As the most popular tourist destination in the world, France offers up plenty of lodging choices -- from basic hotels to luxurious chateaux, plus a few unusual options thrown in for the adventurous.
Before you choose, consider your experience, your budget and your travel style. Is it your first time visiting France? You may want to start out in a hotel, where you can get advice and help with language challenges such as making restaurant reservations. If you've been before, you might choose an apartment in a less touristy area where you can live like a local, shopping the markets and doing a bit of cooking. Enjoy connecting with the people and the culture? Choose a bed and breakfast, rural gite, farmstay or even a monastery.
Below are some lodging options to get you dreaming.
With more than 17,000 hotels, France certainly has plenty of choices. You can stay in grand style at palace hotels, or at luxurious inns and manors via groups like Relais & Chateaux and Chateaux et Hotels de France.
The Relais du Silence (country inns and manors) and the Logis de France (known for quality restaurants, often with an owner in the kitchen) offer great mid-range options, and are frequently family-operated.
There's no shortage of international chains, with Best Western offering some surprisingly stylish choices. And French chains, like Sofitel, Novotel, Libertel, Mercure and Ibis, are located throughout the country.
The hotel star rating system (completely revamped in 2012) can be helpful. It grades hotels on 246 different inspection points, including customer service, accessibility and foreign languages spoken.
One-star hotels are usually smaller economy properties, which may have either shared or ensuite baths. The minimum size, not counting bath, is nine square meters (about 97 square feet). Generally, they won't have a restaurant (though a continental breakfast is typically offered) and the reception desk may not be staffed 24/7.
Two-star hotels are also usually smaller properties, and have the same room-size requirements as one-star hotels. Staff members must speak an additional European language, and reception must be open a minimum of 10 hours a day. Most rooms will have a telephone and TV, and there may be a restaurant -- but no room service.
In addition to meeting the two-star requirements, rooms in three-star hotels must be 13.5 square meters (145 square feet) including bathroom, with better decor and an all-day restaurant. These hotels are usually better situated and, outside of cities, can include amenities like parking and swimming pools.
Four-star hotels have a larger size requirement (minimum 16 square meters including bathrooms, or 172 square feet) that brings the room closer to what you'd expect in an American hotel. Room service is generally available, as well as a concierge, fitness center and valet parking.
In five-star hotels, rooms must be at least 24 square meters (258 square feet) including bathroom, with top-of-the-line service and staff that speak two foreign languages, including English. Air-conditioning is required, and amenities like Jacuzzis, DVD players and 24-hour room service are standard. These hotels are in prime locations and often have multiple restaurants.
A few exceptional five-star hotels have been awarded Palace status, due to factors like a Michelin-starred restaurant, an on-site spa, historical significance, highly personalized service and more employees than required for five-star status. These are the legendary ultra-luxury hotels of France.
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A few things to consider:
- After reading the room-size requirements, you've probably realized you may be more cramped than in a typical U.S. hotel.
- You won't likely find king-sized beds in anything less than a four-star hotel. Most rooms have twins or double beds (grand lit).
- Rates are typically quoted per room, but are quoted per person if they include room and board. Hotels include taxes and service and the minimal per-person, per-day tourism tax.
- Don't expect air-conditioning in lower-priced properties -- always ask, if that's an important feature for you.
- Ditto elevators. Budget hotels often only have stairs.
- A continental breakfast is served at most French hotels, but there is often an extra charge for it, which can be exorbitant compared to popping into a nearby bakery. Always ask if the breakfast is included. If not, you can opt out, though hotels generally expect that you won't. If you do, be sure to double-check your bill for breakfast charges.
-If you arrive before 7 p.m. on the day of a confirmed reservation and discover that no rooms are available, the hotel is obliged by law to find you a room at a comparable price. (Let's hope this bit of knowledge is never needed!)
What Not to Do at Your Hotel
France hotel resources:
Bed and Breakfasts
Known as chambres d'hotes, B&B's are a well-established lodging option in France. You can expect charming surroundings and a warm welcome, with budget options ranging from basic to luxurious. Although you'll find a few B&B's in cities, most are in smaller towns, villages and countryside locations. The included breakfasts are often heartier than hotel offerings, with cheeses, pastries, yogurt and homemade jams -- though very rarely hot items like eggs. For an extra fee, some B&B's will serve you dinner, or table d'hote, usually served family-style. For more information, see Bed and Breakfasts.
France B&B resources:
A wonderful (and usually less expensive) alternative to hotels is the system of more than 47,000 gites, mostly in rural areas. Traditionally, gites were part of a converted farmhouse or another building on a farm or vineyard. Now, you'll often find them in villages or as free-standing cottages. Gites can have multiple bedrooms and are usually set up with everything you need to do your own cooking -- but may not include linens (or may charge extra to provide them). Some proprietors meter and charge for gas and electricity; there may also be a cleaning fee, or you may be expected to give the place a thorough cleaning before you leave. The minimum stay at many gites is one week, though some rent for a weekend.
Proprietors typically live on-site or nearby and, though usually very welcoming, may have limited English skills. Gites de France, the largest syndicate by far, has a rating system of one to five stalks of wheat, ranging from basic to very comfortable, and also indicates languages spoken.
France gite resources:
Many apartment rental agencies serve France -- especially in Paris. And the boom in person-to-person rentals has hit the countryside as well. If you're a first-time visitor or you don't speak the language, we recommend going with an established agency -- one that can provide 24-hour service in case of a problem or emergency. (We list a few below.)
If you don't like lugging your bags up winding steps, inquire about whether there's an elevator (in Paris they can be scarce), and remember that the French "first floor" is the American "second floor." (The American first floor is known as the rez de chaussee, or ground floor.)
Question the rental agent or host about street noise. Ask about restaurants, bakeries and other shops in the neighborhood, proximity to a Metro subway station (in cities) and where the nearest market can be found. As with hotels, air-conditioning is rare, but most rentals come with free Wi-Fi, and many also have free international phone service. If there's no phone, consider how you will contact the agency or host, since a U.S. cell phone may not work in France. Carry the emergency number with you at all times, just in case you lose your keys (sacrebleu!).
Check out online reviews or ask for references if you want to be really thorough -- but remember, previous guests may have had different needs or expectations than you do. For more information, see Booking a Vacation Rental: What You Need to Know.
France apartment rental resources:
Paristay.com (Paris only)
RothRay.com (Paris only)
You'll find nearly 2,000 farmstay choices listed at the association Bienvenue a la Ferme (Welcome to the Farm). Some are B&B's, some gites, and others just offer camping facilities. The Web site has different classifications to choose from: "Bacchus" brings up vineyards and winemakers, "Rando" indicates locations good for walking or hiking, and "Bio" sends you to farms that are organic. You can also search the site for fermes auberges, which offer meals in a farm setting featuring the owners' products. For more information, see Homestays and Farmstays.
France farmstay resources:
Monasteries and Convents
Looking for an unusual escape? Try staying at a monastery or convent. Usually priced per person, they're a particularly good deal for single travelers -- with an added level of security for women traveling alone. While some are spartan, others have amenities like private baths or even swimming pools. Full or half board is often available. As you might expect, there are more choices in rural areas and smaller towns. Be sure to check out any rules of the community (curfew, for example) before committing.
France monastery and convent resources:
Guide-St-Christophe.fr (online listings by geographical department; French only)
GoodnightandGodBless.com (online listings in multiple countries)
MonasteriesofFrance.com (guidebook; no online listings)
Who says your accommodation has to stay in one place? Rent a barge and take a lazy trip down one of France's canals. Peniche is the French word for barge, and penichettes are smaller barges designed for easy canal and river cruising. You don't have to be an experienced sailor, and no license is necessary to ply the waters -- you just need to be patient and ready for a relaxing trip. Barges move slowly (about four miles per hour) and have to wait to pass through locks, but they give you a real taste of the countryside in the style of days gone by.
Barges come equipped with kitchen equipment and linens; many even have bikes, though there may be an extra charge. You can usually tie up for free at villages or towns to shop and explore. Be sure to ask about one way vs. roundtrip pricing; inside and outside steering; and air-conditioning and any extras, such as fuel, parking or cleaning fees. Best tip? Bring heavy (preferably waterproof) gloves for handling ropes and locks, since sewage from older barges goes directly into the canals.
France barge resources:
You might not think of camping when you think of France, but there are more than 9,000 campsites in the country, rated from one star (cold-water showers may be a possibility) to four (larger camping areas, plantings, English-speaking management, more onsite amenities like a store). CampingFrance.com lets you search by destination and amenities, including beach-side spots, swimming pools, saunas and camps with clubs for children.
Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay
France camping resources:
Le Guide Officiel Camping Caravanning (a book listing all the campsites in France -- in French with an English key)
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--written by Gayle Keck
Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.