With the euro sky-high these days, it takes more than smarts to navigate the Continent in style without spending a small fortune in the process. It takes a crack team of researchers. It takes carefully cultivated sources of insider information. It takes cunning. Fortunately, we've covered all the bases. On the following pages, you'll find scouting reports and advice on five surprisingly affordable destinations, filed under headings that range from "the mountains" to "the beach," for easy trip planning. Some are as familiar as the Amalfi coast; others are as unexpected as the Transylvanian Alps or as obvious—now that you think of it—as Lisbon. Then we added tips on shopping, cruising, renting a villa, and more, all for less.
Portugal's celebrated architect Álvaro Siza Vieira has reimagined the central Chiado district, trendsetters are flocking to the newly chic docklands and Bairro Alto neighborhoods, and yet Lisbon remains one of the most affordable cities in Europe. WHERE TO STAY Romantics feel right at home in the 29-room As Janelas Verdes (47 Rua Janelas Verdes; 351-21/396-8143; www.heritage.pt; doubles from $267), a restored 18th-century town house. Public spaces are wallpapered with centuries-old maps, and breakfast is presented in a garden courtyard in warmer months. • The same owners recently opened Solar do Castelo (2 Rua das Cozinhas; 351-21/887-0909; www.heritage.pt; doubles from $267), an understated hotel with 14 rooms arranged around a central reflecting pool. WHERE TO EAT Kais (Cais da Viscondessa, Rua da Cintura-Santos; 351-21/393-2930; dinner for two $75) serves artisanal cheese and tournedos in serra cheese sauce in a former warehouse in the docklands (note the pulleys and chains hanging from the ceiling). Nearby, the concrete-and-glass Bica do Sapato (Avda. Infante Dom Henrique, Armazém B; 351-21/881-0320; dinner for two $150), co-owned by John Malkovich and Fernando Fernandes, is still one of the trendiest places to eat in the city; Fernandes's other restaurant, Pap'Açorda (57 Rua da Atalaia; 351-21/346-4811; dinner for two $75), serves Portuguese dishes at half the price. WHAT TO DO Take a taxi to the neighboring suburb of Belém. After a stroll through the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, head to nearby Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (90 Rua de Belém; 351-21/363-7423; pastry for two $2) and get a taste of their creamy pastéis de nata (custard tart). AFTER DARK Once the sun sets, pay a visit to the Bairro Alto. There, tiny tapas spots stay open until dawn, and the bars and tea salons are always packed. You can even go shopping at 4 a.m.: Check out the dance club-appropriate gear at top local designer Fatima Lopes's boutique (36 Rua da Atalaia; 351-21/324-0546; www.fatima-lopes.com), which will also house a hip-hop club starting this month. • For an authentic experience, make a reservation at the restaurant and fado theater A Baiuca (20 Rua de São Miguel; 351-21/886-7284; dinner for two $50). TIP Tram No. 28 will take you from the town center up winding hills to the castle and the Alfama area for a bargain tour of the city. The Lisbon Card (available at any kiosk; $26) gets you three days' unlimited travel on the metro, buses, and trams.
There may not be rock-bottom suites around, but you can still find good values on hotel rooms all over Europe. Some of the best options follow.
IN THE CITY AMSTERDAM Once a backpacker hostel, Hotel Arena (51 Gravesandestraat; 31-20/850-2400; www.hotelarena.nl; doubles from $153) now targets a more sophisticated crowd with 121 renovated rooms. • ATHENS Near Omonia Square, the new 82-room Alassia (50 Socratous; 30-210/527-4000; www.thealassia.com.gr; doubles from $145) has clean earth tones, with wenge wood and shiny marble. • LONDON Supermarket mogul Mark Sainsbury just opened Zetter (86-88 Clerkenwell Rd., Clerkenwell; 44-207/415-7158; www.thezetter.com; doubles from $193) in a 19th-century red-brick warehouse. • PRAGUE The city's circa-1447 Domus Balthasar (5 Mostecká, Malá Strana; 420-257/199-499; www.domus-balthasar.cz; doubles from $189) has eight rooms, some with prime views of the Charles Bridge. • BUDAPEST The Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal (43-49 Erzsébet Körút; 36-1/479-4000; www.corinthiahotels.com; special rates for doubles from $183) recently restored its 414 rooms to their original Austro-Hungarian grandeur.
IN THE COUNTRY FRANCE Designed by Jean Nouvel in 1989, the 18-room Hauterive Saint-James (3 Place Camille Hostein, Bouliac; 33-5/5797-0600; www.saintjames-bouliac.com; doubles from $186) has steel-grid wall panels and a Michelin-starred restaurant. • SPAIN The owners of Hostería Mont Sant (Subida al Castillo, Xátiva, Valencia; 34-96/227-5081; www.mont-sant.com; doubles from $113) welcome guests to their six-room, wood-beamed farmhouse and eight cabins. • ITALY Villa i Bossi (44-46 Gragnone, Arezzo; 39-0575/365-642; www.villaibossi.com; doubles from $134), a 13th-century Tuscan estate, is surrounded by olive and grape fields. • IRELAND Enniscoe House (Castlehill, Ballina, Co. Mayo; 353-96/31112; www.enniscoe.com; doubles from $195) offers a choice of three cottages and six Georgian-style rooms in the manor house. • WALES The 11 rooms at Plas Bodegroes (Pwllheli, Gwynedd; 44-1758/612-363; www.bodegroes.co.uk; doubles from $164) are named for the flowers in the nearby gardens.