Booking a hotel room in France is now less confusing since the country overhauled its hotel rating system in 2012. With more than 85 million foreign visitors a year, France is the world’s top tourist destination so keeping all those visitors happy is a prime concern for the country.
The French now have a standardized system classifying every hotel in France. So what you see—one, two, three, four, or five stars—is what you get.
On top of this is the Palace category, which is for properties that are outstanding in every way, including their atmosphere in addition to the expected luxuries.
Required Hotel Standards
All hotels in France were asked to complete modernization and renovations to qualify for the new star system. This resulted in some older hotels closing, particularly family-run places that had neither the means nor the heart to bring the hotels up to the new standards.
The new standards are much stricter than before. All hotels must now have (1) a reception area in a well-maintained establishment, (2) reliable information on the services offered, (3) the ability to monitor customer satisfaction and deal with complaints, (4) a staff sensitive to the needs of handicapped guests, and (5) some kind of commitment to sustainable development. All hotels are checked by independent auditors every five years.
So you can rely on the French star system to deliver the goods, but what exactly does "two stars" or "three stars" mean?
Use this guide to understand France’s official star system.
What the Different Stars Mean
One- Star Hotels
One-star hotels are at the lowest end of the scale. Double rooms have to measure at least 9 square meters (approximately 96 square feet or 10 feet by 9.6 feet). This does not include the bathroom, which may be en suite or shared with other guests.
The reception area must be at least 20 square meters (approximately 215 square feet or 15 feet by 15 feet).
A step up from the basics, two-star hotels have the same minimum room size as a one-star hotel, but staff members must speak an additional European language other than French. The reception desk must also be open at least 10 hours a day, and the reception area must measure at least 50 square meters (538 square feet or 24 feet by 22.5 feet).
There is not much difference between two- and three-star hotels; the main difference is the size of rooms. Three-star hotel rooms must have at least 13.5 square meters including the bathroom (145 square feet or 12 feet by 12 feet). The reception area must be at least 50 square meters (538 square feet or 24 feet by 22.5 feet) and be open at least 10 hours a day. Staff must speak an additional European language other than French.
These properties make up the higher-end hotels in France and are the ones to select for guaranteed comfort and service. Guest rooms are larger—at least 16 square meters including bathrooms (172 square feet or 12 feet by 14 feet). If the hotel has more than 30 rooms, the reception desk must be open 24 hours.
This is the top end of the rating system (apart from the super Palace Hotels). Guest rooms must be at least 24 square meters (258 square feet or 15 feet by 17 feet). Staff must be able to speak two foreign languages including English. Five-star hotels are also required to provide air conditioning, valet parking, room service, a concierge, and an escort to the room at the time of check-in.
The Palace designation is only awarded to five-star hotels of exceptional quality. These hotels are the "crème de la crème" and provide every creature comfort you could desire in addition to a unique ambiance. Palace hotels might include extra luxuries such as top-ranked restaurants or spa services.
There are currently 24 Palace hotels in France. Many are in Paris, but some are outside in the chicest destinations.
In Biarritz, you get the Hôtel du Palais; in the top skiing resort of Courchevel, there are many top hotels, including three in the Palace category: Hôtel Les Airelles, Hôtel Le Cheval Blanc, and Hôtel Le K2. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera has the Le Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, now managed by Four Seasons; L'hôtel La Réserve is at Ramatuelle and, finally, St.Tropez has two: L'hôtel Le Byblos and Le Château de la Messardière.
Subjective Quality Judgments
The French rating system does not take into account certain subjective quality criteria. Because of this limited approach, it does not guarantee that your personal expectations will be fulfilled. Despite the strict rules, the system cannot easily measure service quality such as cleanliness, the absence of smells, staff attitude, and the speed of service.
Remember that in the United States, both room sizes and bed sizes are generous; you will certainly not find that in the one- and two-star hotels of France. However, some hotels even in the three-star category are former manor houses or chateaux so you may find yourself in a huge apartment or a vast room that you will pay very little for. However, to guarantee a generous bed size, you must either ask the hotel in advance or choose a hotel with a higher star rating.
Tips on Choosing a French Hotel
- Have a basic understanding of France's hotel rating criteria.
- Visit the hotel's website to see multiple views of its rooms and bathrooms.
- Do not hesitate to email your questions to the hotel. This may or may not get you an answer, which usually depends on the receptionist's proficiency in your language. Remember that receiving informative answers to your questions is a good sign that the hotel cares for its prospective guests.
- Read guest reviews on major travel websites. However, take these with a large pinch of salt. No hotel satisfies 100 percent of its guests throughout the year, so both extreme judgments and moderate opinions can be found in this open forum. The best advice is to favor moderate reviews with some flesh on the bones. They will usually provide a useful picture of what to expect from the hotel—good and less good. Also check if there is a manager’s response, which shows that the manager is looking out for possible bad reviews, that clears up misunderstandings or offers remedies that are genuine.
Following these tips should help you minimize the risk of being disappointed during your stay in France. This is no guarantee though. Remember that cultures differ from each other, and your expectations of service might not be fully understood. In such case, communicate with the owners. They are usually keen on serving you to the best of their means.