Most hotels and other lodgings require you to give your credit-card details before they will confirm your reservation. If you don't feel comfortable emailing this information, ask if you can fax it. However you book, get confirmation in writing and have a copy of it handy when you check in.
Be sure you understand the hotel's cancellation policy. Some places allow you to cancel without any kind of penalty—even if you prepaid to secure a discounted rate—provided you do so at least 24 hours in advance. Others require you to cancel a week in advance or penalize you the cost of one night. Most hotels allow children under a certain age to stay free in their parents' room, but others charge for them as extra adults; so always ask about cutoff ages. Also note that the taxe de séjour—a local tax which, depending on the type and location of your accommodation, can range from €0.20 to €4 per person per night—is not included in the quoted rates.
Apartment and House Rentals
Individual tourist offices often publish lists of locations meublés (furnished rentals) that have been inspected and rated. Usually they're booked directly through the property owner, which may require some knowledge of French. The French-based Fédération Nationale des Gîtes is another good place to start house hunting.
Vacation rentals in France typically book from Saturday to Saturday. Always check on policies regarding pets and children and specify if you want an enclosed garden for toddlers, a washing machine, a fireplace, a pool, and so on. If you plan to have overnight guests during your stay, let the owner know; there may be additional charges (insurance restrictions prohibit loading in guests beyond the specified capacity). Occasionally, further fees apply: these might include an end-of-stay cleaning, or even bed linen and towel rentals because French vacationers tend to bring their own. Be sure to plan early: apartment and house rentals are quite popular, especially during the summer.
Fédération Nationale des Gîtes de France. 01/49–70–75–85; www.gites-de-france.com.
Small inns and B&Bs are among the most charming lodgings in France. Take care when booking, as many require you to cancel far in advance.
Chambres Hôtes France. The Chambres Hôtes France website has an easy-to-use directory of B&Bs across the country. www.chambres-hotes.fr.
Hôtes Qualité Paris. The organization, endorsed by the French government, has a searchable bed-and-breakfast database. www.hotesqualiteparis.fr.
With a direct home exchange you stay in someone else's house while they stay in yours. Some outfits also deal with vacation homes, so you're not actually staying in someone's full-time residence, just their vacant weekend place.
Home Exchange.com. The charge is $130 for a one-year membership. 800/877–8723; www.homeexchange.com.
HomeLink International. You'll pay $95 for a one-year membership. 800/638–3841; www.homelink.org.
Intervac U.S. The charge for an annual membership is $99. 866/884–7567; www.intervacus.com.
According to industry statistics, there are around 17,350 hotels in France. These range from luxury properties to budget lodgings. The quality of accommodations, particularly in older properties and even in luxury hotels, can vary greatly from room to room; if you don't like the room you're given, ask to see another.
Meal plans, which are usually an option offered in addition to the accommodations, are generally only available with a minimum two- or three-night stay and are, of course, more expensive than the basic room rate. Inquire about meal plans when making reservations; details and prices are often stated on hotel websites. Sometimes breakfast is included in the stated price automatically. This is France, though, and most hotels will be within walking distance of a café or bakery.
It's always a good idea to make hotel reservations in Paris and other major tourist destinations as far in advance as possible, especially in late spring, summer, or early fall. Most hotels allow you to book online. If you wish to communicate further, email is the easiest way to proceed—the hotel staff is probably more likely to read English than to understand it spoken over the phone long-distance. Whether by email, phone, or fax you should notify your hotel of a possible late check-in (to prevent your room from being given away) and to make any special requests (such as the location or the size of the room you want). Ask that the hotel provide written confirmation of your reservation and requests.
If you arrive without a reservation, the tourist offices in major train stations and most towns can probably help you find a room. You can also check at the airport for accommodation listings.
Many hotels in France are small, family-run establishments. Some are affiliated with hotel groups, such as Logis de France (www.logishotels.com), which can be relied on for comfort, character, and regional cuisine. Three prestigious international groups with numerous converted châteaux, manor houses, and boutique properties are Châteaux & Hotels Collection (www.chateauxhotels.com), Relais & Châteaux (www.relaischateaux.com), and Small Luxury Hotels of the World (www.slh.com): check the websites for property listings. France also has numerous hotel chains. Examples in the upper price bracket are Novotel and Sofitel as well as InterContinental, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Westin, and Sheraton. The Best Western, Holiday Inn, Campanile, Climat de France, Mercure, and Timhotel chains are more moderate. If you simply need a place to crash for one night (and aren’t claustrophobic), the ubiquitous Ibis, Hotel Kyriad, and Formule FI brand fits the bill. Typically, chains offer a consistently acceptable standard of comfort (modern bathrooms, TVs, etc.) but tend to lack atmosphere. One notable exception is Best Western: its properties are independently owned and most try to maintain the local character.