The Best Hotel Splurges
Cosmopolitan Hotel (Ruse, Bulgaria): The level of sophistication, service, and value in this chic hotel that opened in March 2008 is in another stratosphere compared to properties in the rest of Bulgaria. Guest rooms are done with an eye to convenience and luxury, with flatscreen plasmas, in-room Wi-Fi, and the liberal use of original artwork. Add a world-class spa, a rooftop pool and terrace, a restaurant serving international cuisine, and lots of complementary services, and you have a runaway winner.
Hotel San Rocco (Brtonigla, Croatia): San Rocco's location deep in Istria in northwestern Croatia adds to the romance you'll find in its impeccably restored stone buildings and grounds. Flowers, olive groves, and an assortment of ruins comprise the hotel's sensual "curb appeal." But it's the beautifully put-together guest rooms with their mélange of antique and modern touches, the inviting pool, and the gourmet restaurant that seal the deal.
Hilton Imperial (Dubrovnik, Croatia): Rather than build a hotel from scratch, Hilton had the wisdom to restore what was salvageable from Dubrovnik's historic 19th-century Imperial and graft a modern hotel onto its base. Every detail has been addressed, and whether you hail from America or Azerbaijan, you'll feel like an honored guest.
Hotel Vestibul Palace (Split, Croatia): The Roman Empire meets the 21st century at the Palace, where most rooms share at least part of a wall built by the Emperor Diocletian. Light, history, and gourmet delights align to make this one of the best hotel experiences in Croatia. Each room has a personality of its own, complete with cleverly designed windows carved into the stone walls to reveal views of various aspects of Old Town.
Hotel Aria (Prague, Czech Republic): A new luxurious hotel opened in the heart of Malá Strana just around the corner from the St. Nicholas Cathedral. Its melodious theme will especially please music lovers.
Hotel Paríz (Prague, Czech Republic): This restored Art Nouveau hotel recalls 1920s Prague, one of the wealthiest cities on earth at that time. It's across from another remodeled gem, the Municipal House (Obecní dum).
Four Seasons Gresham Palace (Budapest, Hungary): The magnificent Gresham Palace has gained the reputation as Hungary's foremost hotel. The workmanship that recreated the Art Nouveau architecture is breathtaking. Guests get the royal treatment.
Hilton Budapest (Hungary): The only chain hotel in the Castle Hill district, the hotel's award-winning design is incorporated into the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican church and the baroque facade of a 17th-century Jesuit college.
Królewski (Gdansk, Poland): Rooms to die for just across the canal from Gdansk's Old Town. Room no. 310 is a corner room, with views over the city in two directions. The breakfast room overlooks the river at the town.
Delta Nature Resort, Danube (Delta, Romania): This is the first luxury resort in what is widely regarded as the last wilderness in Europe. Guests are ensconced in plush cottages for the night (after enjoying local caviar), while during the day they are given endless options for wildlife encounters (including spying the 300 species of birds that find their way here each year) and cultural exploration (including rubbing shoulders with nuns and members of the small Lipovan communities that have settled in the delta).
Staying in Count Kalnoky's Guesthouses (Miclosoara, Romania): Tudor Kalnoky was born abroad but returned to his Transylvanian homeland after the fall of Communism to reclaim his royal birthright. Having fallen in love with the Hungarian village once ruled by his forebears, he set about restoring its old houses and ended up creating one of the best accommodations in the country.
Baltschug Kempinski (Moscow, Russia): The hotel's views of St. Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin are so breathtaking that TV networks set up there for their stand-ups. The brunch is fit for a tsar, and the understated elegance of the rooms complements the facade's pastel ornamentation.
Grand Hotel Europe (St. Petersburg, Russia): This baroque confection in central St. Petersburg charmed Tchaikovsky and Bill Clinton, among other dignitaries. The harpist and the plush furniture in the mezzanine cafe provide respite from a day of touring.
Arcadia (Bratislava, Slovakia): Bratislava now has two gorgeous boutique hotels: this one and the similarly priced Marrol's. Of the two, the Arcadia gets the nod because of its setting in a beautifully restored 13th-century town house just off the main square. Take a tour of the hotel and choose one that suits your mood: Some are done up in 19th-century Biedermeier, while others hark back to the Middle Ages, with stone walls and wood-beamed ceilings.
Grand Hotel Starý Smokovec (High Tatras, Slovakia): You are in the Tatras, so why not spend a little extra to stay at this beautifully restored 19th-century Alpine manor that manages to match mountains for style and grace? The elegant lobby, billiard room, breakfast room, and "Rondo" dance room will have you thinking you stepped into The Great Gatsby or an Agatha Christie novel.
Kendov Dvorec (Slovenia): Arguably the finest restored manor in the country, this is an idyllic retreat filled with antiques and plush furniture. Each meal is a triumph, and while you're in the country, you're never too far from everywhere else in tiny Slovenia.
Nebesa (Kobarid, Slovenia): Anywhere else in the world, this four-cottage "resort" would be considered a bargain. The real splurge is time-related: You'll need to drive several miles to get to Nebesa's mountainside location, from where you not only can see Italy, but also feel the breeze off the ocean, while at the same time you're almost eye level with soaring mountain peaks, often capped with snow. You'll feel like a private guest of the debonair owners while lounging on your private terrace and conjuring dreams of owning the world as you look down over the beautiful Soca Valley and watch the deer in the adjacent field frolicking at dusk.
Otocec Castle (Otoec, Slovenia): Dating back to the 13th century, Slovenia's only island castle is now fabulously restored and boasts some of the plushest, most beautiful (and modern) accommodations in the country. But while your luxurious bedroom will seduce you, the real thrill here is getting caught up in the fairy-tale setting, idling alongside the Krka River, then sitting down to an aristocratic feast, accompanied by the region's unique red wine.
The Best Hotel Bargains
Niky (Sofia, Bulgaria): One of the best-kept lodging secrets in Sofia, Niky's rooms often are monopolized by a cadre of repeat visitors who make reservations months in advance, and no wonder. The hotel, which billed itself as "Sofia's first all-suite hotel" when it opened in 2003, has a great location 2 1/2 blocks west of Vitosha Street, friendly service, and fairly priced oversize rooms that inspire loyalty.
Hotel Gurko (Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria): This timbered three-story is as traditional and charming as they come: Almost all rooms open onto balconies with geranium-filled window boxes and great views of the hillside and the Yantra River below. Every guest room in this National Revival-era home is spotless and comfortable. Gurko is one of the best options in town: an authentic family-run inn with a lively tavern on the ground floor.
Hotel Kastel (Istria, Croatia): The Kastel's perch at the highest point of the walled medieval town of Motovun provides panoramic views of the Mirna valley. Each room has a different view of the terrain and the hotel has an excellent restaurant that serves homemade Istrian specialties you can't get anywhere else. The sizeable guest rooms were refurbished in 2003 but are in character with the hotel's 17th-century origin as a palace.
Valsabbion (Pula, Croatia): The hotel's seven rooms and three suites are decorated with flair in a breezy, romantic style that carries over to its exquisite restaurant, one of the best in Croatia. There is also a spa with a long menu of beauty treatments.
Pension Unitas/Art Prison Hostel (Prague, Czech Republic): This pension is an ideal place for budget travelers who want to take advantage of staying in the very center of Prague.
Pension Vetrník (Prague, Czech Republic): This family-run romantic hideaway is reachable in about 20 minutes by tram from the city center. Its atmosphere and prices are unbeatable.
BudaBaB Bed and Breakfast (Budapest, Hungary): Comfortable, modern, and in the city center, it is run by two expat Americans and the author of the Hungary chapter in this book.
Hotel Fönix (Pécs, Hungary): When in Pécs, you'll want to check out this bargain hotel that is beautifully located downtown, making it the ideal location to experience the city.
Hotel Karmel (Kraków, Poland): This lovely family-run inn, tucked away on a quiet street in the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, is a total surprise. From the warm and smiling woman at the reception desk to the parquet flooring and the crisp linens on beds, everything about this place says quality.
Premiere Classe (Warsaw, Poland): Warsaw is overpriced when it comes to decent accommodations. But here, a French-run chain came up with the novel idea of offering clean, modern rooms the size of a cubicle for a fraction of the price of other hotels. Sure the rooms are tiny, but the beds are big and comfortable, the bathrooms are clean, and the location is just a couple of tram stops from the main sights.
Casa Rozelor (Brasov, Romania): With three of the most idiosyncratic guest suites in the country, this guesthouse is a project of love that has taken years of painstaking restoration (now continuing in a similar building nearby), followed by careful detailing with eclectic antiques bought from Gypsies, complemented by outrageous contemporary art and furniture. And it's right in the heart of Brasov's medieval center. Seldom does the blend of old and new fit so well, and feel so good.
Casa cu Cerbi (Voievodeasa, Moldavia, Romania): One of the most beautiful guesthouses in Romania is a wooden house painted in bright, difficult-to-miss idiosyncratic green. Interiors are artfully decorated with traditional artifacts -- handmade rugs, brightly painted furniture, and evidence of a life spent at work in the fields. While there are few luxuries (aside from a lavish dinner and a pristine private bathroom), you'll spend your time getting to know a gentler way of life and exploring some of the most stunningly decorated monasteries on earth.
G&R Hostels (Moscow, Russia): Several floors of a drab Soviet hotel have been transformed into clean, comfortable accommodations. Services include cars with drivers and visa support. While the location is not central, it's right next to a metro station.
Pulford Apartments (St. Petersburg, Russia): Furnished, renovated flats with views of St. Petersburg's greatest monuments. A range of room sizes and services is available, including cleaning and airport transfers. Moscow apartments are also available.
Penzión pod Hradom (Trencín, Slovakia): Every town should have a pension as clean, quiet, delightful, and cheap as this one. And the location is ideal, perched on a small lane beside the main square and just below the castle. If the pension is empty, the owners will give you the nicest room in the house for the price of a standard.
Hisa Franko Casa (Kobarid, Slovenia): A treasure in Soca Valley, near the Italian border. Each beautiful guest room is done in a unique combination of lively colors and all feature such treats as his-and-hers slippers and a choice of in-room amenities. It's more pension than hotel, and it is something of an afterthought to one of the country's finest restaurants, just downstairs.
Antiq Hotel (Ljubljana, Slovenia): In the heart of Ljubljana's Old Town, right near one of the paths that leads to the Castle, this small hotel is brand new and stuffed full of lovely antique pieces in a wonderful, tasteful jumble that will remind you of the city's excellent Sunday morning market.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.