Learning from an expert in budget hotels

Special to The Times

What are some of the best budget accommodations in London, Paris and Rome? Guidebook author Margo Classe ought to know: She has checked out more than 1,300 budget hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for her guides, "Hello Spain!" "Hello France!" "Hello Italy!" and "Hello Britain & Ireland!"

Hostels are fine for budget travelers, but sometimes you want more privacy without paying international chain hotels' high rates. Budget hotels, guest houses and B&Bs; are an option -- but they may have a catch.

I once found a great room in a bed-and-breakfast in Dusseldorf, Germany, for only $25 a night, but it turned out to be on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator. Hauling heavy luggage up and down those stairs was daunting.

In Italy I discovered hotels with bathtubs of the same dimensions as shower stalls; in France it was elevators the size of phone booths and hallway light timers that gave me only 90 seconds to make it to my room.

Classe's detailed guides can save you from some of the more frustrating surprises. They provide lots of practical advice. For example: "The staff doesn't always offer the cheaper room at first; you have to ask for it."

"The rating system is misleading," Classe says. "It has nothing to do with the charm or quality of the hospitality. The B&Bs;' or hotels' star or diamond rating is based on things like the location of the hotel in the building, percentage of rooms with full baths, the size of the bathrooms, reception area or breakfast room and whether the hotel has an elevator, bar or restaurant."

Classe looks for centrally located, family-run facilities that offer clean rooms for $50 to $99 -- in Britain about $78 to $155 -- a night, with a private bath or shower and toilet. You can find cheaper rooms if you're willing to forgo private bathrooms. Some of the hotels she lists also offer triple or quad rooms.

Classe's books include information on local laundries, supermarkets, Internet services and economical restaurants.

I asked Classe for her favorites in London, Paris and Rome. For Paris, she chose Hotel Langlois, 63 Rue Saint Lazare; 011-33-1-4874-7824, fax 011-33-1-4995-0443. She says it is "a beautiful, grand, old-fashioned, charming turn-of-the-century hotel with a great location."

It offers large rooms with high ceilings, cable TV, hair dryers and minibars. Rooms cost from $89 single, $99 double and $134 for suites. Room 16 has "the biggest bathroom I have ever seen in Paris," Classe says. The hotel is near the Trinite Metro stop, and the owner speaks English. In 2001, the 27-room, six-floor hotel was used in "The Truth About Charlie," the remake of "Charade."

In Rome, Classe's favorite budget lodging is San Pantaleo, 3 Piazza San Pantaleo, fourth floor; 011-39-06-683-2345, fax 011-39-06-686-8073, www.residenzasanpantaleo.com. "Fabulous location near Piazza Navona, good prices, small, quaint, with charming owners," she says.

Rooms (with cable TV and breakfast) cost from $84 single, $110 double, $130 triple and $173 quad. Suites are also available.

Her London choice is the Rhodes Hotel, 195 Sussex Gardens, 011-44-20-7262-5617, fax 011-44-20-7723-4054, www.rhodeshotel.com. It's an elegant Georgian house that has been charmingly redone into a 36-room hotel, near Hyde Park and a short walk from Paddington Station, which has rail service from Heathrow Airport.

Rooms have a refrigerator, coffee/tea makers, cable TV and phone, and cost $101 single, $141 double, $172 triple and $203 quad. Rates are $15 less in the annex building, where Classe stays.

Price isn't the only reason to stay in smaller, family-run establishments. "I feel more secure in a small two-star hotel because the management recognizes the residents, the staff is usually smaller and visible and has been with the hotel longer than the staff of large hotels," Classe says.

"Hello" guides are $18.95 from Wilson Publishing, (888) 663-9269, (323) 939-0821, www.helloeurope.com. You can also order budget accommodation listings for individual cities online; they will be delivered by e-mail.


Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer and author of "Izon's Backpacker Journal." Her Internet site is www.izon.com.

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