The French government rates hotels on a one- to five-star system. In 2011, a new rating of "palace" (or palais) rating was given to a small number of luxury hotels, which takes them beyond the five-star rating. Only one is in Provence and the Riviera, the Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and all hotels will have their "palace" rating reviewed after 5 years. Generally speaking, one-star hotels are budget accommodations; two-star lodgings are good tourist hotels; three stars go to high-quality hotels; and four and five stars are reserved for deluxe accommodations. Travelers will notice that the number of stars often bear little resemblance to the quality of the hotel. A three-star could have just slipped into the category and needs a more polish, while a two-star might be missing a vital ingredient that takes it to the next level, usually something as simple as the lack of an elevator. The French tourism industry is in the process of standardizing all of the criteria, but this is still a work in progress. In some of the lower categories, the rooms might not have private bathrooms; instead, many have a sink and maybe a bidet. Not all private bathrooms have a bathtub/shower combination; ask in advance if it matters to you.
More and more hotels in France are joining Green Globe's worldwide certification label for sustainable tourism. For more information on environmentally friendly hotels in Provence and the Riviera, contact Green Globe (tel. 06-15-09-27-21; www.greenglobe.com). In Cannes, the Hotel Martinez and the InterContinental Carlton hold a Green Globe certification.
Relais & Châteaux
This organization of deluxe hotels began in France in 1954 when a group of hoteliers joined together to set the highest standards for luxurious hotel living and dining. Initially the hotels were along the route of the Paris-Riviera train. These relais de campagne offered travelers an unforgettable gastronomic experience as they made their way south. Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before this route was christened La Route du Bonheur (the road of happiness). Relais & Châteaux establishments are former castles, abbeys, manor houses, and town houses converted into elegant hotels. All have a limited number of rooms, so reservations are imperative. Many of these owner-run establishments have pools, tennis courts, and spa facilities. For information and reservations, call tel. 800/735-2478, or check out the website www.relaischateaux.com.
Logis de France
This collection of mainly two- and three-star hotels is a good bet for those on a budget who want to sample French hospitality and high-quality cooking (www.logishotels.com). Accommodations vary widely, but a Logis de France hotel guarantees a certain level of comfort, and many of the restaurants offer very good regional cuisine for reasonable prices. The distinctive yellow-and-brown logo will show the hotel's rating in the number of fireplaces, from one (quite basic) to three (very good).
Called chambres d'hôtes in France, these could be one or several bedrooms in anything from a farm or a village home to a wing in a château. Many offer one main meal of the day as well (lunch or dinner), known as table d'hôte, which are usually communal affairs. Although simpler houses in rural locations offer low rates, others can be quite expensive. But the experience is a world away from a night in a chain hotel. In some towns that lack decent hotels, a B&B is the best choice. You can search the directory at www.chambresdhotes.org.
In the United States, a good source for this type of accommodations is the French Experience (www.frenchexperience.com), which also rents furnished houses. Another U.S. agency is Provence West (www.provencewest.com), which has connections with some of the best accommodations in the region. You can also contact France: Homestyle (www.francehomestyle.com), whose upscale repertoire in Provence includes more than 300 properties.
Villas, Houses & Apartments
If you can stay for at least a week (sometimes even less) and don't mind doing your own cooking and cleaning, you might want to rent long-term accommodations. The possibilities are practically endless. To begin with, there are simple gîtes, which are often outbuildings on farms that have been turned into rental accommodation. You can find a list of suitable properties at www.gites-de-france.com. There are companies that hold thousands of rental accommodations on their books, which could be anything from a seaside studio apartment in Collioure to a luxurious villa in St-Tropez.
HomeAway (www.homeaway.co.uk) is a major holiday rental agency with about 75,000 properties in France, almost 30,000 of which are in Provence, the Riviera, and Languedoc-Roussillon. Other U.K.-based companies include French Connections (www.frenchconnections.co.uk), Vintage Travel (www.vintagetravel.co.uk), Interhome (www.interhome.com), and Holiday Lettings (www.holidaylettings.co.uk).
In the United States, At Home Abroad (www.athomeabroadinc.com) specializes in villas on the French Riviera and in the Provençal hill towns. Rentals are usually for 2 weeks. Barclay International Group (www.barclayweb.com), can give you access to about 3,000 apartments and villas throughout Languedoc, Provence, and the Riviera, ranging from modest modern units to those among the most stylish.
France, and Provence in particular, has a large number of self-contained holiday villages that offer self-catered apartments in residences with a large range of facilities. They are very popular with French families who want a safe environment for their children, with swimming pools and play areas on-site, for a reasonable weekly rent. Some of the best known operators are Lagrange Holidays (www.lagrange-holidays.co.uk), Pierre & Vacances (www.pv-holidays.com), and Madame Vacances (www.madamevacances.co.uk).
Accor Hotels (www.accor-hotels.com) is made up of a wide range of chain hotels within France and around the world. There is a type of hotel to suit all budgets. Formule 1 (www.hotelformule1.com) is the most basic, with purely functional rooms that can sleep four. They are almost always situated in out-of-town shopping areas, and are useful for breaking up a long car journey. The next step up is Etap (www.etaphotel.com), which has a few more frills than a Formule 1 and more often can be found a little closer to the center of town. Ibis (www.ibishotel.com) is the first step out of the budget category but is still an economical choice, as it can be found in central locations and has modern rooms of a decent size. Mercure (www.mercure.com) and Novotel (www.novotel.com) jump another level towards the four-star category, and many have extra facilities such as swimming pools. Pullman (www.pullmanhotels.com) are the deluxe hotels favored by well-to-do business people, while Sofitel hotels (www.sofitel.com) are among the most luxurious to be found.
At the least expensive end, Hostelling International USA, 8401 Colesville Rd., Silver Springs, MD 20910 (tel. 301/495-1240; www.hiusa.org), offers a directory of low-cost accommodations and hostels around the country.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.