…using the GR 70 Chemin de Stevenson as a case study
Now that I’ve planned my ideal itinerary along the Chemin de Stevenson and I know where I’d like to stay each night, I like to book my accommodation.
I know many of you are rolling your eyes about now, but I’ve seen many walkers stranded when an unexpected festival has taken all the available beds in a small village. And I’m too old to add an extra five—or more—kilometres on to my walk late in the day!! Since I plan an itinerary that I know is achievable (if anything, it will prove to be too relaxing rather than too challenging), there’s no reason for me to not lock it in.
After looking at the hotels, chambre-d’hôtes and gîtes (no campgrounds for me) where La Malle Postale stops (and yes, I will use them to transport my luggage), I Google each one and see what appeals.
I try to come up with two (or even three) options for each of my overnight stops so that I can be reasonably confident I’ll find an available room and not have to change my itinerary.
It’s rare to find accommodation in any of these small villages listed on booking.com or Expedia. Sometimes you’ll find a link where you can book the room directly but most of the time, you’ll need to use the website’s contact form or email the owner. This, of course, requires some basic French.
I keep it simple and say that I will be walking the Chemin de Stevenson and I would like to reserve a single room for one night. I give the day I will arrive and the day I will leave and ask if they have a room available. (I don’t promise this is grammatically correct but it works just fine for me.)
Bonjour Madame, Monsieur,
Je vais randonner sur le Chemin de Steveneson et je voudrais reserver une chambre simple pour une nuit.
L’arrivée – samedi 10 septembre
Le depart – dimanche 11 septembre
Avez-vous une chambre libre s’il vous plait?
chambre simple—single room
chambre double avec deux lits—double room with two beds
lundi / mardi / mercredi / jeudi / vendredi / samedi / dimanche are the days of the week (starting Monday)
janvier / février / mars / avril / mai / juin / juillet / août / septembre / octobre / novembre / décembre are the months of the year
This is just the start of the conversation. The owner will likely respond to your request with some questions—
(1) Souhaitez-vous le petit dejeuner?
Would you like breakfast? Good Lord, OUI! (unless you’re happy to start the day with trail mix)
(2) Souhaitez-vous une chambre (€xx) ou demi-pension (€xxx)?
Would you like a room only or the half-board rate which includes dinner? This is usually a two-course meal (entrée + main or main + dessert) with limited choices at a reduced cost.
Since I like to think that walking through France is an excuse to wander from one delicious meal to the next, I’m reluctant to lock myself into a limited menu until I know what else is on offer. But I also don’t want to be moping in my room munching on trail mix because I said no to the demi-pension and there is nowhere else in town to eat!
What to do? I look on Google Maps. If the village is barely larger than two intersections, I book the demi-pension rate. If it turns out there is a full menu I’d rather be ordering from, my host will usually be only too happy for me to pay the extra and upgrade. (I have been known to switch to Street View on Google Maps and take a virtual tour checking for other cafés.)
UPDATE: We went with the demi-pension rate at all but one of our overnight stays on the Chemin de Stevenson. In all cases, the menu was set but often included four courses of entrée + main + cheese platter + dessert!
(3) Merci de confirmer avec cheque de 20 euros ou nous envoyer 20 euros d’arrhes.
Once the room requirements are agreed upon, the owner may request a deposit to confirm the booking—usually 20 or 30 euros—and ask that you email back your credit card details (never do this), send a cheque or transfer funds to their bank account. I don’t have a cheque account and the minimum foreign exchange transfer for my bank is 100 euros (plus a large fee!).
I reply that I am in Australia and ask if I can pay via PayPal?
Bonjour Madame, Monsieur,
Merci de confirmer ma reservation.
Je suis en Australie. Les arrhes le plus moins est 100 euros.
Est-ce que je peut vous payer par PayPal s’il vous plait?
To date, only one hotel has had a PayPal account so the answer is invariably no. But so far, I have always had my booking confirmed without paying a deposit.
NOTE: If you prefer to book accommodation using hotel booking websites, please keep in mind that the vast majority of family-run hotels, chambres d’hôtes and gîtes do not sign up to be listed on hotel booking websites. The 20—25% commission fee charged decimates their profit margins and makes it difficult to maintain the excellent value they take great pride in providing. Because they are not listed, you’ll find that a search on these websites returns, at best, links to ten percent of the available accommodation (or more frustratingly for the walker, links to every hotel within a twenty-kilometre radius!).
If your concern is around obtaining a refund after a cancelation, my experience has been that, outside of large hotels in major cities (Paris, Toulouse, Dijon…), I have only been asked to pay a deposit in advance at a handful of places, and only those that have secure online credit card or PayPal payment facilities built into their websites.
Of course, sometimes in a small village, all the accommodation is already booked and plans need to be tweaked a little. For this trip, there was no accommodation available in Cheylard-d’Eveque and my new itinerary looks like this.
And happily, all my rooms are now booked and confirmed!
And my luggage transfers have been booked with La Malle Postale
All that’s left now is to do the walk!