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.