Hotel Bookings for Independant Travel

Hotel Recommendations and / or Reservations
(for independent stays, or before / after a trip with us)

If you are interested in a city visit not related to one of our organized trips, we can often help with adviced on hotels that we have site-inspected and selected.  

Our expertise is in the type of hotel that we use on our trips (described below).  These “authentic” properties are not to everyone’s taste, but if they are what you are looking for, we know where they are.

We have selected hotels in the cities shown on the map, below, as well as in all the towns and cities on our regularly schedule bicycle routes.  In some cities, we suggest both a 2-star and a 3-star choice.  In others, only one or the other.   Paris hotels are discussed on a separate page.

Our service is fee-based, generally costing 20€.  If you don’t care much about where you sleep, and can thus make do with the pitfalls of the internet, you should not be our client for this.

TOPICS

What Do “Stars” Mean?
Stars are attributed by government organizations, based on objective criteria (average room size, 24-hour reception or not, number of rooms with private bath... that type of thing).

We use our own, more subjective ranking, but we still refer to “stars.”
For instance, using objective criteria, many road-side motels are 3* establishments, while the beautiful vine-covered 17th century inn by the babbling brook with the charming host is a 2*.  We add in charm, cleanliness, street noise, the friendliness of our hosts... and thus upgrade some 2’s to 3’s (or 1’s to 2’s), and downgrade some 4’s to 3’s, or 3’s to 2’s.

So, don’t be surprised if you ask us for a “Blue Marble” 3*, and we put you in a government-proclaimed 2*.  Before you get upset, compare it to the 3*’s you see around town, and ask yourself which you prefer....  Moreover, the nicest room in most 2*’s is preferable to the worst in most 3*’s....  This is where the “official” star system shows its limitations.

Ultimately, you are trusting our judgement.  Read on to understand its foundation.


What Are Our Hotels Like?
First and foremost:  if no native of the country would realistically consider staying in a particular hotel, we don’t, either.  An overpriced (and overwrought) château, where the only Frenchman in the place is the Maitre d’, can have an aesthetic appeal.  But isolation from the natives is not what we are looking for when we build your trip.

The hotels we use for our organized trips (and those we naturally select for city stays) are most, usually all, of the following:

  • Convenient
    For a short stay in a big city (2 days or less), it is usually best to be within walking distance of the railway station, assuming the neighborhood is adequately attractive.  Though other neighborhoods may have greater intrinsic appeal, the area around the station always offers several advantages.
    • It saves a couple of hours upon arrival and departure, an important economy if your stay is short.
    • It is always a city transport hub, which helps you get around town with greater ease, and saves further hours.
    • It concentrates services travellers need:  tourist information, coin-operated laundries, internet cafés, late night eateries, currency exchange....
    • It is always a “real” neighborhood, used and peopled by the residents of the town.  If you never leave it, at the very least you will have a sense of the city you have visited.

    If your big-city stay is longer (four nights or more), we often do not recommend our own “usual” hotels.  The importance of a hotel’s ambiance (including the surrounding neighborhood) starts to outweigh efficiency as your stay lengthens.  You may even wish to avoid our service altogether:  the time you spend researching the issue for yourself, to find the hotel that exactly fits your preferences, is rewarded in proportion to the length of your stay.

    In very large cities (often with several railway stations), being well-placed on the city’s metro network may be of more importance than being close to the rail station by which you arrive — the moreso if you arrive or leave by plane, instead, or leave from a different station than the one by which you arrive.

    In smaller cities / large towns, most sites are within walking distance of a unified historic center, and transport is less of an issue.  In this case, we allow the neighborhood to be of more influence in our hotel choice.

    In rural areas, the hotel itself takes on more importance.  First, your funds tend to go farther, so getting a “pretty” place is less of a financial stretch.  Second, the hotel will be more of a focus if the village which hosts it has only two other buildings, and a cow.  Nor is it much of an imposition to walk to the town center from a peripheral hotel if the walk is only 5 minutes.
  • Good Value for Money
    This is a localized criteria.  In other words, it will produce a more expensive hotel in Amsterdam (or Oslo - yikes!) than in Madrid.  But our hotels are always good value for money by local standards, even in Oslo.

    We do not recommend, and try not to use for our trips, hotels that are not good value, even if we like them without regard to their cost.  Indeed, we have “selected” hotels in many cities not on the map above (Geneva, Zurich, Nice...).  They are the places we stay when we go to these cities.  Simply, we do not feel that they are of good enough value to actually recommend them.

    There are two circumstances in which you clearly do not need us: 

    (1)  If you absolutely don’t care where you spend the night, either as regards room or neighborhood, just book the cheapest place you see on line.  You’ll probably make lots of new friends, only some of whom will be bugs. 
    (2)  If you can afford to just plunk down your credit card and buy the most expensive room in town, without regard for value, you can be sure it will be acceptable.

  • Idiosyncratic
    Our hotels are always locally owned and operated, with their attendant quirks (even when they are part of a franchise chain for marketing purposes).  They often have some architectural charm, they often have non-standard rooms, they are rarely new (unless their “newness” is, itself, of interest, as it might be in the case of a boutique hotel by a clever architect).

  • Other Things (Criteria We Use to Choose)
    Criteria which we prize in making our hotel selections include location, cleanliness, architecture (and charm, often related), courtesy, reliability, and, yes, internet access....
    Criteria which we prize less (but that you may value:  this may lead you to prefer your own choice for an independent stay) include in-room TVs, towel heaters, ironing boards, hair dryers...  appliances more generally; room size, linguistic ability of the reception, room service, “modernity.”  Our hotels can be “well-worn.”  But we prefer an antique rug, even if threadbare, to a new shag carpet, especially if it’s orange.

    For independent stays, unless you tell us otherwise, we book rooms with private shower or bath and WC.  In some cities, rooms with hall showers offer an economical alternative, and we offer these at lower cost when our chosen hotels have them.

What Do We Charge to Advise On, or Reserve, a Hotel?

  • We charge a standard fee of 20€ per locale in which you ask for our advice (or the equivalent in the currency of your statement).  The fee applies regardless of length of stay, number of rooms, or whether or not you ask us to reserve for you (you may, if you prefer, simply take the information, and book yourself, directly).

    As any travel consultant, we are merchants of information, which we acquire at some cost.  This fee funds that information.  It can be reduced or eliminated when bundled into our trip Access Packages, reflecting our volume in these spots.

    Should you decide to simply take our recommendations, and reserve the hotel yourself, directly, our fee applies even if our hotel(s) are full when you try to reserve.  It does not apply if you have requested that we both recommend and book the hotel for you (requests must be simultaneous), and we are unable to do so (the hotel is full).

    We do not charge our fee in any of the following circumstances:
    - To book rooms in our “usual” Paris hotel.
    - To book additional, contiguous nights in hotels included in pre- and post-trip Access Packages.
    - To book additional, contiguous nights in the hotels we use for the first and / or last nights of our regularly-scheduled trips.

  • If you additionally have us make a booking, we charge the room rate the hotel charges.
    If your Account Statement is in a currency other than that of the hotel, hotel charges are converted to your currency at the “mid-market” exchange rate, plus 2% to cover the cost of the currency conversion.  Current exchange rates can be viewed here.  This is typically slightly less than the room would cost you if you rented it locally and paid for it with your credit card (most bank foreign currency charges are 3% or higher).

  • If the hotel does not commission travel agents (most small, family-run hotels do not), we add 6% to the total.

What Do We Do For Our Charge(s)?

This depends on whether you ask us to actually make your booking, or just to give you the name(s) of our hotel(s) so that you may book directly.

In all cases...

  • ...we “site-inspect.”  We have visited all of our recommended hotels, and up to 50 more in some cities, in order to select ours.  This is why we do not offer hotels in all places.  For instance, we have never found a hotel in Brussels that we like enough to recommend, even though one of us lived there for a year.

    We pick one or two hotels in each city, sometimes accompanied by “back-ups” (adequate alternatives, in case our first choice is full).  The goal is simple:  to allow you to book a less expensive hotel with confidence.  One that has been selected using the criteria explained above, and that is not a tawdry place full of odd rodents.

In addition, if you have us make the booking for you (as opposed to simply getting the names of our preferred hotels, and booking directly, yourself)...

  • ...we make the reservation “sure.”  We pre-pay the room, or promise (in our name) that you will be there, and promise to pay for the room if you don’t show.

    Assuming that you behave honestly in your dealings with others (and we are sure that you do), this is very much in your interest.  In most European countries, merchants are not guaranteed payment if they charge credit cards over the phone or via the internet (without a signature, in other words).  The merchant needs the original signature to enforce collection over the card-holder’s protest.  Hotels are thus reluctant to hold rooms for late arrivals they do not know, even when they have pretended to record your credit card number as a “guarantee.”  In busy times they may “lose” reservations of non-regular clients arriving at the end of the day, especially if an alternate presents himself, cash in hand, for a longer stay.....

    We are a regular client.  You will find your room waiting for you, regardless of what happens to your train or plane (exception:  some hotel receptions are closed overnight -- sound this issue out if you think you might arrive after 9p in a smaller city or town).

  • We give you a confirmation of your reservation and payment, in English, with the hotel’s signature (real or virtual) or stamp.
    It can still happen that your reservation genuinely be lost, but when you produce a letter sent by the hotel, confirming that you had one, you become very definitely “their problem.”

  • In certain cities, we can provide you with detailed written instructions on reaching the hotel from the station, on foot or by public transport. 
    Google Maps makes this service less important than it once was, but it can still make the walk more pleasant.

  • We generally deal with our hotels in their native language.  Which helps us smooth over potential problems if they arise, and ensures that you get the best possible reception.

  • Finally, if you are a solo traveller booking an independent stay before or after one of our cycle trips, we can sometimes pair you with another solo from your trip, in a twin room.  You save funds for other things, and have a companion with whom to explore.
    When traffic volume to your chosen destination is sufficient, we “guarantee” this option (indicated in your “Access Package” information).  If we are unable to pair you with a roommate, we provide a single at our expense.  When the option is not guaranteed, you may tell us your preference to share, but must be prepared to pay the single price if no roommate is available.


Cancellations, Refunds

Our booking fee is not refundable.  A second fee applies each time you alter or cancel the reservation through us.

To avoid further charges, cancellations and changes may be made directly with the hotel (copied to us, as we still have to get your money back).  In general, cancellations and changes should be made directly with the hotel if they are made outside of European business hours, and close to the reservation date.

Cancellations are effective only once confirmed by the hotel!  In the absence of a confirmation of your cancellation, if the hotel denies you cancelled, and refuses to refund your money to us, we cannot refund it to you....

Hotel cancellation penalties vary by hotel.  Usually, a full refund is available until 3 or 4 days prior.  But in high-traffic tourist destinations (and especially in Italian cities, which also pose other risks), many withhold one night’s payment from the refund, even if the cancellation is made far in advance.  Though we refuse to patronize such places, some Italian hotels charge the full price of the entire stay for cancellations received within a week (or, in Florence, within 2 weeks)!  If you are booking independently, caveat emptor! In major cities, penalty-free cancellation is increasingly rare.


What Hotels Do We Offer in Each City

The chart below offers an overview....  “Neighborhood+” indicates that the neighborhood of the hotel is one of particular tourist interest.   “No bath avail.” indicates that economical rooms are available, with hall bath (a plus in expensive cities).

Aix
Amstrdm
Annecy
Avignon
Arles
Biarritz
Bordeaux
Brig
Brugge
Brussels
Near Station
2*
X
X
X
Neighborhood+
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
“Pretty” Hotel
X
X
X
X
X
X
3* Avail.
X
X
X
X
2* Avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
No bath avail.
X
X
X
X
C'hagen
Florence
Lisbon
London
Madrid
Milan
Munich
Nimes
Oslo
Paris
Perpignan
Porto
Rhine
Valley
Rome
Near Station
X
X
n/a
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Neighborhood+
X
X
X
3*
3*
3*
X
X
X
“Pretty” Hotel
X
X
3*
X
X
X
3* Avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
2* Avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
No bath avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
St.-
Malo
Salzburg
San
Sebastian
Santiago de
Compostela
Siena
Strasbourg
Venice
Vienna
Zermatt
Near Station
X
X
 
X
Neighborhood+
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
“Pretty” Hotel
X
X
X
X
 
2*
3*
X
3* Avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
2* Avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
No bath avail.
X
X
X
X
X
X


What About Bookings in Places Where We Do Not Have a Recommended Hotel?

We are happy to book hotels in other places for you, for our usual fee.
In some places, we already have a “best of the bunch” — a hotel we like more than its neighbors, but which we don’t feel is worthy of our recommendation.

Where we don’t know one, we will research the issue with a certain expertise (we do do this for a living)... but we cannot guarantee the quality of the result with our usual confidence.  In other words, we will be booking “sight-unseen,” but we will cross-reference a bunch of sources to be sure we aren’t far off what we would choose on site.

In these cases, and if you have time to give to the project, you may prefer to do the looking yourself.  The result is likely to more closely correspond to your own, personal, selection criteria.


If I Look Myself, and Everything is Full, Can You Help?”

The one thing we will not do for our usual fee is serve as an “agent of last resort.”  If you do three hours’ work looking for a hotel, and find everything full, getting you a room will not be a simple matter for us, either.  This is especially true if you are trying to book a bed in a town where some sort of special event is scheduled (mardi gras in Venice, whatever town the Tour de France is being staged from, the Montreux jazz festival...).

We still offer our help in such contexts, and we can move a lot faster than you can (we pick up the phone — gasp! – talk to a bunch of people in their native languages, and get referrals until we find a place).  But our hourly charge for such work is 50€, with a 25€ minimum, and we charge for our work whether we succeed or not.  You may, of course, “cap” the amount you wish to spend before we start....

We usually do succeed, even in places where you would not.  This is because we know what the hotel keeper is looking for, can quickly get across that we aren’t wasting his / her time, and can often phrase the room request in such a manner that he gives us the room he told you was full.


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