Villa Gradi, Dubrovnik

Will your holiday villa live up to your expectations?

UPDATE: A complaint about Villa Gradi has now been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). However, despite being informed about the ruling, the following websites have taken no steps to try to correct the ads and continue to advertise the the villa: Trip Advisor, Flip Key, Firstclass-holidays.org, housetrip.com and Owners Direct.

Owner’s Direct’s PR company, Seriously PR says: “The owner has updated their description regarding the points made in the ASA complaint.” However, this update doesn’t go far enough. The villa is still advertised as a ‘grand villa’ and no reference is made to the fact that although a whole huge house is shown, only a tiny part of it is actually made available to guests.

The description on the Villa Gradi website stated: ‘Today with its modern facilities, it offers a complete leasure (sic) experience to a family and their friends … picturesque gardens and background sounds of birdsong and the sea lapping against the shore…”

Villa Gradi, Dubrovnik
View from Villa Gradi - with 'private beach' to left

The reality? A kitchen with no running hot water tap and situated on such a dangerous and busy road that the villa owners felt it necessary to put up a sign warning guests not to cross it. Which is a pity since the ‘private beach’ they boast about is opposite – although in reality this is actually a tiny concrete area on the edge of the road which anyone can and does access.

And yet in January in cold England Villa Gradi, Dubrovnik, Croatia, looked so full of promise. For a start look at the stunning photos and Villa Gradi, which is apparently suitable for 11 people, appears to be a big grand place of some 2400 square metres. Having stayed there for a fortnight, we can vouch it definitely does also have a lovely pool area, stunning views, lovingly tended gardens and is close to the beautiful city of Dubrovnik. With its description of six ensuite bedrooms, air conditioning, high definition TV, internet WiFi and a kitchen to cater for 11 – it seemed it would be perfect for our group of only eight adults. We imagined plenty of space on two floors (as promoted on other websites) to spread out and in fact my only happy concern was would we get lost…

So you can imagine our disappointment when we turned up to discover the whole upper floor and most of the ground floor is marked as private and was inaccessible (it has not yet been fully refurbished, something they did not mention on the particulars.) After all, we expected we would be able to rent the whole villa. But Worse, the bedrooms could not be reached from the main villa. They could only be accessed via their own individual front doors from the garden. Air conditioning was non-existent in the main part of the villa and only available in some bedrooms, the Wifi connection patchy and the master bedroom’s ensuite – in reality a small, dark and depressing cubby hole under some stairs (stairs that were blocked off and go nowhere) – meant a trek across the villa’s only communal room (or piano room as the owners call it due to the fact is it dominated by a quite enormous highly polished grand ‘Petrof’ piano which we were strictly forbidden to touch.)

The bathrooms on the other bedrooms (actually apart from one bathroom they are shower rooms) have no working ventilation so the rooms quickly become damp. You are expected to store groceries for 11 in just two drawers and the lighting at night is so dim, you can barely see to read a book.

It is not our first time we have stayed in a villa abroad. Over the past 20 years, we have stayed in many and many are absolutely beautiful, as advertised and more. But we have noticed how, over the years, the adverts on some villa websites appear to become more and more economical with the truth. To make matters worse, villa websites distance themselves from any complaints by saying they are not responsible for the adverts. When you book through one of these sites, your contract is with the villa owners.

Because of the ease at which villa owners can place their rentals on these sites, those proper agents who inspect properties and do take full responsibility for ensuring a villa is properly advertised, have fewer properties so many find themselves forced to rent from such a private site. Yet the sites are very difficult to contact and as they are servicing their clients (the villa owners) you have to wonder if any reviews are actually true (or they written by ‘friends’ or edited by the villa owner who is paying the website?) For example, Villa Gradi has an incredible amount of reviews, many of which amazingly have five stars and which extol virtues most tourists don’t think of (such as the history of the villa and so on…a lot of the same phrases in those reviews appear on the owner’s own website… )

We believed going via Villarenters would be the safest way to book a villa. This is what Villarenters boast on their own website:

When you book directly with owners or agents it is normal for them to receive your money before the holiday has taken place. Villarenters, on the other hand, protects your money offering you complete peace of mind when booking a property through us. Our unique 100% money back guarantee protects you in the unlikely event that on arrival your property is not available or is materially different to the description on this website.

However, despite pointing out for example that Villa Gradi is advertised as being rented out as a whole villa when only part of it is available, Villarenters have not enforced the advert to be changed.

In fact a Villarenters spokesman told us: “Villarenters cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies published by our members use of our software.”

This means in our opinion properties on Villarenters cannot be trusted as being accurately described – after all, you would expect if an inaccuracy is pointed out, then they would at least ask the owner to rectify or explain it.

So what did the owner of Villa Gradi have to say about our observations? Here, briefly are his responses:

* Villa Gradi is 16th Century so for example, not having a running hot tap in the kitchen (and there is a dishwasher) is to be expected in such a property and is part of its charm.
* All rooms have air conditioning and the thick walls of the ‘piano room’ (communal room and incidentally they charge ‘proven piano players’ 100 euros a week to be allowed to play their grand piano) mean it is air conditioned.
* They do not avertise Wifi (despite this being listed on their website, they claim to advertise ‘internet access.’)
* Despite not being cordoned off, it is a private beach and mooring by Croatian standards and all hotel beaches in Dubrovnik are concrete.
* Access to the bedrooms, all ground floor, are as in 16th century times and it should be clear from the title ’16th century’ that they would be accessed from the garden and no via hallways or landings in the main house.
* The kitchen is not poorly equipped. It houses all of the utensils as stated on their ads.
* No rebuilding is currently in progress. The parts of the villa that cannot be accessed are used for temporary storage.
* Parking is private – it is on the road but it is next to the villa.
* Four rooms are ensuited and one bedroom has ‘functional extension-communication with piano room which is ensuited with bathroom’ (NB: referring to master bedroom’s shower under the stairs.)
* All of the above is down to personal taste and therefore all our complaints are rejected. Thus, he did not believe we are entitled to any refund. The owner, Construction Company Director Marko Balija, adds: “From my experience when I was suited (sic) in London I stayed in old boutique hotel where they kept old creaking wooden floor just for reason to keep old charm of the hotel. I knew why I stayed there.”

Yes, but we bet that London boutique hotel had a hot power shower and proper ensuite bathroom …

Read another reviewer’s experience

Have you booked a villa on an independent website? What was your experience? Was your villa as advertised – were you disappointed? Or did you stay in a fabulous place? Let us know, and send us your links, below…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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