Until recently in many French wine regions there was a rather slim choice of places to stay, often limited to one very expensive hotel, perhaps a few very basic ones, and a clutch of self-catering gîtes where a minimum stay was required. But, the past few years has seen a welcome change with the arrival of increasing numbers of good chambres d’hôtes – the French expression for Bed & Breakfast accommodation.
I’ll be honest in saying that I used to be rather scared of the prospect of staying in a chambres d’hôtes: would the bed be comfortable; the shower hot? Could I arrive back late after a meal elsewhere? And most of all, would I be required to make conversation with the owners? After all, chambres d’hôtes translates as ‘guest rooms’.
Having experienced the decline in quality of, in particular, the French family-run hotels (with honourable exceptions of course), due usually to lack of funds to update them with better beds, showers etc., I confess to having increasingly stayed in anonymous, well-priced motels for one or two-night stays near the vineyards. But recently, I’ve taken the plunge to experiment more with staying in the B & Bs, and been really pleasantly surprised.
Points to consider before booking a French B&B
- Although this is a commercial establishment, you are in someone’s own house. Be considerate and don’t expect the owners to be ‘staff’ as in a hotel.
- Credit cards may not be accepted in which case you will need cash. Check before arrival.
- TV, phone and internet connections in each room are not necessarily provided – some B&Bs make a point of not providing them to give a more ‘authentic’ experience. Do check in advance if that’s important to you.
- Breakfast will not necessarily be what you are used to and will be taken communally, often on one table. B&Bs are unlikely to offer a full buffet as you would find in a hotel. Some offer simply what they would eat at home i.e. bread, perhaps croissants, and a choice of coffee and tea. Others offer the finest breakfast of home-made and local products that you can imagine. Expect anything and ask in advance of you want something specific provided.
- Unless you are staying somewhere that specifically offers tables d’hôtes (a communal evening meal taken sometimes with the family, or with other guests), do not expect any other catering other than breakfast. Be prepared for it to be forbidden to eat in your room, and for the nearest restaurant to be some drive away if you are in the countryside.
- It’s very unlikely there will be a bar, though a few enlightened places offer an ‘honesty’ bar where you write down what you take.
The great advantages of staying in a B&B
- Above all, your hosts are either locals or people who have moved to the region, usually because they have fallen in love with the area and need a way to make an income. They are usually wonderful sources of local information, whether it be good nearby restaurants, wineries to visit or hikes, just bear in mind that these are biased, personal recommendations.
- Every B&B is different and reflects the personality of the house and its owner. Many have delightful and thoughtful touches, that might be simply artful or downright considerate.
- There will often be a garden, which is usually available for guests, and maybe a terrace, barbecue and swimming pool too. Be considerate about these, as the owners may restrict time of usage so that their own family get some personal time.
- If you are in a B&B owned by a wine producer, then there will undoubtedly be special perks, like a free visit and tour around the winery, a special tasting and so on. If you are staying more than a night, you are sure to get to see more than the normal visitor to the winery. And, you may be able to appreciate what it is like to have a night stroll in the middle of a vineyard under a starry sky. Personally I love nothing better than this to get ‘inside’ the atmosphere of a bottle of wine.
A selection of Jura B&Bs
As many readers will know, I am a specialist in the Jura wine region, and write the wine travel guides to the Jura. I generally stay at least one night when I visit and it is also a convenient stopping place en route between London and my home in the French Alps. So this is a region where I have most personal experience of B&Bs from staying in them, and also requesting an ‘inspection’ (not nearly as reliable as staying in them, of course, but reviewers can’t afford to stay everywhere).
Until a few years ago, Arbois had only very basic B&Bs. On a research trip I spent a couple of nights in a very centrally-placed B&B with just one bedroom, that’s really a small apartment with a kitchen, in quite an historic house, owned by a delightful English couple. Everything worked, but it was a rather old soft bed and I was glad I was on my own. The equally central Closerie les Capucines, on the other hand, is an old house restored to create a modern and luxurious B&B, with prices to match. I’ve only visited, not stayed there, but reviews seem consistently good.
In the tiny village of Pupillin are three relatively basic B&Bs which are very useful if you want to eat at Le Grapiot, the village’s excellent restaurant and/or stay somewhere quiet out of a town. I’ve stayed in two and for me there was something about Le Savagnin that had the edge on Le Part des Anges, but it’s all a matter of taste. For a wide choice, search the B&Bs on Gîtes de France – it’s best to choose places with three or four ‘corns’ for decent quality.
The town of Poligny has recently gained an unusual B&B, Les Jardins sur Glantine, owned and run by the owners of a tiny, relatively new wine producer Les Chais du Vieux Bourg. This is fast becoming the wine insider’s accommodation of choice, with its two luxurious suites. But bear in mind that each suite of two bedrooms has only one bathroom, so check that you will be on your own in the suite or be prepared to share! It’s ideal for a small group and you will get to taste their unusual wines over a very well-cooked meal.
Lons-le-Saunier in particular has a pretty poor choice of hotels for being the ‘capital’ of the Jura department and recently we tested out a B&B Le Cèdre Bleu just on the edge of town, on the road that leads up to the village of Montaigu where one of my favourite producers, Domaine Pignier is based. In a big house, our bedroom was huge, with a tiny bathroom, all spotless. Breakfast was basic but with a huge array of home-made jams. This is what it is all about, personality, which you may love or hate. But, it’s well worth taking the risk for somewhere different, as long as you not someone that expects big fluffy towels for €60 per room per night including breakfast.
Wine Travel Guides lists a few selected, good quality B&Bs in many of our guides under Places to Stay. We have a policy not to list those with only one bedroom and in France, five bedrooms is the maximum allowed to be classified as a chambres d’hôtes. In some regions, such as Bordeaux, you will find several wine-producing châteaux offering chambres d’hôtes in the actual château – don’t worry, you don’t have to work in the vineyards for your bed, and many offer very good value.