When I shared information and pictures of the hotels we stayed at in Amsterdam and Bordeaux, I admitted readily that travelling on this kind of budget (80 to 120 Euros, generally closer to 100) is not for everyone. It can be spartan, and although I try to search out charm at this price, there can be a gap between how such charm is represented and how it is experienced.
In Metz, Spring 2011, though, we clearly lucked out. The Hotel de la Cathédrale offered this view when we drew back the drapes, above.
While providing charm -- toile prints and quilting . . .
This is the entryway to our room . . .
because there are rather a lot of stairs
Metz's Hotel de la Cathédrale is probably the most striking example we've come across of what can be found in this price range, but we've enjoyed the warmest possible introduction to Paris because of the hotel we stayed in there. Despite its much busier location in the much bigger city of Paris, Hotel Residence des Gobelins shares Hotel de la Cathédrale's sense of welcome, warmth, and charm. Neither provide luxury, but there is ample attention to comfort. In both, as is typical of numerous small budget hotels we've stayed in, staff are friendly and helpful. In both, the breakfasts are satisfying, served in a pleasant environment, with good coffee and even (and this is a test, for me, as it's so often not the case and I do love my morning cuppa) very good tea. (I've written about Residence des Gobelins here and here)
To find Jennifer & Philippe's Paris hotel, back in 2005, I think it was, I had plowed through a number of Paris guidebooks, looking in the Accommodations category that fit our budget. It's worth spending some time looking for hotels that get mentioned in a few sources -- Jennifer's warmth was cited numerous times and the hotel's cleanliness and charm were noted as well, along with its location in a more residential neighbourhood that was close to a Metro station. My next step was to check out the hotel website and then to email and wait for a response.
This response is always part of my decision-making process as is the tone set by the website itself. Sadly, more and more hotels, even small, family-run sites, are shifting over to using booking software provided or managed by a more impersonal organization. Still, you can almost always phone or email the hotel directly. If you can't, I must say I'd just walk away, personally. I want that sense of knowing who's on the other end besides a computer.
As well, I often send out emails to three or four hotels within my overall parameters, and then wait to compare the responses. The booking we made last week, for example, came after getting the most charming and helpful response from one hotel, and nothing at all from another. (No wonder the hotel we chose rated so highly on TripAdvisor).
These days, guidebooks aren't figuring quite as highly as they did in my travel research, and I do much preliminary work online. Foolish as it sounds, I often begin simply by Googling the target city + budget hotel + charming. You may roll your eyes, but after some judicious filtering, I have ended up with some great finds along the way.
As with this Metz hotel. . . . a few more photos to convince?
Here's another hallway area . . .
and a small grace note on the stairway . . .
Less obviously charming, but clean and friendly, very affordable in a convenient location in London (right near St. Pancras station in the King's Cross area is the family-owned-and-run Alhambra Hotel with its fabulous English breakfasts served out efficiently in the downstairs breakfast room that occupies a special and fond place in our memory bank of London travel. Sadly, we have no pictures of the rooms, although there are plenty on the hotel's website. They are all quite spartan, but clean and attractive, many for those so committed to budget that they don't mind sharing a bathroom down the hall, but also a good number with ensuite bathrooms and showers. And the family that runs the place is great -- very helpful and friendly.
So there you have it. My contribution to your dreams of travel, should budget be an important consideration in those dreams. Soon, I'll reveal what city we're dreaming of travelling on our next trip, but meanwhile, I'd love to know what your experience with budget travel might be. Or, if you recoil from the notion with horror, explain your rationale. I'm genuinely curious. . . . Let's compare notes!