Paris, Burgundy, Provence & Languedoc-Roussillon 2010
By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha
© Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2010
In 2010 Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha visited the French capital of Paris, once again, and then toured the regions of Burgundy, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon in a full-size accessible van. In this 2010 report, they share their many new access experiences, including visits to monuments, museums, churches, picturesque towns. They also report on a great “walking tour” of Paris and survey a wheelchair-adapted vehicle rentals.
This article is based on our late August and early September 2010 trip. It’s intended as an introduction, a starting point for your research and a way to convey realistic expectations. We hope it will help you plan an access strategy based on your interests, travel style, and mobility capabilities and limitations.
Above all, we hope it will inspire you to go: access barriers are not trivial, and are often frustrating, but the high points are really high. Like everyone who enjoys traveling, our highs come from the people one meets, the beautiful and fascinating art, architecture and natural scenery one sees, the culture one experiences, the history one learns, and the food and drink one relishes. But as a disabled traveler (Howard) and an able-bodied spouse who knows about and is affected by access barriers (Michele), there are also some unique high points: the sense of empowerment and optimism in being able to travel, in overcoming the obstacles and barriers, in seeing how other places handle access, and in noticing progress on repeat visits. Often the differences in access between one place and another yield interesting and valuable insights about cultural differences in general. Also, encountering access barriers in other places makes us appreciate just how good access is at home.
For more information about wheelchair accessible travel in Paris, see Paris Passerelles - 2003 and Paris Passerelles - 2005 Supplement. For more information about hotel access in Paris, see Paris Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey - 2010. For more information about Burgundy, see Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Burgundy and Perigord (the Dordogne) - 2007. They’re on the websites where this article is published.
We traveled on our own. In planning our trip we used the Internet and other information sources but not a travel agent.
We’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, but you should confirm all information, especially access details, directly with hotels, museums, transportation providers and other facilities. As in all research, primary sources are much better than secondary ones. Things change. It’s essential to re-confirm information shortly before acting on it.
Dedication. This article is dedicated to our friends Christie Martelet and her sons Felix and Oscar; Franck Boitard, Julian Bouabdallah and Marie-Pierre Bourgoin, with great warmth and with many thanks for making our trip so enjoyable and memorable.
About Us. Because one’s physical capabilities and limitations, and his equipment, affect the access achievable and his point of reference informs his perception of access, we’ll tell you about ourselves. We are fortunate to live in San Francisco, where wheelchair access is generally excellent. Howard has muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair. Michele is able-bodied. On all our previous trips to France Howard used his traveling wheelchair, a Quickie P110 folding electric wheelchair that, at around 100 pounds, is relatively lightweight for an electric wheelchair. But on this trip he used his everyday wheelchair, a Permobil with a seat elevator, reclining back, elevating footrest and tilt-in-space. The Permobil is much more comfortable and more rugged, but there are some disadvantages. It weighs around 325 pounds and, unlike the Quickie, cannot be tilted and lifted up one or two stairs. This presented some obstacles that we had not encountered our previous trips. (See “Stores and Restaurants,” below.) The Permobil is 26 inches (66 cm) wide and, with the footrest in the shortened position, 48 inches (122 cm) long; these dimensions did not present an obstacle. Howard is 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and, when seated, 57 inches (1.45 meters) high. He cannot stand or walk, and can transfer to an inaccessible car only with great difficulty. All other dimensions in this article are approximate; we didn’t have a tape measure.
Continued Good News About Smoking. As in our most recent trips to France, we encountered almost no smoking in restaurants, cafés and other indoor places. In our experience people are respecting the nationwide ban on smoking in public places that went into effect in 2007.
Solo Wheelchair Travelers. Considering the terrain of Burgundy, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, and the site conditions and construction style of many of the monuments, castles, churches, etc., we believe it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for most wheelchair users to tour these regions without an able-bodied companion.
Because we travel together, some inaccessible features in hotel rooms that would present significant barriers for someone traveling alone aren’t obstacles for us. We don’t mean to minimize their importance but we sometimes forgot to keep track of them. Also, given the terrain and other conditions described above, we believe that most wheelchair users would have great difficulty touring these regions alone even if hotel access were perfect. In describing hotel rooms, we generally haven’t included items such as door pressure, door swing clear space, and accessibility of light switches, temperature controls, electric outlets, window latches and curtain pulls. We recognize that even a relatively accessible hotel room, restaurant, store or monument may be extremely difficult or impossible for someone in a wheelchair traveling alone.
Hotel Access Terminology. When inquiring about access, be sure to ask for an adapted room (“une chambre adaptee”). In France “accessible” in describing a hotel room means merely that there is what Americans would call an “accessible path of travel” to and, perhaps, within the hotel room. “Adapted” means the room has been modified to make the bathroom and other major elements usable by people in wheelchairs - what Americans would call “accessible.”
Phone Numbers. The telephone country code for France is 33. Phone numbers are given in this article with the single digit area code used for calling from outside France. To call within France, add a zero before the area code. For example, the number (011-33)1-23-45-67-89 from outside France is 01-23-45-67-89 from within France.
Departements. Departements are French political/administrative subdivisions with less authority than American states and more than counties. Continental France has 95 departements. In postal ZIP codes in France the first two digits refer to the department number. 75 is the number for Paris, which is its own departement. When asking a national organization, or searching a database, for information about an area or region, it’s often useful to know the departement number. Also, some local organizations include the departement number in their name.
A Call for Advocacy. Researching your trip, the trip itself and the time after your return are great opportunities to educate and advocate for access. If we learn in our research that a hotel, transportation provider or museum isn’t accessible and providing access appears feasible, or that something is accessible but could be improved, Howard often sends an immediate email with detailed recommendations. On our trip we provide feedback in real time. After we return we write detailed letters advocating better access, including appeals to government officials. We aren’t only critical - we try to acknowledge and appreciate good access, and we also recognize the logistical and architectural difficulties and limitations in making old buildings and ancient sites accessible. Our communications have usually been well received and our efforts have helped spur access improvements.
Howard has written letters to the mayors of Rome and Paris about access issues, including the need for more curb ramps, and to the CEOs of the Rome and Paris airports. When writing to government officials, we send copies to local disability organizations if appropriate. We’ve sometimes found that a request or recommendation from us, as foreign tourists, can lend additional credibility to similar advocacy by local individuals and disability organizations. Sometimes our efforts add to the cumulative weight of those made by locals. Ironically, it may be easier for officials to ignore or delay action on a complaint by a local than one by a foreigner.
We urge you to use your trip as an opportunity to help move the ball forward on wheelchair access - you will already have the information and the impressions will be fresh in your mind, so writing an effective letter or email won’t take much extra time.
Table of Contents. After this introduction, the sections of this article are:
2. Wheelchair Matters; Medical Needs. 3. Public Bathrooms in France. 4. Paris - Rolling Around. 5. Paris Transportation. 6. Paris Hotels. 7. Paris Monuments, Museums and Churches. 8. Paris Walking Tours. 9. Accessible Vehicle Rental and Driving in France. 10. Burgundy Hotels. 11. Burgundy Sightseeing. 12. Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon Hotels. 13. Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon Sightseeing. 14. Additional Information.
Appendices. A hotel access questionnaire is Appendix A. You are welcome to adapt it for your own use. A metric conversion guide is Appendix B.
Legal Stuff. This article and the appendices may not be reproduced or used for profit without our written permission, but readers are welcome to reproduce or use them for any other purpose.
Electricity; Charging and Repairing your Wheelchair
France uses 220-volt AC power. The standard plug has two prongs and a hole for the ground pin (the ground pin protrudes from the wall outlet). Plug adapters are available at any good travel store in the U. S.
If you use an electric wheelchair, we strongly recommend getting a wheelchair battery charger with settings for 110 and 220 volts or, if you travel abroad frequently, investing in one with only 220 volts. Having a charger with 220 volt capability eliminates the need for a separate converter. A surprisingly small, lightweight and inexpensive charger with dual settings is available from MK Battery. www.mkbattery.com Lester Electrical is another good manufacturer. www.lesterelectrical.com.
We highly recommend gel cell batteries, which are non-spillable, safer and more acceptable to airlines than wet batteries.
The only problem we had charging Howard’s wheelchair in our hotel rooms was Howard’s fault. He forgot to change the battery charger setting to 220 volts, so it blew out when we plugged it in our first night in Paris. The concierge at our hotel found a wheelchair store where we purchased a new charger:
Tout le Confort du Malade
198, rue Lecourbe
Phone: 1-48-42-54-95 or 1-56-56-83-33
Fax: 1-48-42-31-39 or 1-56-56-83-34
In planning our trip, Howard emailed Permobil asking about Permobil dealers who could repair his wheelchair if necessary. Permobil replied promptly with contact information for several dealers in each area. There are none in Paris proper. Howard did not need to have his wheelchair repaired, so we can’t report further.
In planning previous trips, Howard found the Sunrise Medical/Quickie headquarters in France, but never needed to have his wheelchair repaired.
Sunrise Medical - Quickie
de Meslay 37210 Parcay-Meslay
or 13 chemin de la Painguetterie, Chanceaux sur Choisille 37390
Both of us didn’t feel well in Paris one night. In the morning our hotel called a doctor, who came to our room within half an hour of being called. He spoke English well, examined both of us, reassured us that it was nothing serious (he was right), and wrote some prescriptions. The fee was €70 ($90). Three or four prescriptions cost a total of €15 ($20). If our experience is representative of the French medical system, it’s easy to see why the French system is so highly regarded and French medical consumers are so happy with it.
In our previous articles about Paris, we’ve remarked that public bathroom access in Paris is problematic - wheelchair accessible bathrooms are scarce except at the major museums and, whether accessible or not, bathrooms generally are small and poorly designed. Unfortunately this is still the case. One thing that remains especially problematic, especially in Paris, is the toilet. Many French designers prefer tankless toilets, where the plumbing is built into the wall and the toilet is short (i.e. the space from the rear wall to the front of the toilet is much shorter than for a typical American or Italian toilet), which means that when a wheelchair is adjacent to the toilet and positioned as far back as possible, the wheelchair is too far forward of the toilet for an effective transfer. This also means that the flush button is built into the wall, which makes it too high for many people in wheelchairs to reach. Also, some toilets lack grab bars and others have bars that are too short and/or poorly positioned.
In Burgundy, we were pleased to find that accessible bathrooms are more plentiful and generally larger and better designed than in Paris. That doesn’t mean one can expect an accessible bathroom in most restaurants or stores, but many monuments, historic sites and tourist offices have accessible bathrooms that, while generally not as large or well designed as in California, are usable.
We didn’t get enough experience with Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon to generalize about public bathrooms there.
In 2007 we saw many more curb ramps in Paris than in 2005, and some of the newer ones had textured, contrasting surfaces for blind pedestrians. Though some are steeper than would be permitted in the U.S., many are gradual and even the steeper ones are a real improvement. In 2010, we did not see much progress in curb ramps since 2007.
Passerelle des Arts, a pedestrian-only bridge immediately west of the Pont Neuf, has a moderately sloped ramp at each end. This wide, wooden planked structure is a popular gathering place for chatting with friends, picnicking and listening to street musicians. Passerelle Solferino, a pedestrian-only bridge farther west linking the Musee d’Orsay with the Jardin des Tuileries, also is wheelchair accessible.
The built-in semicircular balcony seats on the Pont Neuf that cantilever over the Seine have been rebuilt since 2000, the high step has been eliminated and you can roll your wheelchair into the cantilevered areas for an even closer view of the grand riverfront.
Stores and Restaurants
Stores and restaurants in Paris typically have one step up at the entrance, and few have either permanent or portable ramps. This was rarely a problem for Howard in past trips because he used a Quickie lightweight (approximately 100 pounds) folding electric wheelchair with a tubular frame similar to the frame of a manual wheelchair. That wheelchair has anti-tips, and it is not very difficult to tip and lift the chair up one step or even two. Michele is quite proficient at this and proprietors were almost always eager to help. On this trip, because Howard used his Permobil, which weighs around 325 pounds and has a solid frame, this was not possible, so the entrance step presented much more of a problem. The Permobil is able to go up a step of approximately three inches, but the entrance step at many stores and restaurants is higher. Many cafés and restaurants have outdoor tables, and we sat there. Most of the time this was enjoyable because the weather was good, but many outdoor tables are small and crowded, and sometimes we would have preferred to sit indoors. The entrance step would present problems for travelers in wheelchairs that cannot be lifted. This would be a particular barrier in bad weather, when sitting outdoors is not an option.
Interestingly, many proprietors and employees who saw Howard pausing at their entrance step took the initiative to offer to lift his wheelchair yet, when we explained that it was too heavy to lift and asked whether they have a portable ramp, they reacted quizzically, although not with hostility. It was apparent that most had never before heard such a request and wouldn’t have had a clue where to buy such a ramp.
The major department stores have level access, although not necessarily at every entrance. The other bright spot for access to stores is the telephone company Orange, where we bought a cheap cell phone. The Orange stores are ubiquitous in Paris and typically have a ramped entrance or an entrance step of no more than two or three inches in height. We noticed this in Provence as well as Paris.
On previous trips we encountered several access problems at the airport. See Paris Passerelles – 2005 Supplement. On this trip and in 2007 we found that the employees were much better trained in dealing with passengers in wheelchairs. One good thing is that we were given priority in line, both at the counter and at security. Charles de Gaulle airport is extraordinarily poorly designed and remains extremely overcrowded, which limits the potential for barrier removal, but some physical access improvements have been made.
www.AeroportsdeParis.fr. The website has an English language section that includes information for passengers with reduced mobility.
To find out more information or provide feedback, write to Pierre Graff, Chairman and CEO, Aeroports de Paris, 291 boulevard Raspail, 75675 Paris Cedex 14, France. Fax: (011-33) 1-43-35-74-27.
There is also an ombudsman at the same street address. Monsieur le Médiator, Aéroports de Paris. Email: email@example.com.
Paris - Accessible Transportation Services, including Airport Transportation
In previous trips it was fairly easy to arrange for an accessible vehicle to and from the airport. The providers were dependable and the prices reasonable, although somewhat higher than standard, non-accessible airport transportation. But things have changed, and our experience on this trip was a mixed bag. Government subsidies to privately owned providers have been cut or eliminated, according to several of the providers. Some providers listed on information websites are no longer in business.
Infomobi, the information service about Paris accessible transportation, has a webpage about specialized transportation services. www.infomobi.com Go to Voyageurs en fauteuil (travelers in wheelchairs), then to Transports specialises. Phone: 0810-64-64-64 (from France).
PAM 75 (Paris Accompagnement Mobilite)
Phone: 1-53-44-12-59 (prompt 2 is for transportation reservations)
Phone: 0810-0810-75 (from France)
PAM 75 is open seven days a week from 7 AM to 8 PM
PAM operates a paratransit service in various departements in the Isle de France (the region where Paris is located) and provides not only paratransit service but other services such as accompanying people who cannot travel on their own. PAM is part of SOMAP (Societe pour la Mobilite a Paris) and is sponsored in part by the city of Paris. (75 is the departement number for Paris, which is its own departement.)
Advance registration is required for PAM’s services. Howard went on their website, downloaded the application form, and signed up by faxing their short form, along with copies of his passport, a doctor’s letter stating that he uses a wheelchair (they accepted a letter that was several years old) and other documentation. The process was fairly easy and the employees were good to deal with by phone from the US. However, the website is only in French and the employees spoke minimal English, so signing up would be difficult if you don’t speak French.
Howard arranged a ride from the airport to our hotel. The driver was waiting for us at the airport, the vehicle was large and clean, and the driver was a pleasure to deal with. At 15€ the fare is heavily subsidized; it’s much cheaper than a regular taxi. PAM’s service is in great demand by disabled residents of Paris, so it can be difficult to get a reservation. Howard was unable to make a reservation for our return trip when he made the reservation for the pickup at the airport - he was told it was too far in advance. But when he called from Burgundy almost a week before our return, the reservations were already filled.
It was quite difficult to find transportation for our return to the airport. After calling several providers, we found one with a relatively reasonable fare, €65. Our experience was mixed - the driver showed up quite late and with a small, cramped vehicle. The owner of the company himself drove because there was a problem with the driver assigned to us. The owner was sincerely apologetic and was a good driver. However, we can’t recommend this company.
AETAS is a large general transportation company that also provides accessible transportation. They quoted a price of €110 one way between Charles de Gaulle airport and central Paris. This is high.
In the past we had excellent experiences with AIHROP. But their website is defunct and they appear to be out of business. www.aihrop.com is their former web address.
GIHP (Groupement pour l’Insertion des personnes Handicapees Physiques)
In the past we also had excellent experiences with GIHP. However, this time they quoted a price of €200 one way between Charles de Gaulle airport and central Paris. They explained that they are no longer subsidized by the government and must now charge their full cost, but the price certainly seems to be way above cost.
Paris - Taxis
Taxis G7 Horizon
Phone: 1-47-39-00-91 (accessible taxis)
Or: 1-47-39-47-39 (general number)
Ask for a taxi “avec une rampe d’acces.”
A limited number of accessible lowered floor minivan taxis with side ramps operate in Paris. Reservations are essential. Our one and only experience was in 2005. The taxi was brand new and spotlessly clean. Howard is 57 inches (1.45 meters) tall in his wheelchair and was just barely able to fit by bending his head at the door and keeping it a bit bent throughout the short ride. Anyone taller or unable to bend his head would not fit, nor would a long ride be comfortable for someone who could get in but had to keep his head bent. Note that if Howard stood he’d be six feet tall (1.83 meters) and his power wheelchair sits a bit high, so the height limitations wouldn’t be a factor for most people. The Paris taxi ramps retract under the floor instead of folding inside the car, making the interior height a couple of inches lower than the lowered floor Chrysler or Ford minivan with a folding ramp familiar to many Americans. We were told the interior height is 1.40 meters (55.1 inches).
The rates are standard taxi rates, but, as in standard Parisian taxis, the meter starts wherever the driver happens to be when he gets the call. This is also the case even with a reservation. Because there are so few accessible taxis, the place of origin is likely to be far from where you are, so the taxi may arrive with a high fare already on the meter. In our experience the driver arrived early (it was late at night) but didn’t tell us he was there, the meter was running and we started with a high fare.
Robert Barbier operates an accessible lowered floor taxi and is affiliated with G7 Horizon. A friend of ours who lives in Paris and uses a wheelchair has had excellent experiences with Mr. Barbier.
We took several bus rides on three or four different lines. As in our previous trips, bus access continues to be excellent. What’s more, according to RATP, the Paris public transportation authority, all buses on all lines in Paris proper are now accessible. We never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus. Even on the day of a transit strike (greve), the route we wanted was still in service and we waited less than 10 minutes. (As in Italy, the transit strikes appear to be political theater, with labor and management agreeing in advance which routes and lines will be affected.) Every driver was courteous, skilled and well trained in dealing with wheelchair passengers, always deploying the ramp safely at our desired stop. Our fellow passengers were polite, helpful and patient. The buses were spotlessly clean, with large windows, no graffiti and minimal advertising.
The buses have a low floor design that is much lower than the typical American bus and, consequently, the ride is smooth. There are no stairs, so boarding and exiting are much easier for able-bodied people as well as disabled.
The buses have an accessible door with a retractable under-floor ramp midway between the front and the rear. The ramps always worked. The ramps are wide - almost as wide as the double door, which reduces the chances of falling, and, because they are deployed with the bottom edge on the sidewalk, are not too steep. In some buses the wheelchair area lacks any securement devices and in others there is a flimsy seatbelt, but because the drivers drove so well, the buses are low and the routes are mostly flat, the ride was smooth and the absence of tie-downs wasn’t as dangerous as it might seem. In the wheelchair area there is a button to signal your stop for departure, as on American buses.
Especially for disabled passengers traveling alone, a potential drawback of having the accessible entrance at the middle rather than the front is that it is more difficult for the driver and disabled passenger to communicate, and more difficult for the driver to align the bus to avoid the ramp hitting trees or other obstacles. However, Howard took buses alone and there was no problem.
Infomobi. Paris/Ile de France disabled transit access information (includes buses, trains, metro, RER and transportation for hire): www.infomobi.com This website is only in French, but there are easy-to-follow visuals.
Infomobi phone number from France: 0810-64-64-64
RATP general website: www.ratp.fr (includes an English language section with a wealth of information designed for tourists)
6. PARIS HOTELS
Hotel Access Survey and Research
The two hotels where we stayed on this trip are described below. We did extensive research about Paris hotels for this trip. The results are published in our Paris Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey - 2010, which supersedes our previous surveys and is found on the same websites as this article.
A bright spot: many more hotels have roll-in showers than when we published our last Paris hotel survey in 2007. This fact, plus the email discussions we had with hotel employees, including those from hotels that still don’t have roll-in showers, indicates that hotel management in Paris has made major strides in understanding the importance of roll-in showers. It will still take time for renovations to be made, but we can sense the positive momentum.
One item that remains problematic, especially in Paris, is the toilet. The barriers described in “Public Bathrooms in France,” above, are still common in Paris hotels.
In researching hotels we often start with Trip Advisor www.tripadvisor.com and Venere www.venere.com. When inquiring about a hotel, we use the questionnaire attached as Appendix A and ask the hotel to email photos of the bathroom. Hotels have been increasingly willing to send photos in recent years. When it comes to wheelchair access, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Hotels.com and Expedia.com now have search fields for roll-in showers and other accessibility features. This may be due to the settlement of lawsuits for not providing access information.
Where We Stayed
Hotel Fontaines du Luxembourg
4, rue de Vaugirard (6th Arrondissement)
We stayed at this 30-room three-star hotel for the second Paris segment of our trip. The location is terrific - in the Luxembourg quarter, between the Jardins du Luxembourg and the Theatre de l’Odeon, which we found to be calmer, less crowded and with more of a neighborhood feel than the heart of nearby St. Germain, although there were still plenty of tourists. The hotel is in an ancient building that was renovated and opened as a hotel in 2009. The decor in the lobby and guest rooms is an artful, tasteful combination of modern and period, with exposed stone walls and wooden beams interspersed with modern touches.
There is an accessible entrance a few feet from the main entrance with an automatic sliding door and a gradually sloped entryway. From there the small, charming lobby is gradually sloped. There are two adapted rooms, both on the ground floor and both in the superior category. (The elevator is tiny, so the other floors are not accessible.) Both rooms face a small interior courtyard. We stayed in room 001, the larger of the two. It is fairly large by Paris hotel standards and features a skylight (velux in French), which makes the room feel larger than it is, and double glass doors that open onto the courtyard. Not facing the street, it is quiet. The guest room and bathroom doorways are very wide - we didn’t measure, but they appear to be at least 86 cm (34 inches) wide. The guest room door is heavy, so most people in wheelchairs would not be able to open it by themselves. There is a large built-in closet that is not wheelchair accessible. However, the advantage of a built-in closet is that it doesn’t protrude into the room, making for a clean line and saving space. There is a large accessible desk. The bedroom and bathroom are well lit. The light switches and electrical outlets are at an accessible height. The bed is large and comfortable, and, while lower than the typical American hotel bed, is at least average height by Paris standards.
The bathroom is a real gem! It is the largest and best designed hotel bathroom we have seen in our six trips to Paris, including the more expensive hotels we inspected. There is a level transition between the bedroom and bathroom. There is a large roll-in shower with a hand-held hose and an overhead rain spray, and a large bathtub. The roll-in shower has a well-placed grab bar, although no built-in bench, and the soap dish and shower controls are at wheelchair accessible height. The transition from the main bathroom area to the shower area is quite smooth, and the floor is graded well so the water drains easily yet the slope is gradual. There is a large, shallow sink with plenty of space to roll underneath it. The only flaw is that the toilet is a typical short French toilet with the tank and flush button built into the wall. (By “short,” we mean there is not much space from the front of the toilet to the rear wall; it is significantly shorter than a typical American or Italian toilet.) The flush button is too high for many people in wheelchairs to reach, although some would be able to. The toilet is at an accessible height; we didn’t measure, but it appears to be around 48 cm (19 inches) high. There is a long grab bar at the wall side of the toilet (a welcome feature that, unfortunately, is not easy to find in Paris hotels), and plenty of transfer space (at least 91 cm (36 inches)) on the other side. The only thing that makes transfer difficult is the shortness of the toilet; unfortunately, this type of toilet seems ubiquitous in Paris hotels.
We saw the other adapted guest room, which was next to ours. It is smaller but also has a well-designed bathroom with a roll-in shower, but no bathtub.
Breakfast is served downstairs, which is inaccessible, so the hotel brought it to our room. We also could have chosen to have it served in the courtyard or the lobby. Service was very good. The hotel emailed photos of the bathroom in response to our inquiry.
34, rue de Buci (6th Arrondissement)
We stayed at this 27-room three-star hotel for the first Paris segment of this trip and in 2007. Well located in the heart of St. Germain, this small hotel is in an ancient building renovated in a sleek, modern style. The hotel emailed pictures of the bathroom when we inquired about access.
We stayed in room 102, one of two adapted rooms on the ground floor. (The elevator is tiny, so the other floors are not accessible.) We didn’t see the other adapted room, but were told it’s identical to the one we stayed in. These rooms are reached via a rear entrance on a quiet street behind rue de Buci; unfortunately, there is no direct access from the lobby. The rear entrance is level with the street. To enter, one must ring the bell and the concierge will open the door. The doorbell button is inaccessibly high and difficult to reach. The lobby is up a threshold step of 8 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) from the front entrance, but there are six or seven stairs from the lobby to the adapted rooms, so the only way to get to the lobby in a wheelchair is to go around the block. The rooms have no view, but they are very quiet and private. The breakfast room is down a flight of stairs, so guests who use wheelchairs can have breakfast in their room or in the lobby.
The guest room door is heavy, so most people in wheelchairs would not be able to open it by themselves. The bedroom is quite small. Howard was able to move around in it without difficulty but without much space to spare. According to the hotel the bathroom size is 4 to 5 square meters (43 to 53 square feet); bedroom size is 16 square meters (172 square feet); and bedroom and bathroom doors are 92 cm (36.2 inches) wide. These numbers seem accurate.
The bathroom is reasonably large by Paris standards (although smaller than the one at the Fontaines du Luxembourg) and tiled in elegant green-veined marble. There is a spacious roll-in shower with both a handheld shower hose and an overhead rain spray. The shower has a grab bar but no built-in bench. (A shower chair may be available upon request.) The transitions are very smooth between the bedroom and bathroom, and from the main bathroom area to the shower area, and the floor is graded well so the water drains easily yet the slope is quite gradual. The sink is large, with plenty of space to roll underneath it. The toilet is a typical short French toilet with the tank and flush button built into the wall. (By “short,” we mean there is not much space from the front of the toilet to the rear wall; it is significantly shorter than a typical American or Italian toilet.) The flush button is too high for many people in wheelchairs to reach, although some would be able to. There is plenty of transfer space (at least 91 cm (36 inches)) on one side of the toilet. Unfortunately, there is no grab bar on the wall alongside the toilet. There is a fold-down (retractable) grab bar at the other side of the toilet (the side furthest from the wall), but it is quite short and not very useful. When the fold-down grab bar is in the raised position, it protrudes from the rear wall, so a wheelchair cannot back up far enough to get completely parallel to the toilet for a side transfer. Despite these flaws, this was among the most accessible hotel bathrooms we had seen in Paris as of 2007, including at more expensive hotels we inspected. But the bathroom at the Fontaines du Luxembourg is larger and has better access.
The chief concierge, Sanjay, is exceptionally gracious, professional, resourceful, energetic and kind - in fact, he is probably the best concierge we have ever met. He is enthusiastic about helping guests and willing to go extraordinary lengths to do so. In 2007 he elevated the bed when we requested it, cleverly using reams of computer paper. In 2010 when Howard’s battery charger blew out, Sanjay asked the hotel engineer to try to fix it (the attempt was unsuccessful), found a medical equipment store that had a battery charger, and even offered to go personally to pick it up.
Access at most major museums is quite good. Disabled people and one companion are entitled to free admission at all government-operated museums. We encourage you to try to tour all major museums that interest you - they are likely to be at least partially accessible.
For descriptions of access at many monuments, museums and churches in Paris not described below, see our articles Paris Passerelles - 2003 and Paris Passerelles - 2005 Supplement, which are published on the same websites as this article.
Musee de quai Branly
Howard visited this museum of the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Opened in 2006 in a modern building located near the Eiffel Tower and designed by acclaimed French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum complex includes separate buildings housing the museum itself, a bookstore, a theater and a restaurant, connected by gardens and walkways. Although the main walkways leading from the site entrance to the museum building and the other buildings are moderately sloped, some of the garden walkways are steep.
The museum collection is superb, with many stunning pieces, and the bookstore has richly illustrated books about the collection, including several in English. But Howard found the building cold, sterile, an aggressive attempt to overshadow the collection, and an inefficient use of space. The exhibits are confusingly arranged and are displayed in brightly lit display cases designed to contrast with the ambient darkness of the galleries themselves. Although the cases are cleverly designed, boldly shaped to highlight the pieces displayed within, and dramatically lit, the overall effect is disorienting because the galleries are so dark and nondescript, and the floor plan so jagged and haphazard.
Access is good except for the steep walkways leading to the gardens. Most of the museum comprises a series of large, moderately sloped ramps which are used by everyone, not only wheelchair users, to access the two main gallery floors. There are handrails along most of the ramps. The upper level is accessed by stairs and a small elevator. Howard and a museum guard were able to fit in the elevator but without much room to spare. It’s hard to understand why the elevator is so small considering the museum is in a new building. The restrooms are on the basement level, also accessed by the elevator. There is a separate accessible restroom that was out of service when Howard was there.
Admission is free for disabled visitors and one companion. The website has good access information in English. Special tours, workshops and exhibits are available for blind and deaf visitors.
Hotel des Invalides; Dome Church; Tomb of Napoleon
The Hotel des Invalides was built by Louis XIV as a home for elderly veterans. Much of this extensive complex is accessible. The fascinating, huge and somewhat overwhelming Army Museum is accessible. A long path of rough stones leads to the entrance. The main museum has a large elevator serving all floors. One of the top floors has an accessible collection of large, extraordinarily detailed historical models of French fortresses and fortified islands. The complex includes several other related museums with varying degrees of access.
The Dome Church, the important and beautiful national monument where Napoleon is buried, remains inaccessible. The church entrance is a Greek temple front porch with a high flight of stairs. It would be difficult, though probably not impossible, to make the building accessible. Perhaps access could be provided through the rear of the building, which connects to other parts of the Hotel des Invalides complex.
There are many stairs at the front, no lift or ramp, and no accessible side entrance at this de-consecrated church where the national heroes of France are buried. It was renovated in 2003, but wheelchair access was not on the agenda. When Howard asked some employees outside the building about access, their indifferent response indicated they had never even thought about access. It appears that an external lift or series of ramps could be installed on either side without damaging the building’s architectural character. The continued lack of access at the Pantheon is especially ironic and inexcusable considering that the Law Faculty of the University of Paris is across the street.
Context Paris. www.ContextParis.com. www.ContextTravel.com. Among the highlights of our trip was a guided tour of the Louvre antiquities galleries with Context Paris. Charlotte Daudon Lacaze, an emerita professor of art history, was a superb guide. Her knowledge and insights were deep and broad, her passion for antiquities energizing, and the pacing perfect. She was generous with her time, spending more than the allotted three hours. We also took two fascinating tours in Paris in 2005 with Context, and have taken several in Rome and one in Naples over the years. Context operates in-depth, interactive, small group (six people maximum) walking tours (Context prefers the term “itineraries”) in several cities in Europe and the United States. Tours are led by English-speaking docents who are typically long time residents of the city and have advanced degrees in art, architecture, history or urban planning. The docents aren’t conventional, full-time tour guides, but specialists sharing their expertise and passion for their subjects.
Context offers a large variety of itineraries with varying degrees of wheelchair access. Context has always accommodated us, and views wheelchair access as a challenge and a learning opportunity, not a burden. The organization is in the process of systematizing and categorizing their itineraries to improve disability access. We enthusiastically recommend Context.
9. ACCESSIBLE VEHICLE RENTAL AND DRIVING IN FRANCE
We arranged to rent an accessible vehicle for delivery the morning we left Paris for our drive to Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon and Burgundy. (We returned it when we returned to Paris. One of the great pleasures of Paris is strolling around it. Having a car while staying in central Paris on vacation would be unnecessary, inconvenient and expensive, and it would contribute to pollution and congestion.)
“TPMR” (“transports des personnes à mobilité réduite” - “transport of persons with reduced mobility”) is the term used in France to designate accessible vehicles and accessible transportation. “Location” means rental; “location des voitures” means car rental. The companies listed below rent wheelchair accessible vehicles without a driver (“sans chauffeur”). They may also rent vehicles with drivers. Because Michele drives and Howard doesn’t, we didn’t inquire about vehicles that can be driven from a wheelchair or vehicles with hand controls. As used here, an “accessible” vehicle is a vehicle that can accommodate passengers who remain in their wheelchair.
We require a vehicle with an automatic transmission and interior height of at least 57 inches (1.45 meters), which is Howard’s height when seated. This greatly limits our choices and makes it difficult to find a vehicle. In our experience, the Chrysler/Dodge lowered floor accessible minivan so common in the US, and which we have at home, is impossible to find in France; if there are any, we were unable to find one, and we have never seen one on any of our trips. In France the choices are either small vehicles, such as the Renault Kangoo, which are too small and too low for Howard, or large vans such as the Peugeot Boxer or Renault Master that can accommodate more than one passenger in a wheelchair. This type of van is larger than ideal, sits higher off the ground than lowered floor minivans and is more tiring to drive, but there are no other options if you need an automatic transmission and a generous amount of interior height. All of the accessible vehicles we have seen in France, including those used by transportation providers, have rear entry, and almost all have ramps rather than lifts.
It’s imperative to find out particulars such as the dimensions of the vehicle, especially the headroom; whether it has manual or automatic transmission; whether it has a ramp or a lift; and, if relevant, whether it can be driven outside France.
It’s a good idea to bring a copy of your disabled parking permit. We don’t know whether a vehicle displaying a copy of a foreign permit is technically entitled to disabled parking privileges, but we have parked in disabled spaces in France, displayed a copy of Howard’s California permit and never gotten a ticket.
To tour Burgundy and the Dordogne in 2007 we rented an accessible Peugeot Boxer from LVEA (Location de Vehicules Equipes et Automatiques). Considering the disadvantages of such a large van described above, the Peugeot was an excellent vehicle. We had a great experience with LVEA and tried to contact them in planning our 2010 trip. Unfortunately, the company is no longer in business.
Where We Rented in 2010
27/29 rue Raffet
We had arranged far in advance to rent a Renault Master, which is comparable in size and features to the Peugeot Boxer we had rented from LVEA in 2007. But Ptitcar showed up with a Mercedes Sprinter, a huge van, significantly larger than the Master, that was appropriate for a professional driver or for a large group who could take turns driving but was not appropriate for a couple, especially when only one drives. The manager, Christophe Molitor, claimed that the Renault was being repaired. We were in no position to object - we had no alternative transportation, we had checked out of our hotel, we had reservations for difficult-to-find accessible rooms in the South and Burgundy, and we had made other complex arrangements.
Ptitcar delivered the vehicle, spent a few minutes on paperwork, and left quickly - they did not explain the vehicle to us.
Because it is so large, the Sprinter was difficult and tiring to drive, and extremely difficult to park. In some places, including Avignon, we were literally unable to find a large enough parking space, so we had to forgo visiting them. When we found designated disabled spaces, the vehicle was always longer than the parking space, and we were always concerned that it would be hit. The Sprinter was high off the ground, making for an uncomfortable ride, and the ramp was steep. Visibility was poor when backing up the vehicle.
For some inexplicable reason, Ptitcar delivered the Sprinter with two rows of removable bench seats in it, so Howard had to be positioned at the very rear. There was a great distance between us. This made it difficult for us to communicate, difficult to navigate, and made Michele feel like a chauffeur and Howard like baggage. The ride was especially bumpy for Howard because he was sitting so far back. There was no air-conditioning in the rear, the rear windows were not designed to open, and there was no air circulation. It was in the 90s in the South, so the ride was extraordinarily hot and stuffy for Howard. (Our hotel in the South removed the seats, but the hotel in Burgundy didn’t because it had no room to store them. We were stuck with the seats for our longest drives and locally in Burgundy.)
The Renault Master that Ptitcar had agreed to rent us uses diesel fuel. The Sprinter uses gasoline, a fact that Ptitcar didn’t tell us. Driving it was expensive - not only is gasoline more expensive per liter, but the Sprinter, being so large, was a true gas guzzler.
The Sprinter lacked some basic features. The front seats didn’t have armrests, which was uncomfortable for Michele, especially during our eight hour drive from Paris to the South. The vehicle did not even have a compass. It lacked certain safety features one would expect in such a large vehicle, especially one being used to transport disabled passengers, and especially a Mercedes. For example, it did not emit a warning signal when in reverse.
Howard called Mr. Molitor from the South to discuss what a disaster this vehicle was and to ask for a price reduction in recognition of the many difficulties we encountered in being given a vehicle so different from the one agreed upon. It was an unpleasant conversation. One indication of Mr. Molitor’s attitude: Howard mentioned that the interior of the Sprinter had not been cleaned before it was delivered - we found fruit and a half-eaten bag of food underneath the front passenger seat, and used tissue in the ashtrays. His response was that we weren’t renting a new vehicle.
Howard tried to get in touch with Mr. Molitor after our return to Paris, but he wasn’t available. (He had sent an employee to pick up the van.) After we got back home, Howard sent several detailed emails and faxes, but he never responded.
Other Rental Possibilities
DLM (Donne la Mobilite)
Mr. Thierry Chabou is the contact for accessible vehicles.
The company’s main office is in Lille, in northeast France.
DLM, with several locations in northeast and central France, rents a wide variety of regular and accessible vehicles. It has an extensive website with detailed vehicle specifications. The accessible vehicles are in the “Handybus” category. However, Howard spoke with Mr. Chabou, and this company does not deliver its vehicles to Paris.
Jenny Patti is the contact.
GNS Adaptation, based in Nîmes, specializes in accessible vehicles. Howard contacted them. Although they offer several types of vehicles, they did not have one with both an automatic transmission and sufficient interior height.
LAVH is located in Melun, near Paris, and specializes in accessible vehicles.
Libertans appears to rent only the Renault Kangoo.
Paris Tourist Office. www.Parisinfo.com and www.paris-touristoffice.com are the URLs of the official website of the Paris Tourist Office. The section “Maps & Transport/Disabled People Access/Hiring Adapted Vehicles” has a list of accessible vehicle rental companies.
Driving in France
On this trip we drove 2,166 kilometers (1,343 miles). The major highways we’ve driven on in France, the autoroutes, are truly scenic and impressively designed. Many are toll roads, and the tolls are a bit high for Americans used to freeways or inexpensive tolls. But they’re well worth the price. One can make good time. The roads are well maintained. The signs are easy to understand, even if you don’t read French, and for the most part the entrances and exits are situated logically and intuitively.
Autoroute entrances and exits are relatively limited, and drivers tend to stay in the right lane except when passing. Drivers are generally skilled and safe, and very few zigzag from lane to lane. We saw no road rage. Traffic can be heavy at times, but the only place we were bogged down on a major highway was around Lyon. In both directions going through Lyon, the autoroute is old and overcrowded, and the going was quite slow.
Except at the approaches to major cities, there are no commercial signs - a welcome relief from the visual pollution of McDonald’s and similar signs so ubiquitous on American highways. Apart from direction signs, the only signs are those for rest areas and for tourist and historical sites; they’re informative, understated, uniform in appearance, few in number and noncommercial. The rest areas are well marked, intuitively designed, easy to enter and exit, and feature welcome amenities like well kept landscaping, picnic tables and privacy between vehicle spaces. The view is often scenic, and though the rest areas are close to the highway, one doesn’t see much of the highway.
The local roads can be slow, but gorgeous scenery is the reward. Most local roads are well maintained. Although there is some commercial signage, it tends to be local, small, understated, informative and unobtrusive - it doesn’t detract from the scenery. On the outskirts of villages, towns and small cities there are well designed, well marked traffic circles with roads leading in other directions. Occasionally we misread a sign and went the wrong way, but the traffic circles are forgiving: you can drive around them more than once if you don’t see your sign the first time.
Besides being beautiful, in our experience the French countryside has clean air; this can be attributed, at least in part, to the widespread use of nuclear power instead of coal.
10. BURGUNDY HOTELS
We also visited Burgundy in 2007. The information below complements and supplements what we wrote in Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Burgundy and Perigord (the Dordogne) - 2007, which is found on the same websites as this article. See it for a fuller picture, although by no means a complete one, considering how large and complex Burgundy is.
Burgundy Hotels - Where We Stayed
Hotel de l’Europe
7, Grand rue
Corbigny is a small town in the Nievre departement of Burgundy. It is pleasant but not particularly charming or beautiful. We chose to stay there because it’s well located for sightseeing and, most important, close to our friends. It is not touristy, and by strolling around one gets a good impression of everyday life in a small Burgundy town.
Hotel de l’Europe is a small, two-star hotel of around a dozen rooms located in an ancient wood-timbered building. It was recently renovated. There is a large disabled parking space in front of the City Hall (la mairie), half a block from the hotel. The curb in front of the hotel is around 7 to 8 cm (3 inches) high; Howard was able to get up it easily in his electric wheelchair. There is a curb ramp at the end of the block towards City Hall.
There is no step at the entrance. There is a relatively steep built-in ramp inside the entrance leading from the doorway to the lobby. There is another relatively steep built-in ramp leading to the elevator. The elevator is new and, while it’s not large, Howard and one able-bodied person easily fit. The adapted room is on the third floor. There are two double beds in the adapted room. With both beds, the room feels quite small, but the hotel removed one bed and the room was not so small. There is no window, but there is a large skylight (velux), which was a real treat - with it open there was plenty of fresh air and the temperature was just right. We kept it open at night. If it had rained, we would have had to close it and the room might have been stuffy even with the portable fan the hotel provided. The bedroom is well lit. A lockable interior door connects the accessible room to the adjacent room, providing separate adjoining rooms for a disabled guest and a traveling companion.
There is a level transition between the bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom is fairly large, well lit and spotlessly clean. There is a medium-size sink with plenty of space to roll underneath it. There is a large roll-in shower with a hand-held hose. The shower has no grab bars and the controls are a bit too high to be accessible to most people in wheelchairs. There is no built-in bench, but a small portable bench may be available. The transition from the main bathroom area to the shower area is smooth, and the floor is graded well so the water drains easily yet the slope is gradual. The toilet is not a typical short French style toilet - there is a tank, which makes the toilet longer than the typical French toilet. The flush button is on top of the tank, making it easier to reach than if it were built into the wall. The toilet is toward the high end of accessible height; we didn’t measure, but it appears to be around 51 to 53 cm (20 to 21 inches) high. There is a short grab bar at the wall side of the toilet. Unfortunately, however, there is no transfer space on the other side because the sink is close to the toilet.
The main draw of this hotel is its acclaimed restaurant, Le Cepage, featuring Burgundy cuisine. We ate there one evening and it was superb; for an appetizer we had a delectable fricassee of girolles (chanterelle mushrooms). Le Cepage is moderately priced compared to comparable restaurants in Paris and some other regions of France. The hotel also has an informal restaurant, which was also very good. Breakfast was outstanding - the croissants were the best of our trip. All of the rooms of the restaurant are on the ground floor and are accessible.
Service was very good, especially considering the hotel’s small size and low prices. Although there are access flaws that would make it impossible for a solo traveler in a wheelchair to stay here, the hotel clearly has made a good-faith effort to provide access. The flaws appear to be due to lack of know-how, not lack of effort.
Burgundy Hotels - Other Possibilities
These hotels are listed in alphabetical order by the name of the town. Unless otherwise indicated, we have not inspected them and all information is from the hotel.
We inquired of seven or eight hotels in Vezelay but were unable to find any with a real accessible room. Several referred us to other hotels that they thought might be accessible, but none were.
Abbaye de la Bussière
21360 La Bussière-Sur-Ouche
Our stay at this magnificent ancient stone abbey, in 2007, was one of the best experiences we have ever had traveling. This luxury hotel, situated on a gorgeous site in the Ouche River valley between Dijon and Beaune, is ideally located for exploring the Cote d’Or wine region. For a detailed description, see our article Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Burgundy and Perigord (the Dordogne) - 2007.
Route des Saulaies
Our friends inspected this two-star hotel located in verdant countryside near the Loire River a few kilometers from the center of Nevers. There is a parking space just outside the adapted room. The adapted room is large, approximately 30 square meters (322 square feet), including the bathroom. The bathroom is large. There is a roll-in shower. There is a flip-up grab bar at one side of the toilet and plenty of transfer space.
Hôtel de Verdun
4, rue de Lourdes
This two-star hotel is in the center of the city. The adapted room is on the ground floor. All doors are 90 cm (35 inches) wide.
Les Eaux Vives
62, route de Paris
58320 Pougues les Eaux
This two-star hotel is located northwest of Nevers and has an adapted room with a roll-in shower.
Hotel du Nord
25, place de l’Église
89630 Quarré Les Tombes
Fax : 3-86-32-29-31
This two-star hotel is located near Avallon and the Morvan Forest. The photos on the website show an adapted room with a roll-in shower and a high toilet with a tank (not a short French style toilet), a fixed grab bar on the wall side of the toilet, and plenty of transfer space on the other side.
11. BURGUNDY SIGHTSEEING
For a description of other monuments, museums and churches in Burgundy, see our article Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Burgundy and Perigord (the Dordogne) - 2007.
Bibracte (Mont Beuvray)
We spent a memorable day visiting this fascinating Gallo-Celtic museum and archaeological site. Bibracte was a fortified Gallo-Celtic town (an oppidum), of commercial and political importance as well as military, in the second and first centuries BC. Although excavations have been going on here for many decades, the pace has intensified and scholars now know that this town and Gallo-Celtic civilization in general were more organized, sophisticated and technologically advanced than previously thought. On this site the tribal chieftain Vercingetorix became head of the Gallic coalition of tribes that opposed Julius Caesar. Bibracte was one of the last major towns in Gaul to be conquered by the Romans, and it was here that Caesar wrote the last part of The Conquest of Gaul. The Romans did not develop or expand the town, preferring instead to settle and develop the nearby town of Autun.
The site is a hill in the lush, green Morvan Forest, reached by driving along twisting roads through scenic hilly countryside. The building, designed in the 1990s by French architect Pierre-Louis Faloci, is an austere yet very elegant contemporary structure of glass, steel, gray stone and concrete that perfectly complements its setting, offers superbly framed views of the countryside, and is an ideal space for the museum’s collection and program. We greatly admired it and were surprised that Mr. Faloci is not better known.
There are designated wheelchair accessible parking spaces in the lot close to the museum entrance; rolling is bumpy because the parking lot has a gravel surface. Museum access is excellent. There is no step at the entrance. All floors are accessible by a huge elevator. There is a wonderful feeling of openness. The museum is divided into small thematic areas rather than separate galleries, partitioned by display cases and windows instead of solid walls, facilitating access and making it easy to view the exhibits. The bathroom is one of the largest and most accessible of any museum we have been to in France. Among the artifacts we found interesting were numerous safety pins in a variety of sizes and materials used to fasten clothing - Gallic clothing was more similar to ours than to Roman clothing. An informative audio guide is available in English.
From the museum to the archaeological site is a very long walk on steep terrain. Vehicles ordinarily are not permitted on the road, but vehicles carrying disabled passengers are. Because our vehicle was so large and the disabled logo difficult to see, we got many strange looks from tired visitors climbing along the road to the archaeological site. Besides viewing the archaeological site, only some of which is accessible, one can continue to the edge of the grassy knoll, see a monument commemorating Cesar’s having written The Conquest of Gaul, and enjoy a scenic overlook of the countryside below. The terrain at the top is bumpy but not steep.
The Rhone River separates these two regions. We stayed in Villeneuve-Les-Avignon, which is in Languedoc-Roussillon on the west bank, across from Avignon, in Provence on the east bank. We did sightseeing in both regions, but we were there only five nights, so we just scratched the surface. Villeneuve is a town in its own right, not a suburb of Avignon. It has both year-round residents and seasonal tourists who stay in hotels or rent houses.
Hotels - Where We Stayed
Best Western La Magnaneraie
37, rue Camp de Bataille
We stayed at this 32-room four-star hotel in an old silkworm factory with stone walls. The atmosphere and decor are rustic elegant, with the rooms arranged around a small, shady, inviting garden. The hotel is in a pretty residential area uphill from the town center, around a 10 minute walk/roll to the town center, and there are moderately sloped curb ramps and a protected walkway (a paved path with metal posts separating it from the street) along the way.
There is a step around 8 cm (3 inches) high at the entrance. The hotel set out a gradually sloped portable wooden ramp and kept it there throughout our stay.
We stayed in the only adapted room, which is in the “privilege” (deluxe) category. This room is in a newer building, not the old stone building, and is accessed directly from the garden. Accessing it was tricky. The room is around 31 cm (12 inches) above the ground. The hotel set out a very steep portable wooden ramp with an attached platform, and accessing the door required making a 90° turn on the platform. The ramp/platform has no edge guards, so one must be extremely careful. It would be impossible for anyone in a wheelchair to close the door by themselves, and quite difficult for most to open it. This ramp was a good-faith effort by the hotel, but the design could certainly be improved. According to the hotel, the room size is 25 square meters (269 square feet); the bedroom is large, so this does not appear to include the bathroom. The bedroom is bright, cheerful and well lit, with a stone tile floor. There is an accessible desk.
There is a level transition between the bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom is very large, and, like the bedroom, is well lit and has a stone tile floor. There are two large sinks with plenty of space to roll underneath them. There is a large roll-in shower with a hand-held hose. The roll-in shower has no grab bars, and the liquid soap dispenser and shower controls are inaccessibly high. There is no built-in bench, but a very small portable bench is available. The transition from the main bathroom area to the shower area is smooth, and the floor is graded well so the water drains easily yet the slope is gradual. The toilet is not a typical short French toilet - there is a tank, so the toilet is longer than the typical French toilet, which makes transferring better for most people in wheelchairs. The flush button is on top of the tank, making it easier to reach than if it were built into the wall. The toilet is toward the high end of accessible height; we didn’t measure, but it appears to be around 51 to 53 cm (20 to 21 inches) high. There is a very short, virtually useless grab bar at the wall side of the toilet. There is around 91 cm (36 inches) of transfer space on the other side.
There is a swimming pool on the second floor. The pool area is accessible by going around the block outside the hotel (which is not a long distance), but the pool itself is not accessible; there is no lift or ramp.
The hotel has an excellent restaurant serving breakfast and dinner. The charming dining room is accessible, but meals were served outside in the lovely garden because the weather was beautiful. There were some Provençal dishes, such as a delicious pistou soup (made with beans, eggplant, potatoes, many other vegetables and garlic) but overall the cuisine was more national than regional.
Service was terrific both at the front desk and the restaurant. Many of the employees are students or recent graduates of a hotel and restaurant college program in the area. The concierges were gracious, helpful and patient with Howard’s French. The hotel emailed photos of the bathroom in response to our inquiry.
Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon Hotels - Other Possibilities
We have not inspected any of these hotels; all information is from the hotels.
Hôtel Restaurant Spa Le
5, rue Porte de Laure
This three-star hotel has two adapted rooms, one with two twin beds, and the other with one large bed and one twin bed. Both rooms are on the ground floor and are accessible from the garden without any stairs. There are no roll-in showers, only bathtubs. Room size is between 15 and 18 square meters (between 161 and 194 square feet), excluding the bathroom.
4, rue de la Monnaie
This luxury hotel is not truly accessible, but it may be an option for someone in a manual wheelchair who does not mind being lifted. According to our phone conversation, there is one accessible room, a junior suite, up two small stairs, and there is no ramp. No more details were forthcoming.
Hotel Cloitre Saint Louis
20, rue du Portail Boquier
This four-star hotel, part of which is in a 16th-century cloister, is located in the center of Avignon. There is an adapted room, but it was booked when we inquired and the hotel provided no details.
Avignon Grand Hotel
34, Boulevard Saint-Roch
This new four-star hotel is in a modern building and is a short walk from its sister hotel, the Cloitre Saint Louis. There is at least one adapted room, which has a roll-in shower and is 30 square meters (323 square feet).
Best Western Nimotel
152, rue Claude Nicolas Ledoux
This three-star hotel is located in a park outside the city. There is a special accessible entrance. The rooms were renovated in 2010 and include adapted rooms with roll-in showers. All adapted rooms are on the ground floor. Room size is 18 square meters (194 square feet.
Hôtel & Spa Jardins Secrets
3, rue Gaston Maruejols
This four-star hotel looks lovely in the website photos. There is an accessible room in the standard category. It is on the ground floor, and no stairs are required to reach it. The bedroom and bathroom doorways are at least 85 cm (33.4 inches) wide. The toilet is 42 cm (16.5 inches) high. There are no grab bars near the toilet. There is a sink counter on one side of the toilet, and the other side is near the wall. Therefore, there does not appear to be sufficient transfer space adjacent to the toilet. There is a roll-in shower 130 cm (51 inches) by 140 cm (55 inches). There is also an accessible suite, which is reached by an elevator. The hotel did not send photos of the bathrooms, but did send photos of the bedroom in the suite, which looks elegant. The hotel was renovated in 2008.
Le Pre Galoffre
Route de Generac
This three-star hotel outside the city is in a beautifully restored stone farmhouse (mas) with a swimming pool. There is an adapted room, but it was booked when we inquired and the hotel didn’t provide any details.
140, rue Vatel
30913 Nîmes Cedex 02
This is a modern four-star hotel 5 km (3 miles) from the center of Nîmes. The building is around 20 years old and all the rooms were renovated in 2009. There is a level entrance. There are two adapted rooms, both on the fifth floor. There are two elevators 105 cm (41.3 inches) by 136 cm (53.5 inches), with a doorway 75 cm (29.5 inches) wide. The rooms are 26 square meters (280 square feet), including the bathroom. Bedroom door width is 80 cm (31.4 inches). Bathroom door width is 90 cm (35.4 inches). The toilet is 45 cm (17.7 inches) high. There is 80 cm (31.4 inches) of transfer space adjacent to the toilet. There is a roll-in shower 90 cm (35.4 inches) by 140 cm (55.1 inches), with a doorway 87 cm (34.2 inches) wide.
Hotel la Bastide de Boulbon
Rue de l’hotel de ville
This three-star hotel is in an 1850 country house situated between Avignon and Arles. There is an adapted room on the ground floor; it is 13 square meters (140 square feet), excluding the bathroom. There is a roll-in shower with grab bars. The toilet is 50 cm (19.7 inches) high and has 66 cm (25.9 inches) of transfer space adjacent to it. All doorways are at least 75 cm (29.5 inches) wide.
Hotel Restaurant le Gardon
9, rue de Campchesteve
Located in the countryside near Uzes, this three-star hotel was built in 2006. The adapted room room is 18 square meters (194 square feet) including a bathroom of 5 square meters (54 square feet). The hotel emailed photos of the bathroom, which show a large roll-in shower with a small grab bar and a small built-in seat. There is a large sink with plenty of room to roll underneath it. There is a toilet with plenty of transfer space on one side. The toilet is a short, wall-mounted French style toilet. There is a grab bar on the wall side of the toilet, although the toilet appears a bit far from the wall, which would make it difficult to reach the grab bar.
Château de Montcaud
Hameau de Combe
This four-star hotel 20 km north of Uzes is highly recommended by a friend who uses a manual wheelchair and has stayed there many times over the years. The owner replied promptly and enthusiastically to our inquiry with detailed information and photos of the adapted bedroom and bathroom. His welcoming attitude was consistent with everything our friend had told us. Much of the property has no stairs, and ramps are available where there are stairs. The Château has an elevator 80 cm (31.4 inches) by 140 cm (54.9 inches). There is an adapted room; no elevator is necessary to access it. The room is 35 square meters (377 square feet). Bedroom door width is 85 cm (33.4 inches). Bathroom door width is 90 cm (35.4 inches). The toilet is 46 cm (18.1 inches) high. There is 95 cm (37.4 inches) of transfer space adjacent to the toilet. There is a roll-in shower 95 cm (37.4 inches) by 80 cm (31.4 inches). The shower has solid walls and a plexiglass door 78 cm (30.7 inches) wide. From the photos, the bathroom appears large, although the shower is somewhat small. There is a small grab bar in the shower. The transition from the bathroom to the shower appears smooth and without barriers. There is also a standard bathtub.
13. PROVENCE AND LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON SIGHTSEEING
Some of the monuments, churches, antiquities sites and museums in these places, and elsewhere in these regions, are inaccessible or only partially accessible, but a visit to these towns and villages is still absolutely worthwhile. One can enjoy a stroll, take in the atmosphere, admire the beautiful natural scenery, plants and architecture, visit those sights that are accessible, get a sense of the history and culture, and enjoy the food and wine.
We found parking in the large lot outside the old city. From there it was an easy stroll of a few blocks on flat terrain to the Arenes, the Roman amphitheatre. It would be difficult or impossible to find closer parking. Some of the other streets around the amphitheatre are steep because the amphitheatre is above them. The amphitheatre didn’t appear to be accessible, although it was difficult to tell for sure and we were there on a blazingly sunny, 98° afternoon, so we didn’t spend much time trying. Nearby, the Roman Theatre Antique is partially accessible; the entrance is level, although one has to traverse a bumpy cobbled street to reach it; just inside the entrance is a permanent concrete ramp leading down to the site. Howard was able to explore much of the site, including some of the corridors in the theatre; the terrain is basically flat, but quite rocky, so the ride was bumpy. There is an especially steep street leading from the amphitheatre to the theatre, which was doable for Howard but would be difficult for manual wheelchair users. It’s possible to bypass this street by going a couple of blocks around the long way. Saint Trophime cathedral is not accessible; there are several stairs at the front and no ramp. But one can get close enough to admire the carved stone façade, one of the most important and best-preserved examples of Provencal Romanesque art. The cloister is not accessible, although the courtyard alongside the church is. Place de la Republique, the main town square, is bordered by Saint Trophime and the baroque 17th-century City Hall (Hotel de Ville), designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of the architects of Versailles. In the center of the square is a delightful fountain with an ancient Egyptian obelisk brought to Arles by the Romans. The sight and sound of the water were welcome in the scorching heat. The ground floor of the City Hall is accessible from the square via a permanent stone ramp. Inside are impressive monuments to Arlesians killed in World Wars I and II, including a mayor who was in the resistance. From the ground floor a flight of stairs leads down to the Cryptoporticus, a huge subterranean barrel-vaulted gallery that was the foundation of the ancient Roman forum; there is no other access, so the Cryptoporticus is inaccessible.
The attraction of this village is the little Sorgue River, whose source is underground and remains unknown despite the best efforts of spelunkers. The village is in a valley surrounded by cliffs; the water gushes out dramatically from a hole in the cliffs and forms a small lake which farther on becomes the river. We parked in an accessible space on the street near the village church and strolled toward what we thought was the beginning of the water. We took a leisurely stroll perhaps 1 km (0.6 mile) in the wrong direction alongside the water, which in that direction is merely a gentle stream. We doubled back and proceeded in the right direction. There is a pedestrian-only trail, too narrow for vehicles, leading to where the water gushes from the cliff. For most of its 2 km (1.2 mile) length, it is gently sloped although somewhat bumpy. The ground is hard dirt and some rocks (although not gravel), and Howard was able to roll fairly easily, see and hear the gushing water, and admire the rugged, rocky cliffs. There was lush green vegetation even though it was August. The terrain becomes steep and quite rocky toward the end of the trail, so Michele continued on her own. Despite the strange, tacky and schlocky souvenir stands jammed side by side almost the entire length of the trail, we enjoyed our visit very much.
Perched dramatically and seemingly perilously on a steep cliff of ochre limestone, this gorgeous village deserves its official designation as “one of the most beautiful villages of France.” The buildings are constructed of the same stone, making for a harmonious unity of color between the natural and the man-made. Many of the streets are far too steep and uneven for a wheelchair, and some have stairs, but a visit to Gordes is not to be missed. There is an accessible parking space at the top of the village near the post office; the terrain here is fairly flat. From the post office it’s a short stroll over flat terrain to the main square, which is flat and where one can eat outside, enjoy the panoramic view of the countryside below, and admire the way the sunlight hits the buildings and the cliff. Howard was able to stroll around a few of the streets radiating down from the square, but the streets are paved in large stones and the ride was bumpy. This would be difficult for many people in manual wheelchairs. The Château, which is on the main square, did not appear accessible, although there may have been another entrance that we missed.
The town center runs along the Sorgue River and is intersected by some canals. The town center is flat and well paved, so it’s easy to stroll along the river. While pleasant, this town doesn’t deserve its nickname “the Venice of Provence.”
Pont du Gard (Languedoc-Roussillon)
Access is excellent at this incomparable marvel of Roman engineering. An aqueduct and viaduct built by the Romans in the first century A.D. that spans the Gardon River, the Pont du Gard is part of an aqueduct system (most of which is underground) bringing water 50 km (30 miles) from a source near Uzes to Nîmes. During this distance the change in level is only 12 meters (39 feet); creating a system steep enough for the water to keep flowing yet gradual enough to prevent it from flowing too fast and too forcefully was an engineering feat unrivalled for centuries. Assembled from local stone without mortar, this structure is probably as grand, imposing and dramatic today as when it was built. There are plenty of accessible spaces in the parking lot. The visitors’ center is accessible by a gradual, built-in ramp. The visitors’ center has a small accessible bathroom. The terrain on both sides of the bridge is relatively flat, and is mostly hard compacted dirt. The pedestrian walkway crossing the bridge is flat, made of concrete and easy going for a wheelchair. The wall along the walkway is low enough for most people in wheelchairs to have a sweeping view.
We spent several fascinating days in Nîmes in 2000 and hoped very much to return on this trip. But we ran out of time, so the information here is based on our visit in 2000. Most of the city, including the ancient Roman section, is flat and well paved. It’s easy to stroll around in a wheelchair. The Roman Amphitheatre was surprisingly accessible; while it wasn’t fully accessible, Howard was able to explore large parts of it. Of several Roman amphitheatres we have visited over the years, we found it to be second only to the Coliseum in terms of access. The Maison Carree is on a high podium up a flight of stairs and is not accessible, but when we were there it was not open to the public at all. We don’t know whether it is now open to the public. But its inaccessibility doesn’t matter because its grandeur can be well appreciated from the outside. The Jardins de la Fontaine is mostly accessible.
We strolled around this beautiful town with friends and had a wonderful leisurely lunch with them outside in the shaded main square, the Place aux Herbes. Time flew by, aided by a few drinks of aromatic, herbal pastis for which the region is known (we were surprised by how many types and flavors of pastis there are), so we didn’t go inside any of the monuments, museums or churches and can’t report on their accessibility. The Place aux Herbes is flat; many of the neighboring streets are flat, some are moderately sloped, and a few have stairs. Some of the areas near the ancient town walls are moderately sloped. Some of the streets and squares in the old town center have cobblestones, making for a somewhat bumpy ride, but for the most part the stones are regular and uniform in size, so the terrain wasn’t a problem.
We stayed around 10 minutes uphill from the town center and spent a leisurely afternoon exploring it. The residents of Villeneuve were among the most friendly, gracious and engaging we have met in our travels. There were fewer tourists walking around the town than we had expected, but the town is a tourist attraction, and the residents did not seem jaded by having to deal with tourists frequently. The town center is mostly flat, with some moderately sloped streets and squares. Some of the pavement is stone, but there are many adjacent sidewalks on which it is easy to roll. The Chartreuse (charterhouse), an enormous Carthusian monastery complex begun in the 14th century, is up a flight of stone stairs. However, Howard was able to enter the imposing carved stone entrance portal and explore the courtyard while Michele visited the monastery. The terrain around the portal and courtyard is moderately sloped but is paved in large cobblestones; the ride was quite bumpy. The town has a small art museum, the Pierre-de-Luxembourg Museum, the galleries of which are on the second floor. There is an elevator, but it was broken when we visited. The sidewalk outside is narrow, so assistance would be required for many wheelchair users to turn to access the entrance without falling off the sidewalk. Fort Saint-Andre, at the top of the hill on the outskirts of town, is inaccessible, but there is a superb panoramic view from outside.
A few doors down from the grand portal of the Chartreuse is an olive oil press and store that sells delicious olive oil; well-crafted salad bowls, utensils and other items made from olive wood; and other Provencal specialties. The entrance is accessible, as is most of the store. The proprietors, a charming couple, were justifiably proud of their oil which, along with their other wares, is of high quality and reasonably priced.
Moulin a Huile de la Chartreuse de Villeneuve et des Pays d’Avignon
Access and Tourism
Global Access News - Disabled Travel Network has terrific general information about traveling in a wheelchair, and articles and links about travel to a variety of destinations. It also publishes a superb monthly e-zine with informative and interesting tidbits and links to accessible hotels, apartments, transportation and museums. To sign up, go to the website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (Note the new website address.) www.GlobalAccessNews.com
Access-Able Travel Source has an excellent database of articles and links about accessible travel to a variety of destinations. www.Access-Able.com
APF Paris (Association des Paralyses de France – Paris). www.apf.asso.fr website contains useful information in French about access and disability rights. They will answer specific questions by email. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Paris Tourist Office. www.Parisinfo.com and www.paris-touristoffice.com are the URLs of the official website of the Paris Tourist Office. The website has lots of great information in English about Paris. For access information, go to “Practical Paris/Disabled People Access,” “Maps & Transport/Disabled People Access” and “Hotels & Accommodations/Disabled People Access.”
Tourisme & Handicap is a program of the French Ministry of Tourism that promotes accessibility of tourist sites and facilities for people with mobility, hearing, visual and mental disabilities. It awards the Tourisme & Handicap label to facilities it considers accessible, but doesn’t appear to apply a rigorous, uniform set of access criteria, at least for hotel rooms. The website is a useful starting point for research, but we don’t advise relying on the label. Association Tourisme & Handicaps. 280, boulevard Saint-Germain; 75007; Paris. Phone: 1-44-11-10-41. Fax: 1-45-55-99-60. www.tourisme-handicaps.org
Access in Paris.org www.AccessinParis.org This is the website of Pauline Hephaistos Survey Projects, a British organization that has created access guides to Paris, London and Israel. The information about Paris is very detailed and well organized.
Franceway The English language website www.franceway.com contains a list of French disability organizations under “Travel/Practical Information/Welcoming Disabled Persons.”
Maison de la France, part of the official French Tourist Office, has a comprehensive, well-organized website and publishes excellent brochures and maps in English. The brochures don’t deal specifically with access. Brochures and maps can be ordered from the website. www.Franceguide.com.
Trip Advisor. www.TripAdvisor.com This website includes consumer reviews of hotels worldwide. Although the reviews typically don’t include access information, they’re very useful when combined with access research. In researching hotels, we often start with Trip Advisor, compile a list of hotels that look interesting, are well located and fit our budget, and then inquire about access directly with those hotels.
Books about France
The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France. By Ina Caro. This fascinating traveler’s history reads like a novel, using architecture and geography to make French history come alive. It includes Perigord (the Dordogne) but not Burgundy. 1994. ISBN 0-15-600363-5. Published by Harcourt Brace & Company.
The Marais: A Historical and Architectural Guide. By Alexandre Gady. An extremely thorough guide to every street and nearly every building in the Marais, written by a professor at the Sorbonne who was involved in historic preservation battles in the Marais. Contains small but excellent photographs and maps. ISBN 2-84742-054-1. English edition published by Le Passage, Paris - New York Editions, 2005.
Paris to the Moon. By Adam Gopnik. An insightful, witty account of the New Yorker writer’s life in Paris with his family for five years in the 1990’s.
Paris in Mind. Edited by Jennifer Lee. An excellent anthology of American writing about Paris, it includes short excerpts from James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain and contemporary writers.
Walks Through Lost Paris. By Leonard Pitt. Combining 19th-century photographs of buildings that no longer exist with documentation of vestiges of old Paris that still exist, the author has designed walks to show what Paris looked like before the urban renewal carried on by Baron Haussmann in the 19th century. ISBN-13:978-1-59376-103-5. Shoemaker & Hoard. 2006.
Paris: An Architectural History. By Anthony Sutcliffe. It isn’t a guide to particular buildings, but a chronological discussion of the development of Paris architecture, including factors such as rational, well-designed building codes that remained remarkably uniform over time and the influence of the Beaux-Arts school on Paris architects. This large paperback is serious but not too technical and has good pictures.
The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. By Patricia Wells. This well-written guide by the American maven of French cuisine includes restaurants, bakeries, food stores, wine bars, tea salons, cooking stores and even recipes. We followed many of her restaurant recommendations and were almost always delighted, and never disappointed. Her website, www.patriciawells.com, is more current than the book, although less comprehensive.
The Guide to the Architecture of Paris. By Norval White. This comprehensive, meticulously researched, opinionated and dry guide describes hundreds of buildings, block by block.
My wife and I will arrive in [ ] on [ ] and depart on [ ]. We will stay for [ ] nights.
I use an electric wheelchair that is [[ ] centimeters ([ ] inches)] wide. I am unable to walk at all. My wife is not disabled. We would like a non-smoking room with one large bed. We have the following questions about your hotel:
1. Do you have any specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms? If not, please disregard the other questions. Thank you and we would appreciate a recommendation of hotel in the area that does have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms.
If you do have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms, we have the following questions. Please answer even if you are fully booked for the requested time, because we are interested in your hotel for the future.
1. Is it necessary to go up or down any stairs in order to get from the street entrance to the guest room? Does the building have an elevator? If so, how wide is the elevator door and what are the interior dimensions of the elevator?
2. In the bathroom, is there space for a [ ] cm wide wheelchair on one side of the toilet? What is the width of the doorway into the bathroom? What is the height of the toilet? What is the size of the shower? Can a wheelchair roll into the shower? Are there grab bars near the toilet and shower?
3. Are all the doorways in the room at least 75 cm wide?
4. What is the size of the room? Does this include the bathroom?
5. Was the building renovated recently?
Also, could you email some photos of the bathroom.
Please quote a rate.
Thank you very much. We really appreciate any help you can provide.
Very Truly Yours
Metric Conversion Guide
One inch = 2.54 centimeters.
One centimeter = 0.3937 inches
One meter = 39.4 inches
One square meter = 10.76 square feet
One kilometer = 0.62 miles
One mile = 1.61 kilometers
One kilogram = 2.2 pounds
One hundred grams = just under ¼ pound (3 ½ ounces)
One pound = 0.454 kilograms (454 grams)
One liter = 0.264 gallons = 1.056 quarts
One gallon = 3.785 liters
Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.
Paris 2003-2007 and Burgundy, Perigord
Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris 2003
Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results)
Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005
Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007
Rome, Florence, Vicenza & Naples, Italy 2003-2006
Rolling in Rome 2003
Rolling in Rome 2009
Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005
2006 Navigating Naples 2006
Cordoba & Seville
Toledo, Madrid, Segovia
Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C
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