Let’s Talk About Our Favorite Hotels

As someone who travels in Europe for three months a year, I have, by default, become a connoisseur of hotels. Not only do I sleep in hotels — I spend hours each day visiting and evaluating accommodations for our guidebooks. I’ve experienced the full spectrum, from “good enough” hotels that I forget the moment I check out, to unforgettably terrible hotels so bad they’re almost sublime, to transcendently great hotels. And, like any aficionado, I keep a mental list of my all-time favorites. (Full disclosure: While many travel bloggers do “sponsored posts,” we at Rick Steves’ Europe are never paid for our endorsements. The hotel raves below are all 100% unsolicited…I just geek out on awesome accommodations.)

On my recent trip to Paris, I added another hotel to my list of all-stars. Before my visit, I had asked the co-author of our Rick Steves Paris guidebook, Steve Smith, if he had any suggestions. With a glimmer in his eye, he said, “I know just the place.”

The moment I stepped into the Hôtel de Londres Eiffel, I knew I was in for a great stay. I was warmly greeted by Arnaud, who recognized me before I could say a word. (With just 30 rooms, the receptionists are able to know each guest personally.) Arnaud gave me a Paris map — custom-produced by the hotel for its guests, illustrating the staff’s top picks for where to eat and what to do — and sent me up to my room.

Knowing I’m a light sleeper, I’d requested a quiet room. And I got just about the quietest room I have ever had in a big city — tucked in their little courtyard annex building.

The decor was impeccable. I’m a cynic when it comes to hotels that try to gild the lily with dusty bouquets of fake flowers, generic artwork from IKEA, and pointless doilies. But the design of this room hit exactly the right balance of charming, tasteful, and practical. It had little personalized touches that so many hotels get wrong: Artful sconces providing a warm, even light throughout the space. A very comfortable bed with plush pillows. Playful French countryside scenes on the wall, with matching drapes.

The room wasn’t huge, but the space was designed so smartly that once I unpacked, I never felt crowded. The wardrobe door, when opened, automatically clicked on a light inside. An empty refrigerator was tucked under the desk, leaving just enough room to squeeze a chair alongside it. And individual USB charging ports were stationed right next to each nightstand. (How many times have you found the only available plug all the way across the room from the bed?)

Everyone who works at the Londres Eiffel is top-notch. Ninette and Jacqueline bring in fresh croissants and baguettes for breakfast. At the front desk, Arnaud and Cédric — who take turns on the day shift — are, as Steve Smith had told me (using an endearing French-ism) “hyper-competent”. They could handle any situation with aplomb.

Another key to a great hotel is great management. The Londres Eiffel is run by the Prigent family (who also own the Hôtel Signature Saint Germain des Près a mile away). Chatting with Delphine Prigent, I was reminded that conscientious, hands-on managers elevate a nice hotel to the top tier. She explained how they emphasize long-term relationships with both their staff and their guests. That’s why their team enjoys such longevity — Arnaud told me he’s gotten to know successive generations of loyal return guests.

I’m also big on location. And the Londres Eiffel has a handy one: a short walk from the Eiffel Tower in one direction and from the thriving Rue Cler market street in the other direction. Characteristic Parisian sidewalk cafés are just steps away.

Favorite Accommodations Around Europe

Staying at the Hôtel de Londres Eiffel got me thinking about my other favorite accommodations around Europe: The ones that stick out like a shining beacon when I glance over my itinerary. The ones that offer a port in the storm of travel — where I can recharge from a busy itinerary and recover from other hotels that have not quite been up to snuff. The ones that make me say, “Oh, yeah! I can’t wait to get to that one!”

In Tuscany, just outside of Pienza, Isabella and Carlo Moricciani run the best agriturismo I’ve experiencedCretaiole. And now Isabella has built her dream hotel, a country-classy splurge resort called La Moscadella. This May, I was one of the hotel’s first-ever guests…and I promise you, I’ll be back. The Moriccianis have a gift for combining comfortable lodgings with vivid, culturally rich Tuscan experiences.

In Brussels, I’ve always been charmed by the Hôtel Welcome. It’s not just because I enjoy thinking of the owner, Michel Smeesters, as “Meester Smeesters.” It’s also because Meester Smeesters is a great traveler whose tastes and life experience are apparent in every room of his hotel. Many years ago, he told me that he spends at least one night in each room in his hotel, every single year. That way, he personally experiences all 17 of his rooms — to understand the pros and cons of each one, and to fix what needs fixing. Recently on a return visit, I asked whether that has continued. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Absolutely — still do!” And it shows.

In Kraków, Poland, I’ve enjoyed the Donimirski Boutique Hotels since the days when the very first Rick Steves Eastern Europe tours stayed at one of their branches. The Donimirski hotels are elegant but not pretentious, historic but with modern amenities, and are run by a staff characterized by longevity. Several upper-level management positions are now occupied by receptionists I knew back when I was a budding guidebook researcher and they worked the night shift at the front desk, 15 years ago.

At Dubrovnik Gardens, Roberto di Lorenzo rents a couple of tidy apartments in a secluded garden, on a pebbly square in front of an ornate church facade at the top of a famous grand staircase. Staying here, you feel completely enveloped by the bustle of one of Europe’s great walled cities, yet a world apart. (And Roberto is a great guy, too.)

In Stockholm, I haven’t found a better place to stay than Hotel Wellington, in the heart of the upscale Östermalm neighborhood. While it’s big (with 60 rooms), the front desk staff is helpful and welcoming. And in this expensive city, guests appreciate the generous breakfast and dinner buffets — both included in the price. The wonderful Östermalms Saluhall market hall — one of my 10 favorite markets in Europe — is just up the street.

In Budapest, I’ve always been impressed by Hotel Victoria — where kind, thoughtful manager Zoltán is at the helm. This place is such a class act, it almost seems too good to be true. With each inspection for my Rick Steves Budapest guidebook, I find myself determined to find any imperfection. And I still haven’t found one. The front desk staff is warm and capable, and each of the 27 rooms looks out over the endlessly entertaining Danube. Zoltán even restored a 19th-century ballroom, which was tucked away unnoticed behind the reception desk for years. Now it hosts occasional chamber music concerts and gives guests an outrageously classy place to relax.

At Slovenia’s Lake Bled, I have several favorites. For rustic elegance, a quartet of woody chalets with modern comforts cluster on a bluff at the top of town, over the lake: Penzion Berc, Hotel Berc, Penzion Mayer, and Penzion Kaps. But for full-on, big-hotel, modern comfort, I also appreciate the Hotel Lovec. While it’s a big Best Western, it still has a personal touch. Be careful, or front-desk receptionist Tomaž might lure you into watching a video he’s made celebrating the wonders of Slovenia’s Julian Alps.

In Palermo, AdHoc Rooms is a peaceful, tidy oasis in the very heart of an intense, gritty city. On my first visit to Sicily, my flight was cancelled, forcing me to rebook to one that arrived around 1:00 in the morning. I apologetically called Natalia, who kindly assured me that it’d all work out. In the wee hours, her husband Luca met me — both of us bleary-eyed — and drove me to the B&B. As is the case with many small B&Bs in big buildings, I had to climb up several stories through a dingy, echoey stairwell. But when I stepped through the door, that very long day’s journey was worth it. The rooms are clean, bright, white, and smartly decorated with a sense of both style and whimsy.

I had a similar experience at Guest House Douro, in the Portuguese city of Porto. Arriving late, I found my way to the charming eight-room B&B, tucked right in the heart of the most bustling stretch of the Ribeira waterfront. Carmen offered me a warm welcome and an efficient orientation before showing me to a tight but cheery and well-appointed room with breathtaking views over the busy Douro River. I was a little concerned about the noise, but Carmen bragged that they’d gone all out for the most soundproof windows available. And she was right: I’ve never had a quieter room in such a busy location. The next morning, João served up a lovingly crafted breakfast with tropical fruit from Portugal’s remote islands.

In Warsaw, Chopin Boutique B&B is conscientiously run by Jarek Chołodecki. Like Jarek, the rooms are quirky but sophisticated. Feeling sympathetic that his guests couldn’t always find a decent concert here in the birthplace of Chopin, Jarek converted his drawing room into a small concert hall, hosting performances every night at 7:30. The B&B’s Chopin concerts have become one of my favorite activities while visiting Warsaw.

While some of these accommodations are on the pricey side, others are well within the budget of any traveler. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find a great hotel — it all comes down to whether it’s well-run and smartly designed for travelers.

What’s missing from my list? What are your favorite hotels in Europe, and why?

It goes without saying that all of these handpicked gems are enthusiastically recommended in our various Rick Steves guidebooks — and our tours stay at many of them, too…including the Hotel de Londres Eiffel, which hosts some of our one-week Paris city tours. (Lucky people!)

19 Replies to “Let’s Talk About Our Favorite Hotels”

  1. Missing all the great RS-recommended hotels in Spain! Hotel Amadeus in Seville – friendly staff, complimentary iced tea-orange wine-ice water in crystal decanters throughout the lobby, breakfast on the terrace, not to mention the availability of dozens of musical instruments for the guests – harp, accordion, cello anyone? Hotel Anacapri in Grenada – again, super-friendly and helpful staff, great location and beautiful artwork throughout the lobby. Hotel El Convento in Arcos de Frontera – terrace with a VIEW!

    1. Agree. Two thumbs up for Hotel Amadeus in Seville. In our book, one of the best in over 30 years of traveling together.

  2. Definitely the agriturismo properties of The Isabella Experience. We just stayed in Le Casine di Castello (Il Cielo) but visited all three other properties including La Moscadella, Cretaiole and Casa Moricciani as part of La Dolce Vita add-on. A FIVE star experience!

  3. I can’t say enough about La Rocca just outside Orvieto, a Rick Steve recommendation. I have never been treated so royally. Fabulous location amazing restaurant and gracious hosts.

  4. We spent 9 days at the Hotel Eiffel Londres in April 2018 (7 with our 7 Days in Paris tour) and so enjoyed it and Arnaud and Ninette and Jacqueline, and its wonderful, comfortable rooms and central location that we returned for a weekend this April. It was even more fabulous than we had remembered! They even gave us a sweet returning-guest gift. Now please don’t tell anyone about this lovely place because we don’t want to have difficulty getting a room there next year!

  5. Altarocca Wine Resort outside of Orvieto is fabulous. We followed Rick Steves recommendation for this Resort.
    In Florence, 1865 Residenza d’epoca is a wonderful and relaxing place to stay. Near a Jewish Synagogue, bells peal during the day. Breakfast is eaten communally with other guests, and you can meet and talk with an international array of guests. This B & B is close enough to walk to major attractions, but off the beaten path.

  6. In May 2005 we stayed at Hotel de Londres Eiffel for a week during our first trip to France! It had been recommendation in the 2004 or 2005 Rick Steves guidebook! We stayed on the top floor and felt like we were in Mary Poppins’ Parisian Getaway. We took so much of your advice on that trip — finding the gems of tapestries at the Cluny Museum, gorging ourselves at (now closed) Casa de Sergio, getting to the Orsay early and heading upstairs to have the Van Goghs all to ourselves…! But that Hotel was special because it was our gateway to what has become 15 years of following your great travel advice throughout Europe! We are finally headed back to France in two weeks, and once again have our RS guidebooks marked up, sliced into small sections, and ready to tuck into my purse! From Siena to Santorini, Budapest to Rothenburg, Salzburg to Oslo — we don’t leave home without you, Rick!

  7. Hey Cameron,
    Next time in Amsterdam have a look at The Toren.
    Great staff, quirky and elegant building, lovely rooms and a great bar.
    It made Amsterdam a little more Amsterdam and was a wonderful central base to explore and get stuck into Amsterdam.

  8. We are just back from Tuscany where we stayed at the Fonteverde Hotel and Spa in San Casiano, a breathtaking location and unique hotel. One of the draws are the multiple and different thermal baths or Terme in Italian. I had the greatest massage of my life from Indian Master Dipu that he stretched out over a two day period. I highly recommended a stay at this wonderful hotel to restore your energy before you go home.

    In Copenhagen, our stay at the Nimb overlooking the Tivoli Gardens is a gorgeous hotel in a perfect location.

  9. In Avignon, my stay at Le Clos Saluces was impeccable. In the adorable winding streets behind the Pope Palace, this place was perfectly hidden, quiet, and surrounded by a sublime garden. The hosts are also wonderful at gardening, antique collecting, and cooking!

    In Lisbon, I thankfully discovered Casa do Barão on my recent visit! The location in the Chiado district is perfection, and the garden includes a modern pool and fat lemon trees. The living room also has ornamental containers of port wine for sampling.

  10. Our all time favorite European romantic B&B experience was a Homeaway property in Capannori, Lucca, in the rolling hills of Tuscany, Italy. From the villa porch is a picturesque view of the cities in the valley.
    The villa is a great place for rest and relaxation. A rose and flower garden greets you in summer. The cuisine are offered in the surrounding villages. Mr and Mrs Dodge were most gracious and helpful.

  11. Hotel Muguét in Paris (a RS recommendation) is where I always stay. Staff and odom’s are lovely and it’s a great location. 5 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower…

  12. In Alba, we had a fantastic stay at La Terrazza sulle Torri . Not much to look at from the outside, but I have never been so impressed. Each of the rooms is color-themed. Your breakfast table has the same color theme. Each evening when you return, there is an after dinner drink with sweets waiting for you on your breakfast table in the dining room. I was surprised when my shoes that I shoved in the corner of the room were put into matching shoe bags. And one evening my tour book had a book reading light attached to it with a notepad and paper. The owners love to pamper their guests. They have great restaurant recommendations where you’re treated like VIPs. One of the best experiences in our travels.

  13. My wife and I and our son spent a week in Tuscany, in a villa in Castelmuzio, near Montisi. Isabella morriciani had prepared a table full of goodies including their wine for us. Her tourist guide was her own, complete with GPS coordinates. We had Dinner at Cretaiole andmet her father and had cheese and wine with part of the family. She also hosted a dinner and taught us to make pasta. A wonderful villa in a town of 300 friendly souls. One small but fun restaurant and a delightful place to walk. Cannot say enough about the planning and execution Isabella and her staff displayed to make our visit so enjoyable. Had a catered dinner with other guests at her own villa, which was superb. Would recommend and rate it as AAA as it was perfect. My wife wants to return.

  14. Does anybody else know of the contemporary Holiday Inn in Latin Quarter of Paris? I love the terrace on top where you can watch Eifel Tower light up each evening

  15. La Moscadella —– What a wonderful 5 days in October 2019
    When we reserved our stay at La Moscadella we had our first glimpse into the Isabella Experience–friendly, accomodating and service oriented. Being there proved that “staying” somewhere vice experiencing the place, people and culture are as different as day is to night.

    La Moscadella is first class. The inside and outside of the villa are like a designer’s dream come true blending the old with the new and the outside with the inside. Elegant and comfortable demonstrating obvious respect for the location and setting. Our room was the nicest we stayed in during our entire European trip. No corners cut and amenities top quality. Nowhere else will you find Locherber products–silk for the skin! Blending contemporary with Tuscan traditional the storage in the room was smart and varied, the shower and bathroom were spacious and beautifully appointed, the seating was comfortable, the bed was comfortably medium soft with crisp linens, the electric outlets and light switches were perfectly placed. Nice touches such as the flowers, fruit platter, designer pillows, books, and guidebooks specifically about the villa and surrounding areas felt like home away from home. Dori shared with us the history of the building and the challenges of renovating the facility and we appreciated the villa all the more.

    The entire food and wine experience was the very best we had during our entire trip. The culinary team is exceptional, the food service staff are beyond amazing and the setting for breakfast and dinner with the ambiance and view is outstanding. We were delighted with both the olive oil tasting, pasta making classes and wine pairings–incredible fun and we learned a lot we didn’t know before this experience.

    The historical site seeing/walking tour of Pienza was informative and fun. Dori was a fabulous tour guide. Watching the artists talk about and demonstrate their skills immersed us in the cultural aspects of the region. Recommendations for places to eat, taste wine and sites to see while driving through ancient villages made this part of our trip all the more special in so many ways. Dori also helped us get a rental car! Yeah.

    In the spirit of saving the best for last are the people. Everyone – EVERYONE – made us feel at home from the instant we arrived. Throughout our stay we were greeted with smiles. Staff sought and fulfilled preferences making us feel special without being overly solicitous. It was obvious to us that the people love working at La Moscadella–a great reflection on their leader, Isabella! When we left, we were truly homesick for our friends at La Moscadella. So, in summary, it is most apropos to say we enjoyed the most spectacular Isabella Experience!

  16. I just hope this crisis will be over soon, so we can travel again. I’m planning to visit east Europe, so I will check the hotels in Budapest and Krakow.
    Thanks for sharing!

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