Year after year, France holds on to its title of the world’s most visited country (at the last count, about 85 million visitors a year). It’s hardly surprising: you’ve got three coastlines – the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Channel – combined with the Alps and the Pyrenees, plus world-class cities, exquisite villages, volcanic landscapes and a seemingly endless stream of natural parks. The food and wine aren’t bad either.
As you would expect given the number of tourists and the fact that this is Europe’s third-biggest country, France offers its guests a dizzying range of accommodation – everything from Alpine lodges and seaside hideaways to chic city hotels and countryside chateaux. Your choice will usually depend on what sort of holiday you’re planning, but we’ve come up with some of the best in the country.
Best hotels in France
The only hotel in Paris’s tranquil Place des Vosges, the Pavillon de la Reine is a true city bolthole – and you’re right in the heart of the buzzing Marais district. This 17th-century mansion draped in ivy is pure romance, with its private courtyard garden and countryside ambience. Its 56 rooms range from antiques-filled traditional style to more modern decor, some with four-poster beds and beamed ceilings. The feeling of being cosseted extends to the spa and the library-like restaurant and bar.
Back in the 1980s, Crillon le Brave was one of the pioneers in turning whole abandoned villages into hotels, and it remains one of the most beautiful. Village houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries retain much of their original character – with beamed ceilings and terracotta floors – but with dollops of luxury added to the 35 rooms, suites and a two-bedroom house. The pool has one of the most sublime views of Provence, as do the spa, restaurants and bar.
Towers, turrets, a cliff-top setting on the Dordogne River, 700 years of history, acres of ancient forest – Chateau de la Treyne really is the stuff of fairy tales. The 17 individually designed rooms all have romantic appeal – some with four-poster beds, others with Louis XVI furniture. Some are even tucked in the towers and turrets. The Salon Louis XIII restaurant has a Michelin star, and, in case things weren’t magical enough, there’s an outdoor candlelit terrace hanging over the river.
Ile de Ré, that favourite holiday island for Parisians, epitomises laidback Atlantic chic – as does Le Clos Saint-Martin in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. The style is exactly in keeping with the island’s architecture: two-storey whitewashed buildings with grey shutters, which overlook two swimming pools and a hollyhock-filled garden. Zen meets the seaside in its 33 rooms – all pale oak floors, white furnishings and the softest fabrics. If that doesn’t send you into a state of calm, the spa and its supremely comfortable loungers will.
The swanky ski resorts of the French Alps are full of Michelin stars, but La Bouitte rises up above its glitzier rivals. On the outskirts of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville in the Three Valleys ski domain, this small hotel of 16 rooms has all the cosy elements of a Savoyard chalet – chunky wood everywhere, exposed beams, furry furnishings. And because it’s not remotely stuffy, La Bouitte’s equally cosy restaurant is probably the most relaxed place you’ll ever have a three-Michelin-starred meal. And it’s just as captivating in the summer, when you can swap your skis for bikes and hikes.
Set just a few minutes’ walk from the Canal de la Bourgogne, Abbaye de la Bussière is a grand 12th-century Cistercian abbey that’s been lovingly restored by its British owners. Surrounded by lush countryside south of Dijon, the hotel’s 20 rooms have a regal quality while remaining restful at the same time. The centrepiece is the Michelin-starred restaurant in a wonderful double-height dining room with a soaring vaulted ceiling. For something less formal, try the Bistrot des Moines and the delightful garden patio.
With the cobbled streets of Le Panier behind and the Vieux Port in front, InterContinental Hotel Dieu has one of the best spots in Marseille. Its huge 18th-century façade is positively palatial, yet the 179 rooms are done up in a more discreet, contemporary style of luxury. Aim for the rooms with their own covered terraces facing the Vieux Port – the views are sublime, as are the ones from the terrace bar. If you’re trying the Michelin-starred dining in the Alcyone restaurant, order the signature bouillabaisse “milkshake”. Divine.
The beach on the Bay of Arcachon is just yards away from Côté Sable, whose carefree charm is a perfect match for the chilled-out ambience of the Cap Ferret peninsula on the Atlantic coast. Lots of wood in the 15 rooms echoes the beach vibe and oyster shacks of the region, and they all come with balconies or terraces. Try the local oysters in the summertime brasserie facing the beach, or splash out on a boat trip using the hotel’s private speedboat.
While the grand hotels along the Promenade des Anglais grab all the glory, Le Pérouse clinging to the cliffs overlooking Vieux Nice quietly nabs the best views from its hilltop vantage point. Its style is elegantly Mediterranean, with subtle colours and modern furnishings in its 56 rooms. While all rooms have balconies, many come with heavenly sea views. All of the various clifftop levels are put to excellent use – some with the restaurant and bar, others with the pool and outdoor hot tub.
You can walk straight to the beach from the gardens of Hotel La Roya on Corsica’s northern coast near Saint-Florent. Set in three Modernist cube-like buildings, the 28 rooms have pared-down contemporary decor and soothing views of either the sea, the surrounding mountains or the attractive town of Saint-Florent. The pool is just as inviting as the sea, and there’s relaxed Michelin-starred dining in the restaurant that spills out on to the sea-facing terrace when it’s warm. As it’s in Corsica, that means most of the time.