The Official Hotel Star System in France Explained

Hotel Sign
••• Hotel Sign. Pascal Preti/Getty Images/

The French Hotel Star System

France overhauled its star system in 2012 as it needed to. France has over 80 million foreign visitors a year, making it the world’s leading tourist destination so keeping those visitors happy is a prime concern.

The French now have a standardized system classifying every hotel in France. So what you see – 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars – is what you get. On top of this is the Palace category, which is for properties which are outstanding in every way, and this includes atmosphere as well as all those luxuries you expect when you are paying a high tariff.

All hotels in France were asked to complete modernization and renovations to quality for the new star system. This resulted in a number of older hotels closing, particularly family-run places which had neither the means, nor the heart, to bring themselves up to the new standards.

The new standards are much stricter than before and whatever star rating the hotel has, it must have the a welcome reception in a well-maintained establishment; reliable information on the services offered; the ability to monitor customer satisfaction and deal with complaints, and a staff sensitive to the needs of handicapped guests. Finally every hotel must have 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 delivering the goods, but what exactly do ‘two stars’ or three stars mean? Check this guide to France’s official star system.

What the different stars mean 

1- Star Hotels
1-star hotels are the lowest end of the scale. Double rooms have to measure at least 9 square meters (about 96 sq ft or 10 x 9.6 foot room). This does not include the bathroom which may be en-suite or you may have to share. The reception area must be at least 20 square meters (about 215 sq ft or 15 x 15 ft.)

2-Star Hotels
A step up from the basics, 2-star hotels have the same minimum room size as 1-star, but staff members must speak an additional European language other than French and the reception desk must be open at least 10 hours per day. The reception area/lounge area must be at least 50 sq meters (538 sq ft or 24 x 22.5 ft).

3-Star Hotels
There is not much difference between 2 and 3-star hotels; the main one is the size of rooms. 3-star hotel rooms must have a minimum size of 13.5 sq meters including the bathroom (145 sq ft or 12 x 12 ft room) The reception area/lounge must be a minimum of 50 sq meters (538 sq ft or 24 x 22.5 ft). Staff must speak an additional European language (other than French), and the reception must be open at least 10 hours per day.

4-Star Hotels
These hotels represent the higher end hotels in France and are the ones to choose for guaranteed comfort and service. Guest rooms are more spacious: 16 sq meters including bathrooms (172 sq ft, or 12 x 14 ft). If the hotel has over 30 rooms, the reception desk must be open 24 hrs a day.

5-Star Hotels
This is the top end (apart from the super Palace Hotels). Guest rooms must be 24 sq meters (259 sq ft or 15 x 17ft). Staff must be able to speak two foreign languages including English.

Five-star hotels are also required to provide room service, valet parking, a concierge and guests must be escorted to their rooms on check-in. Air conditioning is also required.

Palace Hotels
The Palace designation can only be awarded to exceptional 5-star hotels. It’s really the tops and includes every creature comfort you could want, plus a very special ambience. There are currently 16 Palace hotels.

Most of them are in Paris, but some are outside in the chicest destinations. In Biarritz you get the Hotel 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 K2Saint-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.

Read more about Palace Hotels

Subjective quality judgements

The French rating system does not take into account certain subjective quality criteria. And because of this limited approach, it does not guarantee your expectations will be fulfilled. Remember that in the USA, both room sizes and bed sizes are generous; you will certainly not find that in the 1- and 2-star hotels. However, some hotels even in the 3-star category are former manor houses or chateaux so you may find yourself in a huge apartment or vast room you’re paying very little for. However, to guarantee a generous bed size, you must either ask the hotel in advance or go for the higher level.

And despite the strict rules, the system does not easily measure service quality - cleanliness, absence of smells, staff attitude, speed of service, etc.

Tips on choosing your French hotel

1.    Have a basic understanding of the French rating criteria 

2.    Visiting the hotel's own website will usually allow you to see multiple views of its rooms and bathrooms.

3.    Do not hesitate to e-mail your questions to the hotel. This may or may not get you an answer, usually depending on the proficiency of the receptionist in your language. But remember that receiving informative answers to your questions is a good sign that the hotel cares for its prospective guests.

4.    Check guest reviews on any of the major websites. However, you should take these with a very large pinch of salt. Many travellers use the major sites to write reviews on the hotels they stayed at. No hotel satisfies 100 percent of its guests throughout the year, so both extreme judgments and moderate opinions can be found on this open forum.

The best advice is to favor moderate reviews with some flesh on the bones. They will usually give you a useful picture of what to expect from the hotel, good and less good. And also check if there is a manager’s response which shows that the manager is looking out for possible bad reviews and can often clear up misunderstandings or offer remedies that are genuine.  

Following these 4 steps 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 owner. They are usually keen on serving you to the best of their means.

Have a safe and pleasant trip to France!

Edited by Mary Anne Evans