The New Names, the New Chains in Budget-priced European Travel
Most of us recognize such names as Motel 6, Super 8, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Ponderosa. Basic to the budget traveler, they are American chains that provide reliable goods and services at easy-to-afford prices. But what are their equivalents in Europe? Here's your chance now to increase your essential travel vocabulary. I'm just back from three weeks on the Continent putting together Budget Travel's updated dictionary of useful names you won't find in any of the standard guides. I talked to tourism officials, travel agents, hotel and hostel staff, restaurateurs, car- rental clerks, and other travel experts. As best I could determine, no other list like this is available, not even from European tourist information offices.
Use this list, and stay in clean, decent motel rooms for less than $35 a night for two. Dine with the local folks for no more than $10 per person. Lots of Europeans travel in their own countries on tight budgets, and this is how they do it.
I first spotted Flunch in the food-loving city of Strasbourg on place Kleber, the main square. At lunch, the sprawling, nearly half-block-long restaurant was thronged by local shoppers and office workers who obviously know a good deal. A fresh green salad from the salad bar costs about $1.70, including bread. When I was there, hot entrees included grilled fish ($4.90) and a small grilled steak ($6.50). Help yourself to as many vegetables as you like at no extra charge. Details: www.flunchtour.com.
And Now Get Set For More
In Europe as here, one of the big selling points for budget chains is that-along with cheap prices-they provide consistency. You know what you are going to get. You suffer no unpleasant surprises. What they lack-and this is an important consideration-is any semblance of romance.
Little bed-and-breakfasts, the kind the budget-minded have sought out for decades, can be charming; chain motels seldom are. And dining at Flunch, with its assembly-line operation and stripped-down decor, is not the same as sipping wine by candlelight at a cozy cafe on the Champs-Elysees. When you go, give both a try. Here are Europe's new big names in budget travel.
The Lodging Chains
Most properties are located on highways or in suburban areas, inconvenient unless you have a car. But some, like the 97-room Formule 1 at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, are more strategically located. It sits next to the pricey Hyatt Regency, offering a cheap alternative if you're landing late or have to catch an early-morning flight out. Note that the reception desk is open only during morning checkout and late afternoon/early evening check-in. Accor, the parent company, also operates Motel 6 in the United States. By comparison, though, a Motel 6 is near luxury. Details: 011-33/892-685-685, hotelformule1.com.
Etap Hotel, operated by the same parent company (Accor), is much like Formule 1, except each room features a private bath. This boosts the room rate to a still-easy average of about $31 a night for one person; $33 to $39 for two or three people. Currently, 185 Etap Hotels have been opened in France, and there are 60 in Germany, two in Great Britain, and one each in Austria, Hungary, Spain, and Switzerland. Like Formule 1, many Etaps are inconveniently located outside the city center. But others are quite accessible to rail travelers. In Strasbourg, one of the city's three Etaps faces the central railroad station across the place de la Gare. In this 82-room city-center property, the price is about $42 a night for two; on the city outskirts, another Etap charges about $31. Details: 011-33/892-688-900, etaphotel.com.
Ibis, yet another Accor chain, more closely resembles what Americans expect to find at home in a Super 8 or Comfort Inn. Ibis makes this list as a somewhat pricier (but more centrally located) alternative to Accor's bare-bones motels. In Heidelberg, one of Germany's most popular tourist cities, the 170-room Ibis is located just outside the railway station entrance. A room for two is around $75 a night, about par for a prime city-center site. More than 300 Ibis hotels can be found in France, 69 in Germany, and dozens more in 16 other European countries from Scandinavia to Portugal. Details: 011-33/892-686-686, ibishotel.com.
Nuit d'Hotel, another bare-bones budget chain, is operated by a second major French hotel company, the Groupe Envergure. A Nuit d'Hotel most closely resembles a Formule 1. The difference is that rooms feature a private toilet, although most share a shower. And a central reservation number is provided. In France, 28 properties have been opened, mostly outside the city centers. Rates range from about $21 to $32 for up to three guests. Details: 011-33/892-688-123, nuitdhotel.fr.