Branded hotels account for 70 percent of the room stock in the U.S., but in Europe, that number's less than 20 percent. Which means while you're familiar with Sheratons on one side of the Atlantic, it's less likely you'll know about the Sofitel chain on the other. So for those of you headed across the pond who prefer the comfort of a well-established name hotel, here's a list of the growing European hotel groups little known to a lot of Americans.
WHO: Sofitel, (800) 763-4835, www.sofitel.com
WHAT: While the French company has begun making a name for itself in the U.S., Sofitel, the world's fifth largest hotelier, is biggest abroad, with a total of 69 European hotels - 38 in France alone. A subtle sophistication pervades the hotels, which are stylish and design-sensitive, but not at the expense of warmth and service. Boosting its culinary credentials, Sofitel has teamed with several Michelin-starred chefs.
HOW MUCH: Fair to middling
NEW AND NOTABLE: The Sofitel St. James London occupies a historic building near Piccadilly Circus with a restaurant supervised by famed French chef Albert Roux.
WHO: Relais du Silence, 011-33-144-49-90-00, www.silencehotel.com
WHAT: Located throughout Western Europe, the 262 independent hotels of this Paris-based confederation champion solace. Qualifications for membership include a peaceful setting (often rural), a building of character (think a monastery or château), and an emphasis on fine food. Strongest in France, Silence stars include the 17th-century park-set manor house Manoir de Moëllien in Brittany.
HOW MUCH: Middle of the road
NEW AND NOTABLE: Among two new Irish members, the tranquil Ross Lake House Hotel lets 13 rooms on a well-manicured estate near Galway.
WHO: Paradores of Spain, 011-34-915-16-66-66, www.parador.es
WHAT: The state-run paradores, lodged largely in historic buildings ranging from medieval hospitals to 18th-century palaces, continue to expand, adding three new links in the 87-inn chain over the past year. Locals love to hold weddings in paradores, which are beloved for their history. Each in-house restaurant cooks regional fare such as rich fabada stews in the north and gazpacho in the south.
HOW MUCH: A lot of bang for your buck
NEW AND NOTABLE: Parador de Plasencia inhabits a 15th-century monastery with vaulted ceilings and a cloister-cum-courtyard in western Spain's Extremadura region.
WHO: Boscolo Hotels, 011-39-049-82-87-777, www.boscolohotels.com
WHAT: This Italy-based company operates 18 vintage redos with looks that blend historic character and modern functionalism. Boscolo chefs hail from Italy's prestigious Etoile cooking school, which is also owned by the Boscolo brothers. Renowned designer Adam Tihany recently completed the sleek Aleph hotel in Rome, and restaurants in several others.
HOW MUCH: A pretty penny
NEW AND NOTABLE: In December, the elegant Exedra property debuted in Rome's Piazza della Repubblica with an on-site branch of the Etoile cooking school for guest instruction. Prague's Carlo IV will open this month in a former bank.
WHO: Six Continents Hotels, (800) 327-0200, www.intercontinental.com
WHAT: Headquartered in London, Six Continents manages 3,300 hotels worldwide, including the well-known American brands Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. Though operated stateside, too, its upscale InterContinental Hotels are better recognized outside the U.S., with 140 properties in 65 countries.
HOW MUCH: If you have to ask, you can't afford it.
NEW AND NOTABLE: The InterContinental Le Grand Paris just reopened following an 18-month renovation to install a new spa and restore guest rooms and the celebrated Café de la Paix to vintage 1862 splendor.
WHO: Sina Hotels, www.sinahotels.com
WHAT: The Bocca family, one of Italy's oldest, runs this 40-year-old business. Housed in converted antique buildings, most of the seven Sinas come furnished in period-correct décor. But The Gray, recently opened in Milan, goes the fashion route, with minimalist interiors and ceiling-suspended beds.
HOW MUCH: Not too cheap, not too costly
NEW AND NOTABLE: Come July, the 18th-century Bocca family estate in the rural Piedmont district near Turin will open as the 40-room Relais Villa Matilde.
WHO: Design Hotels, (800) 337-4685, www.designhotels.com
WHAT: This Germany-based alliance has more than 100 independent hotels in 38 countries, and each is known for its architectural emphasis and excellent service. The Miró Hotel in Bilbao, Spain, for example, was designed by fashion guru Antonio Miró and sits between the Mu-seum of Fine Arts and Frank Gehry's masterpiece, the Guggenheim.
HOW MUCH: Pleasantly affordable
NEW AND NOTABLE: Original art-deco furnishings from the '20s and '30s outfit the newly opened Hotel Rialto near the business district in Warsaw.
WHO: Jolly Hotels, (800) 237-0319, www.jollyhotels.com
WHAT: This midprice brand is a favorite among business travelers, and its 50 properties can be found in Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, the U.K., and the U.S. Italophiles the world over are keen to Jolly's Italian touches, including an Italian-speaking staff, Italian restaurants, and Italian newspapers.
HOW MUCH: Fairly light on the euros
NEW AND NOTABLE: The modern Jolly Hotel Vivaldi recently debuted on Berlin's centrally located Friedrichstrasse as part of a retail-residential development.
WHO: Thistle Hotels, (800) 847-4358, www.thistlehotels.com
WHAT: Thistle offers value rates at 56 U.K. properties in both busy city centers and rural countryside locales. Some of its 24 London inns showcase views of the Tower of London and Oxford Street.
HOW MUCH: For the budget minded
NEW AND NOTABLE: In January, the 692-room Thistle Marble Arch in London opened a new corporate lounge that features an exclusive check-in and check-out desk, compli-mentary continental breakfast, and free canapés each evening.
rooms to go
if you prefer the comforts of home when traveling abroad, check in to one of these new european accommodations from some well-known u.s. hotel groups.
this month, marriott's village d'ile-de-france opens a villa-filled resort one mile from disneyland paris. from $375. (800) 845-5279, www.marriottvillarentals.com
the park hyatt milano opens in august in a grand 19th-century building near the duomo with contemporary, art-filled interiors. starting at $500. (800) 233-1234, www.milan.park.hyatt.com
in prague this august, hkhotels, the owners of new york's boutique the library hotel, will launch the aria, a 52-roomer with a music theme. from $349. (212) 201-1155, www.ariahotel.net
starwood's grande bretagne, overlooking the acropolis in athens, just reopened after a $70 million renovation in preparation for the 2004 olympics. from $319. (800) 325-3589, www.luxurycollection.com
the four seasons hotel prague reopens this month after a 10-month clean-up following the august 2002 floods. $280 and up. (800) 332-3442, www.fourseasons.com