Before Booking a Villa…

A Cautionary Tale: Booking.com

The first story in today’s episode of Rip Off Britain Holidays (currently available on BBC iPlayer) is a warning to anyone contemplating booking through an OTA (Online Travel Agent). In this particular instance it was Booking.com, but you should be aware that similar problems could arise with HomeAway, Expedia or TripAdvisor which all operate in a similar capacity.

The Benson’s Madeira Villa-Booking Experience

John Benson and Christine search online

In January 2018, John Benson and his sister Christine found a villa on the island of Madeira for a very special family holiday to mark landmark birthdays and a diamond anniversary. They selected a roomy beachside villa with a pool and lovely gardens to accommodate three generations of their family together. The rental was £8,000 for two weeks, booked online and confirmed by Booking.com.

Their problems started a month later when the villa owner contacted them to say that as the villa had been double-booked, their booking was being cancelled. By this time the family had already spent a further £2,600 on non-refundable flights.

Although Booking.com said it would find them an alternative villa of equivalent or better size and standard, over a period of weeks the offerings were nowhere near comparable with the original.

Eventually after persuading a customer service agent to re-examine their case file, the family was sent an email with links to a choice of suitable villas. Booking.com pledged that any price difference would be the responsibility of the owner of the first villa.

Favourite by far was a villa listed at £18,638 for the same fortnight. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but read on…) Because this was far in excess of the original rental paid, the Bensons double-checked the Booking.com offer carefully. Finding the same villa advertised elsewhere for the same dates at £11,000 – coupled with Booking.com’s price match guarantee – gave them further reassurance that the shortfall would be a more acceptable £3,000, rather than the full £10,000+.

Further problems arose when Booking.com thought the Bensons had booked a villa they had not been offered, because they could not find the villa via their own email links. They instructed John to cancel which would release the dates – enabling them to check on their live system.

This in turn caused the owner of the second villa to charge an eye-watering 70% cancellation fee of €14,700 – for a booking that had only been in place for a matter of hours. Even after having the circumstances explained, this villa owner inexplicably refused a refund.

Appealing to Booking.com also had no effect… The response highlighted their terms and conditions stating that they are a platform linking travellers and suppliers. Their fine print stresses that your contract is with the advertiser – allowing property owners to set their own conditions and cancellation charges.

A Happy Ending – Thanks to Rip Off Britain?

Neither set of villa owners nor Booking.com come out of this account well. At the very least I would expect the first villa owner to use their local knowledge to offer assistance with finding alternative accommodation – especially as Booking.com deem them responsible for topping up the shortfall.

As the Bensons emphasise throughout the programme, they kept expecting that once matters were explained to the parties concerned, all would be well. It is mind-boggling that the situation escalated to the degree it did.

Following the involvement of BBC’s Rip Off Britain, Booking.com looked into the Benson family’s case again. Happily they have finally been reimbursed for both their villa cancellation charges and flights, in addition to being given a welcome £3,380 contribution towards another holiday.

How To Avoid This Happening To You

The key message here is that if something goes wrong, booking with one of the large holiday companies may not offer you the help, support and protection that you are expecting.

We have a checklist of suggestions to work through before booking accommodation online, created for our FAQs page. Chief of these is to book directly with the owner, after doing some research to check that the owner is both bona fide and trustworthy. You should be able to gauge this from online reviews and feedback.

The lack of concern over cancelling the Benson’s booking raises suspicions that in the scenario above, rather than finding themselves double-booked as they claimed, the first villa owner may have used this as an excuse in order to take another booking – possibly offering a longer stay, smaller group or higher rental. If this were the case, you may be able to track down other instances of unethical behaviour…

In the days of social media and online reviews, dissatisfied guests will soon find an outlet to vent their feelings. Make sure you check before booking, rather than once it is too late. Returning guests are always a good sign. (And remember to read the owners’ responses to any criticisms, as these can be enlightening.)

Oh and don’t forget to book your holiday insurance when you book your accommodation, rather than just before you travel.

Our Checklist

 1 Can you pay by secure card portal?  PayPal is not recommended You can pay us with Mastercard or Visa.

 2 Is there a contact landline number?  +44 (0) 1923 853113.

 3 Right-click on an image > search Google for image. Make sure there are no rogue listings. 

 4 If you’ve found the property on a listing site, Google the property name, location, tagline and images to search for an owner’s website – indicating time and effort invested in their business. Booking directly will be at the best rates too. Check the domain registration.  Nikki registered pissouribay.com in 2006. You can track our website development via the WayBackMachine.

 5 Is the owner active on social media?  We’re on , , , and where we post regularly and have guest feedback.

 6 Is the owner knowledgeable about the local area?  Feel free to ask questions.

 7 Read guest comments and directly-posted reviews on and .  We have a guestbook dating from our opening in 2006 to the present, and recently started collecting online reviews. (As it is possible for non-guests to post, also check owner’s responses.)

 8 Are bookings shown on the availability calendar?  Hover over booked dates on our calendar and you will see the initials of the lead guest.

Alarm Bells:
Scammers lift copy and photos from legitimate sites, then put their listings at the top of searches by paying Google, Bing and Yahoo. Look for the giveaway Ad label next to search results. Check review sites for mentions of the website you’re planning to book through in case there are any warnings.

Be careful if the only payment option is bank transfer, and avoid anywhere asking for payment by Western Union.

Be suspicious if the price is too good to be true, especially if you’re offered discounts to pay in one go.

Beware if there is no availability calendar. Scammers will take bookings for any dates.

Cyprus-specific: Before booking a company-owned villa, check their financial status

Flamingo Facts Quiz

Fabulous pink flamingos

When the salt lakes fill, the flamingos arrive

Huge numbers of greater flamingos can be seen on Larnaca and Akrotiri salt lakes over the winter.

As part of their conservation remit, BirdLife Cyprus observers contribute to the International Waterbird Census by undertaking a count every January. The encouraging news is that the population is on the increase.

FlamingoFlamingoFlamingoFlamingo

Flamingo Quiz

1 Where does the name ‘flamingo’ originate, and what is the connection with their colour?

2 Can you name any species of flamingo?

3 What gives flamingos their distinctive pink colouring?

4 Why would it be dangerous for the newly-hatched babies to be pink?

5 How does the whole colony come to breed at the same time?

6 Why are some birds brighter pink than others?

7 Usually mating for life, how do they attract the attention of a potential partner?

8 What is the life-span of the flamingo? You won’t believe the answer to this one!

FlamingoFlamingoFlamingoFlamingo

You can find the mind-boggling answers to these questions in 8 Amazing Flamingo Facts by Sarah McPherson on Discover Wildlife.

Happy Frappe Day!

Happy Frappe Day!

Quite a lot of Greek and Cypriot food and drink specialities were happy accidents, and here’s another…

In 1957, Nestle representative Dimitris Vakondios – attending a conference in Thessaloniki – found himself without access to a kettle to make himself a fortifying coffee. After seeing his boss demonstrating a shaker for mixing milk and chocolate powder to make the Nesquik drink for children, Dimitris borrowed the device. He wondered whether he could use it to blend instant coffee with water. When this successfully created a foamy mixture, he added more water and a few ice cubes to create a tall cold coffee drink – the first Frappe.

Now 7 October has been designated Frappe Day. If you’ve never tried one of these Greek / Cypriot iced coffees, we recommend adding them to your holiday wish list. Somehow although they’re easy to make at home, they never taste quite the same.

Authentic Recipe

Mix 1-2 teaspoons of Nescafe instant coffee granules, a little sugar and water to a foam in a cocktail shaker or with a whisk. Add ice cubes and top up with water or a water and evaporated milk mixture. Serve with a straw.

Our Variation

We like adding a little cocoa powder to make our own mocha version. For an even more creamy version, add a little Greek yogurt – yum!

 

Photo taken at Muse in Paphos… one of our firm favs. One frappe with milk, the other without.

easyJet Summer 2019 Flight Releases

easyJet summer flights 2019

easyJet to PFO map

Thursdays 20 and 27 September

If you plan to visit Cyprus next summer, the next two Thursdays are significant dates for easyJet customers. With flights from regional airports around the UK including Luton, Gatwick, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh, an average aircraft age of only 6 years, and family-friendly policies such as free carriage of car and booster seats, and their low-cost ‘hands free’ option if you are happy to travel light, this airline is a popular choice for flights around Europe.

easyJet ‘Hands Free’

New easyJet Hands Free 5

This allows you to check in hand luggage for a flat £5 fee at the airport. There are advantages for both the airline and traveller…

Travellers can take toiletries and liquids in larger sizes than 100 ml without the faff of putting everything into zip lock bags. It also saves you lugging hand luggage through security and departures. And you can still take a small under-the-seat laptop or handbag on board. If you haven’t brought a bag, you will be provided with a small plastic bag at the bag drop for your valuables and essentials. You will be called to board after the ‘Speedy Boarders’ with your luggage tagged as ‘Priority’ to come off the carousel first.

For easyJet it eases the congestion in the cabin overhead lockers, and adds another small ‘extra’ charge to your booking.

Sounds like a win-win!

More details: http://bit.ly/2wsCPUM

The early bird catches the worm!

To take advantage of the best rates, check out Availability Calendar and Contact Us to ask if we can reserve your preferred dates. Once agreed, we promise hold them for 24 hours which will allow you to book your flights.

Then set your alarm for Thursday morning and hop onto the easyJet website… early risers get the best flight deals! Good luck!

Arriving over PissouriOur photo shows an easyJet Airbus A320 turning over Pissouri on its flight path to Paphos.

Tip: to see a great aerial view of Pissouri, choose seats on the right-hand side of the plane.

Summer Sky-Watching

Relaxing in a hammock star gazing

One of the pleasures of warm evenings outdoors is lying back on a lounger or relaxing in a hammock and gazing up at the night sky. Because there’s much less light pollution than in more populated locations, and frequent cloudless skies, the viewing is often rewarding. Switch off the garden and pool lights, pour yourself a chilled drink and enjoy sky-watching in comfort…

The constellations, the moon, meteor showers and the International Space Station can all be seen easily with the naked eye, although you may find the villa binoculars enhance the experience.

The Constellations – any time of year

If you’re new to star-gazing, there is a variety of apps which use your smart phone or tablet camera to assist you in identifying the constellations, for example Google Sky Map.

Perseid Meteor Shower – every July and August

Summer sky watching - Perseid meteor shower
Photo: Dominic Alves

The Perseids are one of the brighter meteor showers of the year. Coming from the direction of Perseus, these tiny fragments from the Swift-Tuttle comet provide more than one meteor every minute. The peak dates for spotting these shooting stars is around August 9 to 13, although they can be seen on any dates between July 17 and August 24.

Our tip: Concentrate on one small part of the sky, rather than scanning too wide an area. Spot one and a multitude usually follow!

International Space Station – any time of year

Summer sky watching - International Space Station
Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The International Space Station is most easily seen within a few hours of sunrise or sunset because the sun reflects off the space station providing a good contrast with the darker sky.

The space station looks like an aircraft or a very bright star moving across the sky, although moving in a straight line and 30 times faster.

If you visit NASA’s excellent Spot the Station website, you can find up to date spotting information such as this below to help you decide exactly when and where to look. (For Cyprus viewing you need to choose Nicosia as the location.)

Summer sky watching - International Space Station sighting details
Example ISS sighting information from NASA

Alternatively, if you have an Android phone or tablet, download ISS Detector Satellite Tracker free app which can sound an alarm 5 minutes before the Space Station is due over your location.

Happy sky-watching!

New Cyprus Beaches App

Cyprus Beaches app

Thought you knew the Cyprus coastline? Surely no-one knows it like Andreas Papadopoulos. The detail in this meticulously researched app is fantastic – search for disabled access, public transport, picnic sites, watersports, sunbeds, WiFi. Plus maps, route planner, photographs, tips and a whole lot more.

Free demo version includes Pissouri Bay
Full version €2.29 or £1.99 | For iOS and Android

Alix Norman | Cyprus Mail

“If you’ve lived in Cyprus for more than a year, you know exactly which beaches you prefer. Looking for a pebbly shore, and a quiet day by the sea in Larnaca? Then Oroklini Beach is the place to be. Eastward bound, and in search of sand, snorkeling, and facilities on a Blue-flagged beach? Fig Tree Bay’s a good choice. Or if you’re after total peace and quiet near Limassol, and in possession of a 4×4, then it’s down to Ayios Yiorgos. But here’s the thing: even if you’ve known the island your whole life, there are hundreds of coastal spots still to be discovered. Or, if you’re a tourist, you probably have little notion of just which beach suits your needs. And that’s where the new app, Cyprus Beaches, comes in extremely handy…”

Click to read Alix’s full article …

Preview

Warning for Ryanair Passengers

Warning for Ryanair Passengers

Don’t get caught out by their latest sneaky change – from 13 June you will only be able to check-in free of charge 2 days before your flight. Make sure you set yourself a reminder as it’s something that could easily get overlooked in your packing frenzy.

It’s all explained in this screen grab from MoneySavingExpert:

MSE-Ryanair-check-in

 

Lose Yourself in a Good Book

Roman steps - perfect reading spot

Is your precious annual holiday the chance to lose yourself in a good book?

If so, we have a small library with a selection of reading material to suit a variety of tastes including autobiographies, thrillers, detective novels, chick lit, light reads, local travel guides, and comedy books.

So whether you prefer to read lying down on one of our comfy loungers or stretched out in the villa hammock; or alternatively sitting up keeping an eye on proceedings from a balcony seat, or chilling half-in and half-out of the pool at the Roman steps; you should be able to find a comfortable spot to relax and immerse yourself in the book of your choice.

The-Sunrise-Victoria-HislopThe Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

As usual with Victoria, this is a meticulously researched novel woven around the human side of the tragic events of 1974. Set in Famagusta and Varosha which were favourite celebrity hangouts in their heyday (much like the South of France today). In those heady times the popular beach resort was regularly visited by all the glitterati of the time, including film stars such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Beginning prior to the invasion, when Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots lived happily side-by-side in mixed communities, despite some political tensions, it shows how dramatically lives were changed by the Turkish invasion of the island.

Guests will find hardback and paperback copies of Victoria’s excellent book in the villa library.

Abandoned-Cyprus-Airways-Trident-Nicosia-Airport
Abandoned Cyprus Airways Trident at Nicosia Airport

Crossing the Green Line

Even today Cyprus remains a divided island, with a ‘buffer zone’ patrolled by the United Nations and the world’s only remaining divided city: Nicosia.

You can visit Northern Cyprus via the crossing point in the capital’s Ledra Street. Take passports and be careful not to take photographs near the border. We do not advise driving over as your rental insurance will not be valid.

Another option is to take an organised tour, such as The Original Red Bus Tour from the eastern resorts which offers a full day guided tour to the Venetian walled city of Famagusta and the ghost resort of Varosha. It’s shocking to stand on the beautiful beach and see the dilapidation of the once thriving high-rise hotels behind the barbed wire. If you’re happy to make an early start, you can drive to Protaras and pick up the bus there.

Gordon-Honeycombe-newscasterThe Edge of Heaven by Gordon Honeycombe

The well-known former ITN newscaster was a regular Pissouri visitor in the 1970s, choosing the area as the location for his fifth novel.

Those who remember him from his serious news days, may be surprised to find that parts of the novel are rather racy!

More about Gordon

Although out of print, we have managed to track down a paperback copy of Gordon’s book for the villa library. Please treat it gently.

Plastic-Bag-Trees-Valerie-DayPlastic Bag Trees by Valerie Day

Valerie is an ex-pat who has settled in Pissouri. She has written a light-hearted anecdotal holiday read about her experiences along the way.

We missed our chance to get a print copy for the villa library, but it is currently available in eBook format.

Kindle download

50-Things-to-do-in-Cyprus-Chris-Alden50 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day by Chris Alden

As a former Cyprus resident, with an insight into the culture through his Cypriot family, Chris’ travel guide offers a wealth of suggestions and tips.

Although we have a print copy in villa library, you may be interested in buying the eBook version for yourself as it includes regularly-updated web links.

eBook link

 

The Best Cyprus Season?

Your perfect holiday

With the warmest climate of all the Mediterranean EU countries, Cyprus is an attractive year-round destination offering something different throughout the seasons. The best Cyprus season? That really depends what you look for in your perfect holiday… Whether your passion is experiencing natural beauty, exploring culture and history, lazy relaxation at the beach, action-packed days filled with sporting activities; or a combination of all of the above, we aim to help you decide the perfect time for your visit.

Winter (November – February)

Cyprus ski liftYes – you can snow ski in Cyprus! With an elevation of 1952 metres, head for Mount Olympus in the Troodos Mountains where there’s a choice of four ski slopes: Aphrodite: 150 m (nursery) | Hera: 350 m (nursery) | Hermes: 150 m (intermediate) | Zeus: 500 m (advanced)

But what everyone wants in a winter break is some sun… At lower levels, pick a sheltered spot on a typical sunny winter’s day, and you’ll find it warm enough to top up your tan.

For water-based activities remember to pack your wet suit. At all times of the year you can find wind-surfing, kite-surfing and paddle-boarding in the coastal resorts.

Planning your excursions to avoid rain showers, this is a good time of year for winter nature walks and scenic drives, particularly along the coast and around the salt lakes. It’s also the season to spot the Greater Flamingo at Akrotiri, Larnaca and Oroklini lakes. Look out for a black one among the pink… it is believed to be a mutation and may be a unique specimen in the wild.

On showery days, why not head for one of the island’s indoor museums? Or explore Nicosia – the world’s only remaining divided capital – centring your exploration around Ledra Street where there is a crossing point to Northern Cyprus. The backstreets of Limassol, Paphos and Larnaca old towns are also worth a wander – with their historic architecture, traditional shops and café culture.

[We do not do winter lets, but you should be able to get a good off-season hotel deal.]

Spring (March – May)

This is arguably the most colourful Cyprus season… lush green fields, carpets of flowers including the most delicate of wild and rare orchids, along with an abundance of yellow mimosa. It’s also capers picking season… (Did you know they are flower buds?) On hillside terraces and valley floors you can watch the vibrant lime-coloured growth emerging from the woody grape vines, just as there’s pastel blossom on the many fruit and nut trees. Spring is the ideal time for countryside nature walks and driving tours.

Paphos Zoo meerkatDifferent regions have local specialities… Cyprus tulips are grown around the village of Polemi near Paphos, and roses around Agros for making into rose water. Polemi Tulip Festival takes place in March, and Agros Rose Festival at the eastern Troodos village in May.

It’s also the season when nearly 400 species of migrating birds arrive en route from over-wintering in Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe.

And with warmer temperatures, longer days, and less rain than in winter, thoughts naturally turn to outdoor activities. These range from ancient World Heritage historical sites with Greco-Roman remains such as Kourion amphitheatre and Paphos archaeological site to family-friendly attractions such as Paphos Zoo and Sparti Rope Park in Platres forest.

Paragliding at KourionFor an adrenaline fix you could learn a new sport on during your Cyprus holiday… maybe try out paragliding with a tandem flight, and if you’re bitten by the bug, progress to elementary and club pilot courses with Cyprus Fly Adventures.

Cultural events for Cypriots focus around Orthodox Easter. In the supermarkets and bakeries you will see special traditional Easter treats for sale, often with tasting samples to try. You can even buy ready-dyed red eggs for the Easter egg-cracking game (which is played like conkers on Orthodox Easter Sunday). And visitors are welcome to visit the local churches to see the flower decorations. In towns and villages around the island Cypriots get together for a pre-Lent picnic, an Easter communal meal and family events. For Pissouri residents this includes games, competitions, music and dancing in Pissouri Square, plus the annual married vs singles football match. If you get the chance, we recommend heading to Paphos harbour for the Kataklysmos celebrations (Festival of the Flood/Pentecost) where the water-based family fun includes our favourite – the greasy pole challenge – the aim being to run along the pole and grab the flag at the end.

While children happily venture into pools and sea in April, adults usually prefer the swimming temperature from May. Days are sunny and comfortably warm, and on hotter days you’ll welcome a cooling breeze. Remember to bring a few warmer clothes for after sunset.

Summer (June – August)

At the height of summer, it’s hot hot hot! Take a few tips from the Cypriots – rise early, enjoy a long siesta in the hottest part of the day, find shade where you can, wear a hat, drink plenty of water, and do everything at a slower pace. In the local vernacular: “Siga, siga!” (“Slowly, slowly!”)

Fasouri Watermania wet bubbleActive holidaymakers can enjoy refreshing water-based activities – either in a pool or at the seaside – paddling, swimming, snorkeling, sailing, diving, surfing, water-skiing, kite-surfing, not forgetting the family favourite – visits to water parks. When you’re ready for a break from the beach, you can escape the heat by heading inland to the cool of the Troodos Mountain pine forest where there are walking trails alongside babbling trout streams, icy pools and cool waterfalls, plus Sparti Rope Park for forest-based family zip-wire fun.

Scuba divingA favourite peak season adventure for beginners is to sample a PADI discover scuba diving taster. Qualified divers can progress through more advanced courses, with wreck dives and night dives available. Other ideas for an active holiday include trying out kite surfing, wind surfing, stand up paddle boarding or jet propelled flyboarding.

But if your holiday preference is to switch off and just chill out, you can relax either poolside or at one of the many Blue Flag beaches.

Hot summer evenings outdoors are one of the delights of this time of year… whether you’re having a barbecue in the garden, dining at your favourite restaurant, having a sunset drink with friends, star-gazing, or going out to an open-air show. Catering for a range of tastes, you can visit Kourion ancient odeon for a Shakespeare Festival in June, or a Greek Drama Festival in July. And at amphitheatres around south-west Cyprus, including Pissouri, there is a popular summer programme of live musical performances, mostly by ‘tribute acts’ from the UK.

July and August are also the peak months for turtle nest hatchings, with the eastern end of Pissouri beach hosting returning females. Normally taking place overnight, maybe once a season a lucky few get to witness a host of tiny baby turtles on their precarious journey from land to sea.

If you have a turtle enthusiast in the family, do consider taking a turtle cruise on board Atlantis from Paphos. George is brilliant at finding turtles, knowledgeable and interesting. His 2-hour sunset cruise is a worthwhile and memorable holiday experience.

Autumn (September – October)

Cyprus Night in Pissouri SquareThose who can holiday whenever they like may regard this as the perfect Cyprus season… The temperature is climbing down from the summer highs, with such a gradual cooling of the sea that swimming remains comfortable into November. The full programme of events and activities continues, beaches and restaurants buzz, it’s reliably hot and sunny, with the added bonus of lower humidity than the peak months.

It’s also still warm enough after sunset to enjoy al-fresco evening activities such as open-air concerts at the amphitheatres, scanning the sky for constellations and shooting stars, and outdoor dining in restaurants and tavernas.

In the rural villages you can join in with traditional festivals of thanksgiving for the harvest. Pissouri, surrounded by vineyards, celebrates a seasonal Grapes Festival where tables are set up in the village square for a huge community dinner. The nearby village of Anogyra, specialising in a jelly-like sweet made from carobs, holds a Pastelli Festival. Although traditionally for local inhabitants, visitors are welcome. There may also be stalls selling locally produced specialities, with the opportunity to try before you buy – always a good notion!

In the larger towns there are autumn festivals too… Along the Molos seafront there’s a week-long Limassol Wine Festival with food and wine tasting, music, dancing, games and entertainments. Alternatively there’s the September Paphos Aphrodite Opera Festival, in front of the castle at the harbour.

Akamas Gorge balancing rockBirdwatchers can again enjoy spotting opportunities, with a seasonal influx of many species returning to over-winter in Africa and The Middle East.

It’s also the ideal time to get out and about on foot, before late-season rains begin to make some walks muddy and difficult – a good example being a trek along the Akamas Gorge with its spectacular and scary balancing rock.