Hotel Ratings & How to Choose a Hotel in France
With no standardized hotel rating system in Europe, knowing exactly what to expect from your accommodation can be tricky. In France, finding a luxury hotel is extra tricky because the official French star rating system is based more on which amenities the hotel provides, rather than on the quality of the amenities.
France isn’t part of the Hotelstars Union adopted by 17 European countries including Germany, Sweden and Greece; instead, if a hotel decides to get a star rating they have to contact a French Government Group called Atout France, which is in charge of tourism. They will send over an accredited local company to check out the hotel. You can easily verify the current status of a hotel by going to this page.
Keep in mind that a high star rating does *not* mean a high quality establishment.
Unlike other countries, a key component of the ratings in France is the size of both the bedrooms and the hotel’s communal areas. The French hotel rating system has incorporated a 5-year review of each property for compliance. Amazingly, in the past, once a hotel was rated, the rating could last for 20 years without a review(!!!)
The irony of the star-rating system is that the very things that prevent these small hotels from winning more stars are what keep them special: their intimate scale, limited space, listed buildings, form over functionality. A star rating system cannot distinguish between an heirloom Canaletto and a Jack Vettriano print, and favors an elevator over a spiral staircase. As for charm, beauty, warmth – those qualities that make us fall in love with a certain hotel are so subjective that such things cannot be measured.
Why You Can’t Trust Hotel Reviews
When looking at hotel reviews online, know that it’s very easy for a hotel to purchase positive reviews by hiring people overseas who are experts at writing reviews. You should also be aware that when a customer leaves a bad review, they are usually pressured to remove it, and most do.
If they booked via a travel agent or intermediary, the hotel gets the intermediary to demand that the customer remove the review. We have had this happen with both services like Tablet Plus (who both asked us to remove a review from Google Maps and TripAdvisor, as well as routinely not posting negative reviews on their own website) as well as travel agents, and we’ve heard reports from readers about Booking.com removing their negative reviews after the hotel complained. Therefore, when looking for a hotel, pay special attention to the reviews that are 3-star and lower, as those are the only ones that you can be sure are honest.
Questions to Ask Before You Book
Make sure to ask these questions before booking a non-refundable stay, to avoid disappointment:
- What is the view of?
- Is the room quiet? Is it close to an elevator or anything noisy?
- Are any special events (conferences or weddings) happening at the hotel while we’re there?
- Is there any construction or renovations happening in or near the hotel during the time of our stay?
- What hours is the room service menu available? Can I get a copy of the menu emailed to me?
- Is the restaurant closed or booked-out for an event at any time during my stay?
- Is the gym / spa / pool open during my stay?
- What is the exact m2 size of the room you booked me in?
What to Expect: Hotel Star Ratings / Categories
What can I expect from a one-star hotel?
Not a lot, if we’re honest! Your double room will be at least 9m², which doesn’t include the bathroom (either private or shared). The reception must be at least 20m² and there must be someone there to welcome you at least eight hours a day.
What can I expect from a two-star hotel?
You’ll enjoy a higher level of comfort than the rudimentary one-star digs, but there’s still no obligation for your double room to be any bigger than 9m². This time the reception must be at least 30m² and open for at least ten hours a day. What’s more, it has to be staffed by someone who can speak at least one official European language, as well as French.
What can I expect from a three-star hotel?
Again, comfort standards will be upped; your double room will be at least 13.5m² and this time it must have an en-suite. The reception, again at least 30m², must be open for at least ten hours a day, and once again manned by someone who can speak at least one official European language as well as French. You’ll also be able to take advantage of a range of guest services: internet in public areas, a bar and some communal lounges.
What can I expect from a four-star hotel?
Here, you’ll benefit from a personalized welcome from your hosts. Your double room will be at least 16m² and equipped with everything you could need, including WiFi, a desk, international TV channels and air conditioning (which you’ll definitely want in the summer!) If your hotel has more than 30 rooms, the reception must be open 24 hours; less than 30 rooms, and it should be staffed at least 12 hours a day. In addition, there will be at least 70m² of communal areas for relaxing.
Some of the 4-star hotels on the French Riviera and in Provence are just as luxurious and well-decorated as nearby 5-star hotels, but at a better price point.
What can I expect from a five-star hotel?
Plenty, that’s for sure! You’ll be given an exceptional welcome by staff who must speak at least two foreign languages, one of which being English. You’ll get access to 24hr room service, in-hotel dining options, chauffeur and concierge services, plus safes and bathrobes in your spacious 24m²-minimum en-suite double room. You can also expect some additional luxuries such as a swimming pool, massages, tennis courts, hairdressers, or spa facilities.
Not all 5-star hotels have these additional luxuries, or are well-decorated, so you’ll need to carefully check photos and reviews. Price is also not a great guide. The Negresco, for example, is famous and expensive, but definitely not what many would consider 5-star quality.
Even still, some hotels may not have room service (or any dining options) on certain days, so make sure to always ask in advance if a full room service menu will be available on the dates you’re staying, and for which meals / hours.
What about ‘Palace’ hotels?
Palace is an extra rating for extra-special five-star establishments. Only 24 hotels in France have been awarded this special accolade, including the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes and Le Grand Hôtel Cap Ferrat in Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat . To qualify, the hotel must excel in some of the following (but not limited to): heritage and character, geographical location, historical interest, range of services provided, gourmet offerings, and environmental policies. Be careful: to make things even more confusing, hotels are still allowed to use the word ‘palace’ in their name even if they are not rated as such.