Juliet Kinsman: We all want chic on the cheap – but there's usually a trade-off


Don't tell me: you want somewhere super-glamorous. But you don't want to fork out a fortune. Thanks to celebrity overload, we appear to have cultivated A-list sensibilities, then been corrupted by deal-of-the-day offers. Ergo we demand VIP lifestyles on shelf-stackers' pay packets.

Before attempting to hunt down the hip-hotel Holy Grail, let's define the notion of luxury. Sheets made with threads woven tighter than Katie Holmes's prenup? En suites roomy enough to Viennese waltz in? Service fabulously formal or cunningly low-key? Jimmy Carr has been quoted as saying he likes staying in a hotel just for the breakfast and room service, and one suspects he enjoys some bling without the sting, despite having the dosh. The trick is balancing value for money, a level of quality and experiences you'll want to write home about.

For chic on the cheap, you have to accept a trade-off. For example, for Stromboli views, just-caught seafood and spoiling spa time at Hotel Signum in the Aeolian Islands, you have to settle for simple bedrooms. I know I'm happier compromising on traditional five-star frills in favour of personality. At the House Hotels in Istanbul, the chutzpah comes from designers du jour Autoban's award-winning contemporary furniture and lighting. The fresh-faced group might not have Claridges looking over its shoulder at any Best Service Awards, but for me, the blend of old features and new fittings is more compelling than a homogenous mega-chain.

Kapsaliana Village Hotel keeps it unpretentious in Crete, the luxury here being that the affordable accommodation resembles compact private villas. Similarly in Paris, the price tags of Résidence Nell's 17 sleek but snug apartments in the arty 9ième arrondissement don't have eyes watering, yet still afford you nothing-is-too-much-trouble concierge service. Down in Dordogne, Château La Thuilière lays character on thick with its spacious suites, but because the 19th-century manor is sans swimming pool they don't charge big bucks.

Sophisticated inns are a great way to get a dose of edifying aesthetics while dodging whopping invoices – Beckford Arms in Wiltshire or Fronlas in Wales, please take a bow. For a sun-drenched, history-steeped sojourn, you can't better Casa Talia in Modica, Sicily. Facilities? Who needs them with so many riches on your doorstep. If you're a city-break cheap-chic seeker, turn to Rough Luxe in King's Cross, London, boho Brody House in Budapest, or pretty 15 Glasgow in Scotland.

But what if you want to flop by a pool and play proper sybarite? For starters, go midweek and off-season. And wise up to swerving off the beaten track. Sidestep high-season St Tropez or the Amalfi Coast for end-of-summer Costa de la Luz in Spain. Here, the special part about the three-roomed Escondrijo in Vejer de la Frontera isn't just the cosseting from the welcoming owners Netty and Nigel; it's a sense that you're staying in a friend's home – which by the end, you kind of will be. And isn't that kind of feeling priceless?


Juliet Kinsman is editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com)