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.