France is a diverse and colourful country and you will find everything from beautiful wooden chalets in the Alps to castles in the countryside to seaside villas on the Côte d’Azur – and everything in between!
Hotels in France
The hotels are divided into 5 categories from 1 to 5 stars. This is the official rating of the Ministry of Tourism and is displayed on a blue sign at the entrance. The stars are awarded according to objective but slightly outdated administrative criteria (size of lobby, proportion of rooms with private bathroom, etc.).
Prices vary according to accommodation, location and sometimes high or low season or special events.
Since 2004, the price for a *** hotel listed in a reliable travel guide has ranged from €70 (cheap) to €110 (expensive) for a double room without breakfast.
All hotels are required by law to display their prices outside (or visible from outside). Note that these are maximum prices: A hotel can always offer a lower price to fill its rooms. Negotiation is not the norm, but you can always ask for a discount.
Hotels in the city centre or near train stations are often very small (15-30 rooms), which means you need to book in advance. Many newer, business-oriented hotels are located on the outskirts of cities and are sometimes larger (100 rooms or more); they are not always easily accessible by public transport. Newer hotels are often part of national or international chains and are of a high standard. Many older hotels are now part of chains and offer standardised service, but they have kept their own atmosphere.
For a visit to Paris, it is strongly recommended to stay in the city itself; there are cheaper tourist hotels in the suburbs, but they welcome groups by bus and are difficult to reach by public transport.
Along the motorway network and at the entrance to the cities you will find American-style motels; they are very often only accessible by car. Some motels (e.g. Formula 1) have minimal service. If you arrive late, you will find an ATM that works with credit cards and gives you a code to get to your assigned room.
B&Bs and Gîtes in France
You will find bed and breakfasts and gîtes all over France, especially in rural areas, but also in the cities.
Bed and breakfast rooms are known in French as “chambres d’hôtes” and are usually offered for one night’s stay. By law, breakfast MUST be included in the advertised price for a chambre d’hôte. Keep this in mind when comparing prices with hotels where breakfast is NOT included in the room rate.
Gîtes or self-catering cottages are holiday homes that are usually rented out as a complete living unit including kitchen, usually on a weekly basis. Literally, the word “gîte” simply means a place to stay; however, today it is mostly used to describe rural gîtes or holiday homes for rent, mostly in rural areas of France. There are very few of these in the local area or in the towns. To find them, you will need to buy a guidebook or, for a wider selection, use the internet, as you will not find many signposts on the road.
Traditionally, gîtes offered simple accommodation of good quality, usually next to the owner’s house or in a nearby outbuilding. More recently, the term has been broadened and can now be used to refer to most independent accommodation in France. It therefore includes accommodation as diverse as small country houses or villas with private swimming pools.
In the summer months, the best gîtes must be booked several months in advance.
There are thousands of bed and breakfasts and gîtes in France rented out by foreign owners, mainly British and Dutch. These are usually listed, sometimes exclusively, with English or international organisations and websites, which you can find by typing the words “chambres d’hôtes”, “gîtes” or “gîtes de france” into one of the major search engines.
There are a large number of organisations and websites offering accommodation.
Gîtes de France
Gîtes de France is a cooperative organisation throughout France that brings together more than 50,000 rural accommodations and was the first in France to propose a coherent classification system with complete descriptions.
Despite their name, the Gîtes de France offer both bed and breakfast and holiday accommodation (gîtes).
Gîtes de France’s rating system uses stalks of wheat called ears of corn (equivalent to a star rating) and is based on convenience rather than quality – although the two usually go together.
On the website, bookings can be made directly with the owners or through the local booking agency Gîtes de France (at no extra cost to the traveller). Although an English version is available for many pages on the website, the pages giving details of individual accommodation for some departments are in French only.
There is no particular advantage to using Gîtes de France rather than using one of the other online gîte sites or booking directly with a gîte owner. The process is pretty standard for all gîte booking sites, 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 you have made a gîte reservation, you will receive a contract by post which you must sign (for gîtes only). Sign one copy and return it. When signing, write the words “Read and Approved” and the name of your home town before signing and dating the contract. A deposit of between a quarter and a third of the booking amount is usually required. The balance is requested one month before the start of the holiday. On arrival at the gîte, a deposit, indicated in the contact, must be given in cash to the owner. This will be returned to you at the end of your stay after deduction of fuel and breakage costs.
Another excellent resource for booking gites and villas in France is Holiday France Direct [www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk], which allows you to deal directly with owners and offers customers discounts on ferry trips with Brittany Ferries.
Another option is that of stopover gites. These are more like mountain huts for hikers. They are usually cheaper than the Gîtes de France, but also much simpler.
Short term rentals in France
Travellers should definitely consider short-term villa/apartment/studio rentals as an alternative to other accommodation options. Short-term rentals can range from a few days to several months. Summer rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday only (July and August). This type of accommodation is owned by a private party and can range from the most basic to the most luxurious. A particular advantage, apart from the reasonable prices, is that the accommodation has fully equipped kitchens.
Hundreds of agencies offer accommodation for short-term rentals on behalf of the owner and can help you find the best accommodation, at the best price and in the most suitable location for you. An internet search for the location and type of property you are looking for will usually give you the names of several search engines, each of which can offer hundreds or thousands of properties to choose from. There are many websites in both English and French, and properties for rent can be purchased by people of any nationality.
Established holiday rental sites include Holidaylettings.co.uk, Owners Direct and Alpha Holiday Lettings. If you want to stay in a room or part of the property, Airbnb matches holidaymakers with guests who rent out just part of their home.
Camping in France
Camping is very common in France. Most campsites are located a little outside the city and almost all offer space not only for tents but also for motorhomes and caravans. While all campsites have basic showers and toilets, larger sites usually offer a range of additional facilities such as bars and restaurants, self-service launderettes, swimming pools or bicycle hire. All campsites, with the exception of very small “farm camping” facilities, must be registered with the authorities and are officially classified according to a star system.
In coastal areas, three- and four-star campsites in July and August usually need to be booked in advance, and many people book from one year to the next. In rural areas, away from popular tourist spots, it is usually possible to turn up unexpectedly and find a place; this is especially true of communal campsites, which can be found in most small towns; even in this case it may be advisable to call or email ahead to be sure. There are always exceptions.
In France it is forbidden to camp:
- in forests, nature, regional and national parks
- on public paths and roads
- on the beaches
- less than 200 metres from a water point used for human consumption
- on protected natural areas
- less than 500 metres from a protected monument
- wherever prohibited by local law
- on private property without the owner’s consent.
Camping is a great way to explore the area as it gives you the freedom to move around at short notice. The larger and more popular campsites can be booked on websites such as Eurocamp, Canvas Holidays, Go Camp France and France Break.