The chambres d’hotes or bed and breakfast market in France is booming. All over France, from large cities like Bordeaux and Marseille, small towns like Arras and Antibes to deepest rural France in the Auvergne, home owners have turned their houses into bed and breakfast businesses.
It makes sense for the owners, and it makes very good sense for people wanting to book something different that is fun and very good value. Over the past few years French hotels have had a hard time. With government regulations tightening, new motorways bypassing small towns and villages and cheap package holidays taking people out of Europe, many small hotels have been unable to cope. You may well find that the charming little hotel on a market square that you so enjoyed last year is now being turned back into a home or into apartments.
What you can expect
In many bed and breakfasts you will find books to read in several languages, games to play and information on local tourist sights. The hosts know their regions, so you’ll be given good up-to-date and honest advice on where to go and what to see. There might also be boating, canoeing, tennis or boules to play.
In some remote regions the hosts can arrange to pick you up at the nearest station or town and take you back the next day.
What not to expect
Eating at your bed and breakfast
All will provide a good continental breakfast included in the price of the room, often with home-made jams and home-baked bread.
Some of them also offer an evening meal though you must book this in advance. Again these are very good value and include wine and at least a 3-course meal. Often the vegetables are grown in the kitchen garden and you cannot get fresher than that. Costs average around 25 euros per person, which is much better value than a restaurant.
Choose your style
There are as many different houses and rooms as there are bed and breakfasts. There are old stone farmhouses deep in Provence; smart town houses in towns, annexes, stables, barns, old priories and garden wings of a house. Mostly the owners live in part of the house but that is not always the case. Some chambres d'hotes have simple kitchens so you can cook your own meal.
What you pay
Costs do vary from place to place. While the vast majority of bed and breakfasts are in the €60 to €100 range for the room and breakfast for two people, some of the top ones, the odd castle, or a fantastic mas in the Luberon charge over 200 euros a night. But they are all good value; you definitely get what you pay for.
Find your bed and breakfast
If you're travelling through France and haven't booked in advance, go to the local tourist office which will have a list of bed and breakfast in their region along with lists of hotels and gites.
The Gites de France organization is 58 years old and is the largest guest network in Europe. Many people use it to book holiday cottages for a weekend, a week, or longer all over France. But they also represent over 10,000 bed and breakfast properties, so you’re bound to find one you like in a region you want to visit.
The Gites de France aims are clear. They:
The Gite de France systeym is easy to use. To book online, just follow the directions from their website.
What about the owners?
Some bed and breakfasts are run as businesses; others may be doing it because they genuinely enjoy meeting people. For some owners, it means they can live in a better house than normal paying a larger mortgage that is covered by the income. For many people it is a way of retiring from the rat race and living a simpler life.
Many bed and breakfasts are run on eco friendly lines, working to reduce their environmental footprint and sourcing all their food from local growers.
There is no one government regulated rating system. Each region will have its own systems. But many use 'ears of corn' as a symbol; the more 'ears of corn', the higher the rating (4 is the highest).
Arrivals and Departures
Remember that this is often a family home, so there is no reception desk. Say when you are arriving (usually after 4pm) so your host can be there to welcome you. And if you are delayed, telephone to let them know, particularly if you have booked dinner.
If you book in advance, then you might or might not pay in advance. It depends on which system you use.
If you are paying the bed and breakfast directly on the day of your departure, you'll find that credit card payments are very rare. You can pay by Euro travelers checks, though foreign checks are often not accepted due to high bank charges. Nearly all towns in France have ATMs which will take Visa and MasterCard.
You may find the local taxe de sejour added to your bill. This is very small, from 0.52 to 2 euros per person.