Are overpriced hotels threatening to turn your dream trip into a nightmare? Don’t panic. Europe offers plenty of alternatives that will fit your vacation budget and earn you bragging rights back home.
Illuminating Experiences: Want to really get away from it all? Book a light house on the tiny Adriatic island of Palagruza, midway between Croatia and Italy. Erected in 1875, the stunning structure is set within a nature reserve rimmed with beaches and surrounded by clear water. The light house’s two apartments are basic but serviceable; and prices for a foursome (including speed boat transfers from Korcula) start around $380 per person per week. Click here for more information on renting light houses.
Royal Treatment: For about $28 per person, even paupers can get a good night’s sleep in Scotland’s Carbisdale Castle. The castle, 45 minutes from Inverness, features an imposing tower, ornamental stonework, an impressive statue gallery, and a dramatic crag-top location. The only caveat is that Carbisdale is run by the Scottish Youth Hostels Association, so don’t expect hotel-style service if you book a room here. But if you’re reluctant to enter “hostel territory,” you can rent the entire castle for a mere $3,300 in the off-season. Here are some more options for inexpensive castles.
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Home Grown: Live out your Frances Mayes fantasies by renting a countryside retreat. France has the largest selection (more than 40,000 “self-catering” spots with average weekly prices of $330 in low season, $495 in high). If you prefer an ivy-covered Irish cottage or a Spanish casa rurales, EuroGites, the European Federation for Farm and Village Tourism, makes house-hunting easy by providing links to member associations in 24 countries.
On a Roll: Long before RVs hit the highways here, gypsies took to Europe’s back roads in compact rolling homes known as “roulottes.” They’re making a comeback, especially in Provence, the gypsy’s spiritual homeland. March to October, you can choose between three funky models parked in the garden of Le Mas dou Pastre, a hôtel de charme that also offers more conventional lodging in an 18th-century stone house. Rates start at $90 per night. If you want to keep rolling, try Roulottes du Pradal, where they’ll set you up with a horse and four-bedded caravan for $885 a week.
Saving Grace: Praying for affordable lodgings in Rome? Then get thee to a nunnery. Le Suore di Lourdes (Via Sistina 113; 06/474/5324) is one of many “houses of hospitality” in Rome that honor ancient tradition by welcoming guests, regardless of their religious beliefs. As you might expect, lodgings are simple and clean. But you’ll also discover some surprising extras: namely a rooftop terrace with panoramic views and a heavenly location near the Spanish Steps. Best of all, double rooms are $90 per night. Click here for more Rome lodgings.
Trustworthy: For history buffs, nothing beats Britain’s Landmark Trust, a charitable organization that has been funding preservation work by renting out beautifully refurbished buildings since 1965. There are more than 180 properties to let, including a gatehouse where Mary, Queen of Scots, was once imprisoned; the officers’ quarters of a Victorian fort; and a supersize stone pineapple. There is a three-night minimum stay requirement and prices vary widely, but average nightly costs work out to about $60 per person. Details are found in the Trust’s Handbook, available for a $25 fee that can be refunded with your first booking.
Anchored Away: If Prague’s pricey riverfront hotels don’t float your boat, consider bedding down on the Admiral Botel, a boat-hotel permanently berthed in the city center. The 35-year-old vessel has nautical decor (polished wood paneling and brass fittings), a restaurant and a nightclub. After a recent renovation, the 87 ensuite cabins — all decked out with telephones and TVs — are shipshape. Double B&B rates start at $97. Variations on the “botel” theme can be found in Amsterdam, Budapest, Bratislava, and other waterside cities where land is at a premium.
Treehouses, Igloos, Caves: Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Try clicking on unusualhotelsoftheworld. The UK-based site lives up to its name by specializing in one-of-a-kind spots in every imaginable category, from rail cars to converted prisons to an underwater “inn,” and this is just scratching the surface. Not all qualify as bargains, but browsing is a blast!
— Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb