The second half of this post comes to you via speech-to-text on my phone with later editing.  We’ll see how it goes!  The post will be a little heavy on photos and less text as well.

Hotel Star Ratings in France
I don’t know why I assumed that there was some global standard for hotel star ratings, but I had naively assumed that to be true.  My hotel seemed very reasonably priced for a 4* hotel, especially one located right in the center of town.

On the rock out in the ocean stands the Virgin of the Rock . . . guess you’ll have to see it for yourself!
 

When I arrived, the hotel was nice, but it wasn’t clear why it was “four star” as it seemed pretty dated.  Granted, the room and bathroom were a veritable mansion compared to many that I’ve stayed in, but that was about the biggest difference.  In fact, some of the lower rated places had seemed objectively nicer – more recently updated anyway.

I finally became curious about what the stars mean – there are specific plaques in France for the star rating, which is what finally made me wonder if there was actually a global standard (there’s not).  The French system is largely based on the SIZE of the room and reception area!  

Who says that size doesn’t count?

A monument to the French Resistance in WWII
Basically:
  • A one-star hotel must have rooms that are 9 square meters (~97 sq ft), which cannot include the bathroom space.  An en suite bathroom is not necessary.  There must also be a reception area of at least 20 square meters (~215 sq ft).
  • A two-star hotel can have the same size room, but must have a reception area of at least 50 square meters (~538 sq ft), the reception must be open at least 10 hours and the staff must speak a 2nd European language
    • Ok, so it isn’t ALL size.  Here, you at least have the addition of a little convenience with the opening hours and language.
  • A three-star hotel has rooms of at least 13.5 square meters (~145 sq ft), although this can include the bathroom.  The reception requirements and language are the same as a 2*.
    • Hypothetically, you’re getting more space in your room here.  For myself, I wouldn’t pay more just for a larger hotel room . . . so 2* & 3* are equal for me.
  • A four-star hotel must have rooms of at least 16 square meters (~172 sq ft).  If the hotel has more than 30 rooms, reception must be open 24 hours.
    • So . . . my four star hotel is basically just bigger with a perpetually open front desk
  • A five-star hotel must have rooms of at least 24 square meters (~258 sq ft).  In addition to the requirements for a 4* hotel, the staff must speak English and a second foreign language.  There must also be valet parking, room service, a concierge, air conditioning, etc.
    • Realistically, this is the first classification where there are several amenities required – keep in mind though, nothing in the list says that the place wasn’t last updated in the 1970s!
    • Honestly, my hotel has most of these.  The staff are multilingual (we’re near Spain), there’s room service, air conditioning, activity info and discounts, plus private parking (although, no valet).
  • There is also a Palace designation, which covers only 8 locations currently.  It’s basically 5*, but with high-end extras, like a Michelin-rated restaurant, fancy spa, etc. There are only four outside of Paris and I can see one of them out my window in Biarritz!

Of course, this is based on what I’ve read on a few sites online.  A vague mention of a system for addressing complaints, sustainability and handicap access are also listed, but I’ve found no English-language sites that clarify what these other requirements are at the different star levels.

Having said all of that, I’m largely happy with my hotel, outside of the fact that the bed is far too hard, which was the case in my German 4* hotel as well – maybe Europeans just like harder beds in general?  And the location is incredible!  I’m right in the center of the town and it is convenient to walk back to my hotel to use a decent toilet, drop off a purchase, etc.
Biarritz
When I traveled here before, it was towards the end of my project and I was crazy busy . . . so much, in fact, that I never posted about my visit there!  The photos above are actually from that trip, when the weather did the exact same thing as this time – sunny to start, then a sudden storm moved in and RAIN, RAIN, RAIN.

I mean, the beach looks appealing here in the first photo from 2016, but so much more appealing in the second!

Biarritz is an interesting town and, even though I liked it the first time, I liked it even more the second time around.  It isn’t just your typical beach town, there’s quite a history. The area was originally a whaling town, but became known for the healing power of its waters.  It really rose to prominence when the Napoleon III built a house for his wife, Eugenie, here.  The same house still stands and is the hotel above with “palace” status.  There is even a church for Saint Eugenie.

After a period where Biarritz was popular with European royalty, the town seems to have been largely abandoned by the wealthy, who flock to the Mediterranean now.  The upside is a lovely town with beautiful beaches, which is rather affordable to visit.

While the beach above is mostly empty, if you plan to visit ARRIVE EARLY or have a hotel with parking.  When I arrived late at night, my hotel’s private lot was basically full.  I drive a subcompact, so I was able to squeeze into a spot right by the gate.  During the midday, it was easy, but not for people without hotel parking!  “Complet” means full and this is for the paid parking.

My favorite thing about Biarritz are the various paths along the coastline.  It has both a flat boardwalk and winding, climbing paths to the tops of the rocky sections.  They’ve even made bridges out to giant rocks so you can look back on a view of the city.

To the upper right, you can just make out people on the top platform.  I love that the stairway up there is hidden by trees, like a secret passage!
The view from the rock, including St Eugenie
If you’re unlucky enough to be there when it rains, like me, the aquarium seems popular with kids and they have seals and sharks, but I think that I’m just not interested in them really.  On the other hand, the City of the Ocean (cité de l’océan) was interesting.  There was a section to learn about the historical development of the ocean, about the polar oceans and about temperate oceans.  All were different types of interactive exhibits.  They had one section with giant heads and a projected overlay so the head talked.  The screen above displayed what was being discussed, such as the bermuda triangle and what they believe really happens there.
One great thing about living in France is the easy access to so many places and countries.  I’ve decided that I’m going to try to see as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I can in my lifetime and I certainly have easy access here!  So far, I’ve seen 32, parts of 2 more and have 16 that I am scheduled to see (largely in China) out of more than 1,000!  So, I have my work cut out for me!