Europe Made Easy
A $15 glass of orange juice?A $130 cab ride from the airport?Europe may seem impossibly expensive, but there are still great values if you know where to find them
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.
The Amalfi Coast
Italy's most beloved Mediterranean shore has long been a playground for the rich and famous—from Jacqueline Onassis to Francis Ford Coppola—and anyone else in search of la dolce vita. Positano and Capri are the region's obvious classics, but the town of Amalfi itself, with its tangled alleyways and rainbows of parasols lining the wide beach, is arguably just as stunning, minus the sky-high prices. WHERE TO STAY In 1222, Saint Francis of Assisi founded Luna Convento (33 Via Pantaleone Comite; 39-089/871-002; www.lunahotel.it; doubles from $260); by 1822 the Barbaro family had turned it into a 44-room hotel built around a Byzantine central cloister. The clan has since hosted everyone from playwriting greats (Henrik Ibsen, Tennessee Williams) to silver-screen royalty (Ingrid Bergman, Roberto Rossellini). WHERE TO EAT The bread, the zuppa di pesce, even the pasta is made fresh daily at Eolo (3 Via Pantaleone Comite, Amalfi; 39-089/871-241; dinner for two $125), which hovers above the Bay of Amalfi. • Chef Antonio Dipino earns La Caravella (12 Via Matteo Camera; 39-089/871-029; dinner for two $125) a loyal following with local specialties, including cod au gratin over fennel, dried tomatoes, and freshly creamed mint, and risotto with lemon, shellfish, and bottarga di muggine (mullet eggs). • Just across the street from the Duomo Sant'Andrea, Mario and Franco Grimaldi make their mother Gemma proud at her namesake Da Gemma (9 Via Frà Gerardo Sasso; 39-089/871-345; dinner for two $112). Try the melanzane in salsa di cioccolato, a dessert of eggplant coated in chocolate—it's an Amalfi favorite. WHERE TO DRINK Encircled by fig, lemon, and olive groves and covered in magenta bougainvillea, the sparkling white Hotel Santa Caterina (9 S.S. Amalfitana; 39-089/871-012; www.hotelsantacaterina.it) stands above the sea. Rooms start at $410, so rather than spend the night, grab a cocktail at the terrace bar. WHERE TO SHOP You can save a bundle by picking up your own snacks and picnicking on the beach. Pastas, herbs, and freshly made cheeses are sold at Nicola Anastasio (32 Via Lorenzo d'Amalfi; 39-089/871-007), a well-stocked food emporium. • Across the street, a dozen tiny grocery stores keep their stalls overflowing with bright, pendulous Amalfi lemons, sweet cherry tomatoes, and chandeliers of sun-dried tomatoes or hot peppers. • Antichi Sapori d' Amalfi (39 Piazza Duomo, 39-089/872-062) sells some of the best limoncello in the area ($4). • At the 174-year-old Pasticceria Pansa (40 Piazza Duomo; 39-089/871-065), beside the duomo, the shelves are lined with sweets like traditional sfogliatelle (reportedly invented at the convent of Santa Rosa just west of Amalfi), lemon-glazed profiteroles, and rich chocolate. BEST SOUVENIR Europe's first paper mill was built in Amalfi in the 12th century; pick up soft, cream-hued stationery ($10 a pack) at the Museo della Carta (23 Via delle Cartiere; 39-089/830-4561) or at Amalfi nelle Stampe Antiche (10 Piazza Duomo; 39-089/873-6354). WHAT TO DO Inside the geometric façade of the town's duomo stands the famous Chiostro del Paradiso. Originally built in 1268 as a burial ground, the "cloister of paradise" is a labyrinth of interlaced Moorish arches and verdant gardens. SIDE TRIP The beach in Amalfi is broad and vital, but walk a mile east to Atrani, a 10th-century residential area. Sealed off from the main piazza and the busy road, Atrani's beach is tourist-free and tranquil.
Europe's public baths cost far less than spas. Here, five top spots. • ENGLAND Nicolas Grimshaw's long-awaited re-do of the Thermae Bath Spa (Bath; 44-1225/331-234; www.thermaebathspa.com; day rate $83) finally opens this summer. • FINLAND The Japanese-style Yorokobi facility at Haikko Manor (Porvoo; 358-19/57601; www.haikko.fi; day rate $15) combines wet and dry saunas with four pools. • FRANCE When Parisians want to unwind, they go to the Turkish hammam at the Mosquée de Paris (39 Rue Geoffroy-St.-Hilaire, Fifth Arr.; 33-1/43-31-38-20; day rate $19), where a 20-minute rubdown is just $25. • ITALY Steep in mineral springs once enjoyed by the Etruscans at Tuscany's Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort (Saturnia; 39-0564/600-111; www.termedisaturnia.it; day rate $20). • GERMANY Baden-Baden's palatial Friedrichsbad (49-7221/275-920; www.carasana.de; day rate $45) mixes hot, dry air with steam rooms and whirlpools. Prudes, beware: clothing is verboten, even in co-ed areas.
—Jennifer V. Cole
Thanks to three new European companies that are gathering big labels under one roof, the treasure hunt for discount designer clothes has become a lot simpler. • Located in the U.K. and across the Continent—Scotland, England, Wales, Austria, Italy—McArthur Glen Designer Outlets (www.mcarthurglen.com) are not to be missed. The best is in York (St. Nicholas Ave., Fulford; 44-1904/682-720), where you'll find all the British hits—Thomas Pink, Burberry, Paul Smith. • In Switzerland, the Foxtown Factory Stores (www.foxtown.ch) sets the gold standard. Its outpost in Mendrisio (18 Via A. Maspoli; 41-91/646-2111), a 30-minute drive from Milan, sells Prada, Ferragamo, Loro Piana, Yves St. Laurent, and Hanro. Recently a Gucci dress from a few seasons back was priced at just $35. • Value Retail (www.maasmechelenvillage.com) has outlet villages near seven European cities. They stock last season's items from Carolina Herrera, Mandarina Duck, and 150 other labels.
Until it earned its independence in 1964, the island of Malta had been conquered by nearly all of its neighbors, from the Carthaginians to the Romans to the Saracens. Today, the 122-square-mile country between Sicily and Libya is being invaded by Hollywood directors, who use it as a double for 1960's Beirut, 19th-century Genoa, and ancient Troy at a fraction of the cost of other European resorts. Film stars (like Brad Pitt, who recently played Achilles here), location scouts, and everyday travelers take advantage of very un-Hollywood prices in Valletta, the fortified capital city, which sits on the sandy north coast, and Mdina, the old medieval capital, nicknamed the Silent City for its traffic-free streets and tiny population (377). Both are best explored on foot, allowing you to slip into the slow rhythm of the place that seems to sit on the edge of the world. WHERE TO STAY Set in a 17th-century palazzo in Mdina, the Xara Palace (Misrah Il-Kuusill; 356-21/450-560; www.xarapalace.com.mt; doubles from $246) has panoramic views, a rooftop restaurant, and period furniture in its 17 rooms. • The Italianate Corinthia Palace Hotel (De Paul Ave., Balzan; 356-21/440-301; www.corinthiahotels.com; doubles from $252), in residential Balzan (the island's bourgeois enclave for more than 300 years), is also close to Mdina. The president often eats dinner in the Corinthia Room, a formal dining hall in an 84-year-old villa on the property that serves French and other Continental dishes; the hotel also houses one of the island's best spas, the Athenaeum. • Jon Bon Jovi and Boy George prefer the Westin Dragonara Resort (Dragonara Rd., St. Julian's; 356-21/381-000; www.westin.com; doubles from $140), a Neoclassical hotel on its own peninsula, in the northern nightlife hub of St. Julian's. WHERE TO EAT Have lunch at Rubino (53 Old Bakery St., Valletta; 356-21/224-656; lunch for two $70): the whitewashed stone-vaulted cellar of this converted early-20th-century confectionery buzzes with the capital's business elite, who come for the mezes (mize in Maltese), pasta with rabbit sauce (fenkata), and other Mediterranean specialties. • You're practically guaranteed to spot a star at La Dolce Vita (159 St. George's Rd., St. Julian's; 356-21/337-806; dinner for two $70), which overlooks Spinola Bay and is famous for its fresh fish. • Sit on the terrace of Ciappetti (5 St. Agatha's Esplanade, Mdina; 356-21/459-987; dinner for two $70), a vine-covered house that has walls dating back to Norman times. The 19th-centurydome of the Santa Marija parish church—also known as the Mosta Rotunda—in the nearby town of Mosta, forms the backdrop for sophisticated interpretations of Maltese and North African dishes. WHAT TO DO Explore Valletta, a mix of florid Baroque architecture, narrow cobblestoned streets, and buildings that span several centuries. Among its many historic sites—all within walking distance of the city center—is St. John's Co-Cathedral, with inlaid marble floors covering the gravesof the 16th-century Knights of St. John. • Tour Mdina's snaking alleys, designed to confound invading armies; its architecture, called Siculo-Norman, is a mix of Arabic, Sicilian, and Norman styles. It's one of the best-preserved Baroque towns in the world.TIP Package tours offer the best value. At www.visitmalta.com/us, a six-night stay in one of the luxury hotels listed above, including airfare, starts at $999 per person.
Because of its all-inclusive nature and prepaid cost in American dollars (not to mention its large passenger capacity), cruising remains surprisingly affordable despite fluctuations in the economy.* • Don't believe it?Crystal Cruises did the math, comparing a 12-day European voyage on its newest ship, Crystal Serenity, to a 12-day, four-city overland visit. The tallies: a luxury land-based trip for two, including airfare and five-star hotels, would cost an estimated $18,640, versus $15,773 for the voyage. • Check Princess Cruises' Web site (www.princess.com) for the latest specials. Recently posted: a 17-day transatlantic sailing in May that starts at $3,200. • Save up to 50 percent on one of many European departures on Silversea Cruises (www.silversea.com). A seven-day trip from Barcelona to Rome is going for $5,070, down from $9,790. Costa Cruises (www.costacruises.com) is cutting its prices on summer sailings by as much as 30 percent: seven nights in the western Mediterranean start at $2,000.
*All prices listed are for two passengers.
HOMES AWAY FROM HOME
Renting a villa is not only cheaper than staying at a hotel; it also allows you to better experience a community and its culture. You can find great values through Rhode Island-based WIMCO (800/932-3222; www.wimco.com). The two-bedroom La Capinera, in the village of Montopoli near San Gimignano, Italy, was just listed at $1,785 a week for June. • B&V Associates (800/546-4777; www.apartmenthotels.com) rents furnished apartments in major city centers. Prices are well below those of hotels and include weekly maid service. In Marseilles, flats start at $93 for two guests and $123 for four, per night. • For a classic country experience, check out the inventory at Barclay International Group (800/845-6636; www.barclayweb.com). Among their cottages is the Ballybunion, which starts at $611 per week (with maid service) in County Kerry, Ireland. The property sleeps six and is within walking distance of the famed Ballybunion links.
Although famous for one particular resident—you know, sallow complexion, rather sharp teeth, loves the nightlife—Transylvania is more than just the home of Dracula. Separated from the rest of Romania by the Carpathian Mountains, the region makes up one-third of the country and counts Saxon citadels, Gothic cathedrals, and painted monasteries among its man-made treasures. The mountains that fired up Bram Stoker's imagination—and stood in for 1860's North Carolina in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain—are also an affordable alternative to the Alps, with as much untouched wilderness, at a more reasonable rate. THE CITY The Carpathian Mountains bisect Romania in a backward "L" shape; the southern interior section is known as the Transylvanian Alps. To access the region, hikers set out from the medieval city of Brasov, the first Transylvanian town on the road north from Bucharest (Brasov is near tourist-magnet Bran Castle, Dracula's homestead). Before heading for the hills, explore the largest Gothic cathedral between Vienna and Istanbul: Black Church, built in 1385, on Piata Sfatului, Brasov's main square. Also near the action on the plaza is the 69-room 1910 Hotel Coroana (62 Republicii St.; 40-268/477-448; www.aro-palace.ro; doubles from $76); its sister hotel, the 1939, 100-room Aro Palace (9 Eroilor St.; 40-268/478-800; www.aro-palace.ro; doubles from $135) will complete a major overhaul by the end of the year. THE COUNTRY The jagged Fagaras Mountains rise from the Transylvanian plains 35 miles west of Brasov. From there, it's another two-hour drive to Statiunea Sambata, where the real hiking begins. Walk two hours to the no-frills Cabana Valea Sambetei (40-268/315-756; doubles from $24); next morning during breakfast on the deck, you can fuel up before attempting to climb nearby Mount Moldeveanu, at 8,343 feet the highest point in Romania. Five miles away, in the village of Sambata de Sus, the 17th-century Brancoveanu Monastery's interior walls are covered in religious paintings done in the iconic Christian Orthodox style. At glacial Lake Balea, 6,560 feet above sea level, most hikers stay at Villa Paltinul (40-269/524-277; www.balea-lac.ro; doubles from $30), the small, rustic hunting chalet of the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The manager, Olaru Marius, has kept all 10 rooms intact, including the Ceausescus' bedroom, with its wooden ceiling and brocaded bedside drapes. From the lake, the trail follows the main ridge to Negoiu Peak, Romania's second-highest mountain; hikers descend into the village of Cartisoara, then take the local bus to Statiunea Sambata, about three hours away. GUIDES Certified members of the Romanian Association of Mountain Guides (www.agmr.go.ro; one-day guided trips $87 for up to seven people) lead off-the-beaten-path treks; Iulian Cozma (40-744/327-686; www.mountainguide.ro; $87 for up to seven people), a private guide, can also arrange tours through the Fagaras region. Tour operator Pure Adventures just added a seven-day hiking trip through Transylvania (www.pure-adventures.com; from $739 per person, six-person minimum). TIP The Romania Tourism Board (www.romaniatourism.com) lists special offers on Austrian Air flights, as well as hotel and tour packages.
"When God made time, he made plenty of it" goes a local saying, and it captures the spirit of the Inner Hebrides. These 400 islands off Scotland's west coast are sprinkled with crofting villages and port towns, and life moves at a slow pace. Staying in small hotels or B&B's on unspoiled bays is the best way to experience the Celtic flavor of the isles, and by island-hopping aboard Caledonian Macbrayne ferries (44-8705/650-000; www.calmac.co.uk; eight-day passes from $87), you'll have the flexibility to linger when enchantment strikes. BUTE A five-minute ferry ride from Wemsyss Bay on the mainland, the Isle of Bute combines lush pastures and white sandy beaches with craggy cliffs and wild upland hills. Its capital, the seaside town of Rothesay, has an ancient ruined keep, a golf course, and a palm-fringed Victorian esplanade. Stop at the West End Café (1-3 Gallowgate; 44-1700/503-596; dinner for two $31), an award-winning fish-and-chippery, but leave room for homemade ice cream (vanilla recommended) from Zavaroni's (20 Argyll St.; 44-1700/502-928; cones for two $2.50). • A few miles out of town you'll find the Gothic Mount Stuart House (44-1700/503-877; www.mountstuart.com; tours $14), home to the Marquesses of Bute (check out the Henry VIII bedroom, based on Holbein's portrait of the king). • You can stay overnight in a spacious room at either Balmory Hall (44-1700/500-669; www.balmoryhall.com; doubles from $229), a former merchant's house above Ascog Bay, or in the village at Ascog Farm (44-1700/503-372; doubles from $73), a 200-year-old farmhouse where peacocks roam the garden. GIGHA From Bute, hop a ferry to the Kintyre Peninsula, take an hour's scenic drive up the coast, then leave your car on the mainland and ferry again to the tiny Hebridean gem of Gigha—in Norse, "God's Island." Gigha lives up to its name with abundant wildlife, carpets of native flowers, and the azalea-filled Achamore Gardens. The island's narrow tracks and hidden sandy bays are best explored by bicycle (rented from the village store) or on foot. The Gigha Hotel (44-1583/505-254; doubles from $206) has a lively bar and a restaurant that serves freshly caught seafood and local cheeses. But the best option is to rent a cottage and make it your base: secluded Ardailly House (rented through the Gigha Hotel, 44-1538/505-254; from $548 per week), a converted crofter's home, sleeps five and has dramatic sunset views of the isles of Islay and Jura. ISLAY AND JURA For a day trip, head to Islay, a magnet for whisky lovers, with seven distilleries (Lagavulin and Laphroaig are best for those who like a "peaty" flavor). After tasting the single malts, explore the ancient settlements called crannogs, or laze on Seven Mile beach—all white sand, seals, and icy turquoise Atlantic rollers. • A stone's throw from Islay, the ruggedly beautiful Jura (population: 200 humans, 5,000 deer) has the most unforgiving wilderness of all the Hebridean islands. George Orwell wrote 1984 in a white farmhouse he described as "extremely un-get-at-able," which you can now rent. His beloved Barnhill (44-1786/850-274; from $923) sleeps six. MULL The most popular of the inner isles, and justifiably so, Mull is a 45-minute ferry trip from Oban, on the mainland. But hiking over its majestic hills, you are as likely to see a golden eagle as you are another tourist.You'll want a car to navigate the steep streets of the capital, Tobermory, whose pastel-colored waterfront houses make it the most attractive port in western Scotland. Grab a bite at the Anchorage (54 Main St.; 44-1688/302-313; dinner for two $103), a fish restaurant on the main street, or from the Fish-and-Chips Van (dinner for two $15) on the pier before retiring to one of the 28 rooms in the Victorian-era Western Isles Hotel (Tobermory; 44-1688/302-012; doubles from $110). Or, if you prefer deep country, the traditional Laggan Farm B&B (Lochbuie; 44-1680/814-206; www.lagganfarm.co.uk; doubles from $92) offers all the wild magic of a peaceful Highland glen.• From Mull you can take boat trips to the neighboring small islands of Iona (to see the famous abbey and ecclesiastical ruins), Staffa (which inspired Mendelssohn's overture Fingal's Cave) and the Treshnish Isles (for bird- and whale-watching). TIP Visit-Scotland.com, the tourist board Web site, lists last-minute deals and detailed information on every corner of the Hebrides, inner and outer.
• Orbitz.com and Expedia.com often have better airfare deals than those offered by a country's national airline. Orbitz listed a $562 flight from New York to Lisbon (connecting in London); on TAP Air Portugal's Web site (www.tap-airportugal.com), the same route was $654.
• Fly from the United States to London and then catch a connecting flight to any European destination on a budget carrier like Easyjet or Ryanair. This works particularly well if you plan to stay in the "hub" for a few days before taking a side trip to your final destination. On Orbitz, we found a New York to Heathrow flight for $341. Flights from Stansted (also in London) to Barcelona (on Ryanair) ran as low as $63, bringing the total price to $424. Orbitz also had a New York to Barcelona flight for $688.
• The on-line booking agent 1stAir (www.1st-air.net) offers between 30 and 50 percent off first- or business-class fares from 16 international airlines. A flight on Air Canada from New York to Rome in June costs $3,891 versus the usual $5,432. (Become a Passport Premier member for $250 a year and you get additional savings. For instance, a flight from New York to Paris costs $4,874 without membership; with, it's $2,920.)
• Using public transportation to get from the airport to your hotel will save you big bucks—and, in some cities, it can be more efficient than taking a cab. Paris's RER train (www.ratp.fr), for example, can whisk you from Charles-de-Gaulle to the center of the city in 30 minutes for $14. A taxi would cost around $50 and could take an average of 45 minutes. Britain's Gatwick Express (www.gatwickexpress.co.uk) drops you in Victoria Station in 30 minutes—saving you a half-hour off a taxi—and costs around $20. Cab fare from Gatwick to Victoria is approximately $130.
• For travel within one or between two countries, Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) has several new options: France and Switzerland; Switzerland and Austria; and Hungary and Romania. Passes for five days of unlimited travel along the Hungary to Romania route start at $170 per person for first-class seats.
• Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), the high-speed train that travels between London, Brussels, and Paris, recently dropped one-way fares from $200 to $90.
• To avoid the crowds, splurge on first class when traveling during high season or at peak hours. At off-peak times, you'll pay significantly less and have a more tranquil experience in empty second-class cars. A first-class, round-trip ticket from London to Brighton on the South Central rail line, for example, costs $82; standard class (also round-trip) is $30.
• With gas prices in many European countries hovering around $5 a gallon, you might even want to take a plane or train instead of renting a car.
• AutoEurope.com is offering discounts of up to 25 percent. For instance, a Renault Clio manual transmission in France costs $237 for a week in June, down from $275.
• Renting from a local company can save you a bundle. Getting a car for five days from Hertz's Edinburgh Airport location is easily $450, while a weeklong rental through Arnold Clark (www.arnoldclark.com) can cost as little as $200.
Its name refers to a traditional cilantro-rich bread-and-shellfish stew, just one example of the Portuguese soul food this minimalist restaurant serves. It’s also one of the best places to get an eyeful of the city’s fashion-world elite. Try the classic pataniscas de bacalhau (cod fritters) with red beans and rice.
La Dolce Vita, Malta
Don’t be fooled by the entrance, under a tunnel along the main coastal road: La Caravella has been one of the area’s finest restaurants for nearly 50 years, a required culinary stop since Federico Fellini, Andy Warhol, and Jackie Kennedy put it on the map in the 1960s. It remains a stalwart fixture on the dining scene for its romantic interior—the wall niches serve as a gallery of fine Vietri ceramic art dating back to the 19th century; highly regarded wine cellar (nearly 2,000 bottles strong); and chef Antonio Dipino’s innovative touches on local specialties. The fish comes enveloped in a veil of lemon sauce, and ricotta and squid are stuffed into panzerottini neri (squid-ink pasta pockets). The legendary lemon soufflé is the best note to end on.
Housed in a brick, 19th-century cable car depot overlooking the Tagus River, the Kais restaurant has retained much of its warehouse style, with high ceilings, ironwork, and modern wooden tables, chairs, and curved black-top bars. The industrial tone is softened by hundreds of candles, a flowing waterfall, and centuries-old olive trees. The upstairs floor is the place to see-and-be-seen; it is a la carte and serves international cuisine. The more relaxed (and cheaper) downstairs provides a fixed menu of Portuguese dishes. Some choices include duck carpaccio with black-olive pate, prawn curry, and crepes suzette.
Fish & Chips Van
It may be located on the lower level of a ho-hum hotel, but the food that comes out of this diminutive kitchen is anything but. Here you’ll find outstanding nouveau-Italian fusion cuisine, quietly served in an atmosphere of relaxed elegance: a soaring room of whitewashed stone walls with wicker chairs, painted-tile floors, and columned arches framing a backdrop of sea and coastline. The seafood-heavy menu changes regularly with the seasons, but among past inventive takes on Neapolitan cuisine are fresh fish baked in a crust of salt, raviolini stuffed with potatoes and black truffles, and a soufflé version of the classic Caprese salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
Although the entrance to this 140-year-old trattoria in the Amalfi Coast is off a narrow backstreet, the floral, outdoor terrace on the second floor overlooks the busy Via Lorenzo and holds the most ambiance in the otherwise modestly decorated restaurant. The kitchen is anything but, turning out classic regional dishes like grilled octopus with sundried tomatoes and lemon risotto served with steamed and raw red prawns. The crowd favorite, zuppa di pesce (fish soup), is still prepared according to the restaurant’s original 1872 recipe. Reservations up to a day in advance are essential for a seat outside.
West End Cafe
Bica do Sapato
Lisbon’s hippest restaurant—located at the docks and partly owned by actor John Malkovich—serves contemporary twists on Portuguese classics, such as codfish salad with chickpea ice cream. The retro-modern space is well suited to the forward-thinking food.
A Baiuca is tucked down the cobblestone Rua de Sao Miquel in Alfama. Bottles line the shelves, portraits of singers and vibrant, ceramic fish cover the tiled walls, and strings of light twinkle. There are only five long communal tables here, but people come every Thursday through Monday night to enjoy the fado vadio - amateur fado, where anyone is invited to jump and sing, which may even include the waitress or cook. The house specialities include lombos de Bacalhau (cod), tamboril a Baiuca (monkfish), and ensopada de borrego (lamb stew).
Hotel Santa Caterina
The original grande dame of Amalfi Coast hotels still reigns in Belle Époque splendor on the coastal road just outside the town of Amalfi. Now in its fourth generation of Gambardella family management, this 1904 looker has rooms spread across the main building, two villas, and a two cozy honeymoon suites. All are filled with original local antiques and decorated with hand-painted or pure-white ceramic floor tiles and whitewashed walls. Two glassed-in elevators descend to a private beach. As you stroll through the lovely secluded, terraced gardens and citrus orchards, it’s obvious why Liz Taylor and Richard Burton chose to hide out here.
Laggan Farm B&B
Western Isles Hotel
The Gigha Hotel
Cabana Valea Sambetei
Westin Dragonara Resort
Corinthia Palace Hotel
Perched on the promontory at the edge of town for the best views over the rooftops and up the coastline, this gorgeous old cloister was reportedly founded in 1222 by St. Francis himself. Its surprisingly spacious monastic cells have been converted into appropriately spare but discreetly elegant rooms, which, at these rates, could stand an upgrade. Still, all come with sea views, hand-painted tile floors, a mix of antiques and modern functional furnishings, whitewashed walls, and vaulted ceilings. The hotel features a few amenities the old monks never dreamed of, including a private sundeck and saltwater pool down by the seaside and two restaurants with panoramic views (one atop a 15th-century Saracen watchtower, which doubles as a bar and nightclub) that help make up for the lackluster food.
Room to Book: The Torre Suite, installed in an ancient tower that once guarded against pirate attacks, has been the Arabian Nights–tinged room of choice for guests like Bogart, Bergman, and Roberto Rossellini.
Villa i Bossi
Hostería Mont Sant
Like a beacon on a hill, this boutique hotel sits atop a scenic cliff overlooking valley vineyards and the lights of Bordeaux. The exterior is a bit deceiving, as this Relais & Chateaux property is set inside three tobacco barn-inspired wood buildings with huge picture windows. Most rooms have breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and are made sunny with minimalist furniture, high ceilings, and white tones. The pool also boasts great views, as well as a wide-plank wooden deck for lounging in the sun. Three restaurants serve up everything from innovative cuisine to bistro fare to European breakfasts.
Corinthia Hotel Budapest
This extravagant, grand hotel built in French Renaissance style was a centerpiece of Hungary’s celebration of its first thousand years. Constructed in 1896 as the Grand Royal Hotel, the structure was partially destroyed in the Hungarian Revolution and has undergone several restorations since 1961. Now called the Corinthia Hotel, the five-star property combines its original architectural grandeur with 21st-century amenities. Marble floors, a grand staircase, and a dramatic, six-story atrium evoke the hotel’s Belle Epoque origins. The 404 sumptuously appointed guestrooms are joined by top-tier dining, a ritzy spa, and a restored Grand Ballroom.
Within a pastel colored baroque building, originally part of the archbishop’s palace, this luxury boutique hotel resides on its medieval foundations. The Royal Route location is steps from Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge. Domus Balthasar has eight larger than usual rooms (two are lofts and two suites with kitchenettes) all with walk-in shower and separate bathtub, heated bathroom floors, bathrobe, and in-room music system. There are historical details (no elevator), and a ground floor restaurant serves breakfast buffet and room service.
Centrally located beside Omonia Square, the Alassia hotel provides affordable accommodations within walking distance of Plaka (old town) and tourist attractions like the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Renovated in 2002, the hotel lobby is furnished with oversize silver vases, Italian sofas upholstered with vintage velvet, and pillars of rare marble from the town of Famagusta. The 82 guest rooms are more basic, with dark wood furniture and off-white linens. The lobby bar serves coffee and cocktails, and a continental breakfast buffet is available each morning in the dining room.
Built as the St. Elisabeth Orphanage in 1890, the brick building now houses the Hotel Arena, with its trendy restaurant, café, and nightclub. Some of the 116 rooms feature heritage elements like sloping rafters and high-ceilings. Natural light and wooden floors soften the color palates: soft gray and sharp white in the bedrooms, and black tiles and glass in the bathrooms. On the practical side, each room has wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs, and blackout curtains. The hotel café, with its outdoor seating, is popular for drinks, and the former-chapel turned nightspot at the hotel regularly hosts international DJs.
Solar do Castelo
Quietly tucked within the walls of the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the Solar do Castelo is housed in a lemon-yellow, 18th-century mansion done in the Pombaline style. The 14 rooms, designed by Graca Viterbo, are done with cream-colored walls, wood floors, and medieval-contemporary furniture, such as fabric panel headboards and wrought iron seats. Most rooms overlook the Moor-inspired courtyard with its tiled gateway, shallow pool, and cobbestones. There is also a lounge with exposed stone walls and a small museum that contains artifacts recovered during the construction of the hotel, including a medieval cistern.
As Janelas Verdes
Located in a late 18th-century palace in bohemian Santos, the As Janelas Verdes hotel was home and inspiration to the Portuguese novelist Eca de Quieros. Renovated in 2002, the 29 rooms maintain a neoclassical look with painted paneled walls, dark wood armoires and bedsteads, and plush floral and striped fabrics in cream colors. The wood-paneled library on the third floor opens up to a spacious, tiled terrace that overlooks the harbor. A buffet breakfast is served in the walled garden that is filled with mosaics, wrought iron, vines, and potted plants.