle of wine and then rubbish people who write reviews saying they are ‘in essence a matter of superficial passing opinion & should be recognised as such.’
And having now had the benefit of reading what other guests have posted on Trip Advisor, Richard does appear to actually read all the reviews and always replies to any negative postings. One poor chap was in the exact same situation as us when last August he found the cottage advertised on Stayz for $200.00 per night. When he went to leave he was presented with a bill for the extra two people at a rate of $60.00 per person per night which added up to $240.00. The chap wrote a review that had many positive comments however, he finished with…
‘Unfortunately, we had just one issue. The price we were quoted (upon arrival) was different than when we booked it (through Stayz.com). This issue (pay discrepancy) took much time to resolve with management and really tainted my stay at Mayfield.
Regrettably, due to this issue I will not be returning to Mayfield and would advise groups travelling to the cottages to explicitly confirm prices prior to travelling (in writing).’
Here is Richard’s reply…
‘I am intrigued & disappointed to read the review posted on the Settlers Cottage by one of the 4 guests who stayed there last week-end relating to a misunderstanding on the prices applying & how this was treated.
The misunderstanding arose from a misinterpretation of information on the Stayz website when the four guests believed they could hire a three bedroom cottage which sleeps 6 people for $200 per night when in fact an additional charge of $60 per night applies for each person staying in addition to a couple. This was explained at the time of booking & again made clear on arrival when credit card details were requested. There was a refusal to provide credit card details & a refusal to accept the position.
Just prior to check-out, I once again explained the pricing structure which is clearly stated on the website & the reason for additional charges for additional people to cover housekeeping, laundry & additional services. However I stated that I did not wish to penalise them for a genuine misunderstanding and I waived the additional charges of $240 which we were quite entitled to make under our stated terms & conditions.
Under the circumstances I thought we should at least be given credit for generosity rather than be criticised ! It destroys my faith in human nature & sense of fairness!’
It can be noted that the only reviews Richard has commented on are those that say something negative. As the review on Stayz is positive, it has been left with all its inaccuracies.
In relation to my comment that the small loaf of bread and bag of muesli wasn’t enough for the six of us he said, ‘If we were told of six guests we would have provided for more, (plus dog food no doubt)!’
But I did advise Jess there probably would be at least five of us. With the mention of supplying dog food I was beginning to think I was reading the script for a new episode of Fawlty Towers.
As for my suggestion that the cottage is overpriced due to the one bathroom and no dishwasher he said, ‘Why would we need to mention there is only one bathroom & no dishwasher in a country cottage? This is not a 5 star resort but a rustic “get away” on a vineyard and it is appreciated by reasonable people as such…’
Yes, but $450.00 per night is what I would consider a 5-star price.
When I mentioned the ‘tripping’ of the electricity and the lack of hot water, he said, ‘I asked in writing that you contact me if there were any problems, which I could have fixed if I had known.’ But just like another reviewer on Trip Advisor, Richard either wasn’t around or he didn’t answer either of his phones.
In relation to me starting my email with how much we enjoyed our time at Mayfield he said, ‘I am curious that you advised Jess that “you had a very enjoyable couple of days at Mayfield” in your email on checking out…I’m sorry that we could not sacrifice ourselves further to accommodate your unrealistic expectations.’
And he ended his email with, ‘maybe, just maybe, you are just not suited to the charm & wonder of Mayfield…all the best with your future travels and good blogging.’
We stayed at the Overseer’s Cottage for two nights and despite the pricing discrepancy, the confusion over the breakfast, the inaccuracies between the owner’s website and Stayz especially in relation to the price and the dogs, the troubles with the electricity and the hot water, and the lack of the more luxurious inclusions one would expect when paying $450.00/night for a worker’s cottage 15-minutes from Orange, we were still able to walk away saying we’d had a really enjoyable couple of days. I think we’re heroes.
There has been no mention of a discount, refund, complimentary bottle of wine or even an apology. To date I am yet to receive an account, an invoice, a statement or even a receipt for the money taken from my account without even the courtesy of a phone call asking me how we all enjoyed our stay.
Verdict: For this review I’d really love to hear your verdict.
Overseer’s Cottage, Mayfield Vineyard, 954 Icely Rd, Emu Swamp NSW 2800
(02) 6365 9293