Good News for Travelers
Europe is cheaper than it's been since we started this newsletter 14 years ago. With about 2.27 marks, 1.77 Swiss francs and 16 Austrian schillings to the dollar, and trans-Atlantic winter airfares in the process of dropping to around 50% of what they were during the summer peak travel season, there is no better time to visit our three countries than in the next six months.
A recent call from son Andrew, an occasional contributor to these pages, and who was at the time in Vienna, really brought it home to me. He and his wife, Margaret, had rented a small car and were traveling without a pre-set itinerary. Approaching Vienna from the west, they stopped at the roadside office maintained by the Vienna Tourist Office where they were given a choice of accommodations in their price range. When they had picked one, the friendly and very helpful young woman made a reservation for them, explained about parking at the hotel - they could leave the car on the street - and highlighted their route to it on a map. For these services they paid a small charge of $2 or $3.
They chose Hotel Aramis (Döblinger Hauptstrasse 55, tel. +43/1/3698673, fax 3692480), three-star accommodations about 10 blocks north of the Ring. A tram to the center stops outside the hotel. For a fairly Spartan double room with private bath they paid 650 AS ($40), though the published rack rate is 900 AS ($56). (Andrew suspects the tourist office booking center and the hotels are cooperating in a kind of "priceline.com" maneuver in which hotels with open inventory make their rooms available at reduced prices for 11th hour bookings.)
Think about it for a moment: that's a three-star hotel with private toilet and shower, in downtown Vienna, for $20 per person.
He also raved ("these people are great!") about a return visit to a hotel he discovered a few years ago for Gemütlichkeit, the Gasthof Waldrast (tel. +43/05672/62443, fax 62443) in Reutte, Austria. For a very large, nicely furnished double they paid $45.
A little arithmetic demonstrates just how inexpensive our countries have become. A 200 DM room in a four-star hotel back in the bad old days of a weak dollar was $145. Today that same 200 DM room is $88. In Switzerland, a 150 Sfr. room in a three-star hotel that was $136 is now $85.
The dollar is now so strong that travelers who, a few years ago, had to step down a hotel category or two can now consider returning to more luxurious accommodations.
Lets look at prices for a few of our old familiar favorites:
- In the Austrian spa town of Badgastein, south of Salzburg, the Hotel Grüner Baum (tel. +43/06434/25160, fax 251625), which is as good a country hotel as we've seen, is now offering a four-day package that includes multi-course dinners, buffet breakfasts, a lake district excursion with lunch, a mountain picnic, a "Mozart gala" dinner, and one with live music and folk dancing, for 5990 AS ($384) per person. This is five-star luxury in one of Europe's most beautiful country hotel settings.
- At the wonderful Hotel Anker (tel. +49/09391/60040, fax 600477), in Marktheidenfeld, which, because it is about 40 minutes east of the Frankfurt Airport, we recommend as a "first-night" hotel, the best double room in the house is now under $100. The Deppisch family's hospitality is legendary.
- Want to spend a few days in one of the world's great cities and stay in one of its most stylish small hotels for less than $150? In Berlin, try the Brandenburger Hof (tel. +49/030/214050, fax 2140 5100) with its Bauhaus interior and wintergarden breakfast room where standard doubles go for 310 DM ($136).
- Zürich is probably the most difficult city in our territory in which to find moderately-priced hotels. For good rooms near the Bahnhof, try the Arlette (tel. 41/01/2520032, fax 2520923) at 195 Sfr. ($110).
The Best of the Best
Booking through the Leading Hotels of the World Website can get you a double room at the magnificent Victoria-Jungfrau Grand-Hotel & Spa or our "Hotel of the Century," the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne for just $237 per night (rack rate $400-plus). The same booking service offers a rate of 450 DM ($198) at the Brenner's Park Hotel in Baden-Baden.
Where the Real Bargains Are
Solid three-star hotels in small towns, especially in Germany and Austria, are particularly good value right now:
- For sheer gemütlichkeit, hearty Bavarian food, and the most fun night you'll have in Germany, we've been recommending Garmisch-Partenkirchen's Gasthof Fraundorfer (tel. +49/08821/9270, fax 92799) for more than 20 years now. It's gone from a $136 splurge to an $84 per night bargain. And for about $20 per person you can drink several beers, eat a hefty farmer's dinner followed by a Coup Denmark (chocolate sundae), and even have enough left over to have a Schnapps or two as a finish to a long evening of folk dancers and Freidl's down-home singing and accordion playing.
- The top double room at the Hotel Petrisberg (tel. +49/0651/4640, fax 46450), in the Mosel river town of Trier, is 150 DM ($66).
- Doubles at the Romantik Weinhaus Messerschmitt (tel. +49/0951/27866, fax 26141) in Bamberg, Germany, start at 189 DM ($83).
- In Seeg, Germany, near Füssen, the Pension Heim (tel. +49/08364/258, fax 1051) has large, well-equipped doubles for 144 DM ($63).
- In touristy, but charming Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Reichs-Küchenmeister (tel. +49/09861/9700, fax 970409) prices its best doubles at 220 DM ($97).
- The four-star Stadt Hotel Styria (tel. +43 /07252/51551 - 54, fax 51551 - 51) in Steyr, Austria, offers doubles at 1280 AS ($82).
- Just north of Salzburg, in tiny Lengfelden near Bergheim, the Gasthof Bräuwirth (tel. +43/4522163, fax 45216353) has double rooms for $90 and three course dinners for about $11.
Enough already. Suffice to say, unlike just a few years ago, all three countries are full of good hotels where two persons can stay for less than $100 per night.