Hostels hustle to add an upmarket tag
As a British teenager, I was jealous of the American high school prom. My friends and I would watch endless movies featuring girls and guys getting all dressed up for this amazing night of fun, while the only way our schools knew to celebrate was to put on yet another set of exams.
But when I went to university, I found American students who were jealous of us Brits for something. It was called Europe. In true British tradition, I had spent my teenage summers "hostelling." A group of friends and I toured Europe in stinking coaches, sleeping on metal bunk beds in the grubby hostels that best fit our budget. It was before I started appreciating Egyptian cotton sheets - it was dirty, cheap, and fun.
I remembered those trips when, last summer, I started researching another visit to Europe. I was prepared to pay a lot more, and I spread my gaze over Valencia, Spain, Paris, and Prague. I was ready to hunt down chic boutique hotels in great locations.
But it turned out I wasn't the only one who had grown up. Europe's hostels now offer cool upmarket accommodations at bargain prices. There are still the communal areas that made hostels the social place to be in the early '90s, but now they are matched by posh facilities. The clientele includes fewer backpackers, more flashpackers: holidaymakers with a taste for the nice things but who are cost-cutting in keeping with the climate.
Here are some hostel gems:
Individuality in Valencia
The hip Rooms Deluxe Hostel is in the heart of the "new Monaco," Valencia. The 28 rooms (twins, doubles, and triples) are all en suite and decorated by a local artist. Each is uniquely themed - see the Buddhist and flamenco rooms - with unusual design touches, like tiny chairs stuck to the wall as bedside tables. There's a DVD lounge and free Internet, but don't stay in when you're only 300 feet from the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia's striking area of gardens, museums, Imax, and more, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. The city center is a 10-minute walk. There's parking, and breakfast is included.
Av. Instituto Obrero No. 20, Valencia, Spain, www.roomsdeluxe.com, 011-34-963-356-793. From about $32 per person per night in an en suite double, twin, or triple room.
Bold design in Paris
An interior-designed hostel? Well, this is Paris. Oops! Hostel is located in the middle of three villages - Mouffetard, Chinatown, and the Latin Quarter area - and nestled among busy cafes, bars, tiny galleries, and parks. Staying at Oops! won't be a mistake. Dorms and private rooms are all en suite, with cutting-edge designs, chunky colors, and breakfast. The knowledgeable staff is happy to give advice. Nearby Metro stations (Place d'Italie and Les Gobelins) are on lines 6 and 7, plus a nearby velib station provides cheap rides on the city's borrow-a-bike scheme.
50 Avenue des Gobelins, Paris, 011-33-01-4707-4700, www.oops-paris.com. Dorms start at about $30 per night; private rooms start at about $77. Add about $10 a night if traveling in high season (March-October).
Located in fashionable Södermalm, IYHF Youth Hostel Zinkensdamm features private rooms and dorms, but also has family rooms with one double bed and bunk beds. In the communal areas there's a sauna and sun beds, Internet access, a bar, cafe, and new kitchen. The nearby waterside park is perfect for morning jogs. Staff are famously friendly. The hostel is four subway stops from the city terminal, and has indoor parking.
Zinkens väg 20, Stockholm, 011-46-8-616-8120, www.vandrarhemmetzinkensdamm.com/index.asp?page=5&lang=eng. From $30 per night for a dorm with shared bathroom to $135 for a four-bed en suite family room. Note extra fees for bed linen and breakfast.
Palmers Lodge is housed in a 19th-century Victorian building featuring large windows and high ceilings. Located in the leafy enclave of Swiss Cottage, a couple of Tube stops from the center of London, the hostel offers fair-trade coffee, free Wi-Fi, and late checkout. Rooms range from en suite doubles to a 28-bed dormitory. There's also a large lounge with digital TV, and breakfast is included.
40 College Crescent, Swiss Cottage, London, 011-44-0-207-483-8470, www.palmerslodge.co.uk. From $21 for a single dorm bed. En suite doubles start at $37 a night per person. Add about $6 for weekend stays.
A relaxing haven with a hip design in the heart of this sunny city, Lisbon Lounge Hostel is in Baixa, with its monuments, cafes, and esplanades. It's near the main bus, tram, and subway stops, which zoom you to nearby beaches Estoril and Cascais. There's free Wi-Fi, a communal kitchen, and a lounge with film projectors. Rates include breakfast and free tea and coffee all day.
Rua São Nicolau, 41st, Lisbon, 011-35-121-346-2061, www.lisbonloungehostel.com. Dorms start at $24 per person, doubles at $32 per person. Add about $5 for high season stays.
Hang out in Olympos
Kadir's Tree Houses is a party animal's hangout with three bars and two clubs, a Nargile bar, campfire, plus live music in summer on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. But don't have too much fun. You will need your balance to climb to your bed in one of a complex of 100 tree houses. There are also 15 cabins and 10 dorm rooms, plus camping facilities. More basic than boutique, the tree house stays are still memorable. Rates include breakfast and a buffet dinner.
Olympos, Antalya, Turkey, 011-90-242-892-1250 or 785-856-0240 from United States and Canada, olympostreehouses.com. Treehouses start at $18 per night; air-conditioned bungalows at $30 per room. Prices vary by season.
Hidden from the tourist hordes, Miss Sophie's is full of character, and an easy walk from Prague's spectacular Old Town. The cool cellar, with exposed brick walls and designer lighting, sets the scene, and accommodations include private rooms with modern bathrooms, dorms, and apartments. All have access to a new kitchen and terrace.
Melounova 3, Prague, 011-420-296-303-530, www.miss-sophies.com. Rates: En suite doubles start at $34 a person, dorms at $23. Prices vary by season; weekend surcharge.
BaxPax Hostel features a roof terrace with impressive views of Berlin, and a fun paddling pool, but the best thing is its location just behind the famous Friedrichstadtpalast. There are en suite private rooms and dorms, and the staff will arrange free city tours. Breakfast and bed linen cost extra.
Ziegelstrasse 28, Berlin, 011-49-30-278-748-80, www.baxpax.de/downtown. Doubles from $39 a person, dorms from $17.
Lucy Tobin can be reached at email@example.com.