Across Europe, hotel ratings can be an invaluable resource for you—if you know how to read the stars. Here, six of the most prominent systems.
Hotels covered More than half of France’s hotels, rated from no-star to four-star luxe, participate in this voluntary system.
Checklist After counting the number of bedrooms, about 55 criteria are considered—mostly having to do with room size, bathroom location and size, and whether there is a tub or shower.
Site inspection Local government representatives rate hotels when they first open. Unless the property has significant improvements, or complaints are filed, return visits are irregular.
Trustworthy? Unreliable. Fortunately, there are numerous other resources, the most comprehensive of which are the Michelin Red guides.
Between the lines Currently AC is not compulsory in France, no matter the star rating. If open windows and fans are not enough to keep you cool, check with the hotel in advance.
Hotels covered In Germany’s voluntary system, more than 8,000 hotels are rated from one to five stars. www.hotelsterne.de
Checklist Nearly 280 criteria—from cleanliness to shower curtains to slippers on demand—are considered and regularly updated to reflect customer input.
Site inspection Every three years, properties are reviewed by tourist boards according to the guidelines of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association.
Trustworthy? Hoteliers have gone to court over classification disputes (for instance, no hair dryer in a three-star)—the system is rigid and unambiguous.
Between the lines If you don’t need a lobby bar, room service, or Internet access, save a few euros and choose a three-star over a four-star.
Hotels covered Italy’s mandatory system rates all hotels from one star to five-star deluxe. www.enit.it
Checklist It’s easier to crack the Da Vinci code than get a sample criteria list, but in every region, larger rooms and more amenities (parking, pool) translate to more stars.
Site inspection Regional tourist boards audit hotels about every five years.
Trustworthy? Cappuccino at breakfast is standard, but other things are less certain. Thankfully, the Italian Government Tourist Board provides up-to-date hotel descriptions.
Between the lines An Italian hotelier can opt for a lower star rating to save on taxes—meaning a three-star property could really be a four-star, which gives guests a surprise upgrade.
Hotels covered Spain’s system is also mandatory. Most hotels are rated with one to five stars; some regions add "Q" (for exceptional quality). www.spain.info
Checklist Criteria vary by region but generally focus on room size, elevators (every starred hotel must have one), and AC in common areas.
Site inspection A representative from the regional government goes once to rate a hotel. There are no follow-up inspections unless a property requests one (for example, after property improvements).
Trustworthy? Inconsistent from region to region. TurEspaña, the national tourist board, provides a comprehensive guide that lists facilities and ratings nationwide.
Between the lines Paradors—hotels in castles, convents, and other historic buildings—rarely have five stars, despite being ultra-luxe, because the structures can’t be drastically modified (no elevators, etc.).
Hotels covered Diamonds—the rating for B&B’s and inns—are being phased out. The U.K.’s new voluntary system rates all accommodations from one to five stars. Gold and Silver indicate exceptionality. www.visitbritain.com
Checklist While some subjective criteria (firm mattresses) are considered, objectivity rules. Each property type (hotel, B&B) has a unique checklist, ranging from duvet covers to washbasins.
Site inspection Government-funded tourism agencies in Great Britain use independent contractors to assess accommodations, including annual follow-ups.
Trustworthy? Fairly reliable. During the transition from diamonds to stars, properties that have not been reviewed recently will still carry diamond ratings.
Between the lines "Hotels" in the U.K. have restaurants (or at least dining rooms) attached. A two-star property is a one-star that serves dinner nightly (one-stars offer it five times a week).
Michelin Red Guides
Hotels covered Select hotels in 21 countries are rated on a scale of 1 to 5. Hotels can also be deemed "more pleasant," indicating the top ranking within a star category. www.viamichelin.com
Site inspection After an incognito stay, a Michelin-trained inspector identifies himself and gets a complete tour. A different inspector returns the following year.
Checklist Criteria are famously secret, but the checklist covers service (bellhop, valet parking) and aesthetics (building and room design).
Trustworthy? Nothing’s flawless, but with considerable resources, regular inspections, and a highly selective roster of properties, Michelin is a good resource in Europe.
Between the lines The first English versions of the Red Guides to France are available this year. For other countries, rely on pictograms—the lingua franca of tourists—to tell you everything you need to know.