Accommodation & Hotels
France is a diverse and colourful country, and you'll find everything from stunning log chalets in the Alps, châteaux in the countryside and beach front villas on the Riviera...plus everything in between!
Hotels come in 5 categories from 1 to 5 stars. This is the official rating given by the Ministry of Tourism, and it is posted at the entrance on a blue shield. Stars are awarded according to objective yet somewhat outdated administrative criteria (area of the reception hall, percentage of rooms with en suite bathroom...).
Rates vary according to accommodation, location and sometimes high or low season or special events.
As of 2004, the rate for a *** hotel listed in a reliable guidebook falls between €70 (cheap) and €110 (expensive) for a double room without breakfast.
All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside (or visible from outside). Note that these are maximal rates: a hotel can always propose a lower rate in order to fill up its rooms. Bargaining is not the norm but you can always ask for a discount.
Hotels located in city centres or near train stations are often very small (15-30 rooms) which means that you should book ahead. Many newer hotels, business oriented, are found in the outskirts of cities and are sometimes larger structures (100 rooms or more); they may not be easy to reach with public transportation. The newer hotels are often part of national or international chains and have high standards. Many older hotels are now part of chains and provide standardized service but they retain their own atmosphere.
When visiting Paris, it is greatly advised to stay in the city proper; there are cheaper tourism hotels in the suburbs, but these cater to groups in motor coaches; they will be hard to reach by public transportation.
Along the autoroute (motorway) network, and at the entrance of cities, you'll find US-style motels; they are very often reachable only by car. Some motels (e.g. Formule 1) have minimal service, if you come in late you find an ATM-like machine, using credit cards, which will deliver a code in order to reach your assigned room.
B&Bs and Gîtes
Throughout France, mainly in rural areas but also in towns and cities, you can find B&Bs and gîtes.
B&B's are known in French as "chambres d'hôtes" and are generally available on a night-by-night basis. By law, breakfast MUST be included in the advertised price for a chambre d'hôte. Bear this in mind when comparing prices with hotels, where breakfast is NOT included in the room price.
Gîtes or gîtes ruraux are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit including a kitchen, mostly on a weekly basis. Literally the French word gîte just means a place to spend the night; however it is now mostly used to describe rental cottages or self-catering holiday homes, usually in rural parts of France. There are very few near or in the cities. Finding them requires buying a guide or, for greater choice, using the internet, as you will not find many signposted on the road.
Traditionally, gîtes provided basic good value accommodation, typically adjacent to the owner's household or in a nearby outbuilding. More recently the term has been extended, and can now be used to describe most country-based self-catering accommodation in France. Hence it includes accommodation as varied as small cottages to villas with private swimming pools.
During peak summer months the best self-catering gîtes require booking several months in advance.
There are thousands of B&Bs and gîtes in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, and these tend to be listed, sometimes exclusively, with English-language or international organisations and websites that can be found by keying the words "chambres d'hôtes", "gîtes" or "gîtes de france" into any of the major search engines.
There is a large number of organisations and websites offering gîtes.
Gîtes de France
A France-wide cooperative organisation, Gîtes de France groups more than 50,000 rural places of accommodation together and was the first in France to offer a consistent rating system with comprehensive descriptions.
Despite the name, Gîtes de France offers B&B as well as holiday rental (gîte) accommodation.
The Gîtes de France rating system uses wheat stalks called épis (equivalent to a star rating), based on amenities rather than quality - though generally the two go together.
Through its website, bookings can be done directly with owners or through the local Gîtes de France booking agency (no extra fee for the traveller). Although an English language version is available for many of the website pages, for some departments the pages giving details of an individual gîte are only in French.
There is no particular advantage in using Gîtes de France rather than one of the other online gîtes sites, or booking directly with a gîte owner. The procedure is pretty standard for all gîte booking sites, whether French or foreign - with the advantage that the whole booking process can be done in English, which is not always the case with Gîtes de France.
After making a gîte booking you will receive, by post, a contract to sign (for gîtes only). Sign and return one copy. When signing write the words "Read and approved", and the name of your home town, before signing and dating the contract. You will normally be asked to pay a deposit of a quarter to a third of the booking fee. The rest will be required one month before the start of your holiday. When you arrive at the gîte a security deposit, specified in the contact, should be given to the owner in cash. This will be returned at the end of your stay, minus any fuel charges and breakages.
Another great resource for booking gîtes and villas in France is Holiday France Direct[www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk], It enables you to deal directly with the property owners and offers customers discounted ferry travel with Brittany Ferries.
Another possibility is gîtes d'étape. These are more like overnight stays for hikers, like a mountain hut. They are mostly cheaper than the Gîtes de France but also much more basic.
Short term rentals
Travellers should definitely consider short-term villa/apartment/studio rentals as an alternative to other accommodation options. Short term can be as few as several days up to months at a stretch. Summer rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday only (July & August). This type accommodation belongs to a private party, and can range from basic to luxurious. A particular advantage, aside from competitive prices, is that the accommodations come with fully fitted kitchens.
Hundreds of agencies offer accommodation for short term rentals on behalf of the owner, and can guide you into finding the best property, at the best price in the most suitable location for you. An internet search for the location and type of property you're looking for will usually return the names of several listing sites, each of which may have hundreds or thousands of properties for you to choose from. There are plenty of sites in both English and French, and the rental properties may be owned by people of any nationality.
Well established holiday rental sites include Holidaylettings.co.uk, Owners Direct and Alpha Holiday Lettings. If you are looking to stay in just a room or part of the property, Airbnb matches holiday makers with hosts who only rent out part of their homes.
Camping is very common in France. Most camp sites are a little way out of town and virtually all cater not just for tents but also for camper vans and caravans. While all camp sites have the basic facilities of shower and toilet blocks, larger sites tend to offer a range of additional facilities such as bars and restaurants, self-service launderettes, swimming pools or bicycle hire. All camp sites except for very small 'farm camping' establishments must be registered with the authorities, and are officially graded using a system of stars.
In coastal areas, three-star and four-star camp grounds must generally be booked in advance during the months of July and August, and many people book from one year to the next. In rural areas, outside of popular tourist spots, it is usually possible to show up unannounced, and find a place; this is particularly true with the municipal camp sites that can be found in most small towns; though even then it may be advisable to ring up or email in advance to make sure. There are always exceptions.
In France it's forbidden to camp:
- in woods, natural, regional and national parks
- on public roads and streets
- on beaches
- less than 200 metres from watering place used for human consumption
- on natural protected sites
- less than 500 metres from a protected monument
- everywhere where it's forbidden by local laws
- on private properties without the owner's consent.
Camping is a great way to explore the local area as it offers you the freedom of being able to travel around at short notice. Larger more popular campsites can be booked through websites such as Eurocamp, Canvas Holidays, Go Camp France and France Break.