Driving through France is a pleasure at any time of year, but this winter it has become increasingly difficult to find overnight accommodation and a meal.
The economic crisis certainly seems to have taken its toll in rural France. It has always been a pleasure, and very easy, to take a route which is picturesque, uncrowded, and avoids the expensive autoroutes, but there are now additional difficulties.
Autoroutes in France have always seemed expensive compared, for example with Italian autostrade, but this winter the prices seem to have risen beyond what is reasonable. The charge from St Quentin to Arras, for instance is 8 euros for a distance of only 63 km (37miles). In the past, there have always been signs for Bison Fute recommended through routes to avoid motorways, but they are now well used, naturally, so they lose some of their appeal because they are now used by large lorries which used to take the autoroutes. D roads (routes departementals) can still be a good idea because they are generally straight and empty, but there’s now a problem with accommodation if you’re travelling a long way.
Places to Stay Overnight
It’s understandable in the present climate that small hotels find it difficult to pay their way by remaining open in winter. Even the good reliable chains such as Logis de France which in the past would always guarantee a room and a good meal, are more often than not closed for at least a few days of the week, if not for the season. Some of them remain open to provide a room, but their kitchens are closed and they can’t offer an evening meal. This is of no use whatsoever in a small village which certainly will not have an alternative restaurant. (My recent experiences in the villages on the shores of Lake Annecy, in Chatillon sur Seine, and in Bar sur l’Aube bear this out.) For drivers travelling on Sundays and Mondays particularly, it is very difficlt to find somewhere in a rural area which can offer an evening meal.
Get a Good Deal at a Luxury Hotel
On a positive note, though, at least if you’re compelled to go upmarket and stay in a more expensive place, there are good last-minute deals to be had. The Chateau de Courban in Burgundy offered an enormous luxury suite for only 150 euros (half price) and the evening meal (with a Michelin starred chef) was of the highest quality. This spa hotel is open all year round and is stunningly beautiful.