A life in the fast lane is not for everyone. While the great riders are busy aiming for the top, others are perfectly happy doing their own thing.
We hear a lot about the stars of the hotel world – the legendary grande dames, the modern masterpieces of superlatives. And yet, the majority of European hotels fall into that vast middle ground that is the three-star category. This is where the hotels of the airport chain keep company with the unpleasant carbuncles of the seafront. And yet, between the functional and the unusual, there are real treasures to unearth: boutique hotels born from a desire to make something beautiful; simple, rural hideaways following a sustainable lifestyle, welcoming places run by the same friendly family for generations, perfectly happy to stay in their humble three-star category and excel in their field.
The irony of the star rating system is that it’s the very things that keep these small hotels from earning more stars that make them special: their intimate size, limited space, listed buildings, form over function. . A star rating system cannot distinguish between a Canaletto heirloom and a Jack Vettriano print, and favors an elevator over a spiral staircase. As for charm, beauty, warmth, these qualities that make us fall in love with a certain hotel are so subjective that they cannot be measured.
Three stars mean old, clutter-free homes. Grand castles and unpolished palazzi, reinvented 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 the size of the room does not matter so much as the length, shuttered windows opening onto a wrought iron balcony.
If you just skip the extravagant extravaganzas and dig a little deeper, you can find the kind of boutique hideaways where you’ll feel right at home, with a warm welcome, charming bags and wonderful home-cooked breakfasts – from pleasures all enhanced by the self-congratulatory thought of what you saved by staying there.
Here are 40 special little hotels that make three-star stays an art form.
Ca’n Gaià, Majorca
The Mallorcan refuge par excellence: a dream farmhouse in ocher stone in native gardens, a few kilometers from the sandy coves of the southeast coast. The interior is fresh and radiant; 12 rooms and suites, some with green shuttered windows, others with private terraces. In the morning, breakfast is offered by the vegetable garden, served on the sunny terrace under the pines.
The details: Doubles from £85 (00 34 97116 2021; cangaia.com).