Be it a fairy-tale château, a boutique hideaway or floating pod on a lake, France has accommodation to suit every taste and pocket. If you’re visiting in high season (especially August), reserve ahead – the best addresses on the coast fill up months in advance.
- B&Bs Enchanting properties with maximum five rooms.
- Camping Sites range from wild and remote, to brash resorts with pools, slides et al.
- Hostels New-wave hostels are design-driven, lifestyle spaces with single/double rooms as well as dorms.
- Hotels Hotels embrace every budget and taste.
- Refuges and Gîtes d'Étape Huts for hikers on trails in mountainous areas.
As a rule of thumb, budget covers everything from basic hostels to small family-run places; midrange means a few extra creature comforts such as a lift; while top-end places stretch from luxury five-star palaces with air-conditioning, swimming pools and restaurants to boutique-chic Alpine chalets.
Accommodation costs vary wildly between seasons and regions: what will buy you a night in a romantic chambre d'hôte (B&B) in the countryside may get a dorm bed in a major city or high-profile ski resort.
Midrange, top-end and many budget hotels require a credit card number to secure an advance reservation made by phone; some hostels do not take bookings. Many tourist offices can advise on availability and reserve for you, often for a fee of €5 and usually only if you stop by in person. In the Alps, ski-resort tourist offices run a central reservation service for booking accommodation.
- In ski resorts, high season is Christmas, New Year and the February–March school holidays.
- On the coast, high season is summer, particularly August.
- Hotels in inland cities often charge low-season rates in summer.
- Rates often drop outside the high season – in some cases by as much as 50%.
- In business-oriented hotels in cities, rooms are most expensive from Monday to Thursday and cheaper over the weekend.
- In the Alps, hotels usually close between seasons, from around May to mid-June and from mid-September to early December; many addresses in Corsica only open Easter to October.
For charm, a heartfelt bienvenue (welcome) and solid home cooking, it's hard to beat France's privately run chambres d'hôte (B&Bs) – urban rarities but as common as muck in rural areas. By law a chambre d'hôte must have no more than five rooms and breakfast must be included in the price; some hosts prepare a meal (table d'hôte) for an extra charge of around €30 including wine. Pick up lists of chambres d'hôte at tourist offices, or find one to suit online.
Be it a Mongolian yurt, boutique tree house or simple canvas beneath stars, camping in France is in vogue. Thousands of well-equipped campgrounds dot the country, many considerately placed by rivers, lakes and the sea.
- Most campgrounds open March or April to late September or October; popular spots fill up fast in summer so it is wise to call ahead.
- 'Sites' refer to fixed-price deals for two people including a tent and a car. Otherwise the price is broken down per adult/tent/car. Factor in a few extra euro per night for taxe de séjour (holiday tax) and electricity.
- Euro-economisers should look out for local, good-value but no-frills campings municipaux (municipal campgrounds).
- Many campgrounds rent out mobile homes with mod cons such as heating, fitted kitchen and TV.
- Pitching up 'wild' in nondesignated spots (camping sauvage) is illegal in France.
- Campground offices often close during the day.
- Accessing many campgrounds without your own transport can be slow and costly, or simply impossible.
Farewell clammy canvas, adieu inflatable mattress… Glamping in France is cool and creative, with écolo chic (ecochic) and adventurous alternatives springing up all the time. If you fancy doing a Robinson Crusoe by staying in a tree house with an incredible view over the treetops, visit Cabanes de France (www.cabanes-de-france.com), which covers leafy options between branches all over France. Prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground? Keep an eye out for ecoconscious campsites where you can snooze in a tipi (tepee) or in a giant hammock.
One of the best ways to brush up your français and immerse yourself in local life is by staying with a French family under an arrangement known as hôtes payants or hébergement chez l'habitant. Popular among students and young people, this set-up means you rent a room and usually have access (sometimes limited) to the bathroom and the kitchen; meals may also be available. If you are sensitive to smoke or pets, make sure you mention this.
Hostels in France range from funky to threadbare, although with a wave of design-driven, up-to-the-minute hostels opening in Paris, Marseille and other big cities, hip hang-outs with perks aplenty seem to easily outweigh the threadbare these days.
- In university towns, foyers d'étudiant (student dormitories) are sometimes converted for use by travellers during summer.
- A dorm bed in an auberge de jeunesse (hostel) costs €20 to €50 in Paris, and anything from €15 to €40 in the provinces, depending on location, amenities and facilities; sheets are always included, as is breakfast more often than not.
- To prevent outbreaks of bedbugs, sleeping bags are not permitted.
- Hostels by the sea or in the mountains sometimes offer seasonal outdoor activities.
- French hostels are 100% nonsmoking.
Official auberges de jeunesse affiliated to the Fédération Unie des Auberges de Jeunesse (www.fuaj.org) or Ligue Française pour les Auberges de la Jeunesse (www.auberges-de-jeunesse.com) require guests to have an annual Hostelling International (HI) card (€7/11 for under/over 26s) or a nightly Welcome Stamp (up to €3; maximum of six per year).
Hotels in France are rated with one to five stars, although the ratings are based on highly objective criteria (eg the size of the entry hall), not the quality of the service, the decor or cleanliness.
- French hotels almost never include breakfast in their rates. Unless specified otherwise, prices quoted don't include breakfast, which costs around €8/12/25 in a budget/midrange/top-end hotel.
- When you book, hotels usually ask for a credit card number; some require a deposit.
- A double room generally has one double bed (sometimes two singles pushed together!); a room with twin beds (deux lits) is usually more expensive, as is a room with a bathtub instead of a shower.
- Feather pillows are practically nonexistent in France, even in top-end hotels.
- All hotel restaurant terraces allow smoking; if you are sensitive to smoke, you may need to sit inside.
Refuges & Gîtes d'Étape
- Refuges (mountain huts or shelters) are basic cabins established along walking trails in uninhabited mountainous areas and operated by national-park authorities, the Club Alpin Français (www.ffcam.fr) or other private organisations.
- Refuges are marked on hiking and climbing maps.
- A bunk in a dorm generally costs €10 to €25. Hot meals are sometimes available (and, in a few cases, mandatory), pushing the price up to €30 or beyond.
- Advance reservations and a weather check are essential before setting out.
- Gîtes d'étape, better equipped and more comfortable than refuges (some even have showers), are situated along walking trails in less remote areas, often in villages.
- Check out Gîtes d'Étape et Refuges (www.gites-refuges.com), an online listing of 4000 gîtes d'étape and refuges in France.
If you are planning on staying put for more than a few days or are travelling in a group, then renting a furnished studio, apartment or villa can be an economical alternative. You will have the chance to live like a local, with trips to the farmers market and the boulangerie (bakery).
Finding an apartment for long-term rental can be gruelling. Landlords, many of whom prefer locals to foreigners, usually require substantial proof of financial responsibility and sufficient funds in France; many ask for a caution (guarantee) and a hefty deposit.
- Cleaning, linen rental and electricity fees usually cost extra.
- Classified ads appear in De Particulier à Particulier (www.pap.fr, in French), published on Thursday and sold at news stands.
- For apartments outside Paris it's best to search at your destination.
- Check places like bars and tabacs (tobacconists) for free local newspapers (often named after the number of the département) with classifieds listings.