Approaching La Soutteraine, Voie de Vézelay, France, 2005.”
Where to Sleep in France ~ Hostels
Not just for kids anymore
Hostels are a good way to stretch your travel dollars, as well as hang out a bit with fellow travelers, some of whom you may have passed on the trail this afternoon (no doubt because their pack, unlike yours, was so HEAVY!). Hostels are not as common in France as in some other countries, but there are a fair number. Like anything else, there are better ones and a few “not so good”, but for the most part, I’ve had good experiences at the hostels I’ve stayed at in France.
The basic hostel has several small dormitory-style rooms, each with two to eight beds. The idea is that they are shared as needed, but depending on the size of the crowd, it’s not uncommon to end up with your own room. I have, more than once! A growing number of hostels have some private rooms available, although not necessarily with en suite facilities. Some make a special effort to accommodate families and larger groups, but even in those, there’s often a spare bed for a solo walker.
Most of the hostels I’ve visited have had communal bathroom facilities and showers. (This hasn’t ever been a problem, since walkers tend to arrive at different times). They also usually have a common area kitchen (coin de cuisine), lounge, TV, etc. There may also be storage for backpacks and bicycles. These days, if there isn’t free wi-fi in the lobby — it’s close.
The main difference between a hostel and other lodgings (other than most gîtes d’etapes), is that you’re expected to have your own linens (les draps), or sleeping bag, and towel. Generally, there’s a mattress with a bottom sheet, and a blanket, or quiltish thing, but you should have at least a silk bed sheet with you if you plan to stay in French hostels. Some will supply them for a nominal charge. Additionally, they may have quite limited hours of Reception (Accueil), and often lock up promptly at 10PM (I’ve been asleep for at least a half hour by then, so I never noticed).
A youth hostel (Auberge de Jeunesse) tends to cater to a younger crowd, but most do not turn away older travelers (though some do). There are organized networks of hostels, which define quality standards, and share booking infrastructure. You need a membership card to stay at some of these, but they are inexpensive, and you can buy one when you check in, if necessary. The largest US hostel group is HI-USA, part of Hostelling International. The UK branch is called YHA. You can purchase an annual membership online, which is accepted at member hostels worldwide.
The main association of French youth hostels is FUAJ, which is also a member of Hostelling International. It has a French language-only website, but with a little poking around you can find some options along your route. They have hostels listed that are not included on the US and UK sites, like this example of their member hostel in Vézelay. Vézelay is one of the four medieval gathering points for the St-Jacques-Compostelle (Santiago, Saint James) pilgrimage, and many people begin their walk here.
Another flexible way to find hostels and other budget-minded, economical (even Cheap!) places to lay down your weary head is to use a reservation service that represents private hostels, small hotels, and both urban and rural pensions. One website tool I like is Hostelworld, because it has a wide range of economical lodgings (hébergements), including not only hostels and small budget hotels, but apartments, B&B’s, chambres d’hôtes, guesthouses, and even campsites. Check them out. I’ve stayed at some of the places you can book through their site, and was more than pleased with the accommodations and the price.