By Maggie LaCoste
Nothing can make a bad day of bicycling better than a great place to stay at the end of the day. Likewise, nothing can ruin a great day more than the wrong place to stay. When I begin to evaluate possible routes for a trip, lodging options are one of the first things that I look at, and are probably what I spend the most time researching. The top three things that I look for in a place to stay:
1. Does the owner run the property, possibly even living there?
2. Is there a restaurant, or are there restaurants within walking distance?
3. Is it affordable?
Here’s my thinking behind these criteria: I’ve never gone wrong with a lodging choice that is run by the person that owns it, after a long day of bicycle touring, I want a restaurant very close for dinner, and who doesn’t want an affordable place to stay, even on vacation? Lodging options managed by the owner seem to have more character and provide a more authentic French experience, which is exactly what I am looking for on a cycling vacation. I look for resources that include small, charming hotels, B&B’s or gites, often located in small towns and villages. By choosing an option in a smaller village, you can often stay in a higher rated property for a fraction of the cost of a comparable option in a large town. And nothing beats being able to walk a block away to the best place in town for dinner!
I have already written a blogpost about the Logis Hotels, Europe’s largest group of independently-owned hotels, most of which are in France, and most of which are run by the owners. The ambiance of each is unique and reflects the local area. Logis Hotels are known for their welcoming environment and comfortable accommodations at a fair price. If the Logis has a restaurant, odds are it run by one of the best chefs in the area. The Logis Hotels have their own rating system and are consistently among the highest rated TripAdvisor hotels. You can read more about the Logis Hotels here.
Two new favorite accommodation resources are Gites de France and Clevacances. Both are recognized by the French Ministry of Tourism. Gites de France is the largest guest-house network in Europe and is more than 50 years old. All properties are rated with “epis” or ears of wheat, one being basic, and five being premium. While there definitely is quite a difference between a one and three ear of wheat rating, the main difference between a three and five ear rating is often just the number of amenities. Bottom line, a three ear choice can offer most of the comfort as a five ear choice, but with fewer amenities like a flat screen TV or a jacuzzi. Gites can be a very affordable lodging choice, with most of the options from 40-80 Euro a night, including breakfast.
The Gite de France website enables you to search for listings by region, department or city, by rating level, by the type of facilities, by vacation theme or by the type of accommodations and number of people. A search of the Centre Region found a total of 1,312 lodging possibilities, 1,061 gite rentals and 243 B&B’s. Some of the smaller gites may have owners who only speak French, so you may need to use Google Translate to communicate. All but the highest rated accommodations require cash payment, so be sure you plan accordingly.
The “new guy on the block” is Clevacances, created in 1995 by the merger of several smaller associations. The association is very popular with younger owners who feel that it has a more youthful image than Gites de France. Clevacances rentals and B&B’s are classified according to three criteria:
1. The building and surrounding itself and the peacefulness of the surrounding area and the absence of noise, industrial smells, traffic
2. The internal attributes including the space, furniture, decoration, household furnishings
3. The services offered by the owner or owner’s representative
Accommodations are rated with 1-5 keys, with one being the most basic and 5 being the most luxurious. The association has 25,000 holiday rentals and 6,000 B&B’s in 94 Departments and 22 Regions. Accommodation type includes chalets, flats, B&B’s, and holiday park lodging. One of the things that I love the most about Clevacances is that you will find lodging options here that you won’t find listed anywhere else. Their listings are unusual and meet all my accommodation criteria. It is possible to stay in a charming, cozy B&B outside of Amboise, one of the more expensive places along the Loire for 50-85 Euro/night. A look at weekly lodging options near Tours found several for 240-320 Euro/week.
So if you have started planning a trip for 2013, or you are lucky enough to fit in one more bicycling trip in the fall, take a look at one of these options. Like me, I am sure you will be surprised at the quality of lodging options at an affordable price. If you have a favorite resource that you use to find unique and special places to stay, please send it along to me and I will share it.