Historic cities, sun-kissed beaches, and peaceful countryside helped France to attract more international visitors than any other country in the world in 2011, with a total of 79.5 million international tourist arrivals, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
From elaborately furnished rooms in charming rural castles to simple tents at beach-side campsites, you will find accommodations to suit every taste and budget. In order to help you to decide where to stay during your visit to France, here is a round-up of the five most popular types of accommodations.
The French classification system for hotels (hôtels) ranges from one star (une étoile) for budget hotels with the most basic facilities to five stars (cinq étoiles) for the most luxurious hotels at the high end of the market. Each hotel’s official classification is displayed on a sign outside its main door.
Most French hotels include a light continental breakfast in their room rate. The continental breakfast is served in a dining room. Some hotels serve your breakfast at your table while other hotels have buffet-style breakfasts where you can help yourself.
The breakfast usually consists of croissants, butter, jam, juice, and a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Other options, such as bread, breakfast cereals and pastries, may also be offered. In some hotels, you can choose to eat breakfast in your room but you may have to pay extra for room service.
It is not always possible to have lunch and dinner at your hotel in France. Many French hotels, especially one, two and three star hotels, do not have their own restaurant, although they may have vending machines or microwave ovens available for guests. You may also find a small refrigerator in your room.
Chambres d’hôtes are rooms in private homes that are offered to paying guests. They are similar to bed and breakfast establishments or guest houses. They are classified by the organization, Gîtes de France, in a system that ranges from one ear of wheat (un épi) for simple rooms with shared bathrooms to five ears of wheat (cinq épis) for exceptionally comfortable rooms with flat screen televisions, ensuite bathrooms with spa baths, on-site car parking, leisure facilities, gardens, and other amenities.
From historic castles to rural farm houses, chambres d’hôtes can be found in a wide range of properties in France. Breakfast is usually included in the room rate and dinner may be offered at an extra cost.
Staying in a chambre d’hôte allows you to experience life in France as it is lived by French people. You can eat the food that they eat, see how they live in their homes, and how they work on their farms. If you do not speak any French, find out in advance if anyone in your host family speaks English because communication may be difficult otherwise.
Gîtes and Apartments
Gîtes are self-contained apartments or houses that are available to rent for periods of a weekend, three days, one week or longer. They are owned by private individuals who rent them to visitors.
Gîtes are classified by the Gîtes de France organization into one of five categories. Within each category, the owners have to provide certain facilities and equipment, such as a shower room, a refrigerator, a cooker, sheets, towels and cleaning products.
From studios to large apartments accommodating six or more people, there is a wide selection of apartments to rent in French towns and cities. Outside the urban areas, gîtes can be found in many rural locations, enabling you to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the French countryside.
Most gîtes and apartments have well-equipped kitchens so that you can prepare your own meals during your stay. Some owners may leave bread, milk, or a bottle of wine in the refrigerator to welcome you.
Renting a gîte or apartment enables you to live like a French person for a short period of time. Stroll around the local market and choose ingredients for dinner from the wide variety of local produce available. Buy long French baguette loaves, croissants and brioche from your local bakery (boulangerie) and select some lovely tarts or cakes for dessert. You can have lots of fun sampling and cooking the local food without paying restaurant bills every evening.
There are many youth hostels (auberges de jeunesse) dotted throughout France in the cities, on the coast and in the countryside. If you are traveling on a tight budget and do not mind sharing a room with other travelers, youth hostels are a very good option. In addition, private rooms are available in some hostels, so they are also a budget-friendly option for couples and families.
Youth hostels have communal rooms where you can chat with other guests, surf the internet, heat up food in a microwave, prepare hot drinks, and generally chill out.
In particular, staying in a youth hostel in Paris is a particularly good way of spending time in the capital without spending a lot of money on accommodations, as hotels and rented apartments can be very expensive.
Camping is an inexpensive and enjoyable way of spending time in France in the spring and summer. You can either bring your own tent and equipment or rent a fully equipped tent that is already in place.
There are two main types of campsites (campings) in France: “nature” (nature) sites and “traditional” (tradition) sites. “Nature” sites have a maximum of 25 pitches and are often owned by farmers. They have to reach certain standards and provide at least very basic facilities, according to a classification system of one to five ears of wheat, regulated by the Gîtes de France organization.
“Traditional” campsites can have up to 150 pitches and can also offer caravans or chalets for rent. They are classified as having between one and four stars by the local government, depending on their facilities and equipment. The facilities on a “traditional” campsite may include shower blocks, children’s play areas, swimming pools, cafes, bars and general stores.
When deciding where you will stay on a visit to France, it is a good idea to take several factors into consideration. These include your budget, your preferred level of comfort, whether or not you are prepared to share facilities with others, and whether or not you would like to spend time grocery shopping and preparing food.
If your trip to France will last longer than a week and will include visits to different parts of the country, it may be a good idea to stay in different types of accommodations. For example, you could stay in an apartment in Paris, a gîte in Brittany, and a tent or caravan in the south of France.
Wherever you decide to stay, your visit to France will be pleasant and culturally enriching because France is an interesting country with a long history, diverse landscapes, and excellent food and wine.