The chambres d’hotes or bed and breakfast market in France is booming. All over France, from large cities like Bordeaux and Marseille, small towns like Arras and Antibes to deepest rural France in the Auvergne, homeowners have turned their houses into bed and breakfast businesses.
It makes sense for the owners, and it makes very good sense for people wanting to book something different that is fun and good value. Over the past few years, French hotels have had a hard time.
With government regulations tightening, motorways bypassing small towns and villages, and cheap package holidays taking people out of Europe, many small hotels have been unable to cope. You may well find that the charming little hotel on a market square that you so enjoyed last year is now being turned back into a home or apartments.
What You Can Expect
- A genuinely friendly welcome
- Help with planning your sightseeing from a local expert
- Breakfast included in the price
- A glimpse into French family life
- Respect for your privacy
- A maximum number of five bedrooms
- An ensuite bathroom of a high standard
In many bed and breakfasts, you'll find books to read in several languages, games to play, and information on local tourist sights. The hosts know their regions, so you’ll be given up-to-date and honest advice on where to go and what to see. There might also be boating, canoeing, tennis, or boules to play.
In some remote regions, the hosts can arrange to pick you up at the nearest station or town and take you back the next day.
What Not to Expect
- You may find a house where family life is all around you, and it is not as pristine (or as anonymous) as a hotel
- There may not be a lock on your bedroom door
- You may not have a private table for dinner or breakfast
- A bar for drinks
- Access to the house during the day
Eating at Your Bed and Breakfast
All will provide a good continental breakfast included in the price of the room, often with home-made jams and home-baked bread.
Some of them also offer an evening meal though you must book this in advance. Again these are very good value and include wine and at least a 3-course meal. Often the vegetables are grown in the kitchen garden, and you cannot get fresher than that. Costs average around 25 euros per person, which is a much better value than a restaurant.
Choose Your Style
There are as many different houses and rooms as there are bed and breakfasts. You will find there are old stone farmhouses deep in Provence, to smart townhouses in towns, annexes, stables, barns, old priories, and garden wings of a house. Mostly the owners live in part of the house, but that is not always the case. Some chambres d'hotes have simple kitchens to cook your own meal.
What You Pay
Costs vary from place to place. While many bed and breakfasts are in the 60 euros to 100 euros range for the room and breakfast for two people, some of the top ones, the odd castle, or a fantastic farmhouse in the Luberon charge over 200 euros a night. But they are all good value; you get what you pay for.
Find Your Bed and Breakfast
Many publishers have brought out annual guides. Of these, one of the best is by Alastair Sawday who has been producing guides to out of the way accommodation in Europe for decades.
Local Tourist Office
If you're traveling through France and haven't booked in advance, go to the local tourist office which will have a list of bed and breakfast in their region along with lists of hotels and gites.
Gites de France
The Gites de France organization is 58 years old and is the largest guest network in Europe. Many people use it to book holiday cottages for a weekend, a week, or longer all over France. But they also represent over 10,000 bed and breakfast properties, so you’re bound to find one you like in a region you want to visit. The Gites de France aims are clear. They—
- promote a comfortable, friendly holiday stays
- meet the special needs of holidaymakers seeking authentic, convivial holidays in natural settings, peace and quiet, novelty and wide-open spaces
- help to preserve and promote the French countryside and its special cultural heritage
- participate in local development and bring stability to the rural population by providing additional resources through tourism
The Gite de France system is easy to use. To book online, just follow the directions from their website.
Figaro Magazine and other publications produce an annual guide to the best (Figaro’s comes out at the beginning of April), so look out for those when you visit a newsagent. They’re likely to be more up to date than a guidebook.
What About the Owners?
Some bed and breakfasts are run as businesses; others may be doing it because they genuinely enjoy meeting people. For some owners, it means they can live in a better house than normal. For many people, it is a way of retiring from the rat race and living a simpler life.
Many bed and breakfasts are run on eco-friendly lines, working to reduce their environmental footprint and sourcing all their food from local growers.
There is no one government-regulated rating system. Each region will have its own systems. But many use 'ears of corn' as a symbol; the more 'ears of corn,' the higher the rating (4 is the highest).
Arrivals and Departures
Remember that this is often a family home, so there is no reception desk. When you are arriving (usually after 4 p.m.), your host will be there to welcome you. And if you are delayed, telephone to let them know, particularly if you have booked dinner.
If you book in advance, then you might or might not pay in advance. It depends on which system you use.
If you are paying the bed and breakfast directly on the day of your departure, you'll find that credit card payments are rare. You can pay by Euro traveler's checks, though foreign checks are often not accepted due to high bank charges. Nearly all towns in France have ATMs which will take Visa and MasterCard.
You may find the local taxe de sejour added to your bill. This is very small, from 0.52 to 2 euros per person.
Owners do not expect tips. If you have had a particularly good time, then a small gift is much appreciated. If you go back again and again, then take them something from your own country.