Guests enjoy the silent treatment at quiet hotels

March 19, 2000|By Alfred Borcover | By Alfred Borcover,Chicago Tribune

You've been on the road all day. You're tired and want to relax in a nice, quiet hotel. And finally you check in.

Nothing is more annoying than finding your hotel filled with noise. I don't mean insipid canned music. That's irksome itself but not overbearing. By noise I mean a steady din of traffic or loud guests, no matter what the hour. You get that urge-to-pound-on-the-wall feeling when a television set is blaring in the next room.

One unusual hotel chain offers its guests a rare commodity -- silence. Well, almost. Where, you ask? Unfortunately, most of the hotels are in Europe. The group calls itself Relais du Silence, or Silencehotel. A few perceptive French hoteliers created the Paris-based chain in 1968, before ecology and environmental issues were hot topics. As the Relais du Silence directory notes:

"Noise, as we all know, is a major social intrusion. It produces stress and undermines our health and happiness. Also, what is cheap and modern all too often tends to be ugly, disappointing and increasingly impersonal."

What the Relais du Silence aims to offer is a natural and peaceful environment, a comfortable building of character, a warm welcome, very good food and, of course, considerable quiet.

Emphasis on service

While the Relais du Silence had its beginnings in France, the chain now has 302 independently owned hotels in 12 European countries and one in Canada. Henri Schaff, president of France Inc., an Arlington, Texas, firm that represents Relais du Silence in the United States, described it as a "voluntary" chain with two-, three- and four-star properties, set mainly in the countryside. With double rooms ranging between $80 and $180, it's less expensive than the more upscale Relais & Chateaux.

"We have a wide range of clientele, some of whom are very budget-minded when they stay in a city, but splurge a little more in the countryside," said the French-born Schaff, who became an American citizen in February. "They go to a Relais du Silence because their budget doesn't permit them to stay in a Relais & Chateaux hotel."

Schaff emphasized that the hotels are all privately owned. "That's very important because when you say you want to talk to the manager, 99 percent of the time you talk to the owner," he added.

Schaff said the hotels pride themselves on good service. He said a board of directors, made up of elected members and owners, screen all the properties and inspect them every year. "They are very tough with their requirements. The membership changes every year, with new properties added and some dropping out."

Hotels applying for membership must, for starters, complete a 33-page application covering 16 categories, asking for such diverse details as parking, sports, nearness to museums, background of restaurant staff, shapes of tables, type of cutlery used, languages spoken and room facilities. Properties, of course, are asked about quietude -- natural protection against road noise, artificial protection against noise, and external and internal sources of noise.

A few rooms have TVs

Along with the country hotels, Relais du Silence has four member hotels in Paris.

Schaff noted that when the Relais du Silence first started, "you really had silence. You were in the boonies and you completely forgot about the city you live in." Now, he said, more and more hotels have television because travelers ask for it.

Information about the Relais du Silence is available via the Internet at www.relais-du-silence.com or www.silencehotel.com. Or contact France Inc., 5609 Green Oaks Blvd. S.W., Suite 105, Arlington, Texas 76017; 800-927-4765.

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