Traditional European hotels tend to be simpler than American ones and emphasize cleanliness and friendliness over amenities. For example, even in the cheapest American chain motel, free cable is as standard as indoor plumbing. In Europe, few hotels below the moderate level have in-room TVs.
Unless otherwise noted, all hotel rooms here have private en suite bathrooms. However, the standard European hotel bathroom might not look like what you're used to. For example, one European concept of a shower is a nozzle stuck in the bathroom wall and a drain in the floor. Shower curtains are optional. In some cramped private bathrooms, you have to relocate the toilet paper outside the bathroom before turning on the shower and drenching the whole room. Another interesting fixture is the "half tub," in which there's only room to sit, rather than lie down. Hot water may be available only once a day and not on demand -- this is especially true with shared bathrooms. Heating water is costly, and many smaller hotels do so only once daily, in the morning.
Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg established the Benelux Hotel Classification System back in 1978 and updated the standards in 1994. Each establishment that accepts guests must publicly display a sign indicating its classification (from "1" for those with minimum amenities to "5" for deluxe, full-service hotels). The national tourist boards do an excellent job of providing full accommodations listings and advance booking for visitors. The Belgian and the Netherlands tourist offices, and the Netherlands Reservations Center (NRC), Nieuwe Gouw 1, 1442 LE Purmerend, Netherlands (tel. 0299/689-144 or 0299/689-154; www.hotelres.nl), will reserve accommodations for you at no charge before you leave home. The Luxembourg Tourist Office can furnish a complete list of accommodations in the Grand Duchy.
Should the idea of vacationing on a working farm, or in a château, an old-fashioned country home, or even in an old school converted to a character-filled lodging, hold some charms for you, Belgium has two organizations that can smooth your path to the front door. In Wallonia, contact Maison des Gîtes de Wallonie, av. Prince de Liège 1/21, 5100 Jambes-Namur (tel. 081/31-18-00; fax 081/31-02-00; www.gitesdewallonie.net). For Flanders, contact Plattelandstoerisme in Vlaanderen, Diestsevest 40, 3000 Leuven (tel. 016/28-60-35; fax 016/28-60-39; www.hoevetoerisme.be).
In all three countries, you can choose among luxury hotels in city or rural locations; smaller urban hotels with moderate rates and somewhat limited facilities; and charming, family-run country inns. No matter what end of the price scale it's on, each lodging will be spotlessly clean and will feature a staff dedicated to personal attention and excellent service. The rates quoted include the service charge (usually 15%), tax and, in most cases, breakfast.
Be sure to inquire about discounts when you book your room. Many hotels have a variety of room rates. It's sometimes possible to pay less if you settle for a shower instead of full bathroom facilities. Also, weekend or midweek rates are often available.