Voulez-Vous Couchez Avec Moi?: Alternative Lodgings in France
Wherever you are in the world, motels lack charm, and no amount of "French touch" seems to improve the concept. So if you are looking for a cheap -- and charming -- place to sleep in France, stay away from the chains like Etap, Formule 1 and Ibis, and seek out the thousands of private Chambres dhôtes or Gîtes de France.
A really pleasant alternative is the "Chambre dhôte," which translates literally as "guest room." The concept is the same as the British bed & breakfast in that a private person rents out a room or two in his home and provides the guests with their morning meal.
This can be very tasty, with homemade jams and fresh bread and pastries. But dont expect to eat anything as filling as kippers and eggs, for it is already a cultural leap for most French people to imagine anything but black coffee and a Gitane for breakfast.
Prices are usually around 200-250 francs for two people, breakfast included. Some proprietors also offer a home-style evening meal for an extra fee, and this is called "table dhôte." This is not a restaurant situation; you may be sharing the table dhôte with other guests, and you must reserve ahead of time and respect your hosts timetable.
GÎTES DE FRANCE
There is a national federation called Gîtes de France that inspects and rates over 55,000 alternative lodgings, ranging from Chambres dhotes to self-catering cottages. The rating system is based on the way the Ministry of Tourism rates hotels. Just as any recognized hotel in France posts a sign showing the room rates and the number of stars attributed by the ministry to denote increasing levels of luxury, so the Gîtes de France attributes "epis" (an ear of corn) according to comfort criteria which include sanitary facilities (private bath or not), on-site amenities (parlor, games, garden, jacuzzi), and quality of furnishings and decoration.
The Gîtes de France also has a sustainable and responsible tourism angle: they claim (rightly), that the creation and maintenance of gîtes around the country enhances and preserves the countryside and cultural heritage; helps local populations prosper through tourism; and contributes to local development.
The Federation des Gîtes de France publishes a number of guidebooks and also runs an English web site www.gites-de-france.fr/eng/index.htm. You can reserve many of the lodgings through this site, or at least get a phone contact.
Though the Federation des Gîtes de France is the single simplest way to find an alternative lodging in France, there are other options for Bed and Breakfast in France. Many fine lodgings have a variety of good reasons to avoid too much publicity, and do not list with the Federation.
In small towns and villages, you can get a list of private accommodations through the town hall (Mairie) or through the towns "Syndicat dInitiative" (get the phone number from the Mairie), which is a community-based office to promote tourism and business in the area. The Syndicat dInitiative is also the place to get information about cultural activities, restaurants, hiking and biking trails and all local sites of interest. Just remember that their "initiative" doesn't go beyond the office hours of the municipal functionary who holds the job, which is often a mornings only part-time position.
With so many options for unique alternative lodgings in France, there is really no reason to stay in chain hotel in France. So, "bonne chance et bonne route."
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