Mercure Biel, Switzerland

The location

Conveniently located for visiting the numerous watch emporia of Biel (or Bienne, if you are a French-speaker), the Mercure at Biel is easy to find and is within walking distance of the town’s cafés, parks, and picturesque stream that flows through the centre. This functional yet slightly swanky establishment plays host to helpful staff, a restaurant named Barrique, a jazz club with smokers’ lounge, and underground car park.

The room

Quite Spartan in some respects, and overall had a slightly dated feeling (as many Mercures do), but with a comfortable bed and a wide offering of TV channels on the flat screen (including the BBC).

The breakfast

Totally forgettable and generally mediocre, excepting perhaps the fresh fruit on offer. Included in your room rate. The same could be said of the hotel’s restaurant, Barrique, where we ate dinner: food was mediocre and overpriced, even though portions were generous (some would say oversized).

The price

€200 for one night, including breakfast and dinner. Not the deal of the century, but adequate for our needs. At any rate, it enabled us to discover beautiful Biel, which we would definitely revisit, even if not specifically using this hotel.

Rue du Marché-Neuf 40, 2502 Biel/Bienne, Switzerland
+41 32 328 68 68

http://www.mercure.com/gb/hotel-6166-mercure-plaza-biel/index.shtml

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Novotel Bourges

The location

As with a lot of Novotels, this hotel is located in a soulless industrial estate, in the periphery of a city. Even if you experience none of the charm of the medieval city centre of Bourges, you will however enjoy a convenient stopover right in the middle of France, for the hotel is located very close to the A71 motorway.

The room

We checked in a superior room, and we liked the supremely comfortable bed as well as the relaxing sense of space. We were also most impressed by the quietness of the room, seeing as the hotel is located very close to the motorway and as our room was directly giving onto the swimming pool. We also liked the free wifi, but not so much the dated bathroom.

The breakfast

A surprising mix of expensive, quality offerings (Kusmi tea, fresh orange juice) and disappointing options (dreadful looking sausages).

The price

90 euros for the room, which is reasonable. €15 each for breakfast, which is farcical. I would however recommend this hotel as an easy, comfortable stop during a long car journey, even if I may be looking for other options in future. Also be aware that the hotel is very popular with families, with kids under 16 going free.

Sofitel, Budapest

The location

ImageI arrived on a cold December night, and was able to enjoy the illuminated Budapest landmarks during the ride from the airport to the hotel. It is located right next to the famous chains bridge, with a spectacular view of the castle and the fisherman’s bastion. As I stepped into the spectacular lobby, a surprise was awaiting, as my traveller status with Accor apparently entitles me to a special welcome whenever I visit a Sofitel. The client relations advisor led me to my room and ensured everything was alright. She also was kind enough to reply to the feedback I sent her later about my stay.

The room

I would say slightly dated, but very spacious, with ample space to relax (there is a sofa), work (a large desk) or sleep (very comfortable bed with a warm duvet). The bathroom was also very spacious with both a shower and a bath, as well as being adorned with l’Occitane products. It was also supremely quiet with very nice views and free water was provided. The slight letdowns were the pay-as-you-go wi-fi and the temperature in the room, which was slightly too cool for my liking.

Meals and drinks

I enjoyed a snack on the first night and a few drinks on the second day. The food is not as good as the food you would have in a Sofitel in, say, Paris, but the prices are very reasonable. Staff are friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the wines they serve. I recommend you try in particular one of the excellent sweet Tokaji wines on offer. Overall, the Paris-Budapest bar is a very nice place to be, with an excellent music selection (I even heard some Divine Comedy) and spectacular views over the Habsburg castle and the bridge. I particularly enjoyed relaxing there after a dinner out. The only thing that was not so pleasant about the view were two young prostitutes circling round the block in the freezing Budapest night, a very sad aspect of the city that is regrettably omnipresent at night.

The facilities

Staying at the Sofitel will allow you to enjoy the sauna and the 12-meter pool free of charge. They are both excellent, but I would maybe suggest the hotel they consider charging a small fee or at least forbid alcohol on the premises. Mingling with other guests enjoying a can of beer next to the pool is not really what I am after when I stay at a five-star hotel.

The breakfast

Overall, you will be able to compose yourself a decent and hearty breakfast to brave the cold. A cooked option is on offer, both self service and cooked on demand. One suggestion would be to improve the quality of the orange juice.

The price

Including breakfast, in the region of 140-160 euros if you get a good rate. At this price this is excellent value for money and an exceptional level of service. As a French traveller, I can however only warn my fellow countrymen about the high number of other Gallic guests in this French chain: when someone tries to enter an elevator before you have had the chance to exit, this feels strangely familiar.

Mercure Angers centre

The location

The hotel is located right next to (almost within) the Angers Conference Centre, a concrete 1960s eyesore which testifies to a bygone era when there were ambitions to balance the weight of Paris. Today the weight of Paris has never been greater, but Angers feels nevertheless quite dynamic on a Saturday afternoon. It is home to an imposing medieval castle with an amazing tapestry, as well as a fine arts museum. Angers is also an ideal starting point to explore the region’s natural beauty, its heritage, its rich gastronomic culture or famous vineyards such as those of Savennières.

Despite the rude and boisterous French pensioners who were quite keen to demean her, the receptionist gave us a smiling welcome.

The room

We stayed in a “privilège” room, giving on to a park, which was very quiet, ensuring a good night’s sleep in an ultra comfortable bed. The bathroom was equally pleasant, especially its “rainforest” shower. You will also find wifi, which is free and easy to set up.

The meal

Our package included a meal, which we chose to take on arrival, at lunch. It did not reach the culinary heights we were going to experience later that day, and arrived suspiciously quickly, yet proved quite good value for money.

The breakfast

It was a buffet breakfast, with some cooked options and a great variety of choice, even when you had ruled out the pastries basket where the fingers of a French pensioner had been foraging.

The price

Including breakfast and lunch as part of a special, all-inclusive package, the bill came to 144 €, which we found really reasonable. You will have to add 9 euros a night for parking, which may seem expensive, but you will sleep in the knowledge that your car is safe in a spacious locked underground car park. Generally, I am quite impressed with all the mid and upper range hotels of the Accor brand as I know I can look forward to a decent standard of cleanliness and service as well as important details such as a duvet on the bed.

Novotel Times Square, New York City

The location

Having stayed in several branches of Novotel before (albeit in other countries), we were fairly confident of a good standard of service at this central location in New York City. Slightly uptown of Times Square, it offers a metropolitan and lively base that still gives you peace and quiet should you want it. A trendy bar and restaurant in the Accor group’s usual classic yet modern style (including mood lighting and neutral greys and taupes) is available on the same floor as the lobby, as is a mailbox, internet access, a cash machine, a hotel gift shop, and a games console area.

The concierge desk is slightly tucked away from the main check-in desk, but check-in and check-out were both speedy and the concierge was helpful in advising us on directions and the subway. 50 Street subway is very close and on a main line to many other essential destinations (including the other end of Times Square, 42 Street).

New York itself can give you whatever you want, whether it’s the trendy coolness of Greenwich Village or the bright lights of the Theater District.

The room

With modern decoration, an appealing design, a cushy duvet on the bed and ample seating, this seemed like good news (our cheapest night was $165, so this was a very good standard for the price). The bathroom, however, was extremely ropey (although everything worked) and needed updating; the difference in décor between the bathroom and the bedroom was evident.

The breakfast

We did not sample it, eschewing the hotel’s $20+ offering for breakfast half the price at a nearby café. However, we did use the bar on our second evening, after our restaurant reservation cancelled on us (how nice of them). For two glasses of wine, two starter-type dishes and a soft drink each, plus tea for two, it came to just under $75 (which, to be honest, seemed a little bit much). Service was adequate, and not believing in rewarding mediocrity, we didn’t leave a tip. What we didn’t expect was for the server to come chasing after us demanding to know why we hadn’t left one! While we recognise the cultural implications of NOT tipping in America, we still believe that the choice of whether or not to do so should be at the customer’s discretion – not the server’s. This really coloured our view of the service we received whilst there, which erred more towards functional than friendly even on front desk.

The price

We had initially chosen the Novotel on the strength of the price, as it seemed among the best value for money options out there, particularly given the very central location. However, after our stay at the Library Hotel, which only cost $30 more (the Novotel was $230 on its most expensive night; the Library Hotel was $260) but was far superior in terms of décor and service, we would prefer to return to the latter again.

226 West 52nd Street, NY 10019