Palaces fit for kings and queens? Breezy seaside villas? Hideaway resorts favored by celebs? As professional travel writers, we get to stay at some pretty delightful places around the world. And we’re often asked for recommendations about where to book.
Charming Europe hotels
For the cultural continent across the pond, here are five of our favorite charming Europe hotels:
1. Palazzo Abadessa (Venice, Italy)
La Dolce Vita for couples ~
Lit by a painter’s soft morning light – with monumental buildings and colorful faded palaces lining its canals – Venice can’t fail to enchant. Fortunately, it offers romantic couple’s digs that don’t break the budget. The Palazzo Abadessa is such a gem.
Formerly a 16th century palace, it’s been turned into a hotel, handily located in the quiet northern Cannaregio district, a 15- to 20-minute stroll from St. Mark’s Square. (Some people think it’s too far from the center of things, but we like walking – that’s partly what Venice is about, right?)
The Palazzo contains nine rooms and four suites, each unique, adorned by Murano chandeliers, antique furniture and silk wall coverings. All are a joy, though avoid the teensy smallest room (it’s really too cramped for comfort).
Our favorite was Room 26 (once the palace kitchen), with its exposed timber beam ceiling, stone fireplace and an original giant stone sink in the bathroom.
The hotel’s atrium has marble floors and stained lead-glass windows that overlook a canal. A marble staircase takes you up to the first floor and more rooms.
You can sip complimentary Prosecco and nibble on snacks, set out on silver trays in the hall, before heading off to dinner.
Breakfast, included, in the tranquility of the walled garden is a special treat. Fortified by fresh-baked croissants, sliced fruit, ham, cheeses and as many cappuccinos as we could drink, we happily set off each morning to explore Venice’s splendors.
What we especially like about Palazzo Abadessa
It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg! In Venice, the Palazzo Abadessa is one of the best value hotels with charm and character (and we’ve checked out many Venetian hotels).
We’ve also stayed at Pensione La Calcina, a lovely, clean, family-run, 3-star inn, located on the Giudecca Canal (great floating restaurant for breakfast!). We can recommend La Calcina too.
2. Hotel Belle Epoque (Baden-Baden, Germany)
Historic boutique hotel evokes Baden-Baden’s golden age ~
During Baden-Baden’s golden age as “the summer capital of Europe,” the continent’s rich and famous gathered here each summer to socialize and gamble in its glamorous casino. In 1874, a duke built the neo-renaissance villa that’s now the exquisite Hotel Belle Epoque. It’s located in the center of today’s fashionable spa town, a short walk from the opulent Friedrichsbad baths (where men and women bathe nude together – and where we had to throw away our modesty).
A Small Luxury Hotel of the World, Hotel Belle Epoque has two buildings, and its 22 rooms and suites are individually decorated.
We prefer the more atmospheric older building, where rooms are themed Louis XV, Victorian and so on. If possible, look inside before you choose.
Our luxurious Louis IV suite had high ornamental ceilings, oak floors, burgundy silk lampshades, an enormous ornate gilt-framed picture of Louis IV over the carved king-bed headboard, and a little sitting room.
The bathroom had some quirks – we had to shower sitting down in the Jacuzzi tub. But we had modern essentials like air-conditioning and complimentary in-room Internet. And its charm far outweighed the minor quirks.
What we especially like about Hotel Belle Epoque
As well as a full buffet breakfast, rates at Hotel Belle Epoque include complimentary afternoon tea, which we enjoyed one afternoon on the hotel’s outdoor stone terrace. Young gents in pinstriped pants and tails served us cappuccinos and tea, as we bit into fresh cakes from Royal Doulton china. Just as we imagine the duke did, years ago…
3. One Aldwych (London, England)
Style and service in the heart of London ~
When in London, you want to stay smack-dab in its exciting heart, yet ideally enjoy some respite from the hubbub in a quiet retreat. Enter the elegant One Aldwych.
Superbly located in Covent Garden, this classy boutique hotel is within walking distance of the British Museum, theaters, shops, art galleries and the nightlife of happening Soho. Housed within a 1907 wedge-shaped granite building, it pares back on superfluous luxury and concentrates on modern-day comfort. So the 105 soundproof rooms and suites are sleek in design and kitted out with myriad deluxe features – tall windows that open, original contemporary art, Frette linens and goose down duvets, and fresh flowers and fruit changed daily.
We like that One Aldwych has made serious efforts to be “green.”
Its natural REN bath products are chemical-free, and vacuum-oriented loos use 80% less water than normal. A stunning blue-tiled swimming pool, which pipes in classical music underwater, is also chlorine-free.
In the evenings, the hotel’s capacious Lobby Bar is abuzz with hipsters, bankers and party-goers. The Indigo restaurant overlooks the lively scene, while the Axis restaurant is more formal.
One Aldwych consistently ranks among London’s best hotels – and we can see why.
What we especially like about One Aldwych
Service is exceptional and highly professional at One Aldwych – no snootiness in sight.
4. St. Regis Rome (Rome, Italy)
Luxury in grand style ~
Imposing senators, heroic gladiators, victorious armies – Rome captures the imagination with its past imperial grandeur. And the St. Regis Rome is a grand place to luxuriate in Italy’s capital.
Cesar Ritz opened the deluxe Grand Hotel in 1894 to great acclaim throughout Europe. The lobby featured cascading chandeliers and astonishing glass or trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) ceilings. A world first, it offered “private bathrooms and two electric lights in every room” as well as Rome’s first ballroom. Over the years, it hosted heads of state and celebrities galore.
In 1999, over $30 million was spent on an extensive renovation, and the hotel was renamed the St. Regis Rome.
Everything about the St. Regis oozes old-style luxury.
Its 138 rooms and 23 suites occupy a signature 19th century building. French or Italian style, the rooms are furnished with brilliantly colored, silk-covered furniture. Their over-height ceilings are decorated with glittering Murano glass chandeliers and hand-painted frescoes above heavenly beds.
There’s also (of course!) the hotel’s butler service, as well as an Asian-themed spa, and a see-and-be-seen lobby bar serving up divine Bellinis.
What we especially like about St. Regis Rome
The St. Regis Rome is within easy walking distance to many of Rome’s best-loved attractions – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. And shopping too – the Via Veneto and Via Condotti are also nearby. Now where’s that credit card?
5. Louis C. Jacob Hotel (Hamburg, Germany)
Gracious refinement by the Elbe river ~
An early stomping ground of the Beatles, wealthy Hamburg is renowned for its shipbuilding prowess and sailor-friendly “Reeperbahn” red-light district. It also entices with some fine hotel establishments like the gracious, mansion-like Louis C. Jacob (affectionately known as “the Jacob”).
Located in a secluded residential district on Hamburg’s Elbe river, this tranquil 5-star property offers 64 deluxe rooms and 21 suites. All are unique, with oak floors, modern stone bathrooms, and special little touches – ours came with fresh flowers and a crystal decanter with help-yourself cream sherry.
Rooms are housed in two buildings: an artfully restored main building, dating to 1791, and a modern addition across the street, reached by an underground passage.
The hotel’s public areas are filled with original art – more than 500 paintings and other artworks (the largest private collection open to the public in northern Germany).
The main building overlooks a charming terrace. Studded with ancient lime trees, it invites you, on warm days, to linger over coffee or tea and watch the ships go by on the wide Elbe river.
For foodies, the Jacob offers haute cuisine in its Michelin-starred restaurant. And well over 100 “Jacobines” give you a genuine taste of Hanseatic hospitality.
What we especially like about the Jacob
The hotel’s cozy little wine bar across the street from the Louis C. Jacob, with wood tables and wood-beam ceilings, exudes warmth. It’s a popular spot for both locals and guests to rendezvous for delicious flammkuchen (a fresh take on thin crust wood-oven pizza) and platters of truffle salami with thick bread and pesto.
Some visitors to Europe rent a car. We don’t like the stress of driving. We prefer to get around by train or plane (some inter-Europe flights are inexpensive and actually cheaper than taking the train). GoEuro is a new and easy travel search website that presents bus, train and flight options – showing you prices, travel times and schedules, so you can compare choices.
We stayed as media guests of these charming Europe hotels for various travel magazine articles. But we’re always free to write what we want without influence (and we point out flaws and annoyances when we encounter them).
Have you come across any really charming Europe hotels?
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We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.