Formule 1 is sort of like a hostel but without the friendly staff and with private rooms and a bunch of French people who like smoking. Whilst the French hotel chain does have some hotels outside of the country, it's the French highways and suburbs of cities that are dominated by this simple but effective place to stay.
I've nearly always arrived in the evening to this French budget hotel chain and the receptionists seem notoriously hard to find. Some of them even have electronic check ins where you have a vending machine, pay it money and out pops the key to your room.
You'll most likely find bunk beds and a TV with endless awful programs on it, few people seem to venture outside of their hotel rooms once they've arrived there. That's probably due to them being on the outskirts and the distance into the nearby town or city is usually quite a bit. If you are looking for one, it's a wise idea to hunt out an industrial estate since that's normally where they seem to be, they are in theory in convenient locations for people on the road but in reality they are often quite difficult to find.
For a very basic and cheap hotel where it's usually impossible to have a lie in due to the hordes of twittering French in the morning, it's actually quite expensive these days compared to the quality you can find in hostels. It's very much a driver's hotel, free of creature comforts, arrive there late, have a shower and a sleep and ply yourself with the breakfast and coffee in the morning before setting off on another driving adventure. Make sure you take the key with you, if you go out because the doors lock automatically.. in which case it's usually.. oh merde!
As we spend a lot of time travelling to the south of France we very often stay overnight in Formule 1 hotels. This is a pattern we have followed on and off for several years. The reason being is that there is usually a hotel in every big town so you can just stop when you've had enough driving and they are cheap and practical without any fuss.
They are not always easy to find although reading the F1 directory the directions look simple enough but when I am navigating we always get lost or take ages to find the hotel. No we don't own a Sat Nav - my husband won't have one. He thinks they are a waste of money and can't understand why normal people don't use old-fashioned maps any more. I dread to think what would happen to the Sat Nav if we did have one - it would probably be thrown out of the window in a temper. On more than one occassion whilst travelling through France I have got out of the car and torn a map up, mad with frustration. You think we would know our way by now but my husband always prefers to try different routes as we never use the motorway. Anyway as I was saying the hotels are usually off a main road into a town usually on an Industrial estate of some kind or next to a Hyper U. Not the most celebruious of situations probably because land is cheap, and not always within walking distance of the nearby towns. My advice would be to choose one near to a restaurant or supermarket - this information will be available in the F1 directory and on thier website, next to the description of the F1 hotel you choose.
Here's the low down on F1 Hotels.
Being an international chain, Formule 1 who are owned by the Accor group, have over 380 hotels spread throughout the world including countries like Japan, South Africa, Brazil and Australia. However, most of the hotels are located in France.
The reception desk is usually on the right as you walk through the front door. Helpfulness depends on individuals like anywhere else. Reception staff are only available at certain times which are 6.30 and 9.30 in the morning and 5pm through to 9pm. I think at weekends the times differ and as I have only used the hotels in France I can't vouch for times in other countries. If you arrive before the front desk is manned, you can pay by credit card in the machines available and you will be allowed access to your room from 12 noon. Also if you have pre-booked you will have access from 12 noon.
Best ways to book if you don't want to arrive on spec like we always do are:
Internet - www.hotelformule1.com
or you can phone the central reservations office :- In France call 0 892 685 685 (Euro0.34 / min. incl. tax) in France ( taken off the net)
In general, it is not a problem to arrive without booking. The one exception is during the French high season (August) when you really do need to book in advance or at least arrive no later than 7.00 pm to guarantee a room.
When you have booked in you will be given a code number which you key into the entrance door and your room door. It is printed on the top of your reservation slip so if you have a bad memory like me and you can't memorise the code keep the slip safe. Actually that is one mishap we have never had - losing the key code but we did lose the car keys once at a McDonalds in France and had to go outside to sort through all their waste. Not a nice job but we did find the keys!
The rooms are functional and designed to use the best of the space available with one double bed and a bunk bed above. My son when he was small loved climbing on to the bunk but the downside with him not having a seperate bedroom was that he never stopped talking so none of us got any sleep. Each room contains a small desk, TV with national channels and if in France canal+ and Sports+. This is useful for us as we know that football will always be on one of the channels. A washbasin and mirror is also included in the room with 2 small hand towels so take your own towels.
Toilets and showers are communal and colour coded corresponding to your bedroom area. The colours are red, yellow, orange and purple.The toilet and shower blocks always reminds me of a caravan toilet, functional and claustrophobic. Still it does the job. These facilities are usually situated outside the room. I should say here that I did once get lost going to the loo. Somehow I got disorientated and couldn't work out the colour codes so just hung around in the corridor until my husband came and found me. I might add that I had had one too many glasses of the red stuff.
Breakfast is served in the reception area so if you go down late it may be busy with people checking out and also all the fresh bread will have gone. Times for breakfast are: from 6.30 - 9.30 in the week and at weekend 7.30 until 10.30. The price is seperate - usually around 4 euros per person but I think it is good value. It is a self-service buffet consisting of fresh bread, croissants, butter, jam, honey, fresh milk and orange juice (artificial). Tea, coffee and hot chocolate is available and you can have as many cups as you like.
In the evening you will have to go out to eat as this is a breakfast only establishment. There are vending machines in reception selling choc bars, crisps and cold drinks. Tea and coffee also. There are special offers available at other restaurants such as Ibis and Courtepalle if you are a F1 client. These restaurants offer the usual bill of fare costing from around 12 - 15 euros with the discount. Usually a three course meal consisting of a starter, main meal and dessert or sometimes there is a buffet.
The info I have written about is regarding the French formules. I've forgotten to mention the price which is 29 Euros per night per room but the price can be higher in the south of France. Also dogs are allowed and the charge per dog is 1.50 Euros. One dog per room is allowed but they must be on leads and supervised.
These hotels aren't for everybody. For me they are fine when travelling through. Plentiful, practical, functional, clean and a offering a good breakfast. What more do you need for an overnight stop? You can't grumble about the price. I actually think the red and yellow design based on a F1 racing car is quite jolly and welcoming. Just make sure you take your phone to the loo in case you get lost! Bon nuit!