Three-star hotels are the underrated treasures of Europe – here are 40 of the best – The Telegraph

Forget the frills of luxury grandes dames – these 40 boltholes are a lesson in character, warm welcomes, and hearty home-grown breakfasts
A life in the fast lane is not for everyone. While high flyers are busy striving for the very top, others are perfectly happy bumbling along, just doing their own thing.
We hear a lot about the high-flyers of the hotel world – the legendary grandes dames, the modern masterpieces of superlatives. And yet the majority of Europe’s hotels fall into that vast middle ground of averageness that is the three-star category. This is where airport chain hotels keep company with unlovely seafront carbuncles. And yet, between the functional and the unremarkable, there are some real treasures to be dug out: boutique hotels created out of a desire to make something beautiful; simple, rural hideaways following a sustainable lifestyle, homely places that have been run by the same convivial family for generation, perfectly happy sticking in their humble three-star category and excelling in their field.
The irony of the star-rating system is that the very things that prevent these small hotels from winning more stars are what keep them special: their intimate scale, limited space, listed buildings, form over functionality. A star rating system cannot distinguish between an heirloom Canaletto and a Jack Vettriano print, and favours a lift over a spiral staircase. As for charm, beauty, warmth – those qualities that make us fall in love with a certain hotel are so subjective that such things cannot be measured.
Three stars means old houses, un-messed with. Faded-grandeur chateaux and unpolished palazzi, reimagined fincas with a strong sense of place. Three stars are for the great romantics. For people who don’t like golf or the gym, for whom room size doesn’t matter so much as long, shuttered windows opening onto a wrought-iron balcony.
If you are happy to skip extravagant extras and dig a little deeper, you can find the kind of characterful boltholes where you will feel right at home, with a warm welcome, bags of charm and wonderful home-grown breakfasts – pleasures all enhanced by the self-congratulatory thought of what you have saved by staying there.
Here are 40 small and special hotels making three-star stays into an art form.
The quintessential Mallorquin hideaway: a dreamy, ochre-stone agriturismo in native gardens, a couple of miles from the sandy coves of the south-east coast. Inside is cool and high-beamed; 12 rooms and suites, some with green-shuttered windows, others with private terraces. In the morning, breakfast comes courtesy of the vegetable garden, served on the sun-dappled terrace beneath the pines (00 34 97116 2021;
Ibiza is an island full of secrets, and Los Jardines de Palerm is one of them: a reimagined finca hidden amid the most glorious, jungly gardens, outside the village of San José. The 17th-century building has had a fresh, smart makeover, with cool, white, uncluttered rooms and wooden furniture, each opening onto a private terrace. Outside are two infinity pools and all manner of shady nooks and suntraps, and a path leading straight up to Ibiza’s highest point (00 34 9718 00318; Read the full hotel review here.
Through a pair of those iron-studded doors that so intrigue in Seville, the Corral del Rey is a sophisticated boutique hotel, one of the city’s best, created from a 300-year-old house. Interiors are Architectural Digest-exquisite, from the white hand-stitched quilts to original carved shutters. Bag the room with a tiny pool terrace, like your own private corner of the Real Alcázar (00 34 9542 27116; Read the full hotel review here.
Imagine Vivienne Westwood let loose in a colonial Cuban casa and you’ll have some idea of Chic&Basic Habana Hoose, in Barcelona’s El Born neighbourhood. It’s Scottish meets punk meets Cuba; it’s young and hip and chic, though hardly basic – rooms are bonkers-bold and fabulous, bathrooms dark and inviting, beds large and well dressed. There’s a restaurant, too ( Read the full hotel review here.
This handsome hacienda, bougainvillaea clambering all over its lemon and white facade, still feels like a grand family home, though it took a 10-year restoration from neglected olive farmhouse to get there. There are inviting spaces indoor and out – cane chairs in a shady corner, dining tables in the courtyard, squishy sofas beside a fireplace, books, paintings, heirlooms and antique beds in the 14 rooms and casitas. Gardens are glorious: paths through towering oleander, arbours strewn with cushions, a mosaic-tiled pool. The kitchen serves simple, seasonal dishes beautifully cooked. Seville and Jerez de la Frontera aren’t far, but it’s tempting not to leave at all (00 34 9542 27116; Read the full hotel review here.
La Serena’s rooftop, with its pool, terrace and bar, is an eyrie above the cobbled backstreets of Altea’s old town, with long-reaching views over tiled church domes and terracotta rooftops and, beyond, the Mediterranean Sea – the beach is just a few minutes’ walk. There are 12 neutral rooms, some with private terraces, plus a small spa ( Read the full hotel review here.
It’s easy to forget that Marbs, with all its glitzy five-star resorts, is in Spain’s most fiery, passionate region of Andalucia. Hotel Claude is a reminder of where you are – it’s a classic 17th-century Andalucian house, once home to Eugénie, Empress of France, with a colonnaded Moorish courtyard at its heart, and galleried upper floors leading to seven rooms, decorated with contemporary furnishings and irreverent art (00 34 952 900 840; Read the full hotel review here.
Beside the Rio Villaviciosa nature reserve, La Casona de Amandi is a dreamy white 19th-century country house with glorious gardens. The surrounding Asturias countryside makes for great walking (the Camino de Santiago runs past) – or cycling or horse riding, which the hotel can arrange. Each of the 11 rooms differs wildly; most romantic is the Indiana, while others can accommodate families of four (00 34 9858 93411; Read the full hotel review here.
There’s a great sense of space at this thoughtfully restored Andalucian country estate. A pool terrace overlooks olive groves; rooms, set around the central courtyard, are large and lofty with the kind of bed you don’t want to leave – though the location, outside Granada and the Sierra Nevada, will do its best to lure you, whether that’s for walking, Alhambra-touring, or riding through the mountains on bicycle or horse (00 34 9583 40077; Read the full hotel review here.
If you’re in Granada for the Alhambra – and who isn’t? – you’ll love 14-room Hotel Casa Morisca. The 15th-century building is rich with scalloped arches, carved doors, a galleried and tiled courtyard – all giving the place a Moorish romance (00 34 9582 21100; Read the full hotel review here.
An eclectic mix of modern and historic come together at AdAstra, a characterful 14-room hotel set within expansive gardens in the groovy Oltrarno neighbourhood. Design is bold and beautifully curated: mid-century flea market finds offset frescoed ceilings and antique chandeliers; books and fireplaces give it the feel of a new-generation aristo’s apartment. Ineffably romantic in a wholly original way (00 39 055 075 0602; Read the full hotel review here.
On the seafront of Syracuse, Sicily’s ancient isle where Archimedes had his bath-time Eureka moment, sky-blue Hotel Gutowski has been formed from two fishermen’s houses. The 25 rooms are spartan-simple, decorated with bits of vintage furniture and, when you open the shutters in the morning, filled with dazzling light. After sundowners at its waterfront terrace bar, once the day trippers have departed, staying here feels like the real deal ( Read the full hotel review here.
Superstars have been taking dips in Como’s green-blue waters since the Golden Age of Hollywood, Italian nobility far longer, and its waterside villas tend to be five-star fancy. So three-star Casa Olea is quite the find – a 19th-century rectory, with 13 sophisticated, modern rooms, a pool and a garden, all overlooking the lake (00 39 0344 87352;
Youthful spirit in the Eternal City? Converted from an early 1900s apartment block in Rome’s boho Monti neighbourhood, whippersnapper Condominio Monti is refreshingly modern – velvet headboards, bold wallpapers, art-deco lighting – designed by two young locals, and there’s an airy rooftop restaurant (00 39 32049 44124;
The ceilings steal the show at Palazzo Vannoni, in the old heart of Levanto on the Italian Riviera. The seaside town is just outside the Cinque Terre, making it a good base for exploring the candy-coloured coast on foot or by car. Levanto has its own smattering of pink and yellow houses, churches and castles, piazzas and restaurants – plus the only sandy beach on this stretch of coast (
Back in the 1930s, the owner of this mountain refuge eschewed the trad chalet detailing in favour of clean-lined modernism, and today Hotel Brio cuts a sharp silhouette against the pine-forested slopes. Rooms are alpine-adorable – lots of hefty scrubbed pine and white linen, windows opening onto truly uplifting views, and air so clean you’ll break into song. Rooms from £102, half board (00 39 4716 50125;
A 16th-century monastery on one of Florence’s most splendid Renaissance piazzas is the setting for Loggiato Dei Serviti. A loggia sweeps across the front, while inside are vaulted ceilings, stone columns, beamed ceilings, with interiors to match, antique paintings, heavy wooden furniture, canopied and four-poster beds (00 39 0552 89592; Read the full hotel review here.
Car-free Panarea is a gem of an island: unspoilt, beautiful, uncrowded – yet despite its rusticity, also rather stylish, thanks to the island’s top address, Hotel Raya, with the only nightclub in the Aeolians. Hotel Cincotta, meanwhile, is altogether more low-key and laidback, but still has a lovely pool, rooftop restaurant terrace, and knock-out views of the sea, with Stromboli smouldering on the horizon (00 39 0909 83014;
The action at La Settima Luna is all on the rooftop – bar, restaurant, pool, view – at this gleaming little hotel on Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian islands, with its extraordinarily turquoise bays. Bedrooms are slick and all-white, and the hotel offers a menu of spa treatments (
Marisa and Gianni moved from Milan to the medieval village of Portico di Romagna in 1975, to run a 19th-century inn. Over the years they’ve renovated two more historic buildings, and turned the lot into a friendly, family albergo, with a restaurant that has a verdant summer terrace outside and, in winter months, roaring fires inside (
Hop across the Channel and you can be in Honfleur in time for lunch – which, on the Normandy coast, means oysters and a bottle of white. Tucked away in the medieval streets behind Honfleur’s impossibly quaint harbour is La Maison de Lucie, a beautiful house that’s furnished with antiques, warm colours and art all over the oak-panelled walls. Some rooms have terraces, others terrific views through shuttered windows that let in the light that drew Monet and Turner to this spot (00 33 2311 44040;
When Van Gogh lived in Arles, he dreamed that the city would become a commune for artists. Some 130 years on, it has, with the opening of arts park Luma Arles, founded by Maja Hoffman – who also bought a tired hotel and commissioned Cuban artist Jorge Pardo to reimagine it. L’Arlatan is a masterpiece of form, colour and finish from top to toe. Staying here is like being immersed in an installation: enveloping halls of pure pigment colour, kaleidoscopic tiled floors from cocktail bar to outdoor pool, a filigreed spiral staircase cascading with laser-cut lanterns, plus artworks in each of the 34 bedrooms. Doubles from £153, including breakfast (
Over the Cap from Antibes, the more down-to-earth Juan-Les-Pins is home to Hotel Le Sud, a jewel of a Riviera three-star hotel. Inside it’s all-white simplicity with citrus zings of colour and bamboo furniture; outside, there’s a delicious little courtyard garden and deckchairs around a pool shaded by palms and pine trees. Settle in with François Sagan’s 1954 Bonjour Tristesse, set right here (00 33 4929 33260;
All the trademarks of Provence are found at family-run Les Florêts: a sun-dappled stone terrace set with wrought-iron chairs; views over the painterly Vaucluse landscapes and forested slopes of the Dentelles, surrounding villages of absurd prettiness. Rooms are unfussy and easy on the eye, while the pool is swisher than you might expect, the restaurant smart but jolly, and the wine list 350 vintages long (00 33 4906 58501;
Stretching out to sea from the Vendée coast, the L’Île de Noirmoutier has a laid-back attitude, terrific beaches, and low-key, family-friendly places to stay. You’ll find one of these between the town and long sandy Plage des Sableaux: the Fleur de Sel, with 35 coastal-breezy rooms, a garden with pool, and a restaurant which, like everywhere on Noirmoutier, celebrates the catch of the day (00 33 2513 90907;
Unapologetically flowery, as the name suggests, La Roseraie has the most magical gardens – lawns and trees, pool and pergola rose walk – stretching down to the Vézère river, flowing serenely and greenly through the Dordogne (you can take canoes out). The 14 rooms are equally floral, dressed up French Country-style. White tablecloths in the restaurant, naturally – but it welcomes children too ( Read the full hotel review here.
“The Hideaway” is right at home in the hip enclave between Belleville and the Canal Saint-Martin. Interiors are beautiful, en-vogue-eclectic, mixing up jewel-coloured fabrics, brocantes and modern finishes. The former apartment block has 36 rooms upstairs and, in what was a sweet shop, a vibrant salon on the ground floor, with reception staff on hand 24/7 for insider tips on Paris (00 33 1883 27315;
The village cottages of the Ile de Ré lend themselves to a certain type of blue and white beach-breezy bolthole, and the island has a good selection to choose from. Hotel L’Océan is a good bet, with its simple rooms and tongue-and-groove aesthetic, weathered pool deck and garden, a restaurant and, in high season, island-vibes barbecue terrace. Best of all, it’s near Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré and the south-coast long, wild beaches backed by sand dunes (00 33 5460 92307;
Your classic Loire Renaissance fairy tale: turreted on top, redly damasked within, with the kind of soul-stirring grounds that are de rigueur round here. Less de rigueur is the price: rooms start from around £100 (00 33 2474 51631; There’s a formal restaurant and, in the delightful kitchen garden, a tomato bar. Ah, oui – they are very proud of their tomatoes; come in September for the Tomato Festival (not to be confused with Spain’s fruit-flinging La Tomatina – in the Loire, that kind of behaviour will have you chucked out on your ear). Read the full hotel review here.
This seaside, creeper-clad, 15-room villa is a harmonious mix of old and new. Interiors retain their 19th-century charm – exposed stone walls, long windows, wooden floors, classic furniture – but have been elegantly updated. There’s an indoor pool, a garden and, best of all, cracking beaches directly outside. There’s also an excellent restaurant serving colourful, organic dishes; while on the doorstep, Douarnenez port teems with places to eat fish (00 33 2987 40053; Read the full hotel review here.
Just a couple of miles from the beach, Companhia das Culturas is about as far as you can get from a concrete Algarve resort. On the edge of a nature reserve, it’s a sustainable and organic agriturismo set in 40 hectares, among fruit trees and pines – a dreamy hamlet of converted farm buildings showcasing contemporary Portuguese design. A vegetable garden supplies the bistro, and there’s a hammam, but no TV and no music at the pool – just birdsong and the breeze (00 351 2819 57062; Read the full hotel review here.
On the south bank of the Douro River in Porto’s Cultural District, the House of Sandeman Hostel & Suites is a true original. It’s set in the old Sandeman port wine cellars building, with fresh interiors that mix Portuguese design with vintage finds and art. Downstairs is the fantastic George Gastro & Cocktail Bar, for riverside eating, drinking and dancing to the regular live music and DJ sets (00 351 2211 27221;
All the romance of Sintra is encapsulated in this historic townhouse, with its white-icing balconies, intricate carvings and pastel exterior of rose and sea blue. Homely charm runs throughout, from garden to living rooms with fireplaces and vintage furniture. Breakfast is served in its suntrap of a café nearby (00 351 2101 50055;
Way down south-west in the Alentejo, Monte Da Vilarinha is a former farm given a quietly elegant makeover, all wood and stone and creamy simplicity. A crescent scoop of pool overlooks the forested mountains, bougainvillaea rambles over a pergola; there are bikes to borrow, bucolic grounds to explore. Guests sleep in wooden cabins, studios and rooms, all with a wonderful sense of space (
In a city where you can stay in a five-star palace hotel for £100 a night, it’s not an obvious choice to plump for a modern three-star. But what Mama Shelter Lisbon – which joined the vibrant hotel scene this year – lacks in history, it more than makes up for in fun, from the playful, exuberant decor in the rooms and tapas restaurant, to the cocktail bar and DJ sets on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Tagus river and Lisbon (00 51 2105 49899;
A once abandoned 15th-century manor house and its historic trappings – chapel, olive oil press – have been restored into this charming hotel, white-walled and terracotta-roofed, a 10-minute drive from some of the Algarve’s most spectacular beaches. There are 15 green acres that include a lovely big saltwater pool surrounded by olive trees; while the 30 double rooms have a dash of Moroccan textiles (00 351 2823 22888;
A former 19th-century farmhouse – daubed with the primary blues and yellows of Portuguese pottery – now has 10 rooms in the house and various cottages with shady terraces spread across its 900-acre estate along Costa Vicentina. Chill by the pool, with views of the sea, or find your own beach along the estate’s own 1.8 miles of coastline (00 351 2839 50080;
The owners of Quinta Bonita decamped from Richmond in west London to create the eight-room hotel out of what was originally their holiday home, 12 years ago. It’s more west London than south Portugal, which pleases many repeat British guests – rooms are John Lewis modern-classic, there’s tea and cake, and a manicured Italian garden beside a yoga studio. Two-night minimum stay (00 351 2827 62135; Read the full review here.
Slick contemporary rooms and an infinity pool at LBV House Hotel have widescreen views of the vine-covered slopes of the Douro Valley, here in the heart of port country. Food from the surrounding region is cajoled into modern Portuguese cooking in the grown-up restaurant, and the Vintage Bar is for serious wine buffs (00 351 2547 38320;
The Dalai Lama, Edward VIII and Brazil’s Emperor Pedro II have all been put up at the Grande. Despite its illustrious guests, old-fashioned opulence and silver service, this fin-de-siècle hotel remains a three-star steal. Its 90-odd rooms had an update in recent years, painted grandma-pleasing pastel shades, while marble bathrooms retain an Art Deco air ( Read the full review here.
For more amazing places to stay, see our guide to the best hotels in Europe.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
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