Top Lodging Picks in Europe

Cologne, Germany: Once the largest water tower in Europe, the water reservoir for the city of Cologne became, in 1990, the city’s most unusual hotel, Hotel im Wasserturm.
Cologne, Germany: Once the largest water tower in Europe, the water reservoir for the city of Cologne became, in 1990, the city’s most unusual hotel, Hotel im Wasserturm.

By Ann H. Waigand

Find alternative lodgings all over Europe on!Are Youth Hostels the only place to sleep in Europe? Not likely.

From amusement parks to monasteries to caves, with a couple of hotels, resorts, B&B’s and unusual rentals thrown in, the European continent can never be called staid when it comes to offering a place to lay your head.

Is it Me or is that Hallway Lopsided?  

Rogner-Bad Blumau Resort — Blumau, Austria: Dr. Seuss couldn’t have planned it better. Billed as “the world’s largest inhabitable work of art,” Rogner-Bad is the personification of the artistic landscape of Austrian modernist painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Brightly colored, oddly-shaped buildings with gilded onion domes and grass-covered rooftops compete with sloping, curving hallways and keyhole-shaped windows to prove that even the highest flying art can be brought down to earth.

The spa resort, with three hot springs named after the Bible’s Three Wise Men, offers a range of holistic therapies and recreational facilities, including the chance to meditate on why that building over there looks like Bambi (it is, in fact, shaped like the back of a deer)! ATS 1350 – 2600/night, based on room type and seasonRogner-Bad Blumau Resort
A-8283 Blumau 100
Tel: +43-3383-5100-0
Fax: +43-3383-5100-008

Hippies Live…South of Prague
Rohaty Krokodyl — Mikulov, Czech Republic: Dubbed the quirkiest hotel in the Czech Republic, this small hotel a few miles north of the Czech-Austrian border draws its name from the stuffed horned crocodile that hangs on the breakfast room wall.The stairs that spill over with house plants, walls clad in political and art posters, and existentialist German poetry painted on the bathroom door are certain proof that the hippie movement made it all the way to the Czech Republic..or at least to this funky B & B. Just up the street, wine cellars offer up burak, the fizzling young wine drunk round the clock for which Mikulov is famous, and Moravian delicacies such as kvarek (deep-fried pork fat) and garlic toast. CZK 460 – 15400/night, depending on room type and season.

Rohat Krokodyl
Husova 8, 692 01
Mikulov, Czech Republic
Tel: +420-625-510692
Fax: +420-625-5110695

Water, Water Everywhere  

Cologne, Germany: Once the largest water tower in Europe, the water reservoir for the city of Cologne became, in 1990, the city’s most unusual hotel, Hotel im Wasserturm. The extensive renovation cost 70 million German marks in part because renovators insisted on using specially, “afterburned” bricks, now a noted feature of the hotel.

To keep the water motif flowing, round sleeping rooms are a mixture of blue (symbolizing water) and yellow and beige (representing bricks). The roof top restaurant offers a true bird’s eye view of nearby Cologne Cathedral. Bone up on your German prepositions before booking; this is the Hotel im Wasserturm (in the water tower), not the Hotel am Wasserturm (near the water tower)!

Hotel im Wasserturm Kaygasse 2
50676 Cologne, Germany
Tel: +49-2-21-200-80
Fax: +49-2-21-200-8888

Get Thee To A Nunnery  

Monasteries in Italy: “One does not come to Italy for niceness, one comes for life,” wrote E.M. Forster in “A Room With A View,” and mother-daughter writing team, June and Anne Walsh, have decided that the way to experience life is to be an overnight guest in one of the country’s convents or monasteries.Forster’s quote introduces their guide, Bed and Blessing Italy: A Guide to Convents and Monasteries Available for Overnight Lodging, which lists over 125 religious houses throughout Italy that welcome paying guests.

While some lodgings can be quite ascetic, with stringent curfews and no amenities, others have views of the sea (the renovated palazzo, Albergo Domus Mariae, in Siracusa, Sicily); a lovely courtyard garden (San Guiseppe di Cluny, Rome); or a location within steps of the Vatican (Convento San Francesco).

Bed and Blessing Italy: A Guide to Convents and Monasteries Available for Overnight Lodging, by June and Ann Walsh.
Monastery Donnini — Tuscany, Italy

You might not find divine inspiration at this 13th-century monastery, but others certainly have, including Petrarch who wrote numerous verses while staying here. The building’s most famous inhabitant, Galileo, began his studies here, starting with Euclid’s Elements, under the tutelage of court mathematician Ostillio Ricci. Set amidst private gardens in the Tuscan countryside just a half-hour from Florence, the monastery, which bears more resemblance to a nobleman’s villa than an ascetic retreat, has been converted into 38 apartments and 13 bedrooms.

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Monastery Donnini
Reservations through Regency Apartments
1110 Chock Road
Salt Spring, British Columbia, Canada V8K 2J6
Tel: 888-925-6874
Fax: 250-538-0002

Student Dreams

High Holborn Hall of Residence at the LSE — London, England: Ever dream of studying in London? That time may be past, but during the summer months you can still stay in London at student prices at the High Holborn Residence at the centrally located (and very prestigious!) London School of Economics. With 494 bed spaces and a combination of single, twin, triple and ensuite rooms (all with telephones and accessible kitchen/dining facilities), the High Holborn Residence is an ideal base for exploring London.

Situated at the top of Drury Lane, High Holborn is in the middle of London’s Theatre District and within walking distance of Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and numerous Tube stations for easy travel through the rest of the city. For those who like to hang out in the dorm, the residence has TV rooms, a lounge, and a laundromat! Rooms are available from the end of June through the end of September, with limited availability from mid-June.

High Holborn Hall of Residence
178 High Holborn
London WC1V 7AA United Kingdom
Tel: +44-020-739-5589
Fax: +44-020-739-5640

Rentals with history

The Landmark Trust — United Kingdom: Only in the UK can you spend the night in a 45-foot tall stone Pineapple in Scotland, a Poultry Cottage in Wales, a water tower, or an old schoolhouse. The Landmark Trust is different from other vacation rental companies: it is a charitable organization whose sole purpose is to rescue unique buildings that are in danger of being lost, through neglect or disrepair, and to restore them.

To raise funds and awareness, the Trust turns the buildings into holiday rental properties. Unlike The National Trust, which focuses on restoring and maintaining properties of major historical significance, The Landmark Trust picks up “minor, but good-looking buildings, put up with thought and care, but no longer wanted for their original purpose.” A real charity case. But for travelers, the 166 different Landmark Trust properties — mostly in the UK, with about 5 in Italy and one in the US — offer one-of-kind sleeps in Europe.

Where else will you find bedrooms that housed former Governors, or famous writers, or pigs? Most properties are available weekly and the rates are surprisingly affordable, considering the novelty. Properties are listed in a catalogue, available from the US office of The Landmark Trust, and availability can be checked on the Landmark Trust’s Web site.

The Landmark Trust
Shottesbrook, Maidenhead,
Berkshire SL6 3SW, England
Tel: 011-44-1628-825-925
fax 011-44-1628-825-417
166 properties available for rent, all described, with photos and floorplans, in The Landmark Handbook available from 707 Kipling Road, Dummerston, Vermont 05301, tel: 802-254-6868, fax: 802-257-7783.

The Artist Within

Maison Chagall — Gordes, France: Up to ten people can share this former home and studio of painter Marc Chagall, gaining inspiration from the surrounding countryside and even having the option of taking a few painting lessons while in residence. The stone mansion, complete with dining terrace and swimming pool, is just steps away from Gordes, one of the loveliest villages in the Lubéron.

An on-site olive oil mill has been called the most beautiful in France by Monuments Classé de France.  Rates vary depending on season.

Maison Chagall, Gordes, France
Reservations through Villas and Voyages
2450 Iroquois Avenue
Detroit, MI 48214-1871
Tel: 703-909-8068

Skarsmoen, an agritourism farm in Norway.

Haystack Pillows

Farmstays in Europe aren’t new: in fact, “sleeping in the hay” was the term first coined in Europe for staying on farms: an ancient travelers’ tradition. But these days, a European farmstay is more than just bedding down in the hayloft, though it’s still possible. In Scandinavia, on the farms of Skarsmoen, visitors can take part in moose safaris. In France, you might receive lessons in cheese making.

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Visitors on selected German farms receive expert instruction in the art of hunting. Alpine farms in Austria and Switzerland often offer recreational activities such as horseback riding and skiing, while farms in Italy might engage visitors in grape stomping (Remember “I Love Lucy?”).

Or, for the most unusual farmstay, try one of Germany’s Haystack Hotels. The scenic area around Rothenburg organizes four-day bicycling trips with pre-booked barn accommodations. Bring your sleeping bag and any Hay Fever medications with you. After a day of cycling, you’ll be convinced that a sweet-smelling stack of hay in the barn is better than any mere mattress.
Phone +49 9341 825806
Fax +49 9341 825700
For booking Hay Hotel/bicycling tours in Germany

Bienvenue Chez Moi!

Gîtes de France’s Bed and Breakfast Homes in France: If you think the French aren’t known for their hospitality, you haven’t stayed in a gîte. Gîtes de France, the national network of Bed and Breakfast accommodations, is the undiscovered treasure of French lodgings. Family-run, inexpensive, homey and found everywhere throughout the country, gîtes are the truly French way to experience France. Don’t speak French? Not a problem.

Most gîte hosts welcome any effort you make to try. Some even speak English quite well. Many gîtes provide gourmet table d’hôte meals and excursion help, while others offer simply a room and breakfast in family home. Gîtes de France also lists family gîtes, farmstays, wilderness chalets, stopover and self-catering gîtes, all rated with corncob icons from 1-4. The Web site is quite comprehensive (and in English).

You can also order guidebooks for gîtes by region or type and book online if you want. You’ll never think the French aren’t friendly again. (english web site)

Throw Away the Scales

Alton Towers Hotel — Alton, Staffordshire, England
Make no weight loss resolutions before you book the Chocolate Bedroom at this family hotel that on the grounds of Britain’s number one theme park. Actually all of the rooms have themes, but the most irresistible has the bedroom equipped with a dressing table made of giant chocolates and a machine that can feed a sweet tooth round the clock.

There is also a Coca-Cola Fizzy Factory Bedroom with Coca-Cola on tap twenty-four hours at an authentic soft drink fountain and a fizzy drink cistern in the bathroom. If you’ve sworn off sweets, try the Peter Rabbit Bedrooms, Arabian Nights Suite, or one of several rooms based on the theme park’s most terrifying rides.

Alton Towers Hotel, Alton, Stoke-on-Trent.
Staffordshire, England ST10 4DB
Tel: +44-1538-70460
Fax: +44-1538-704657

Caving, Spanish Style

Cuevas Pedro Antonio de Alarcón — Guadix, Spain: Troglodytes in Spain! Yes, a whole subterranean world exists in Guadix, a village 60km east of Granada. White-painted chimneys protruding from the hillsides mark the locations of the approximately 2000 caves in the area. Many of the locals live in multi-room subterranean dwellings, a habit arising, local lore has it, from when the Moors, driven from Spain by the Catholics, took refuge in caves.

Cuevas Pedro has 19 apartments (each with a small kitchen) carved from the soft clay and painted with white lime inside to enhance light and keep out rodents. Inside the temperature stays a consistent 20 degrees C; outside you’ll find a swimming pool and views extending into three provinces. Rates £22 – 56, depending on number of people and season.

Cuevas Pedro Antonio de Alarcón
Guadix, Spain
Reservations through Rustic Blue S.L.
Barrio la Ermita
18412 Bubión
Granada, Spain
Tel. +34-958-76-33-81
Fax: +34-958-76-31-34