Luxury hotels are fabulous, if you're lucky enough to have an extra wad of cash weighing down your pocket. If so, you might want to do something really special and splurge for a 5-star hotel.
I do have to suggest not aiming for the really nice luxury hotels of this type in very large cities like Paris. The price is going to be crazily expensive, and there won't be enough amenities available to make it worth the huge extra hunk of money it'll cost you.
That is, unless you've got frequent flyer miles to be used up and you can obtain a room at the Marriott, located on the Champs-Elysées! Thanks to Cathy and husband for that well appreciated perk!
There are very nice three star hotels in town which give you spacious rooms, are centrally located and have breakfast.
I like to stay at the Hotel Mercure Opera Cusset. It's very comfortable and Americans will find it to be about $150-200 per night depending on the exchange rate. This is enough for Paris since you're going to want to spend as much time out of your room as possible. Click here to open a new window at our partner Booking.com to review and book this wonderful hotel.
I suggest reserving the treat of 5-star luxury hotels for when you've left the capital and can move freely about the countryside.
There are independent establishments scattered here and there throughout France. And then there's the guide to the exclusive luxury hotels, Relais et Chateaux, available online if you simply type in the name.
The thing with the websites on these places is that once you start to browse you can't seem to stop, making it extremely difficult to settle on one or another. It's the same when you go spend a day or two at one of these, you never want it to stop.
Invariably, these luxury hotels are situated in incredible buildings. They wear the name Chateau well. These are historic places which have the one drawback of being so far off the beaten path that you'll most likely need to rent a car to get there. This is not surprising because let's face it, the guys who built these architectural wonders meant to house their very rich families of yore, wanted a fabulous setting, most often associated with a rural agriculture of some sort - The lord of the land type of thing.
It's this very thing which also makes my fingers start to twitch on the steering wheel after having made an effort to drive down some really long, winding roads through five or six remote villages to end up in front of a stupendous gate, which is open just for me.
Because when you arrive at any one of luxury hotels of this caliber the staff spreads a welcome that makes you feel like a very special acquaintance who has been gracious enough to come and stay for awhile. They make every single one of their guests feel that way, regardless of the vehicle you arrive in, or the crumpled state of your clothing after a long drive.
They immediately get you a welcoming drink of some sort, coffee tea, water, soda, whatever you'd like before you get down to the business of checking in. Behind your back, young men are extracting your luggage from your vehicle and placing it in the entrance hall.
Someone else goes and parks your car. If they've neglected to remove your dog-eared paperback from the glove compartment, they'll turn around and trot right back out to get it for you - with a smile!
A few years back, a tall, dark and handsome fling took me on a road trip on his Harley Davidson. We'd packed the back top case and the side “saddlebags” to the exhaust pipes, for motor bikes have no gills.
We headed south toward the location of my daughter Rebecca's scout camp, in the Auvergne region of France - kind of in the middle but toward the southwest. We were planning on staying over somewhere, stopping to see the teens at their camp, then drive over to the seaside to meet up with some friends who had rented a holiday cottage near Bordeaux at Lacanau Océan.
The first day was devoted to the long drive. Honestly, I don't care how comfy the seat looks, after 8 hours you've got serious numb-bum. We stopped frequently to remove the dead bugs from our teeth before having a drink.
During the many lonely hours of silent sightseeing, you find your mind drifting off to places you've not been for quite a long time. It's actually quite a liberating experience. You enter a sort of yoga “oooohhhmmmmm” zone that matches the droning of the engine. I came up with the ending for my novel in progress on the back of his Harley on the way to Marseille this past June.
Unfortunately, you get jolted out of that far away mindset each time a thoughtless motorist chucks something out of his car window without looking first. I have quite a few scarily located burn holes in my jeans from lighted cigarette butts which carelessly land in my lap. That's always rather exciting because of the frantic wiggling this causes. Luckily, the driver is very good and manages to keep us upright whenever I engage in this sort of behavior without any warning. Kudos to him, Boo! To the careless motorists! However I digress.....
It was about 4pm when we drove by a sign on the road which directed travelers to turn left in five kilometers for the Chateau de Mercuès. I tapped my companion on the shoulder, leaned in as close to his ear as our helmets would allow and screamed my request for a short detour just to have a look. I'm a history nut and love gawking at castles and the like, and he happily agreed, nodding his assent. I sat back happily, looking around at the winding road, exciting in itself since we were sort of top heavily overloaded. We tooled off through the woods searching for more signs. It was a heck of a detour.
After about 15 minutes we still hadn't reached it. I was starting to feel sheepish for getting us so far off the road and wasting so much time when we still had a way to go before we had planned on stopping. I knew he was tired of driving and I'd got us way off the beaten track, wasting time.
Finally, we saw a stone wall which ran along the road for some distance before opening to a large wrought iron gate. I could just make out a fabulous castle with turrets and towers at the end of a curved gravel drive. Zut! No perfect view from the road! I asked if we could just drive in a bit and see if we could get a better view. He nodded yes, and off we rumbled down the thick gravel drive, also kind of tricky to maneuver on.
We pulled up directly to the front of the castle, just where the steps from the perron reach the gravel of the drive. He cut the engine. A uniformed young man came tripping lightly down the steps and said “Monsieur?”
My friend swung his bug spotted leg over the engine, stepped to the ground and introduced himself, in a matter of fact tone which made my mouth drop open in surprise.
The young man answered swiftly “Oui, Monsieur, we've been expecting you. Did you have a nice drive?”
I practically fell off the back of the motorcycle where I had stayed sitting, stunned into silence, expecting the uniformed fellow to chase us off the drive with a broom.
As luck would have it, my sly Harley driving companion had booked us a room in this beautiful luxury hotel for that evening, keeping it as a surprise for me, and I had unknowingly directed us to it. A treat such as this is invaluable and unforgettable.
The young man retrieved the garbage bags containing our possessions from the saddlebags, carrying them into the lobby with as much respect as if they had been stamped with hundreds of brown LV initials all over. Luggage on a bike trip is foremost malleable in order to squeeze as much stuff as possible into every cranny, and waterproof. Garbage bags fit the bill.
We were escorted to our room where we peeled off our outer gear, removing the boots that felt welded to our feet, before taking a shower in our stone walled bathroom.
The furnishings of the room were perfect. Not overdone in gilt or silliness. This was a renaissance castle and the wood and brocade had obviously been chosen with care, reflecting the historical context of the room.
In spite of the authenticity of the furnishings, the extras which make it such a pleasure to stay in an establishment like this one were discreetly present - the mineral water and glasses, the thick terry bathrobes, the lighted magnifying mirror, the myriad of small bottles of luscious smelling shampoos and soaps, along with a really nice miniature sewing kit. Of course, all of these goodies went directly into one of our garbage bags for use on other motorcycle trips when space is valuable.
We went down to dinner in the torch lit courtyard surrounded by the large stone backlit towers. This was an evening meal made for princes and princesses, with a setting worthy of fairy tales.
A stroll around the chemin de ronde after dinner left us with the exciting feeling of having stepped back in time 500 years. I regretted that my dress was short and didn't sweep the steps of the worn stone stairway leading to the rooftop terrace wedged between the towers.
It was magical, as well it should be. Atmosphere galore, fabulous food and wine produced in the vineyards belonging to the castle, and a starlit evening shared with a jewel of a fellow. Ahhhhhhhh!
When we went back to our room, some thoughtful person had brought us fresh towels and more bottles of shampoo. This same person had found my nightgown in one of the garbage bags and spread it neatly on the bed next to the chocolates on the turned down coverlet. Very Elegant!
This sort of thing can happen in luxury hotels like this. For some reason, it doesn't happen at the Holiday Inn. While the difference in price is enough to pay for three extra nights at the Holiday Inn and all the McDonalds' burgers you could eat in a month, sometimes it's definitely worth it, especially when one of us isn't expecting it!