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Accommodations Abroad

Budget Hotels in France

Many upscale European hotels advertise more services than they are able to deliver. The more fancy the features on offer, the more things can go wrong: electronic room keys that don’t open doors, musak that won’t switch off, arctic air conditioning in January, and heart-stopping phone bills are par for the course on the luxury circuit.

In France, where the word for “welcome” and “reception” are the same, accueil, they seem to have found the right balance: hotels that provide basic but comfortable accommodations at budget prices. The locations are convenient--they are often the first buildings you see on leaving the autoroute--and the low prices are prominently displayed.

A typical example is the Hôtel Première Classe at Tours, in the beautiful Loire Valley. A rooftop sign proclaims the room price: $25. A multilingual “Welcome” machine charges your credit card and gives you a room access number; minutes later, after collecting a snack from the “automatic cafeteria,” you are in a clean, comfortable double room.

All rooms are air-conditioned, offer French television programs, and accommodate up to three people, sometimes four. There’s a well-lit work table and even a plug for your lap-top or phone charger, but don’t forget your adapter plug if you want to use them! Breakfast, at $4, is TIY (toast it yourself), but the coffee is copious and, well, French. There’s no phone in the room, but who uses hotel telephones these days? And you’re back on the autoroute the next morning within five minutes.

Accor is the market leader, with two budget chains, Formule 1 and ETAP, which run almost 400 hotels throughout France at prices from $20 for Formule 1 and $27 for ETAP. Popular locations cost slightly more: the ETAP in Nice on the French Riviera charges $38. The cheaper Formule 1 hotels may not have a private shower or WC, which can be inconvenient if you’ve used the community shower and you can’t remember your room access code. More chains coming into the market will mean more choice and better deals for the traveler.

At present, 81 percent of Formule 1 clients are male and 68 percent are business travelers, but with more families holidaying by car, the budget hotel industry is growing faster than the other end of the market. The chains are also moving into city centers and tourist areas. The Bonsaï in Calais ( $27) is directly opposite the main railway station.

Let’s face it, you don’t go to budget hotel chains for long stays, fluffy towels, scenic grandeur, or swimming pools. But after a hard day on the road, they offer convenience, consistency, and value. And after you leave, the best is yet to come--when those credit card bills arrive.

French Budget Hotels Links (Editor's Update)