Travel: The good hotel guide to France: Frank Barrett surveys the modern chains (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Travel

IF YOU had given up on a holiday in France this summer because of the feeble state of the pound, think again. Thanks to a price war, French chain hotels offer outstanding value and help make a trip affordable.

The reason for the low prices is competition. During 1992 a total of 10,305 new hotel rooms were built in France, compared with just over 2,000 in Britain. Last year more new hotel rooms were added in France than all the other continental countries and the UK combined.

The growth is predominantly at the cheaper end of the market. Intense competition between established budget chains such as Formule 1, Ibis, Campanile and Premiere Classe - and newcomers such as Mister Bed and Villages-Hotel - has led to a price war across the whole industry.

Formule 1, the innovator of the increasingly popular check-yourself-in concept, offers rooms that sleep up to three people from just pounds 15.50 per night (breakfast costs pounds 2.50). At almost every motorway exit and on the outskirts of every reasonably sized French town, you will find one of these modern chain hotels and motels offering decent accommodation. If you are travelling with children they provide particularly good value.

But if your ideal French hotel is more traditional, there are other chains to suit your needs. The best known is Logis de France, representing more than 4,000 privately owned one- and two-star hotels in 3,000 French towns and villages. Prices are from pounds 20 per person for half-board accommodation.

Because all the hotels are privately owned, quality and value for money vary enormously: try to check the verdict of Michelin and other guides (see below) before committing yourself to a seven-night stay.

The Logis guide used to be free from the French tourist office: now it charges pounds 8.50 ( pounds 9.50 by post: cheque payable to Maison de la France). A selection can be booked through Gites de France (071-408 1343).

The other famous consortium, Relais et Chateaux, represents 150 leading French country-house hotels: prices range from pounds 50 to more than pounds 200 per room per night. A guide is available from the French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL (071-491 7622) price pounds 4 ( pounds 5 by post).

Other up-market hotel associations worth considering include: Chateaux Hotels Independants et Hostelleries d'Atmosphere (010 33 1 43 54 74 99), a consortium of more than 200 chateaux and country house hotels, rooms from around pounds 60 per night; Les Etapes Francois Coeur (010 33 1 47 95 05 47), up-market bed and breakfast in chateaux and other large houses; Relais du Silence (010 33 1 45 66 77 77), a group comprising around 150 two-, three- and four-star hotels selected for 'friendly atmosphere, superb service and quiet location'; rooms from around pounds 35 per night.

'Cafe Couette' is the organisation of 450 private houses in France offering bed and breakfast: a guide is available from the French Government Tourist Office, price pounds 6 ( pounds 7 by post).

Main French Modern Hotel Chains

Accor: Bookings and information on all chains from London Resinter office (071-724 1000). The different chains cover all sectors of the market, including:

Formula 1: More than 200 one-star hotels. Basic rooms with wash-basins and televisions - but no en-suite facilities - with one double and one single bed. Rooms cost pounds 15.50 per night.

Hotel Ibis and Urbis: More than 240 two-star hotels. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms, satellite television. Hotels also have restaurants. Rooms accommodating up to three people from around pounds 35 per night.

Arcade: More than 70 two-star hotels: rooms from pounds 35 a night.

Hotel Mercure (now merged with the Altea group): More than 100 three-star hotels. Children sharing their parents' room stay free. Rates vary according to season, but average rates are around pounds 50 per room per night.

Novotel: More than 100 three-star hotels. Children under 16 stay free and have free breakfast. Meals available from 6am to midnight. Average price of rooms around pounds 55 per night.

Sofitel (now merged with the Pullman chain): More than 30 four-star hotels in the main French cities. Rooms rates from around pounds 60 per night. chains

Campanile: More than 200 two-star hotels: rooms from around pounds 30 per night. UK reservations office: 081-569 6969; Paris 010 33 1 64 62 46 46.

Climat de France: More than 130 two-star hotels: rooms from around pounds 28 per night. Reservations in the UK through Voyages Vacances (071-287 3181).

Fimotel: More than 50 two-star hotels: rooms from around pounds 28 per night. Reservations: 081-785 2977; Paris, 010 33 1 47 72 67 79.

Les Relais Bleus: More than 60 two-star hotels: rooms from around pounds 25 per night. Reservations in Paris: 010 33 1 46 86 51 30.

Resthotel Primevere: More than 100 two-star hotels: from around pounds 30 per night. UK reservations: 061-962 8032.

Operators offering hotel-inclusive packages to France

AA Motoring Holidays (0256 493878)

Air France Holidays (081-742 3377)

Allez France Holidays (0903 742345)

Bonnes Vacances (081-948 3467)

Brittany Direct Holidays (081- 641 6060)

Brittany Ferries (0752 221321)

Cresta Holidays (061 926 9999)

Crystal Holidays (081-390 3335)

French Life Holidays (0532 390077)

Gites de France (071-408 1343)

Hampton House Travel (071-223 0601)

Hoverspeed Holidays (081-424 2929)

Inntravel (0439 71111)

Maison Vacances (081-540 9680)

Meon Villa Holidays (0730 268411)

North Sea Ferries (0482 77177)

Quatre Saisons (0303 221135)

Sally Holidays (0732 780440)

Sunvista Holidays (0985 217373)

VFB Holidays (0242 526338)

Westbury Travel (0225 444516)

Useful books

The Michelin Red Guide to France is the one book you must have, if only for the invaluable town plans and wealth of other useful information.

Other useful guides include the Charming Small Hotel Guide to France (Duncan Petersen, pounds 7.99) and the French Entree series by Pat Fenn (Quiller Press): the latest guide to Normandy, for example, costs pounds 6.95.


APOLOGIES to any readers who have had problems trying to follow up incorrect information provided for us by the French Government Tourist Office:

Reservations for the French Primevere hotel chain, which has nearly 180 two-star hotels, should be made with the English-speaking central office in Paris on 010 33 1 64 49 74 74 and not as given last week.