Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Review 3562: Owner, La Casita Bonita (#144376)
2bed/2bath house in Napa, California
June 2008, 1 night
Casita Bonita is a free-standing house on Second Street, in a residential area near downtown Napa. The houses are pretty close together, but it seems to be a fairly quiet neighborhood, with some traffic.
The house is walking distance (less than a mile) to all the restaurants and shops of downtown Napa. There are plenty of great eating places nearby and I think there was at least one small grocery not far away, although we didn't shop while we were there. Napa has several shopping centers with good grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe, Safeway, and Raleys. There is also the Oxbow Market near Copia, and a weekly Chef's Market in the summer.
The best description of this house would be Style over Substance. When you first walk in, you are blown away by how beautiful and spacious it is. It looks like something out of a design magazine. Unfortunately, as we found out from staying there one night, looks aren't everything.
We had decided to stay here, even though we had NEVER paid such a high price ($380 including tax and cleaning) for a single night's stay anywhere in our travels. However, based on photos and online descriptions, this was our leading contender for a two-month winter rental in Napa in order to escape winter in New England and to be close to our children in Northern California. (We would have paid much less than $380 a night for a month's stay in winter.) As it turned out, the $380 was probably a good investment, as we found out we would not have been happy had we decided to book this place for two months.
More details below, but I got the idea that the owner of this house was not interested in responding to client complaints, and that we could not have counted on him to fix any problems that might have come up during a stay. Also, it was a place with a lot of little annoyances that added up.
The house itself is quite beautiful. You park in the driveway and go in through a side entryway, opening on the dining area with a large table. On the left of the dining room is a big eat-in kitchen, with a niche containing a computer desk (no computer), printer, and fax machine. To the right is a big, beautifully furnished living room, with a large screen TV. There are two bedrooms and two baths.
There is such a profusion of flowers and vegetation in the front of the house that it almost looks like a jungle. The large back yard, by contrast, is more like a desert, with a gravel surface (no grass). I didn't particularly care for the gravel, but my husband said he thought it would make a great petanque court! And it does have a hammock under a big tree. There is a very nice deck with table and chairs. It bothered me that the big potted flowering plants on the deck were turning brown and appeared in desperate need of care.
The most unusual feature of the house is the chicken coop in the back yard, which is billed as offering you fresh eggs for breakfast. Unfortunately for us, the hens weren't laying, as the egg box was empty when I went out to look in the morning. At least the chickens were quiet, which was something I'd wondered about.
Unlike every other house we looked at in Napa, there is no gas grill or hot tub. There is a charcoal grill on the deck and a Jacuzzi in the bathroom.
The furnishings are all excellent quality, beautiful, and comfortable. As I said, it looks like a spread in a design magazine. There are some nice little touches like an old icebox side table and an antique school desk. Everything is gorgeous and clean, even if we didn't find it all easy to live with. To get a better idea of the furniture, look at the VRBO listing (#144376), which has quite a few photos.
There are two bedrooms with baths. The smaller one with queen bed is toward the front. The master bedroom is huge, with a very comfortable king-sized bed, sitting area (two armchairs and table), and enormous amounts of built-in storage. One closet on the storage wall holds a TV.
The bathroom is also very large with a huge walk-in shower (two jets), a Jacuzzi tub, and double sink. However, the only place to put your soap in the shower is a slippery niche that slopes downward, so the soap immediately slides to the floor. You enter the bathroom through folding doors, which I don't like for a bathroom, but which I guess were chosen in order to match the closet on the same wall. The sinks seemed unusually high. We are tall so it wasn't a problem for us, but I think they might have been difficult for short people, especially since the controls were behind the sinks on the counter. The faucet was too close to the back edge of the sink, making washing your hands a bit uncomfortable.
The bedroom has panel-type light switches that you just touch to turn on the lights, which are all built into the ceiling. I guess a lot of people couldn't figure them out because the rental info sheet explains that that they are touch-activated, but it doesn't tell you everything you need to know. The only lights by the bed are ceiling lights -- no bedside lamps -- and both lights have to be on at once, making it difficult for one person to read in bed while the other tries to go to sleep. However, we never could get the over-the-bed light switch to work when we were going to bed and ended up fumbling around in the dark with flashlights to find our way to bed! The next day we discovered there is another switch at the bottom of the touch panel which has to be pushed the right way if the lights are to work, but since the bed light switch was in a rather inaccessible spot, we didn't find that when we needed it.
In summary, the bedroom and bath provide plenty of examples of how the decorator went for glitz over usability.
We didn't do any cooking, but it sure is a great-looking, good-sized kitchen, and seems to be well-equipped with everything you would need. The stove is gas. There is lots of storage, dishes, glassware, and cooking utensils.
Problems or Bonuses
The biggest problem we had is that we were promised WiFi, but when we got there it wasn't working. We know something about technology, and we did everything we could to fix it, but the problem was definitely in the connection itself. I spoke to the owner twice on the phone, and he basically blew me off. He never came to the house to meet us, and never got back to me after my second call to tell me that he was working on the problem. It would even have been better if he had called back to say it wasn't possible to fix it in that time frame, but he seemed completely unconcerned about our complaint. He knew that we were considering this house for a two-month winter rental, and when we saw how little he appeared to care about making things right for us, or even getting to know us, we decided on the spot that we would never want to do a long-term rental there.
On the plus side, a benefit of staying there is a free wine tasting at the Vintner's Collective in downtown Napa (a $50 value for two people). It features some very nice wines from small vineyards and a very pleasant staff.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
We rented directly from the owner, who lives in Napa. I did talk to him on the phone before we came to California, and he seemed quite nice. However, since he seemed not to care about the problem we reported, I left with pretty bad feelings about him. For $380 a night, I think it was fair to expect better service, or at least an explanation of why the service wasn't provided. And I thought he might have made some effort to meet us.
We were quoted a price of $4000 for a month's rental in the winter, which was on the high side, compared with other places we saw. The owner accepts credit cards. We didn't have to pay a security deposit, but the contract said that he would charge any damage to our credit card.
A Follow-Up from the Reviewer
Today I received a very nice surprise from the owner of La Casita Bonita in Napa, a vacation home we rented for a night in June. In fairness, I think I should pass along his note of apology, for anyone who might read my review. He wrote:
I am writing this note a little late, I just came back from a trip to Europe. I wanted to apologize about the Wifi issue at La Casita Bonita. We realized the day after you left that we had a serious problem with it, for which Comcast had to be called in for a reboot. I hope you can accept this gift of my own Cabernet along with my sincere apology for the inconvenience. I hope to see you the next time you are in Napa.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Even though the house is beautiful, spacious, and well-located, I can only give it a lukewarm recommendation. If you did opt to stay there, you should be aware that the owner may not be responsive if there is a problem. I don't believe young children are permitted, not that Napa is really a family destination for anyone with kids under the age of wine drinking!
We visited several other houses in Napa, which I can't review since we didn't stay there. But if you are interested in a Napa vacation rental, I can answer some questions on the Slow Travel Talk North America forum.
Things to do in this area
Since we were in Napa to look for a winter rental, we spent most of our time house hunting. We did enjoy the wine tasting at the Vintner's Collective. One night (Thursday) Napa was having its weekly downtown Chef's Market, with cooking (and tasting!) demonstrations from Copia, lots of market booths, and live music. Don't miss it if you're there at the right time. Check out Napa Downtown for an update on what's going on at any given time.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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