A Whole World of Accommodation
France is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, so there are plenty of possibilities for lodging and hotels in France – the options go well beyond the chains. There are unique lodging options like gîtes (furnished holiday house) and chambres d'hôtes (bed and breakfast). You can stay on a farm, or sleep on a houseboat. You can save money by camping or splurge on a castle stay. So before you start booking, look at all these possibilities, check your budget and your priorities. I remember going on a camping holiday so we could splurge on Michelin-starred meals, so do a bit of mixing and matching and you’ll have great fun and meet a wide variety of people.
Most of the organizations below publish books listing their accommodations and have good websites. Although sometimes in French, they are useful, providing maps, images, rates and easy-to-understand symbols. Here is a description of each type, including details about the accommodation style.
Top of the Top Accommodation
Palace Hotels is a relatively new category created in 2010. Initially there were 9 of these exceptional hotels which take in atmosphere and character as well as everything you’d expect from the world’s top hotels. In the intervening years another 7 have been added, making the total 24. Many of them are in Paris, but you'll also find them in the glamorous resorts of Courchevel and St.Tropez.
There is no overall website; you will have to book them directly.
Other Top Hotels in France
There are several organisations that manage or market the top hotels which are often expensive, but many offer special rates out of season, so check out the websites and also booking agencies like TripAdvisor.
Relais et Châteaux has very strict criteria and all hotels must be individually owned. They are exceptional, but can be quite small and sometimes the restaurant is as important as the hotel. There are 149 Relais et Châteaux hotels and restaurants in France. My favorite of all is the Château de la Treyne in the remote Auvergne; a truly fairy tale place.
Leading Hotels of the World are mostly, with just a few exceptions, in either the Palace group or part of Relais et Châteaux. Again, this is a real mark of top quality. There are 26 of them in France.
Small Luxury Hotels are smaller boutique hotels, again at the top of the range. There are 49 in France, and you won't find then in the two groups above. There are some delightful finds, like the Art Deco Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins on the Mediterranean.
Middle Range Hotel Groups
Châteaux et Hotels de France covers hotels and restaurants all over France. These are small, often family run, friendly and very good. You can get excellent value for money and very good rates and they vary from smaller châteaux to grand manor houses. there are 283 hotels in the group.
As you can guess from the name, Relais du Silence hotels are chosen for their settings. Some are old coaching inns; others are former mills and many are set in their own parks. Again, you get great value for money at the 180 hotels in France.
Inexpensive, Reliable Options
Logis Hotels are the backbone of the smaller hotels, the places everybody always booked into and still do. Often in small towns, sometimes former coaching inns, they are almost universally great value and many have good restaurants. Most are family run (some of them for generations) and you get the feeling that the local Logis Hotel is the heart of the town or village.
Gîtes de France provide an inexpensive option and these stays can often be better than a traditional hotel. The gîtes category encompasses many lodging styles, including self-catering stays in a villa, chambres d'hôtes (bed and breakfast), children's gîtes which host kids for stays in France, and more. To be considered a gîte, an accommodation must be officially approved, meet criteria and be inspected by the organization. The organization provides a corn-stalk rating from one to four stalks. Very often they are in the more rural areas of France.
Bed and Breakfast (chambres d’hôtes) is a booming industry in France as in most of Europe. And they vary wildly, from chic townhouses in the Loire Valley, to former water mills in deepest rural France. The owners are equally varied; you get the odd aristo in a large castle, and the young family who have decided to give up urban living to bring up their children in the remote countryside.
Many of them do dinner as well. You sit with other guests, sometimes with the owners and you get an excellent 3-course meal with wine for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant. Breakfast is always included in the price.
Farm Stays in France or farm stays, is a program in which participating farms and vineyards meet a certain criteria and accept overnight guests. Some farms provide rooms in an inn or bed-and-breakfast type setting, while others simply offer guests a plot for pitching a tent. Usually, fresh farm produce or even meals made from the farm's bounty can be had. Again the variety is huge, from top vineyards to smallholdings.
Airbnb hasn't caught on so well in France as in other countries. Nonetheless there are good places, so it's worth checking this choice out.
Cheap Hotel Chains
There are some good options at the lower end of the market and if all you want is a clean, modern room with a basic but quite adequate bathroom, check out these options.