Planning the expedition – Part 2 – Hotels

Planning the hotels is really a chicken & egg thing.  You can’t choose your hotels until you pick your cities and you can’t pick your cities until you pick your destinations, you can’t pick your destinations unless you know your schedule, and your schedule revolves around which cities you are going to be in. Suffice it to say – there will be another post explaining how I built my big map around France.

The trick is to pick a city to spend the night that is not too far from the next day’s first visit.  I want the rhythm of the trip to be: get up, eat breakfast, and start filming. While there will be some driving during the day – I want all of the big stretches to be at the end of the day when things are closed (usually around 6pm-7pm) leaving flexibility enough to eat, drive, and check-in as I like.

Traveling like this is tricky because we don’t get a ‘base of operations’ (until we hit Paris).  Most of the time – we are working out of the car.  Though for security reasons there are several times that we do check into a hotel first. I had my car broken into on two previous trips to France and I do try and be cautious when I can.

For the 29 nights we will be in France we will be staying in 23 different cities!

The first challenge is: Sure it looks good on the map – but are there even hotels in those cities (and then rooms on those dates)?

In 2004 I tried to just wing it – didn’t make any reservations – didn’t have any plans – just drove and stopped. I ended up having to sleep in the car 4 times.  Don’t laugh – sleeping in the car – kills your body.  One night I was trying to find a place to park where there were no street lights and found that I can pulled off the road next to a cemetery – freaked me out – had to drive to the other side of town.  So winging it really isn’t an option.

In 2009 we stayed at B&Bs. This seemed like a good idea – especially because we were trying to get interviews but in reality most of them didn’t pan out and quaintness usually doesn’t translate into basic comforts.  Not everyone has Internet, elevators, or air conditioning!

So this year I opted to stay at hotels.  Normally I use to book my hotels because I like the idea of getting all of my travel rewards in one place (even when staying with multiple companies) but I also wanted to try for a better discount and the Accor hotel chain (IBIS, ETAP) let me sign up for a business account (and a loyalty card) – they also offered to help me get a discount in Paris which is 7 nights.

On my previous trip to Paris I stayed at this great little hotel that is really off the grid.  Very nice and all but the last day they couldn’t run my card and wanted me to pay in cash. I don’t think so.  The adventure we planned on having shouldn’t be about the hotels!

I created a spreadsheet with dates and locations and started to go through the Accor database.  They often have multiple hotels in each city and sometimes give a 30% discount if you prepay.  All of the hotels have free wifi and some ofter free breakfast.  Some have free parking and some have pay for parking – and as I found out some don’t have ANY parking which I am glad I caught before I booked.

8 hotels have charge for parking but 9 hotels have free breakfast so you take the good with the bad!

Of the 29 nights in France I booked 24 nights with Accor hotels.  The prices vary greatly but I not only have reservations in-hand but most are prepaid which means we can even check in late if we need to.

So what about the other 5 nights?

I had budgeted roughly $3,100 for the 29 nights of hotel.  And as I started to book each night – the saving started to add up nicely.

I have 2 free nights from and I wanted to take advantage of them before they expired – that saved a little more money.

So I sent some emails explaining the project and for 3 nights we are actually staying at castles that are allowing us both to film at then and to conduct interviews!

The three castles are:

The 18th century Château de Rochecotte, formerly the private home of the Duchess Dorothée of Dino and Prince of Talleyrand, it is situated in the heart of the Loire Valley.  We filmed there in 2009 and they were very gracious to us and took us around the grounds and gave a lot of history.

Built in 1224, the Château de Pray is also in the Loire Valley – it’s pretty cool looking!

The Château de Etoges is near Epernay, built in the 17th century it was visited by Louis XIV, the Sun King and also by Louis XVI during his flight to Varennes in 1791, it is said that even Napoleon Bonaparte visited (and now us).

In the end the hotels cost right around $3,000 which is a pretty good deal for a month in France in high-season!

Up next – how I booked the car!

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