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The « chambre d’hôtes » is to France what the bed and breakfast is to America.
When you book a “chambre d’hôtes” in France, you know you will be greeted in a very gracious way. Your room will be part of the owner’s house. Most likely, it will be amply furnished, and it will have a private bathroom. The owner will make you feel comfortable, will show you where the living quarters, the breakfast room, and the laundry facilities are, will explain the rules of the house, and will give you plenty of brochures and ideas on what to do in the vicinity.
Unlike a French hotel where breakfast is seldom included, a « chambre d’hôtes» comes with breakfast, and it is usually a gorgeous display of “viennoiseries” (morning pastries such as “pains au chocolat”, “pains aux raisins”, apple turnovers, plain croissants, almond croissants, etc.) and/or home-made coffee cakes, some local cheese and fresh bread, maybe some local ham, a fresh fruit salad, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice... If you as a guest are from America, you may even be offered an omelet, shirred or over-easy eggs to make you feel more “at home”.
Opening their house to you means a lot for French people. It means that their “chambre d’hôtes” is not only a business, it also is a heartfelt desire to welcome guests, share their home, share their region and its gourmet specialties with you.
Do not be surprised if your hosts invite you in the living room for a complimentary glass of Blanquette de Limoux before dinner if you are in Limoux or a glass of Farigoule after dinner if you are in Forcalquier.
Also, one of the charms of the « chambre d’hôtes» formula is the option to have dinner with your hosts and other guests of the same « chambre d’hôtes».
You can choose the “demi-pension”, in which case you will have dinner every night that you stay there, but you can also join them for dinner once or twice only. It is always fun to do that because it allows you to have a home-made meal and a convivial, often memorable time. In the summer, the table might be set in their garden under a linden tree to the sound of the cicadas and on a cold, rainy night, it might be in their old-style kitchen in front of a large open wood-burning fireplace.
You usually need to tell them about your dinner plans the day before to give them time to go to the closest farmer’s market and get the freshest produce. Also, they will ask you if you have any allergies as the meal will be designed and cooked for you. It usually features an appetizer, a main dish, an assortment of cheese, and dessert. It will be a price fixe probably in the $25-$35 range per person. By law, they cannot give you choices, otherwise they would be in the restaurant business and would need to be licensed accordingly. As far as beverages, they may serve wine and other alcohol if they have a special permit from the city hall.
To make it easy and enjoyable for you, some of them will even offer a picnic basket for lunch. That too will be an additional charge, but worth it if you are planning a hike or a bicycle ride and you want to find a nice place to stop and have a country-style lunch in the shade of a vineyard or an old abandoned stone bridge.
I like the « chambre d’hôtes » concept because of the personal contact with the hosts and other guests and because you can really immerse in the regional culture while having some flexibility in your travel and meal schedule.
Remember to visit the Travel Page on my web site – It features many destinations in France with many pictures. Please take a look, and feel free to reach out to ask any questions.