Searching for the right place to sleep in France

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 67 of the April 2009 issue.

by Philip Wagenaar (Last of four parts)

Last month I gave an overview of homestays, home exchanges and other unusual lodgings in France. This month I will finish my essay with an outline of the French gîtes, camping in France, youth hostels and more.


O. Gîtes

A gîte (which simply means “lodging”) is a private holiday home or property in the country or the mountains or by the sea, which can be rented for a week (usually from 4 p.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. the next Saturday), a weekend (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday) or mid-week (Monday to Friday). Gîtes may accommodate any number of people.

The official (there are many private ones) agency for nonhotel accommodation in the French countryside is the Maison des Gîtes de France et du Tourisme Vert (59, rue Saint-Lazare, 75009 Paris; phone +33 1 49 70 75 75, fax +33 1 42 81 28 53, e-mail It operates gîtes, campgrounds, chalets, etc.

Its English website at gives a description of each gîte as well as booking details. For easy retrieval of the gîtes, click on “search by criteria” (instead of “search using a map”), then click on “region.” Keep in mind that the descriptions of some of the properties are in French.

The Gîtes de France label guarantees quality accommodation, using ratings ranging from one to five ears of corn.

The Maison des Gîtes de France also offers the following booklets, albeit in French only. Between them, they list all 43,800 holiday homes. To order a booklet, go to the website (in French only).

If you know in which region you will be staying, you can order its regional or departmental guide (Guides Régionaux ou Départementaux). However, it is difficult to procure the booklets, as the ordering website is in French. In addition, the postage is high.

I have made repeated inquiries at the Maison des Gîtes de France head office to find out if the brochures are also available in English but have received no reply.

You can download the following booklets on the website. For most, you also can obtain a hard copy.

1. “Nouveaux gîtes ruraux 2008” — a list of 3,100 new rural gîtes that opened for the first time in 2008. €20 (near $26).

2. “Gîtes de charme 2008” — a brochure (€20) with 616 “charming” gîtes. Gîtes de charme usually have only a few rooms.

3. “Gîtes d’étape et de séjour 2008” (“Stopover and holiday gîtes 2008”), with 1,634 addresses. €10.

Gîtes d’étapes (stopover gîtes) usually are large farmhouses with dormitories and/or bedrooms with either shared or private baths and close to walking, biking and horse-riding tracks. They also cater to conferences, nature classes, etc. They are designed for short stays. Gîtes de séjour (holiday gîtes) are designed for groups and families.

4. “Chambres et tables d’hôtes 2008” — This guide (€22) offers 10,500 chambres d’hôtes, also known as maisons d’höte, which are French-style bed-and-breakfasts. A number of these provide a table d’hôte (full-course meal served at a fixed price) but only for persons staying at the guest house.

5. “Chambres d’hôtes de Charme 2008” — 750 selected charming 3- and 4-star B&Bs for one or more nights, with petit déjeuner (breakfast) included. A certain number offer demi-pension or pension. €22.

6. “Chambres d’hôtes au château 2008” — a brochure with 130 castle properties. €15.

7. “Séjours nature les Gîtes Panda du WWF 2007” — a selection of 300 addresses for nature lovers inside regional and national parks and other nature sites. Every property description lists the recommended stay period, plant life, trails, etc. Each location supplies a fauna and flora guide as well as binoculars. €12.

8. “Séjours à la neige 2008” — This brochure documents 516 ski properties, each situated fewer than 15 kilometers from its respective ski area in the Alps, Jura, Vosges, Massif Central and Pyrénées. The properties consist of gîtes ruraux, chambres et tables d’hôtes, gîtes d’étape and gîtes de séjour. The brochure also details services offered by the downhill and cross-country ski areas. €12.

9. “Séjours à la ferme 2007” — This brochure covers 1,424 farm properties in the form of gîtes ruraux, chambres d’hôtes, gîtes d’étape and gîtes de séjour, with detailed information about each accommodation. €14.

10. “Séjours pêche 2008” — 381 vacation properties in the form of gîtes ruraux, chambres et tables d’hôtes, gîtes d’étape and gîtes de séjour for fishing enthusiasts, each fewer than 10 kilometers from a fishing place. The brochure indicates the type of fishing, the best locations, the best period to fish, etc. €12.

11. “Locations de chalets, campings et campings à la ferme 2008” — This brochure inventories 996 chalet and mobile-home villages and 665 campgrounds for tents, trailers and motorhomes (usually near a farm). €12.

12. “Gîtes d’Enfants” — The Children’s Gîtes are located in the countryside, in the mountains or by the sea and are available during school holidays for children (minimum of three, maximum of 20) ages four to 15. They may offer instructive activities, such as theater, dance, introductory computing, foreign languages, arts-and-crafts and different sports.

More farmstays

For other farm holidays, go to Bienvenue à la Ferme’s excellent website, Contact them through Assemblée Permanente des Chambres d’Agriculture (9, avenue George V, 75008 Paris; phone +33 1 53 57 11 44 or +33 1 53 57 11 59, fax 57 11 94, e-mail

Bienvenue à la Ferme’s booklet “Séjour à la Ferme 2006” details 1,424 guest cottages, bed-and-breakfasts, and stopover and holiday hostels located on farms and is available for €14 in bookstores throughout France and on the Gîtes de France website.

You will find the “Fermes Auberges 2005-2006” guide in bookstores and department stores, while regional and departmental guides can be ordered through the website.

To reserve a gîte

The official reservation agencies for the various types of gîtes are the 55 Loisirs Accueil offices (Fédération Loisirs Accueil France, 74/76 rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris; phone 01 44 11 10 20, fax 01 45 55 96 66, I have e-mailed the head office many times, in French as well as in English, but they never responded. However, if you happen to encounter an office in a town you visit, it may be worthwhile to stop in.

P. Camping

The following camping guides provide excellent information.

1. The “Guide Officiel Camping-Caravaning” (“Official Camping & Caravaning Guide”), published in French by the Fédération Française de Camping et de Caravaning, is a comprehensive, yearly updated guide of more than 10,000 campsites, which you can order from Groupe Motor Presse France Service Guides (12 rue Rouget de Lisle, 92442 - Issy-les-Moulineaux Cedex, France; phone +33 1 41 33 37 37, fax 33 38 38). It also is available at French hypermarchés (hypermarkets) and caravan dealers. You can download it in English at, a site with a great interface.

2. The Michelin guide “Camping France 2008” (ISBN 9782067130685), although written in French, can be used easily by English speakers since the legend in the front of the book has an English translation. The Michelin 1:200,000 maps show the locations of the campgrounds.

3. The 2008 booklet “Travel Service in Europe” (in English), with 200 European campsites, is distributed by the Caravan Club. It can be downloaded at by first clicking on “shop,” next on “brochures” and finally on “European Travel Services Brochure Pack.” Alternatively, call the brochure order line at +44 1342 327 410. Receiving the brochure by mail is expensive, since you first have to pay for membership in the Caravan Club and then for the cost of mailing.

4. “AA Caravan & Camping Europe 2008” by AA Publishing is another annually updated book and provides details of more than 3,500 sites throughout 11 Western European countries. It is for sale for $22 in the US at Wide World Books & Maps — Seattle’s Travel Store (4411A Wallingford Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103; phone 888/534-3453, fax 206/634-0558, Be sure to order well in advance.

5. The brochure “Locations de chalets, campings et campings à la ferme” is produced by Gîtes de France (see above).

International Camping Carnet

Before going camping, it is advisable to obtain the International Camping Carnet, which is an identity card that provides access to campgrounds owned or operated by clubs affiliated with AIT (Alliance International de Tourisme) and FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) and guarantees payment of campground charges.

The carnet (identity card) is kept at the office until you leave. Some proprietors accept it in lieu of a deposit. Other advantages of the card include campsite fee discounts, reservation priority and possible permission to camp in state forests. If you don’t have a carnet, the management often will insist on keeping your passport.

The camping carnet is available from the Canadian Automobile Association, which provides this as a service to American Automobile Association (AAA) members and nonmembers. However, it usually is cheaper to get the carnet overseas at one of the local automobile clubs, which are affiliated with the AAA. To obtain a list of those clubs, ask your local AAA chapter for the booklet “Offices to Serve You Abroad.”

Q. Hostels

While camping is economical, auberges de jeunesse, or youth hostels, are inexpensive also. Most accommodations are in dormitories, but in a number of hostels families can sleep in private rooms. In France, all ages are welcome.

Most hostels belong to Hostelling International (2nd Floor, Gate House, Fretherne Rd., Welwyn Garden City, Herts., AL8 6RD, England; phone +44 1707 324170, fax 323980, and require a membership card, which you can obtain from the national youth hostel association of your home country.

For the US, contact Hostel­ling International – USA (8401 Colesville Rd., Ste. 600, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone 301/495 1240 (press the No. 3 prompt), fax 301/495-6697, You also can send your application to one of the councils (local chapters), hostels or authorized selling agents.

For Canada, contact Hostelling International – Canada (205 Catherine St., Ste. 400, Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1C3, Canada; phone 800/663-5777, fax 613/237-7868,

If you forget to purchase a card before arriving in France, you can get hold of a “Guest Card” at the hostel of your destination, where, after buying a Welcome Stamp for €2.90 (near $4) per night for six nights, you will have acquired full membership for one year and will have access to all of the youth hostels in the world.

Local discounts often are available with membership. Unofficial youth hostels do not require a card.

To obtain the “Official International Youth Hostels Guide 2008” (ISBN 9780901496683), a directory that includes facilities, open hours, transport, street plans, etc., go to or buy it from your local bookstore or from the National Youth Hostel Association in your country.

The following organizations list hostel or hostel-like accommodations in France.

1. The French Federation of Youth Hostels, or FUAJ (National Center Office, 27 rue Pajol, 75018 Paris, France; phone +33 1 44 89 87 27, fax 89 87 49, e-mail, which presents 220 hostels at (French only). This website has an excellent interface, making choosing and booking a pleasure.

2. Ethic-Étapes (27 rue de Turbigo, 75002, Paris, France; phone +33 1 40 26 57 64, fax 26 58 20,, which includes all kinds of not-for-profit accommodations throughout France for young people. You can make reservations at the website.

3. Crous ( offers housing in 11 university residences located in the heart of Paris. Part of the website is in French.

4. Cnous ( presents lodging in student housing. Part of the website is in French.

For those without Internet access, contact Centre National des Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires (69 quai d’Orsay, 75007 Paris, France; phone +33 1 44 18 53 00 or fax +33 1 45 55 48 49).

R. University campuses

Another inexpensive way of overnighting, available usually during the summer, is to stay on a university campus. For addresses, get the “Campus Lodging Guide” (1999), which you can purchase on The booklet also lists economy and mid-priced hotels and motels, hostels, YMCAs and B&Bs.

S. Yurts and houseboats

If you have a yen for a yurt (a type of Asian, circular-domed tent), called yourte in French, go to 905&EditoID=83889.

You also can find information about yurts in the French tourist office booklet “Accommodations Off the Beaten Path.” Unfortunately, a great deal of the information is in French.

The following yurts and houseboats are available.

A. In Mijoux, in the middle of Parc Régional Haut-Jura, in the department of Ain, Marc and Marylène Lobros (phone +33 4 50 41 32 45, e-mail rent out two yurts in addition to their rural cabin for €15.50 per night.

B. In the Ardèche département, you can choose the “yurt and camping” packages at. . .

1. Camping le Viaduc, Arlebosc (phone +33 4 75 06 74 49, [in French]) or. . .

2. Yourte and Breakfast in Saint-Peray (phone +33 4 75 40 26 87, [in French]), which is in the heart of the ruins of a fortified Ardéchois castle, or. . .

3. A la yourte Ardéchoise (Gluiras; phone +33 4 75 65 48 38, [in French]), located inside the Parc Naturel Régional des Monts d’Ardèche.

C. If you would rather sleep on a houseboat moored in the Saône, in the middle of Lyon, contact Dominique Abafourd, who rents out his boat, Péniche El Kantara (Quai Rambaud, Lyon; phone +33 4 78 42 02 75, [in French]).

The French Government Tourist Office

Maison de la France, or the French Government Tourist Office, or FGTO (at 825 Third Ave., 29th floor [entrance on 50th Street], New York, NY 10022; phone 514/288-1904, fax 212/ 838-7855… or, in Los Angeles, phone 310/271-6665, offered the following publications when I prepared this essay. They can be downloaded or ordered as brochures.

• “Franceguide for the Jewish Traveler” (20 pages).

• “France: Welcome to the Vineyards of France 2007.”

• “Franceguide 2008” (English version).

• “France: Water and Fitness 2007.”

• “EZ ReferenceGuide 2005” (88 pages).

• “France: Golf in France 2007.”

• “France: Villes de France 2007.”

• “France map 2006.”

• “Regional brochures.”

When you request one of the above brochures there is no charge. When ordering more than one, there is a handling charge of $2 and a charge of 50¢ per brochure. The FGTO also offers numerous regional pamphlets. However, as there is no information about their content, you take a gamble when ordering them.

I hope that the information provided in these four articles will assist you in finding the accommodation of your desire.