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 experienced — Cretaiole. 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!)