Practical French Hotel Advice

This advice is intended for independent travellers to that country, either to popular tourist areas or off the beaten track, and either travelling alone or in a fairly small group. Using the smaller hotels and choosing wisely, it is possible to enjoy a good standard of accommodation even though your budget may be limited.

This advice is entirely based on my own personal experience: obviously it should not be taken as authority on any aspect of accommodation or travelling. It covers mainly town hotels rather than country retreats, farm accommodation or gîtes, simply because I have very little experience of those.

It is impossible to quote detailed prices, and even were I to do so they would become out-of-date very quickly, but at the time of my last trip (summer 1997) my budget was about 200FF per night. This is usually sufficient for a single or double room in a reasonable 2-star hotel (excluding breakfast); it is possible to spend less (down to about 100FF per night) and still sleep well, but if your budget is much less than that then camping will be your only option.

Star grades

These are awarded to a hotel on a scale of one to five, much the same as the AA/RAC gradings in the UK. However, in France these are awarded by the local tourist authority, and almost every hotel will have such a grade. It should be noted that they are primarily a reflection of the facilities provided rather than the quality of the accommodation.

The last comprises two major categories: the large chain hotels (Ibis, Mercure and many more) and the others. The former offer uniform accommodation, with very little variation either within the hotel or around the country, but tend to be more expensive for the same star grade. The latter are usually better value (if chosen wisely), and have an idiosyncratic charm which is simply not found anywhere else.

Personally I prefer the variety and economy of the second category, even with their uncertainties, rather than the uniformity of the first. You can read more (to be taken with a pinch of salt...) about what you may find there.

Where to look

The cheapest (but adequate, if one is not too fussy) hotels can usually be found near the railway or bus stations. However, unless you are really desperate you should avoid a room with «eau courant» only - the water may well be running, but there will only be one tap and it will be cold.

In coastal towns (especially popular holiday resorts), the hotels along the seafront will be good but expensive. Look in the side streets and away from the coast for the same standard at significantly lower prices.

An admirable point, strictly enforced by the tourist authorities and in welcome contrast to the UK, is that the hotel is required to display a full list of prices (including any extras for bathroom, TV or whatever) and any restrictions (e.g. obligatory meals) visible from outside. This should allow you to check what is on offer and work out whether you can afford it before entering.

What you will get

In most small hotels the price charged will be for the room, not per person, regardless of the number of occupants (within reason!). It is sometimes possible to have an extra bed for a child at a small additional charge.

All rooms will have a washbasin. Other bathroom facilities may include a WC, shower, bath or bidet in any combination: make sure that you know what is on offer.

Breakfast will always be available, almost always charged extra (usually about 20FF); however, unlike in the UK, it is entirely optional and no offence will be taken if you decline. It will of course be continental (bread, croissants, jam, coffee).

If the hotel offers lunchtime or evening meals, there is again no obligation to take them - except in very rare cases where the hotel will only offer an inclusive price.

Other tips

In popular areas during the tourist season, it is best to start looking in late afternoon and early evening. Surprisingly, the «fast hôtels» often tend to fill up very quickly.

Only the most disreputable establishments (or in the case of particularly disreputable guests) will ask that you pay on arrival. However, if you intend only staying for one night and would like to get away quickly and with less trouble the next day, it can be useful to do so.

If you are not paying in advance, the hotel may ask to keep your passport. If you don't want to part with it, point out that the law requires identity documents (in the case of visitors from abroad, that passport) to be carried at all times. In case the hotel insists, it is a good idea to have a photocopy of your passport to carry around with you.

Spare bedding and pillows will usually be provided (try the wardrobe).

Book on the Internet!

You can do so, from anywhere in the world, at the French Travel Gallery. There is no booking fee (except, rarely, during major events such as the World Cup), and you pay the same price as if you had dealt with the hotel directly. There is a searchable list of hotels, by geographical area or category, although in some areas the choice is limited.

I have used this service to book a hotel in Paris (April 1997), and it seemed to work well. You will need an e-mail address and either a browser that supports secure transactions, or access to a fax machine. You will also need a credit card, which is only used for a deposit and will not be charged unless you fail to turn up; you settle the bill at the hotel in the normal way.

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Last modified: Sun Mar 21 18:11:15 GMT 1999