The concept of “bed and breakfast” began as a way for middle-class homeowners in the UK to earn extra money by hosting travelers in their homes. Often called “guest houses,” these lodgings have evolved into a world-wide category of accommodation featuring small properties and very personalized service. Today the range of B&Bs runs from glorious digs in magnificent castles to a bedroom in someone’s home (think AirBnB). Prices vary accordingly.
Staying in a B&B often provides an opportunity to experience the home of a local family and to become acquainted with the owners. While you won’t find room service or a bar in the lobby, you will have an opportunity to learn where to find the best restaurant in town or a special but little-known local site that you might otherwise miss.
The major difference between B&Bs in the UK & Ireland and those on the Europe continent is breakfast. Irish and British breakfasts are enormous and endless. Cross the English channel and you’ll quickly understand why we call a breakfast of coffee, juice and pastry a “continental breakfast.”
Here’s a brief overview of B&Bs in some countries in Europe. Be sure to follow the link to the SlowTrav.com article which provides more detailed information.
- Ireland: Begun by the government in the mid-20th century, Irish B&Bs were originally a way to supplement country families’ incomes. They are famous for their enormous breakfasts. Originally quite affordable today they can be pricey. There’s a good, low-cost system in Ireland which allows you to obtain a rental car with a set of vouchers for stays in any participating B&B around the country. Here’s how it works: choose your destination for the evening ahead from a provided booklet that lists participating places then call the hostess early in the day to make your reservation and obtain directions to her house. This program must be arranged for you by a travel agent. (A Google search for “Ireland B&B tours” turns up many companies that arrange these tours.)
- The UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) is filled with charming hosts and charming homes. The easiest way to choose one is by googling “_____ B&B” (fill in the blank with the name of the area of interest). The local tourist office website will likely have listings as well.
- France: The French term for a B&B is “chambres d’hotes” which translates to “hosted rooms.” I’ve had wonderful experiences in French B&Bs. Dinner may be offered if the owner is an excellent cook. One site to use for searching out places to stay in France is this government-run site, http://www.chambresdhotes.org/english/.
- Italy: Homestays on farms (called agriturismo) were a mid-20th century successful government project in Italy. You can find rural places on the website http://www.agriturismo.it/en/. In Italian cities and towns a room in someone’s home is often advertised by small sign near the front door with the word “camera” which means “room” and of course a great many places are advertised online.
- Croatia: Recently a young man from Croatia told me the best way to travel in Croatia is to rent a room from ladies waiting at the train station or ferry dock. I may give that a try soon. I’ve had luck finding some tourist office websites in towns I plan to visit offer links to guest houses but not every town provides this service. Nevertheless, a web search turns up many options for B&Bs in Croatia.
- Turkey: On my trip to Istanbul last year I stayed in one of the many small hotels located in 3- or 4-story houses in the oldest part of town. (My room had a spectacular view of the Blue Mosque.) More like a B&B than a hotel, these places vary in cost and comfort but the location is the best. Breakfast is an interesting mix of East meets West: cucumbers and olives with your cereal and OJ!
Here’s a good article that provides detailed information about B&Bs in several European countries: http://www.slowtrav.com/europe/bed_breakfast_in_europe.htm
They’re everywhere! Lonely Planet’s website includes guest houses as a separate category in their hotel search engine and lists many of them in lesser-known corners of the world.
Here’s a good site for finding a B&B in Italy: http://www.bed-and-breakfast.it/en/
Trip Advisor and Booking.com provide B&B referrals.