Hôtel Prince de Conti 8 Rue Guénégaud, Paris; 800/949-7562 or 33-1/44-07-30-40, fax 33-1/44-07-36-34. Hotel Prince de Condé 39 Rue de Seine, Paris; 800/949-7562 or 33-1/43-26-71-56, fax 33-1/46-34-27-95. Doubles at both hotels from $163. One night in either of these nearly identical Libertel properties in St.-Germain-des-Prés and you'll be swooning: the experience is that French. A fearless mix of fabrics -- from toiles de Jouy to schoolgirl stripes to beefy checks -- makes the 26-room Conti seem particularly fresh. Its lobby is also more luxurious; complimentary coffee, however, is offered throughout the day at the 12-room Condé. Service is thin (as always at this level of French hotel), but you never know when they'll upgrade you for no apparent reason.
Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais 12 Rue Vieille-du-Temple, Paris; 33-1/42-72-34-12, fax 33-1/42-72-34-63; doubles from $115. This vest-pocket Marais gem has such an original and memorable look that people tend to refer to it with an affectionate description: "the lovely little hotel with the midnight-blue faÁade" or "that sweet, homey place with the pale gray lobby." Small though they are, the 19 rooms inspire valentines, too -- beds are adorned with finials and rosettes, ceiling beams are proudly left exposed, and nightstands are stylish confections of painted wood, chicken wire, and gathered fabric. On the walls are antique by the Caron's eponym, who lived a few doors down.
Hôtel des Grandes Écoles 75 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, Paris; 33-1/43-26-79-23, fax 33-1/43-25-28-15; doubles from $82. The big draw at this Fifth Arrondissement classic is the cobbled courtyard, and although the fire department cruelly obliged the hotel to pave over much of its garden, there is still enough green and birdsong to invoke the country. The 51 rooms are much larger than those of similarly priced establishments; yours may have a caned bed and cheerful, spidery, floral wallpaper in Lilly Pulitzer pink-and-green. Madame Le Floch, the adorable owner, takes a motherly interest in her charges and is aware of -- if not overly concerned about -- her hotel's eccentricities (the staff is so overwhelmed in the morning, calls are rarely put through to rooms).
Ambassade 341 Herengracht; 31-20/626-2333, fax 31-20/624-5321; doubles from $158, breakfast included. The breakfast room is reason enough to stay here: under its soaring ceiling, you can't help but feel uplifted. Happily, the guest rooms -- spread through eight 17th- and 18th-century canal-side town houses -- are more horizontal than vertical. The 24-hour room service is unexpected, until you realize how big the hotel really is (51 rooms).
Canal House Hotel 148 Keizersgracht; 31-20/622-5182, fax 31-20/624-1317; doubles $115$136, breakfast included. The owners could have converted the reception area into a sunny bedroom overlooking the canal, the Victorian bar into a tall, dark, and handsome guest room, and the spacious breakfast salon into at least four rooms with garden views. Thank heaven they didn't. The 26 rooms vary in size, but all come with antique beds and original oil paintings.
--Heather Smith MacIssac
Hotel Calderón 26 Rambla Catalunya; 34-93/301-0000, fax 34-93/317-3157; doubles from $123, $90 on weekends. In Spain, if you simply ask for a corporate rate you'll usually get it. The Calderón is considered a business hotel (it's part of the NH group, which has 66 Spanish properties), but you'd never guess. Except for the number of rooms -- 253 -- everything about it suggests a boutique operation: hip graphics, custom toiletries, a peppy reception staff in ink-blue shirts and ties. Located minutes north of Plaça de Catalunya, the city's heart, it has a sleek, shipshape look you'd pay a lot more for almost anywhere else.
Hotel Granvía 642 Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes; 34-93/318-1900, fax 34-93/318-9997; doubles from $78. If you want to feel like an infanta, look no further. At this 100-year-old chestnut, halls are hung with gold-framed portraits, and the lobby has a high stained-glass ceiling and a staircase worthy only of those wearing mantillas. In the 55 rooms, fancifully shaped headboards battle pink chenille bedspreads and brocade upholstery (which has seen better days). European hotels of this vintage -- and price range -- often fall short in the cleanliness department, but not the Granvía. (Note: The hotel opens onto a hectic thoroughfare.)
Merrion Square Manor 31 Merrion Square, Dublin; 353-1/662-8551, fax 353-1/662-8556; doubles $95, including breakfast. Around the corner from Dublin's newest high-end hotel, the Merrion, lies one of the city's cheapest recent entries. A red-brick Georgian town house on Merrion Square, the 20-room Merrion Square Manor has many of the same touches as its neighbor -- antique dressing tables, down-filled damask couches, 17th-century mahogany bureaus. Though rooms vary in size, they ring in at one price. Ask for the brightest and largest, No. 14, with huge windows overlooking the square, two double sleigh beds, and an ornate carved fireplace. After a breakfast of home-baked breads in the lemon-yellow dining room, wander the square's labyrinthine gardens or take a stroll on its west side, bordered by the National Gallery and Leinster House, the Irish parliament building.
The Morgan 10 Fleet St., Temple Bar, Dublin; 353-1/679-3939, fax 353-1/679-3946; doubles $164. The 43-room Morgan is so discreet it might take your cabdriver a few spins around the Temple Bar district to locate it: there's no visible street number and the name is in small type on a pair of glass doors squeezed between a sports bar and a construction site. Inside, the Morgan conforms to the Conran/Starck school of hotel design; it may be passé in five minutes, but for now the spindly Mourge bedside lamps, beveled floor-length mirrors, blond-wood furniture, and low-lit hallways seem totally modern. Book a room on the river Liffey side, or you'll be subjected to every U2 song ever written and the sounds of young Dubliners chanting "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to home we go" as they flood down bar-studded Fleet Street. (That construction site?By summer, it'll house a new wing of the hotel with 19 rooms, a two-story suite, a bar, and a hair salon.)
Pensione Annalena 34 Via Romana; 39-55/222-402, fax 39-55/222-403; doubles from $145, breakfast included. Packed with hidden treasures as Florence may be, the city is shy of secret gardens, making the Pensione Annalena that much more special. Ring the bell at the grand wooden door to the 15th-century palazzo (the pension is one flight up) and you gain admittance to an overview of the gardens as well as to another, calmer time. Beyond the public salons are 20 bedrooms, five of which give onto an open-air galleria on the piano nobile. Dozing to the tune of contented birds rivals time spent in another idyllic landscape -- the one painted by Gozzoli in the Medici Chapel.
Hotel Porta Rossa 19 Via Porta Rossa; 39-55/287-551, fax 39-55/282-179; doubles $134, breakfast included. The Porta Rossa is as dark as the Pensione Annalena is light -- but in summer, that's a cool comfort. And with 81 rooms, the Porta Rossa offers a better chance of securing a reservation than other smaller, equally reasonable hotels (Hotel Hermitage, Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci). As much as the guests appreciate the New World conveniences that have crept into the rooms over the years (telephones, televisions, and mini-bars, though not necessarily air-conditioning), they return because the owners have never stooped to carving two new rooms out of one indulgently huge old one.
Wilbraham Hotel 1 Wilbraham Place; 44-171/730-8296, fax 44-171/730-6815; doubles from $141, no credit cards. Within this stalwart Victorian, broad and narrow staircases of the three original houses creak comfortingly up to the 52 rooms. Here, $150 gets you a double with high ceilings, a reasonable bath, straightforward decorating, and good housekeeping. For an additional $20 you buy into a more lordly setting -- a grander room with a (nonworking) fireplace.
The Morgan 24 Bloomsbury St.; 44-171/636-3735; doubles from $125, breakfast included. The 14-room Morgan makes do with a buzzer instead of a doorman and an entrance hall for a lobby. But the gleaming beveled-glass front doors signify a certain pride of place: touch-up painting is always under way. Rooms in the back look out on the garden (one has exclusive access). Five doors down is another 18th-century terrace house that the Morgan has divvied up into four suites with kitchens. At $158, they're surely one of London's best bargains. Full English breakfast is served to guests from both buildings in a fully English breakfast room -- animated by football on the telly.
The Pavilion 3436 Sussex Gardens; 44-171/262-0905, fax 44-171/262-1324; doubles from $150, breakfast included. Composed of 27 individually decorated -- and titled -- rooms, this idiosyncratic B&B near Hyde Park is favored by the up-and-coming model/musician crowd. It has something for everyone, from the funky ("Honky-tonk Afro," a seventies fantasia) to the Edwardian ("Green with Envy," a gem of emerald brocade and velvet). The only drawbacks are room size (tiny) and bathroom luxury (four rooms have tubs, the rest only showers; all are no-frills). Sacrifices, however, do not include cable TV -- the most popular station being, natch, the Fashion Channel.
Hotel Santo Domingo 13 Plaza de Santo Domingo; 34-91/547-9800, fax 34-91/547-5995; doubles from $144, $125 corporate, $105 weekends, breakfast included (weekends only). The word grandeur is probably too grand for what this hotel manages to deliver at such an attractive price, but it's not far off. A pleasant walk from the Pal·cio Real and the ravishing Plaza de Oriente, the Santo Domingo has 120 guest rooms decorated with gold damask wall coverings, striped satin bedspreads, and faux tortoiseshell desks; the handsome bathrooms are all gray marble and beige ceramics. Try for a fifth-floor double: some have furnished balconies and views over tiled roofs.
Hotel Monaco 5 Calle Barbieri; 34-91/522-4630, fax 34-91/521-1601; doubles from $65. Until the late fifties, this Madrid landmark was known as the chicest casa de putas in town. Then, the 1918 building morphed into a 30-room hotel, borrowing from its red-light past much of the funky, not to say kitschy, decoration. No. 20 has a bathtub on a platform right in the room; No. 123 features a mirror on the ceiling above the bed. Be warned that the Monaco is a little dog-eared -- some might say it's been around the block -- but the staff couldn't be friendlier and the young, casual vibe is infectious.
The Charles 1 Josefská; 42-02/5731-5491, fax 42-02/5731-1318; doubles from $178 (510 percent discount if you pay cash), breakfast included. Located in Prague's old city, or Mal· Strana, the Charles has an ornate stucco exterior (with lion's head and rosette sconces); too bad it's marred by a T-shirt shop and money-exchange depot. Inside is a different story. The 29 rooms are small but chic: windows swathed in heavy curtains, dark woods (parquet floors, heavy mahogany armoires) lightened by Oriental rugs and colorful silk bed coverings. But perhaps the most striking detail is the 18th-century hand-stenciled wood ceilings uncovered during renovation.
Pension Vetrník 40 U Vetrníku, Petriny; 42-02/2061-2404, fax 42-02/361-406; doubles from $58, breakfast included. Fifteen minutes by car or tram from the center of town, this charming hotel in the Petriny neighborhood is a converted windmill. If you go, be sure to get detailed directions -- no one around here speaks English -- and look for high stone gates, beyond which lies a red-and-white farmhouse. The six guest rooms verge on the bland, with gray carpets, wood-veneer furniture, duvet-covered platform beds, and plank ceilings. The draws?A private tennis court, frisky yet friendly dogs, a homey Czech restaurant, and a summer beer garden.
Casa di Santa Brigida 96 Piazza Farnese, Rome; 39-6/6889-2596, fax 39-6/6889-1573; doubles from $140. Way back in the 14th century, Saint Bridget secured a prime corner of Piazza Farnese; her house is now home to nuns who open their doors to other women -- and men too, without rolling their eyes heavenward about the two sharing a room. To find it, go to the northwest corner of the piazza and look for the pedimented stone entry to a church wedged into a Renaissance façade. Then ring the bell by the arched doorway to the right. It's hard not to feel guilty about disturbing the peace, but once inside you'll be completely at ease. There are 23 rooms with antique bureaus and modern mattresses, icons in place of televisions, and views of what is perhaps Rome's most handsome square. From the roof terrace, you can even spy on the French embassy next door in Michelangelo's Palazzo Farnese. Just bear in mind that another all-seeing someone is keeping his eye on you, too.
Hotel Locarno 22 Via della Penna, Rome; 39-6/361-0841, fax 39-6/321-5249; doubles from $185, including breakfast. Hotel Locarno could be deemed a worthy establishment based on one fact alone: it hasn't given in to molded-plastic café chairs for its garden. Bent rattan armchairs still circle tables dotted with orchids in cachepots; a Tiffany-style lamp still anchors one end of the marble-topped walnut bar; a wrought-iron cage elevator still rises four floors through the middle of a U-shaped staircase. The Locarno has smartly hung on to the best of its 1920's heritage without reducing itself to a ruin in a city that's known for them (all 53 rooms have bright bathrooms, PC/modem outlets, and satellite TV). The spacious roof terrace thoughtfully has a house phone for ordering morning bread and coffee or an afternoon aperitivo. From there you can see Rome's largest and oldest obelisk in Piazza del Popolo, the bronze chariots atop the wedding-cake monument to Victor Emmanuel II, even the dome of St. Peter's. For a closer look, pick a bicycle from the passel provided by the hotel.
Pensione La Calcina 780 Zattere; 39-41/520-6466, fax 39-41/522-7045; doubles from $95, breakfast included. Plenty of small hotels provide escape from the madding crowds in Venice, but few offer a wide-open view. The 29-room Pensione La Calcina has as its front yard the Giudecca Canal, wider and calmer than the Grand Canal. For the best price, book a back room. You'll get all the regular comforts (direct-dial phone, wall safe, hair dryer, air-conditioning) without feeling altogether landlocked, because in good weather, breakfast is served on a broad terrace over the water. Much smaller (and even rarer in this city) is the roof terrace, which proves you don't have to get up very high to see quite far in Venice.
Locanda ai Santi Apostoli 4391 Strada Nuova; 39-41/521-2612, fax 39-41/521-2611; doubles from $170, breakfast included. Who hasn't fantasized about living in a canal-side palazzo?With a little budgetary finesse, the 11-room Locanda ai Santi Apostoli lets you try one on for size. Just to arrive at the small front desk, guests peel back layers of privacy -- buzzing to pass through a portal, proceeding down an outdoor corridor, taking an elevator to the top floor of a 15th-century building. Naturally the two most expensive rooms are those that overlook the canal, but so too does the main salon -- a long room with slipcovered armchairs and terrazzo floors.
Altstadt Vienna 41 Kirchengasse; 43-1/5263-3990, fax 43-1/523-4901; doubles from $138, breakfast included. Otto Wiesenthal, who set up this light-drenched pension north of the Ringstrasse six years ago, comes from a creative lineage. Works by his great-great-grandfather Friedrich hang in both the hotel and the Vienna Historic Museum; grandmother Greta, a revolutionary state opera dancer in the 1930's and 40's, conducted a writers' and artists' salon. The four suites and 25 rooms, which run the gamut from simple to quirky (a leopard-print club chair against a green, sponge-painted wall), have as much individual style as the artists whose work Wiesenthal collects. (Painters can pay for their rooms with a canvas; it's best to bring a credit card, just in case.)
Altwienerhof 6 Herklotzgasse; 43-1/892-6000, fax 43-1/8926-0008; doubles from $90, breakfast included. At some point, you'll want to head to Vienna's outskirts to Schnbrunn Palace, 17th-century summer house of the Hapsburgs. Should you decide to splurge for a meal close by -- $200 for two -- at the sumptuous Altwienerhof restaurant, save some bucks by staying upstairs: it's a 22-room hotel with rates nowhere near the price of dinner. Like the restaurant, the rooms in the 1870's house are old-world friendly (brocade wallpaper, marble baths, velvet armchairs). The courtyard is ideal for a sunny-morning breakfast or for sipping wine -- from Altwienerhof's 23,000-bottle collection -- on a warm evening.
An offshoot of the Design Hotels group, Planet Hotels (800/337-4685 or 415/332-7967, fax 415/332-4009) represents 41 inexpensive places with panache, from the Japanese-style 41-room Nippon Hotel in Hamburg (doubles from $107, breakfast included) to Barcelona's sleek 92-room Hotel Balmes (doubles from $82).
A great on-line source for small, family-owned European hotels and pensions is Utell International (www.hotelbook.com; 800/448-8355). Many ring in at less than $100 a night.
Known primarily as a consolidator selling rock-bottom plane tickets, New Frontiers (800/366-6387) also creates low-cost European packages in simple, clean accommodations. For example, the seven-night Celebrate Paris package (April 1 to October 31) includes airfare from New York, daily breakfast, and a room at the Comfort Inn near Sacré Coeur for $639 per person, double.