Little-Known Bargain Hotels
You can stay in rustic lodges, medieval buildings, and beachside inns, and these lodgings are often available at discounted rates because of government programs to promote tourism.
Here's a look at accommodations in Japan and Spain that are state-run. We also offer the scoop on inns in Portugal and Puerto Rico that are merely state-supervised.
National Park Resort Villages is the English name for a network of 36 inns located in Japan's spectacular national parks. Unlike many accommodations in the Land of the Rising Sun, these government-run inns are affordable. But be aware that, unlike youth-oriented hostels, these inns are rarely staffed with English speakers. Guests must make themselves understood as best they can.
One example of an inn is Shikotsuko, near the city of Chitose on the island of Hokkaido. This 39-unit inn boasts a view of Lake Shikotsu and the volcanoes and hot-springs that ring it. The inn offers rooms with private showers, use of a sauna, and two meals a day for $58 a person, based on double occupancy.
In 1928, Spain created a program to preserve its architectural treasures by turning them into government-run hotels, called paradores, or stopping places. Today there are 95 paradores. Many of the paradores are in palaces, convents, and other architectural treasures. The rest are generally hybrids of modern hotels and existing, centuries'-old structures. Rates are reasonable. From March through October of this year, paradores will cost between $151 and $204 a room a night. The government of Spain is renovating all of the paradores by 2010 to ensure that their quality remains high.
An example of one of these Spanish inns is Parador de Guadalupe 40-room hotel in the town of Guadalupe in the heart of Spain. This parador flaunts the exterior of a 15th-century St. John the Baptist hospital. A garden orchard and secluded swimming pool distinguish the property. The nightly rate is $164 per room from March through October 2007, including breakfast. (Rate based on double occupancy. Tax of 7 percent not included.)
Pousadas de Portugal (which translates as "inns of Portugal") are 43 country inns that were managed by the Portuguese government for decades until 2003, when they were privatized and taken over by the Pestana Group. While no longer state-run, these properties remain moderately priced and well maintained. Most pousadas are former castles, monasteries, fortresses, and palaces. They're intimate, ranging in size from 9 to 51 rooms. Some inns are located in restored monuments and decorated with traditional motifs. Others are hybrids of modern hotels and historic properties in popular resort areas. Still others are former family farmhouses and 19th-century manor houses located in remote towns.
For example, Ria Pousada in the town of Aveiro in northwestern Portugal, lies at the edge of a lagoon that can be viewed from the balconies of many rooms. The inn's public spaces feature atmospheric Portuguese sailing music. The property is near the surfer-friendly beaches and colorful houses of the Costa Nova region. Rates in March start at $158 for a room, based on double occupancy. A single room can be booked for $141.
Learn more at the official website of Pousadas de Portugal by clicking here.
In Puerto Rico, there is a network of 23 paradores, or country inns, that are state-certified but run by families. These country inns offer plain but well-maintained accommodations, generally either in former government buildings or in picturesque locations. The inns offer a less artificial feeling Caribbean holiday than the casino-lined beaches around San Juan. But you need to book your parador weeks--or sometimes month--in advance. Weekends are peak time, and nightly room rates hover around $100. Many inns offer meal plans, too, offering three meals a day for an additional $30-$40. If your area is remote and lacks a restaurant row, this meal plan can be a good deal.