By Maggie LaCoste
I spend a lot of time researching where to stay on my bicycling trips. In response to a number of e-mails that I received on my Top Places to Stay for 2012 posts, I thought I would share a bit of how I go about making my selections.
I spend more time researching places to stay and eat than almost any other part of planning for my bike trips. As I’ve said many times, nothing can save a terrible day of bicycling than ending the day at a wonderful place to stay. Likewise, nothing can ruin a perfect bicycling day more than a mediocre place to stay. A good meal and a great night’s sleep are essential to keeping me happy when I am bicycling. So I devote the time, in advance to try to make the best selections that I can.
How do I go about doing this? When I am narrowing down the possibilities for an upcoming trip, I start taking a look at lodging alternatives in major towns along the route. A quick look at a couple of resources like the Michelin Red Guide France, and the local tourism website will confirm the general availability and price range of places to stay in the area. This information helps me make my final selection for an upcoming trip. This is a process that I have now begun for my 2013 trips. Once I make a final decision on an itinerary, I start researching specific towns and specific choices along the route.
Much to the dismay of my family, I have been known to add an extra 10-15 km onto a normal day’s itinerary so that we could stay at a special place that I found along the route! Fortunately these choices were always as wonderful as I had hoped they would be, so the extra effort required to get there was always worth it. I want my lodging choices to enhance my overall experience of traveling through France by bike, a window into a better understanding of life in France. And so I search for special places where at the end of the day I will get a warm and welcoming greeting at check-in, help carrying my panniers up the stairs, fluffy pillows, a glass of wine, these are all signs that I have made the right decision.
I estimate that I use 10-15 sources for every lodging selection that I make. As mentioned, I always look at the basics like Michelin, TripAdvisor, Logis Hotels, Gites de France, Karen Brown, the French National Tourism Office and CleaVacances. But I also look at accommodations listings for local tourism offices which often include small options that never make it into larger directories. Other resources that I use include local French cycling organizations, French regional travel blogs and small regional wine websites. I often find my best selections from some of these offbeat sources.
During my search, my objective is simple: to find the nicest place to stay for the least amount of money. Generally I try to avoid staying in large towns, preferring a much nicer small hotel or B&B in a small village for a fraction of the cost. This frees up money for me to splurge a bit on a great dinner and bottle of wine. It also means that at the end of the day when I am tired, I don’t need to navigate my way into a larger town. In the morning, well-rested, I’ll do my sightseeing, buy picnic supplies, maybe find a market if I’m lucky, and enjoy a second cup of coffee in town before I hit the road for the day.
Choosing where to stay can be a daunting task for anyone planning a bicycling trip to France. As a matter of fact, this is one reason people often choose to take self-guided trips, because all of the lodging choices are made for you. I’m a bit more adventurous and independent, and I love discovering little known places to stay that make my trips so memorable.
I love sharing my discoveries and I always write about my selections online before each bicycling trip. Suggestions on where to stay will also be included in my e-guide series, the first of which will come out in March. My selections are always noted for the special features and characteristics that made them appeal to me. My choices may not be the fanciest or the most luxurious, and they will probably not be the highest rated in the area, unless I have gotten an incredibly great deal. But my choices will always be characterized by three words: comfort, charm and value. I am always on the lookout for new places to stay, so if you come upon a great selection on your bicycling adventures, I hope that you will send in a note and share it with all of us too!
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