Finding affordable alternatives to pricey hotels

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Q: Do you know of any websites I could consult for affordable accommodation alternatives to pricey hotels?

— R. French, Mississauga

A: There are many alternatives to hotels these days, including room swaps, apartment stays and hostels.

I know several colleagues who regularly book rooms with This site was started in 2008 and its name is a play on “air bed and breakfast.” The type of accommodation — often a room in a stranger’s home — is not for everyone. The network also lists some unconventional places — more than 600 castles, dozens of yurts, caves and teepees equpped with TVs.

The site has rentals in over 34,000 cities. Just plug in the city of your choice and see the results.

Hostels have changed and are not necessarily the drab communal quarters typical of the 1970s., for instance, lists 35,000 properties — B&Bs, discount hotels, hostels, etc. — in 180 countries. You will also find information on tours and guides.

A new Hostelling International property in Boston ( is located in the heart of the city, five minutes from Boston Common. It offers dorm rooms and private rooms with an ensuite bath, TV, free Wi-Fi and a complimentary continental breakfast daily. When I last checked their rates, dorms were from $43 per night, private rooms from $98.

Q: What can you do and where can you stay in Santiago de Cuba?

— G. Moillen, Etobicoke

A: Often called the “Cultural Capital of the Caribbean,” this was Cuba’s first capital city.

“We have music, culture, galleries and many interesting places to discover,” says Neorvis Garcia of the all-inclusive Hotel Club Amigo Carisol Los Corales. Lately, a the town’s new Iris Jazz Club has been attracting music lovers, he adds.

“(This) is one the best jazz clubs in Cuba. You will see Chucho Valdes and many other great Cuban jazz artists perform.”

Santiago de Cuba also has a good selection of accommodation from boutique hotels to luxury all-inclusive resorts. These include the eight-room Hotel E San Basilio and the 58-room Hotel Cubanacan Casa Granda, both in the citycentre.

Surrounded by sea, sand and the Sierra Maestra, the stunning scenery is another huge draw.

Starting this fall, Sunwing will operate direct flights to Santiago de Cuba from Toronto Pearson Airport. Hola Sun Holidays also offers flights from Toronto with one stopover. See your travel agent for details. For accommodation information, visit

Q: Are there any big events in France this year?

— D. Wiens, Thornhill

A: There is always something to celebrate in France. The biggest event this fall is the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame. One of France’s national icons, the majestic cathedral has had recent improvements — a new bell chime, an organ renovation and new interior lighting — and there are symposiums and exhibitions related to the anniversary. But the highlight is the chance to join a pilgrimage — the 850 Years Way — starting from Cathedral Square from now through Nov. 24. See for a full schedule of events.