Getting a Good Night's Sleep at a Good Price
Hotels, Pensiones and Apartment Rentals
Revised March 16, 2014
There are many places to stay throughout Europe, ranging from luxury resorts that cater to Europe's royalty and elite to small hotels and motels and comfortable family run bed and breakfasts. Start by doing some research before you leave, book rooms for your first few nights and then have a great time seeing what you want to see. There are definitely ways to cut down on the cost of a night's sleep by finding a couch on the internet, but after two nights of couch surfing in Paris, sharing a bathroom, and feeling like an imposition in someone else's small space, my son reminded himself that he had a good job and that he could afford to be in a comfortable hotel room for the rest of his stay.
We made arrangements for our first trips to Paris believing that a hotel near Notre Dame would be a great place, but soon discovered that by April, the great affordable rooms near the Seine were gone. This year, we started searching for summer rooms in Paris in early February. With the low value of the dollar, we had sticker shock at the cost of conveniently located hotels. When we took our first trip to Paris, the affordable rooms were in the Latin Quarter which is just south of Notre Dame and the most historic parts of Paris. Now the bargains are farther from the city's historic sights, near Montmatre and Montparnasse. As I searched the internet lodging websites, I thought my only options were to pay more for convenience or save money with a location that was connected to French history by a ride on the Metro. Then I remembered where we stayed on our earlier trips to Paris and sent an email to them, asking for a reservation. The hotel Excelsior located at 20 Rue Cujas has been our Paris address four different times and we found this simple two star hotel to be a clean bargain with a great staff. We will update our review after our summer visit.
Unfortunately, as the dollar continues to drop in value, finding reasonably priced rooms in Paris and Rome, even in the off season, is becoming much more difficult; the low cost "zimmer frei" we spotted in small German towns now top $90 per night.
Throughout France, you can find clean rooms at HotelF1 properties, and their sister hotels in England, Spain and Belgium, Formule1. Run by France's Accor company, the same company that once owned the American chain, Motel 6, HotelF1 has standardized hotelkeeping the way the McDonalds standardized the burger business. Rooms are simple and clean with room for 3 in a lower double and upper single bed. A TV and sink complete the properties where showers and toilets are shared in units down the hall.
Hotels in Italy don't have the same marketing and branding strategies of the Accor properties. While there are many comfortable hotels throughout Italy, most are run as small family operations. So approach booking as a chance to learn more about the cities your visiting, as fun, not a tedious task, and consider rooms in bed and breakfasts, Italian farms, small hotels in tourist towns, and look at bungalows in campgrounds if you want to save some money. There are many delightful hotels throughout Italy and the planning might be a way to get even more pleasure from the trip.
One of the most spectacular hotels we stayed at, without breaking the budget, was Ca del Brochhi, a beautifully renovated hotel near the Guggenheim museum and Santa Maria della Salute. It's spacious rooms include wonderful jaccuzi showers/tubs and a delicious breakfast. While I loved the friendliness of the campground on Punta Sabbioni, the nights we spent in Ca del Brocchi made us feel like we were royalty. When we stayed there the first time, the property had just been renovated and it was an incredible bargain. Now it is recognized as one of the nicest places to stay and has received wonderful reviews on the online booking companies. With that reputation, its prices have increased but it if you want a very luxurious room in Venice at a relatively reasonable price, it is a hotel I and many other travelers highly recommend. Please let me know if you make a reservation at this property and, if possible, give me an update on its condition after your stay.
To find other hotels in Italy and other countries, you can rely on Rick Steeves' guide books which generally lead you to clean, value priced hotels. The popularity of these books help hotels fill quickly, so you may want to get your reservations early. This is particularly true at places on the very beaten path. Still, we made some phone calls in the morning to places that Rick Steeves had recommended and found ourselves sleeping in comfortable beds that night.
Throughout Italy, a unique government program called "Agriturismo" encourages farmers to open their homes to tourists. Much like American bed and breakfasts, these working farms supplement their income with money from guests. We stayed a wonderful farm just west of San Gimiagnano. Podere Montese provided a spotless and delightful bath on a hill overlooking the beautiful towers of the walled city. Breakfast was bountiful and included honey produced on the farm. Its warm pool was relaxing and gave us a chance to meet other guests. Our Fourth of July experience was topped with an evening sing-along, sharing the farm's red wine amd grappo with friendly Austrians, Germans and Americans as a distant summer thunderstorm flashed in the sky like fireworks. Again, if you stay here, please let me know.
Often you can find great bargains at small bed and breakfast inns in some of the most visited tourist towns. We were surprised at how reasonable rates were throughout Germany and Austria. Look for the sign "Zimmer Frei" to find rooms in small inns and farmhouses that are affordable and normally include a hearty breakfast.
We saw similar bargains in Brugge. But again, the city is popular with tourists and the Belgium coast sees lots of visitors, so call/write/email early to get the best values in rooms.
Also, note that many of the small hotels and bed and breakfasts are not signed up with the large online booking companies. So if you are really trying to find bargain rooms, you should find the email address or website for the local tourist services because they may be able to help you make arrangements at properties you couldn't otherwise find.
A relatively thorough search for room in the major tourist cities of Europe will show that clean, comfortable hotels comparable to our Holiday Inns and Best Western Hotels are going to cost about € 90 per night. That makes the cost of lodging one of the most expensive parts of a trip....and with the dollar being so weak against the Euro, currently at about $1.21 for a single Euro, you can anticipate hotel bills of about $110 per night. This is a good reason to consider camping as an alternative to staying in hotels. If you are really trying to stretch your budget, you should also check to see how good the public transportation is in the cities you are visiting because you can often save a lot by staying in the suburbs.
We also found that if we waited to book rooms until a night or two before we needed them, we found better bargains. Just note that doing so may mean that you are using precious vacation line to search for hotel rooms.
If you are going to make a specific area your home base, you will be more comfortable and will probably save money staying in alternative lodging. Euro Relais offers rooms in castles and windmills and more traditional bed and breakfast operations if you are staying for a week or more. A long term stay at one of these properties may create a lasting memory.
In Eastern Europe, and particularly in the capital cities, many apartments have been converted to tourist facilities. The advantage is that you can prepare your own meals. And, if you are traveling as a family or with friends, you have the convenience of being in one unit and will usually pay a lower per person price. Be certain to check on the minimum required length of stay before you make a reservation.
You may want to consider a home exchange. where you swap your home with someone in Europe. This is ideal for someone who wants to be in a particular area for an extended period of time. Be honest in your description of your property and the terms of your exchange. Then be certain you get all of the terms you agreed to in writing.