The complete guide to: French hotels

Whether you're yearning for the last word in urban chic or traditional rustic charm, a seaside palace or a fairy-tale chateau, France has got it all, says Natasha Edwards
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The Independent Travel

I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF PARISIAN LOUIS XV

I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF PARISIAN LOUIS XV

A fresh breeze is wafting through Parisian hotels. After all the Louis XV gilt, a new design generation has arrived. Rather than off-the-shelf-modern or 100-room palaces, these establishments return to the classic small French hotel, with an emphasis on individuality and service. Just off the couture heartland of avenue Montaigne in the 8th arrondissement, the Hôtel de Sers (41 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 8th arr; 00 33 1 53 23 75 75; www.hoteldesers.com; doubles from €550/£393), has brushed-concrete floors downstairs, perpetually changing coloured-light washes, modern furniture and sleek bathrooms, but the young architect Thomas Vidalenc has cleverly warmed up the minimalism with lots of lilac and crimson in carpets and taffeta curtains, and a witty nod to the hotel's belle époque origins in the gallery of oil portraits that line the hallway.

The designer Christophe Pillet has taken a more radical approach at the Hôtel de Sezz (6 avenue Frémiet, 16th arr; 00 33 1 56 75 26 26; www.hotelsezz.com; doubles from €250/£179), which opened this April. He has clad the interior of the 1913 building in rough, dark-grey stone. There are fabulous smoky Murano glass lights-cum-vases, beds are posed like islands in the centre of the rooms and baths range from grey stone cubes to a bath for two with double headrests. This is a place for design buffs but it also aims at the personalised welcome. There is no reception, but you are allocated a butler-style personal assistant to attend to your needs throughout your stay.

There's more of an arty touch in the Marais at the Hôtel du Petit-Moulin (29 rue du Poitou, 3rd arr; 00 33 1 42 74 10 10; www.hoteldupetitmoulin.com; doubles from €180/£130), in two linked early-17th-century houses. In his first hotel venture, the fashion designer Christian Lacroix has used sumptuous fabrics, unusual colour combinations and screen-printed trompe l'oeil panels, he also created a vintage-style Paris bar, marrying zinc counter, murals and pop colours. Also in the Marais, the Murano Urban Resort (13 boulevard du Temple, 3rd arr; 00 33 1 42 71 20 00; www.muranoresort.com; doubles from €450/£322) is full of hi-tech wizardry. You can play with the lighting colour scheme in your room and two suites have their own outdoor swimming pool on the balcony (a snip at €2,500).

Even budget hotels have shrugged off the pink or blue flock wallpaper beloved of two-star properties in Paris. Take the Hôtel Mayet in the 6th (3 rue Mayet, 6th arr; 00 33 1 47 83 21 35; www.mayet.com; double from €130/£93 including breakfast), a remnant of old Montparnasse, styled with grey and red walls, and metal ceiling fans and bedside tables.

URBAN SOPHISTICATION ELSEWHERE?

Beams meet hi-tech at the Hermitage Gantois (00 33 3 20 85 30 30; www.hotelhermitagegantois.com; doubles from €195/£140) in Lille, a charity hospice founded in 1462 that became a smart hotel two years ago. It cleverly combines historic features and contemporary touches, from the ornate chapel, panelled salons and intimate courtyard gardens with box hedges, to the glass and steel roof over the reception and bar

The elegant Grand Hôtel de la Reine (00 33 3 83 35 03 01; www.hoteldelareine.com; doubles from €155/£111) in Nancy got its name from Marie Antoinette, who stayed here in 1770. This regal 18th-century building stands on place Stanislas, which came out of wraps this week newly pedestrianised.

La Mirande (00 33 4 90 14 20 20; www.la-mirande.fr; doubles from €295/£211) in Avignon, a sumptuous 17th-century mansion tucked behind the imposing Palais des Papes, has been decorated with exquisite taste, with the salons and glazed-in courtyard still having the feel of a private house. As a bonus, you can take cookery courses in the old kitchens with some of the area's best chefs.

In Strasbourg, the salubrious Hôtel Régent Petite France (00 33 3 88 76 43 43; www.regent-hotels.com; doubles from €250/£170) is a brilliantly converted waterside ice factory in the picturesque Petite France district.

The Domaine des Andéols (00 33 4 90 75 50 63; www.domainedesandeols.com; doubles from €300/£214 at St-Saturnin-sur-Apt in the Luberon has taken conceptual art to the country. Here, the nine achingly cool "houses" with themes from art and love to travel, are furnished with modern design classics and contemporary artworks.

SMALL-TOWN FRANCE?

In Chinon, the Hôtel de France (00 33 2 47 93 33 91; www.bestwestern.fr; doubles from €75/£53) is a historic inn in the heart of the old town, well placed for exploring the châteaux of the Loire. Rooms feature stone walls, beams and ancient niches, many have balconies with views of the ruined Plantagenet castle.

In the Burgundian wine capital of Beaune, the Hôtel des Remparts (00 33 3 80 24 94 94; doubles from €80/£57) boasts a maze of 17th-century rooms, courtyards and corridors on a quiet street backing on to the old-rampart walk.

Some towns pack several tempting hotels into a tiny area. Arles is one. One option is the Grand Hôtel Nord Pinus (00 33 4 90 93 44 44; www.nord-pinus.com; doubles from €155/£111), with its fashionable bar and brasserie - and a past guest list that includes Cocteau and Picasso. Another choice is the refined decoration of the Hôtel Particulier (00 33 4 90 52 51 40; www.hotel-particulier.com; doubles from €159/£114), a converted 18th-century townhouse, with eight rooms, pool and a spa. Or try the homely Provençal charms of Le Calendal (00 33 4 90 96 11 89; www.lecalendal.com; doubles from €50/£35) with views over an antique theatre, the Roman arena or a pretty courtyard. *

SOMETHING RURAL?

The latest offering in France from Alain Ducasse is the Auberge Ostapé (00 33 5 59 37 91 91; www.ostape.com; doubles from €230/£165), which takes the resort-hotel concept away from the seaside tropics to the deepest Pyrenees (40km inland from Biarritz, which you can reach from Stansted on Ryanair). The property is centred on an ancient Basque farmhouse, which contains the restaurant, reception and bar. Around this, 22 luxurious suites are spread over four farmhouses beautifully constructed in typical limewash, oxblood timbering and exposed stone. Rooms are in calm creamy whites and soft greys, with terracotta or hardwood floors and antique furniture. This is one for nature-lovers - there is a Pottok stud, vultures circling overhead, and mountain views in every direction.

Close by, and much more traditional, the Hôtel Arraya (00 33 5 59 54 20 46; www.arraya.com; doubles from €85/£61) is at the centre of the animated and pretty Basque village of Sare, about 15km inland from St-Jean-de-Luz. It was once a pilgrims' stop on the route to Santiago de Compostela. The rooms and salon are prettily furnished with old oak furniture and well-chosen fabrics and prints; there's a lovely old wooden staircase and a hidden raised garden.

You can gaze out over the wild Aubrac plateau from your bed at Michel Bras (00 33 5 65 51 18 20; www.michel-bras.fr; doubles from €205/£139), a stunning modern building where the Massif Central meets Japan, and every element of the stone, steel and glass structure seems to engage with the landscape. Although most people come here for the Michelin three-star restaurant, it is also worth spending the night, partly because nature is so intrinsic to Bras's cooking, and partly because it is not that near anywhere - although the village of Laguiole is 6km away, the nearest city, Rodez, is 60km away (another Ryanair destination).

A surprising gem can be found in the vine- and olive-growing hills 30km west of Montpellier. La Source (00 33 4 67 96 05 07; www.hoteldelasource.com; doubles from €46/£33) occupies part of the former royal cloth factory of Villeneuvette. This is a perfectly preserved miniature village laid out on a grid plan in the 17th-century, with its chapel, square, master's house, storerooms and the houses in which the weavers lived until manufacture ceased in 1954. Each of the 14 rooms has its own entrance. Most are on a little cobbled street, simple but pleasant with refurbished bathrooms.

I WANT TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE

Go for the boho arty touch at the Hôtel Windsor (00 33 4 93 88 59 35; www.hotelwindsornice.com; doubles from €110/£78) in Nice. From the outside, it looks like any 19th-century hotel, but inside there is a hammam, an aviary, an exotic garden, and rooms decorated by various contemporary artists, including our very own Glenn Baxter.

At Le Rayol-Canadol in the Var, Le Bailli de Suffren hotel (00 33 4 98 04 47 00; www.lebaillidesuffren.com; doubles from €235/£167) is set on the beach below the beautiful globally themed gardens of the Domaine de Rayol. The curved 1960s building has been pleasantly refurbished with calm, modern-Provençal chic, and there's a pool, private beach, bar, restaurant and hire boats to explore the St-Tropez peninsula without the traffic jams.

There is no shortage of palatial seaside hotels in France, but the extravagant red-brick Hôtel du Palais (00 33 5 59 41 64 00; www.hotel-du-palais.com; doubles from €420/£300) in Biarritz really was an imperial palace once, built as a summer residence for the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, who made the Atlantic coast fashionable. The gardens and pool jut out on to the beach in the heart of the Basque resort and surf capital.

At the Domaine de Rochevilaine (00 33 2 97 41 61 61; www.domainerochevilaine.com; doubles from €217/£155), on the south Brittany coast, you could easily spend your entire holiday simply gazing at the sea. Many of the rooms in the old fishermen's cottages and manors that have been reconstructed on a rocky headland have picture windows and terraces.

A RETREAT FROM THE WORLD?

The French Revolution left a whole set of unemployed monasteries just ripe for turning into hotels: historic settings that still provide an oasis of calm. L'Abbaye (00 33 4 93 32 68 34; www.hotelabbaye.com; doubles from €180/£129) comprises the remains of a monastery founded in the 11th century in the hill village of La Colle-sur-Loup, 18km from Nice. It is now an ultra-romantic hotel and restaurant, with pretty bedrooms, an ancient chapel that can still be used for weddings, a shady cloister, vaulted dining room and swimming pool.

More urban but brimming with history, the good-value Hôtellerie Le Couvent Royal (00 33 4 94 86 55 66; www.hotelfp-saintmaximin.com; doubles from €75/£54) at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, occupies a royal monastery founded in 1295, adjoining the finest Gothic church in Provence. The Dominicans' cells have been converted with tasteful simplicity into 67 bedrooms; meals are served in the vaulted chapter house or in the cloister.

If you are after 21st-century escapism mingled with hedonism, head for the Bordeaux wine trail: you can bathe in the stuff at Les Sources des Caudalie (00 33 5 57 83 83 83; www.sources-caudalie.com; doubles from €230/£164). It overlooks the vineyards of Smith Haut Lafitte, 9km from Bordeaux. Try the Red Wine Bath, the Merlot Wrap or the Sauvignon Massage. Santé!The Hôtel Royal Evian (00 33 4 50 26 85 00; www.royalparcevian.com; doubles from €275/£197, half- board) on Lake Geneva is a classic lakeside spa-palace hotel.

Additional research by Lucy Land

BED AND BREAKFAST BOOKINGS: THE BASICS

Prices listed here are the lowest prices for two people sharing a double room; many hotels also have triple or family rooms or suites, or are able to add an extra bed for a child, sometimes for an additional fee. Prices may go up in high season - July and August for holiday destinations - but you may find reduced rates in August and at weekends in Paris and other business destinations. Legally, hotels can't insist on half-board; in practice, it can be hard to avoid at some establishments.

Most hotels will ask for a credit-card number on reservation, while others may want a confirmation by e-mail or fax, and some smaller properties in rural areas will simply trust you to turn up. Rooms are generally held until 6pm; if you're going to be later, it's wise (and polite) to phone to say when you expect to arrive. Smaller, family-run hotels may lock the door late at night and provide a door-code to guests. Breakfast is usually charged on top; expect the price to be roughly proportionate to standard of the hotel - from €6 in a simple hotel to €30 or more in a luxury one. Although the classic baguette and croissants plus tea or coffee still exists, more hotels now offer a self-service buffet, and there's a trend for regional breads and cakes.

Tipping is rare in French hotels - as with restaurants, service is included in the bill. However, again like restaurants, the smarter the establishment, the more likely you are to feel obliged to give a petit pourboire to helpful porters or chambermaids.

A FRENCHMAN'S HOTEL IS HIS CASTLE

Centuries of dynastic feuding, baronial squabbling and simple showing-off have left France with an unrivalled array of castles and chateaux. A good number of these have been turned into hotels. Most are independently run, and many have signed up with the Relais & Châteaux ( www.relaischateaux.com) and Châteaux & Hôtels de France ( www.chateauxhotels.com) groupings.

Perched on a rocky spur amid the lush surroundings of the Dordogne valley, the Château de la Treyne in Lacave (00 33 5 65 27 60 60; www.chateaudelatreyne.com; doubles from €180/£129) is a picture-perfect romantic chateau. This Relais & Châteaux is located between Souillac and Rocamadour. It is smart but not stuffy, having more of a country-house atmosphere, with its salons and grand dining room. Bedrooms range from First Empire pomp on the first floor to the cheerful yellow of the Prison Dorée suite in the tower; bathrooms are modern, some with Jacuzzi. Larger rooms also have a sofa-bed. There's a pool, formal garden, acres of woodland, and a helipad.

Château de la Caze (00 33 4 66 48 51 01; www.chateaudelacaze.com; doubles from €108/£77), a 15th-century feudal castle complete with machiolated towers and moat, is set in the awe-inspiring Gorges du Tarn. Within the massive walls, vaulted rooms have period oak furniture, claw-foot baths and views of the cliff face across the river. Insist on the château, not the annexe. It is a good base for kayaking, walking and rock-climbing. And classical concerts are held here in summer.

The 13th-century Château de Bagnols (00 33 4 74 71 40 00; www.bagnols.com; doubles from €448/£320) in the Beaujolais, north of Lyon, is acclaimed both for its conversion and its service. The moated, golden-stone castle has ornate chimneys and tapestry-hung salons. Some bedrooms boast Renaissance wall paintings.

The Loire valley is synonymous with grandiose chateaux such as Amboise and Chambord, but there are plenty where you can stay. The Château de Pray (00 33 2 47 57 23 67; www.chateauxhotelsfrance.com/pray; doubles from €110/£79), set in attractive grounds outside Amboise, has fanciful fireplaces, canopied beds, and bathrooms in turrets. There's also a pool and restaurant.

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