Dining Under the Gaze of a Thousand Animal Eyes

Chris Smith
4 min readJun 4

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A hotel restaurant meal with an uncomfortable difference…

A restaurant with strange animal heads and pictures on its walls.
Image created by the author using Playground.ai

The whole strange episode began when Dick and I pulled into the dusty hotel car park one hot September afternoon and noticed that ours was the only car there.

We were on a business trip to that part of France’s Bordeaux wine area known as the ‘Left Bank’ — home to wines such as St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien, and Margaux.

It had been a long, hot, and tiring drive from the ferry port of Le Havre. By then it was approaching early evening and all we wanted were a couple of rooms for the night, a shower, and a good dinner.

We came across the Hotel ‘X’ purely by chance. I won’t name it though people familiar with that part of France may recognize it from what follows.

From the outside, it had the appearance of a hotel that had seen better days. However, as it was getting late we decided to chance it and see if they had any rooms.

We were met at reception by an elderly lady who regarded us with suspicion. I say ‘met’ rather than ‘greeted’ because she scarcely said a word to us, merely confirming she had two rooms available and requesting that we hand over our passports.

At this, Dick and I looked at each other. On our frequent business trips to France, we’d stayed in a variety of hotels but had never before been asked for our passports.

The elderly lady handed over our room keys and informed us that dinner would be available in the dining room from seven-thirty and breakfast from seven in the morning. She then disappeared into a back room leaving us to find our rooms.

Having showered and changed, Dick and I met up and headed for the dining room. As we passed Reception, we glanced out the front door and noticed that the car park was still empty apart from our car. It appeared we were the only guests.

This was confirmed when we entered the dining room and found ourselves alone.

I say ‘alone’ but this was not strictly true. Dozens, or possibly hundreds of eyes were looking right at us with accusing glassy stares. Every single wall of the dining room was covered from just above shoulder height to ceiling with animals. Or at least parts of animals. Mainly their heads.

There were heads of deer, foxes, and a multitude of other creatures — some of which I recognized and others I did not. On shelves screwed to the wall were glass cases containing pheasants and other birds. Various owls and birds of prey roosted on branches.

Every single one of the creatures seemed to be staring directly at us. Staring with the blank, slightly dusty, glassy-eyed stares of the long-dead. It was a taxidermist’s heaven. And a wildlife-lover’s nightmare.

It was also a diner’s nightmare as nothing is more offputting than hundreds of stuffed animals watching your every forkful. Particularly if you happen to have ordered a meat dish.

And, this being France, the dishes on the menu all involved meat in some way — with the exception of the cheese and dessert courses.

I can’t remember exactly what I ordered. I do recall wondering at one point in the meal whether Dick and I might end up on the next day’s menu with our heads stuffed and mounted for posterity in some secret back room reserved for special specimens.

The old lady had taken our passports after all, so we could be disposed of without much difficulty.

The waitress was another elderly lady — clearly the sister of the first. She was no more friendly than her sibling, contenting herself with grunting at us when she took our order and brought us our food.

I made a mental note to make sure my hotel room door was locked that night and barricaded in some way.

Dick and I mostly kept our eyes on our food as we ate because if you looked up your gaze was guaranteed to be met by the unseeing eyes of one of the stuffed specimens.

I’m sure that had I been the sort of person who enjoyed hunting and shooting I would have found the occasion altogether more interesting and enjoyable.

But as I’m not one of those people, the dining experience was unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons.

The following morning, I was relieved to find myself still alive and equally glad to see that Dick was unharmed. We checked out early and skipped breakfast as neither of us could face running the gauntlet of stuffed animals in the dining room again.

We had a breakfast of coffee and croissants in a cafe in a nearby village.

The cafe proprietor asked which hotel we’d stayed in. When we told him he said ‘Hmm’ and raised an eyebrow. He didn’t say anything else and merely asked if we wanted more coffee. We said yes to the coffee but left it at that. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

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Chris Smith

Freelance marketer and writer of various things for clients.