What can Britain’s tight lodgings learn from the French?

Château de Chantore

Château de Chantore

It’s time to book a vacation. Some people will choose France. Others don’t – because the French are hostile, Mr. Macron is a clown, and their food is wildly overrated. I’ve heard this a lot lately and got the message. No need to repeat that in the comments below, if you don’t find it cathartic – then be my guest.

Anyway, France. I live there, will be traveling around the country this year and will book a room whenever I get the chance. These, and that’s the point, my favorite type of accommodation is a good compromise: less formal than a hotel, more structured than Airbnb. I’m a fan and I want you to be too.

The term “Chambres-d’hôtes” is best translated into English as “B&B” – though that falls short of the French version, in my opinion. Ketchup, exiguity, and ax-faced housewives have suggestions about the term “B&B” with a hit-and-run attitude about hygiene.

Obviously, many B&Bs in Britain are now great. I’ve stayed in one in Lancaster and I know the others. However, there seems to be a foundation that 21st century hospitality has failed to capture. At a boarding house in a housing estate near Stansted, at the front door – I was asked to take off my shoes before my hostess said hello.

Château de Chantore

Château de Chantore

Meanwhile, some beach businesses still hold surprises for the sensitive. In one the room was so small that there was barely room for both me and half a dozen cockroaches. In another, searching for the TV remote revealed empty packs of sweets and a half-eaten sandwich under the bed and dirty underwear tucked behind the sink.

I still couldn’t find the remote so I called the owner. He examined the garbage. “Some people!” she said, her voice filled with regret for the Fall of Man. He found another remote in another part of the building, put the trash in the garbage bag he brought, and that solved the problem to my satisfaction. “Everything that ends well is good,” she smiled cheerfully.

No chambres-d’hôte has ever had this happen, even if I didn’t overpay. This may be because chamber rooms are more tightly controlled, or at least more strictly defined. There should be a maximum of five guest rooms, all on the owner’s property.

Breakfast must be included in the price, and if table d’hote dinner is offered (as in about a third of 21,500 French lodgings), no other options should be offered. In contrast, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive definition of a British hostel – beyond the suggestion that they should be run by private owners and not chains.

French chambres-d'hôtes - @LinaBT

French chambres-d’hôtes – @LinaBT

But that alone doesn’t explain why chamber rooms sometimes seem more civilized. This may be because, historically, the French with tight vacation budgets preferred camping. France’s 8,000 campsites make it the best camping country in Europe (and second in the world after the USA).

Then there’s no Wakes Weeks-inspired tradition of beach vacations and no accommodation owners pretending they should feel very lucky to be allowed out of Blackburn, Bradford or West Bromwich to people in distress.

Elements of the tradition continue (“Shoes off at the door”, “Only return before 17:00 if necessary”, and also more). As things were different in France, chambres-d’hôtes was free to be more liberal, throwing the web up and down on the broader, social scale.

For this reason, French chambres-d’hôte can be found in chateaux, mansions, farms, vineyards, or bourgeois townhouses rather than ostentatious (okay, “modest”) beach houses. And since running chambres-d’hôtes is a bit of a chore now, the owners I’ve encountered include former architects, lawyers, musicians, doctors, artists, and a couple who might be the most intriguing aristocrats in France. Elitist? Of course. Thus, the standards of the sector are rising.

French chambres-d'hôtes

French chambres-d’hôtes

And quality doesn’t have to be destructive. The average double B&B in Chambres-d’hôtes is around £80 per night. The best may be more expensive, but as long as I can afford it, I’ll follow high standards (which won’t last long in some upscale places).

Whatever the environment, whoever the hosts are, the key is sincerity. Or a key. Have to be. Chambres-d’hôtes customers are de facto guests in their hosts’ home. Formality by hand is not really an option. No matter how large and ostentatious the home, homeowners should welcome most people and get along with them. Otherwise, the word goes out and they go bankrupt. However, in my experience it usually works pretty well, especially if the table d’hote is provided for dinner.

Ideally, the hosts and guests eat together. So you’ll meet people you probably wouldn’t otherwise meet – mountaineers, teachers, Bulgarians, French families, British vintage car enthusiasts – and people who are usually quite sociable due to their presence in a chambres-d’hôtes. A very pleasant evening can begin.

Room Rooms

Room Rooms

One time, at a mule farm in Auvergne, laughter nearly knocked me out. Long, elegant evenings with a count and a countess in a chateau near the Loire valley showed what France had lost at its peak. old regime.

Meanwhile, in the hills above Nice, a man from WHO, who had recently returned from his official job in North Korea, told us about his attempts to track pizza in Pyongyang. If I were John Le Carré or Spike Milligan, I would turn the story into a novel.

So, yes, chambres-d’hôtes is good. There is no place I’ve stayed in the last 20 years that I wouldn’t go back to easily. Here are five of my more recent favourites:

Château de Chantore

Bacilly, near Avranches, Normandy

Château de Chantore

Château de Chantore

You plowed the Cotentin peninsula. Mont Saint Michel rises across the bay. And you get smack in your senses by an 18.pearl-the showman of the century of a place. This is the influence of Chantore, a country castle of red brick and white stone, brought to life with extraordinary grace by two young friends who have a passion project for them.

number 21stThe irony of the century is silk, brocade, gilding, rich colours, portraits, period furniture and an all-around concept of nobility. The gardens, grounds and lake are a kind of epic tranquility (chateaudechantore.com; B&B doubles from £193).

Château de Chantore

Château de Chantore

Le Chai


Bourgeois townhouse located just behind the Baïse river was once home to a big name in the Armagnac distillery world. It was recently taken over by the Belval family – they make money in gyms and fitness centers – and has been magnificently converted into roomy rooms.

There’s a beautiful garden at the back and Gascony’s warmest ambiance welcomes you (chambresdhoteslechai.com; B&B doubles from £91).

Ancre Vive

Charentay, Brouilly, Beaujolais

The approach opens up – through a forest worth of trees – to a mini mansion that has been inspected and trimmed by artist Dominique and architect Gilles to provide contemporary hospitality.

Great attraction – a great base for Beaujolais wine excursions – with enough legroom to carry you (destination-beaujolais.com/chambres-d-hotes/l-ancre-vive-5734574.html; B&B doubles) £ 98).

Domaine de la Jarrige

Saint Vaury, Guéret, Creuse

A voice from Limoges and the A20 motorway, here is your base in the little-known town of Creuse. This is highly praised France profonde in its deepest, greenest and most disarming form. Taken over by a young couple from distant Alsace in 2022, La Jarrige is 17 years old.pearlcentury-old stone farm invested with enthusiasm, color and a spa.

Bedrooms are in converted farm outbuildings with fine dining in the main house. I’d still be there if I didn’t need to be elsewhere (domainedelajarrige.fr; B&B doubles from £96, discounts for stays longer than one night).

Ferme des Iles

Autheuil-Authouillet, Evreux, Normandy

Ferme des Iles - @LinaBT

Ferme des Iles – @LinaBT

A rural area along the Eure river, it is certainly more of a hostel than a magnificent sprawl of fields, pastures and forests, ducks, sheep and horses. The cottage farmhouse and rooms in the nearby barn are huge and awash with neo-rustic imagination. There are accommodation for groups as well as regular bedrooms.

Whatever the case, the owner Sophie Borel will arrange a table d’hote dinner if there are six people pre-booked. It will be as lively as you want it to be. The next day you can visit Monet’s garden in nearby Giverny. Or Rouen, which is a bit further. Or just hang out here (lafermedesiles.com; B&B doubles from £101).

Ferme des Iles

Ferme des Iles

Have you ever stayed in a hostel? Share your experience in the comments section below

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