Our favorite guidebook, the Michelin Red Guide series is on the street and there are two major changes. The first will have little impact on most North American guide users but the other we see as a boon to independent travelers.

Let's start with the less important one. The guides now offer brief descriptions for each hotel and restaurant listed. That's the good news; the bad news is they're in the language of the region. Lugano listings, for example, are in Italian, Zürich's descriptions are in German and in Geneva they're in French. Fortunately, translations of these descriptions are available at Michelin's outstanding travel planning site,

The change makes for bigger books. The Swiss guide is now 566 pages vs. 468 in 2002. The German guide has gone from 1269 to 1615

The other guide upgrade is major news to the cost-conscious traveler. It's the introduction of the "Bib Hotel" designation, modeled after the "Bib Gourmand." Using the icon of a blue Bibendum (the Michelin Man) with his head on a pillow, this great new feature identifies hotels with a "warm welcome and good standards of comfort and service" charging less than 90 euros ($97) in Germany and CHF 176 ($127) in Switzerland, for a double or twin room. There are some 240 Bib hotels in Germany and 85 in Switzerland.

The Bib symbol is placed under the hotel's listing in the main pages and also spotted on the maps at the front of the book used to highlight special hotels and restaurants.

It was always relatively easy to find reasonably priced accommodations in the Michelin listings but, other than the fact that Michelin includes no hotels it does not recommend, there was no hint as which were the best. Now with the new Bib Hotel designation - and using the handy front-of-the-book map pages - it will be rather simple to locate a good, moderately-priced hotel near wherever you happen to find yourself.

Because of their low rates, most Bib Hotels are located in smaller towns. A notable exception is in one of the most expensive cities in our coverage area, Geneva. There, the Hotel Bel Esperance is both a Gemütlichkeit "editors choice" (Dec. 02/Jan. 03) and a Michelin "Bib Hotel." Double rooms start at CHF 140 ($101).

May 2003