There are many wonderful types of accommodation in France. To get an authentic travel experience, here are the criteria to help you decide what’s best for you.
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Types of Accommodation In France: A Hotel, B & B, Or Do Self-catering?
I am often asked where I have stayed and in the early days, I stayed primarily in hotels. Today, I stay at a variety of accommodations, depending on my location, needs, and availability.
Staying in a hotel worked out well for me when I was staying only a few nights in a town and preferred to eat out; however, in France, hotel rooms are typically small in comparison to the ones in North American.
You can certainly find cheap or expensive hotels but this often affects the location, particularly in Paris where prices tend to be the highest. They also might be far from the centre of town (and attractions) or in less desirable locations (ie. in a seedy area near a train station).
Hotels are rated by the government. A 5-star system is given based on the evaluation from their inspection that looks at the level of comfort, quality of service, and amenities offered. In the 5-star category, there is also the “Palace” designation for being in a special geographical location, having special services, dining, and historical significance (in addition to the other 5-star qualities).
Bed and Breakfast
When you stay in a bed and breakfast establishment, it is typically a room with bathroom facilities in a person’s home. They don’t feel commercialized like staying in a chain hotel. Breakfasts tend to be outstanding and more than just coffee and a croissant.
I find B and Bs have more “character” and with a personalized touch by the owner. Like B and B’s in North America, the owner often joins you for breakfast and it’s an opportunity to get to know each other…and in this case, in French.
While hotels tend to be impersonal, I have found that I’ve had more opportunities to get to know the B and B hosts and have learned more about the region, the culture, and what their everyday lives are like. So much more interesting than reading a travel guide.
More recently I have stayed for longer periods of time in one town so I have rented a house or apartment. This is often referred to as “self-catering’. For a few nights I might even rent an apartment because I like to make my own breakfasts and I don’t always like having dinner out so many days in a row.
This is not to say apartments and houses are always in the best locations, being within walking distance of restaurants and grocery stores; however, I was always prepared for this and had a car.
My Criteria For Choosing My Accommodation
When staying in Paris, deciding where to stay often revolves around whether you want to be on the left bank or right bank, near a Metro station, near restaurants, or near particular tourist attractions. Yes you can have it all…for a price. Just keep in mind that if you want cheaper accommodation further away from the centre of town, you will have to build in time to get into the city by car, tram, bus, or subway (in Paris). Being close to everything has its advantages and one of the most important is saving time.
So, how do I go about finding the right accommodation? I use these criteria to narrow down the list.
- Reviews: the more the better. I want to get insight into what people liked and didn’t like. Recommendations from friends is especially valuable.
- Location: is it safe? convenient? close to local transportation? Is there free parking?
- Is breakfast included? What kind of breakfast? (continental? full buffet?)
- A kettle or coffee maker in the room?
- TV with some English channels?
- Washing machine?
- Shower? Bathtub?
- Is there a pool? (All to yourself or shared?) Fitness room?
- What cleaning is required at the end of the stay? Is there a cleaning fee?
- Does it have a full kitchen or an “executive” kitchen (usually just a stovetop and microwave)
- Free wifi?
- Air conditioning? Fan? [Note: I’ve seen too many write-ups that say “air conditioning”; however, the reviews have said otherwise. They were often “fans”.]
- What kind of deposit is required and in what form? (i.e. credit card?)
- Hairdryer in the bathroom?
- Fridge in the hotel room?
- Is there parking nearby if I need it?
- Is there a sitting area if I’m in a hotel or studio apartment?
- Outdoor sitting area: balcony? terrace?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- How prompt is the company’s reply to questions?
Should You Book Your Accommodations In Advance?
During one of my trips, I decided to book some of my accommodations “on the go”. I was travelling from Bordeaux to Biarritz, through the Dordogne to Lyon and then Paris. It was shoulder season (September) so I felt I wouldn’t have a problem finding a place.
This was true. I did find places; however, booking while I was travelling was a headache because I was spending so much time searching for a good place at the right price. I felt I wasted time researching rather than discovering a new site or experience. When it is short notice, prices tend to be a bit higher. Plus, there is less available. So, if you can, do book your accommodations in advance.
What Companies Have I Used?
For hotel rooms and some Bed and Breakfast accommodations, I have booked directly with the hotel or used Booking. For apartments and houses, I have used Gites de France, Vacation In Paris, Airbnb and VRBO.
Gites de France
Gites de France is a national organization that registers and classifies gites (holiday homes) and bed and breakfast accommodations. I have rented a number of gites in the Alsace and Provence and we had access to the owner’s pools each time. Rather than using a star system (ie. 5-star hotel), gives are classified according to “ears” (of corn) depending on the comfort level, ranging from 1-5 ears of corn.
Vacation In Paris
I have rented from Vacation In Paris 8 times and have found them reliable and honest. Their prices are pretty good too (dependent on the exchange rate as they are a US company). When I had a problem with the cable and internet, someone came over right away to fix it. When extra sheets for the other bed weren’t in the apartment, someone came over with more sheets. There is a $150 deposit which is refunded within 10 days of returning the keys. All transactions can be done through Paypal.
I’ve been very happy with my Airbnb stays. Most have been for a week but one was for 3 nights. Like HomeAway and VRBO, Airbnb holds onto your money until you have checked in.
I usually only rent from Superhosts because they have met a higher standard such as high ratings, high number of ratings, numerous bookings, and quick responses to inquiries.
I have only communicated with the owner using the company’s portal to avoid scams. One scam that I’ve heard about is where the owner wants to be paid outside of the Airbnb payment system. Don’t do this as you will not be protected by the company if there is fraud. Communicating online keeps a paper trail.
VRBO (also known as HomeAway)
VRBO/HomeAway are holiday rental sites owned by Expedia. They are portals for homeowners who want to advertise. It is important to check reviews and references to be sure the owner is legit. I have investigated apartments advertised through VBRO and HomeAway and I have rented apartments in Paris, Provence, and Montpellier and have been very happy with each.
Like Airbnb’s “Superhosts”, HomeAway has “Premier Partners”– homeowners who have low cancellation rates, receive high review scores, and use secure HomeAway booking checkouts.
Cleaning Protocols Stated By Airbnb And VRBO
With concerns about Coronavirus, self-catering companies like Airbnb and VRBO have issued cleaning standards/guidelines for their hosts. The cleaning protocol includes what to clean and disinfect (ie. high touch surfaces like light switches) and how to clean. These are based on information from the Center For Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
They also encourage self-check-ins (with a key lock box or smart lock) and recommend that hosts have particular supplies (ie. soap, paper towels), and institute a 24 hour blackout period between bookings for regular guests and 72 hours for those who may have been exposed to Coronovirus (ie. healthcare workers).
Paying For A Rental
I never book an accommodation that asks for a deposit or payment via money order, bank transfer, or via Western Union. Using a credit card or Paypal offers more protection. I also do not book places that require a high deposit (ie. over 750 Euros). That’s a lot of money for the owner to “hold” or “use” if something goes wrong and I am blamed. It’s just me.
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