The purpose of this study was to compare the proportion of French hospitals meeting criteria for primary (PSC) or comprehensive (CSC) stroke centres, with that of 24 other European countries. We surveyed 121 randomly selected hospitals admitting stroke patients routinely in France and 765 in other European countries. We determined the proportion of hospitals meeting criteria for CSC and PSC according to the EUSI experts definition. The 121 selected hospitals had treated 37,778 patients in 2005 (mean 312), i.e. approximately 25% of all strokes supposed to have occurred in France. Eleven hospitals had an acute stroke care unit, versus 448 of 765 other Hospitals (OR 0.07; 95% CI, OR 0.04-0.13). rt-PA was given to 622 patients (2.2% of ischaemic strokes, versus 3.3% for the other countries). No hospital met criteria for CSC, and only 2 (1.7%) met criteria for PSC. Many facilities considered as necessary by experts were less available, especially personnel, brain CT-scan, ECG monitoring and rt-PA protocols. However, CT angiography 24 h/24, and air ambulance were more often available. Only a few French hospitals offer an optimal level of care for stroke patients. This result contrasts with the high cost of stroke care in France, suggesting an inappropriate use of resources. Conclusions useful for health administrators are: (i) to offer more facilities in reasonably equipped hospitals; (ii) to prevent admission of stroke patients in small under-equipped hospitals; (iii) to promote specific stroke nurse instruction; and (iv) to promote a better organisation of stroke care over the territory.