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Using the Michelin Guide To Counteract the Weak Dollar

– by Terry Robards

Terry Robards reading the Michelin Guide.

Terry Robards reading the Michelin Guide.

A feature in the Michelin Guide, the most indispensable travelers’ reference to France, is proving especially useful to Americans in this era of the weak dollar. Using the symbolic “Bib,” the smiling round face of the Michelin man, the guide now shows the locations not only of bargain restaurants but also of bargain hotels.

A red Bib Gourmand indicates a restaurant offering a complete meal without beverages for less than 25 euros ($33.75) in the provinces and less than 33 euros ($44.55) in Paris. This has been a Michelin feature for many years, but now a blue Bib Hotel outlined by a pillow indicates a hotel or inn with a majority of its rooms priced at less than 65 euros ($87.75) per room for two in the countryside or less than 80 euros ($108) in cities and tourist centers.

Such restaurants and hotels never have even a single star, denoting superior cuisine, much less two or three stars, the ultimate Michelin accolades, but many American travelers are learning to set their sights lower because of the feeble dollar. The general quality level of any establishment listed in the Michelin Guide, moreover, tends to be fairly high by American standards.

After spending eight days mostly in Bordeaux in April, I planned to take two nights and three days to return to Charles De Gaulle Airport outside Paris, so I sat down with my Michelin and began examining the regional maps in the front of the book. I found a Bib Gourmand in the village of Sorges, in the Dordogne region, an area notable for truffles and foie gras.

A bargain foie gras restaurant? Turning to the alphabetized entry for that village, I found the Auberge de la Truffe. How could anyplace called the inn of the truffle not be our destination? It promised rooms starting at 44 euros ($59.40) and meals starting at 16.5 euros (about $18). (Michelin specifies that hotels must offer a certain standard of quality in rooms and furnishings to merit a Bib Hotel symbol, so this establishment was recommended only on the basis of its food.)

Our room turned out to be well furnished but small, yet the price ($71.55) was right and we were there mainly to dine, so we did not feel misled. Our dinners cost considerably more than $18 because we did choose to indulge in truffles and foie gras, but our total cost when we checked out the following day was only around $220, most of which was attributable to food and wine.

For lodgings the next night, I targeted a blue Bib Hotel symbol in the village of Yzeures-sur-Creuse, on a tributary of the Loire about 50 miles south of Tours and less than 200 miles from Paris. This turned out to be a discovery. The auberge was called La Promenade, a postal relay station dating from 1780 and right on the village square of Yzeures. It was handsomely furnished, with a large fireplace dominating the dining room, commodious and cost only 50 euros ($67.50) for the night.

Indulging, again, in a sumptuous meal, rationalizing that it was our last night in France on this trip, we spent $196 on food and wine, including a full breakfast the following morning. This hotel obviously was marketing itself as an inexpensive place to stay and was looking to its dining room to swell its bottom line. Had we merely skipped breakfast, we could have saved $27. But I would return there in a heartbeat because La Promenade was such a pleasant place to stay.

I have purchased the Michelin Guide to hotels and restaurants in France every year for more than three decades. Today it is more valuable than ever because it points the way to saving money when the dollar is free-falling.

Auberge de la Truffe, route N. 21, Sorges, France. Tel. from the U.S. 011-33-5-53-05-02-05. Email contact@auberge-de-la-truffe.com Fax 011-33-5-53-05-39-27. Dining room closed Sunday night except from April 1 to Oct. 31 and Mondays for lunch.

La Promenade, Yzeures-sur-Creuse, France. Tel. from the U.S. 011-33-2-47-91-49-00. Fax 011-33-2-47-94-46-12. Closed Jan. 15-Feb. 15, Monday and Tuesday.