Hostels: All mod cons… plus bespoke bunks

As a Welsh hostel is awarded five stars, Simon Calder reports on a reinvention

Insert the letter “s” into “hotel” and the cost of a night’s sleep falls sharply. Inexpensive accommodation is the traveller’s best friend. The cheaper the bed, the more exploring you can do.

If you haven’t been inside a youth hostel for a couple of decades, you might imagine it’s only one up from a young-offenders’ institution: chilly and bleak, with the unappetising prospect of contributing free labour for chores.

Thanks to fresh thinking in the Youth  Hostels Association, plus intense competition from independent hostels, that image is thankfully outdated.

In response to the commoditisation of accommodation by chains such as Premier Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Travelodge, hostels are demonstrating that you can get comfort and character on a budget.

Wales has just acquired its first “five-star” hostel, in the shape of Plas Curig – promising “modern decor, free Wi-Fi, 14 stylish bedrooms” within Snowdonia National Park.

All very Mr & Mrs Smith, until you get to the bit about “bespoke bunk beds”. But at £22.50 per person, you could stay for a pleasing 22 nights for the cost of a single night in the cheapest room at the Lanesborough in London. And if the prospect of sharing with the Australian national snoring team does not appeal, double and family rooms are available.

To sleep amid history, head for North Yorkshire. Ace York occupies a Georgian town house just a hop and a skip from York station. It’s as smart as can be, with an imposing staircase, panelled rooms and a rococo ceiling. You don’t get that at easyHotels. At just £16 a night, it could take the owners a while to recoup their £2m investment in refurbishing the property. But for that price you could be sharing with up to 13 other dorm-mates.

On the coast, the best address in Whitby is YO22 4JT, the postcode for the youth hostel right next to the ruined abbey. The hostel itself is a historic building, with fragments of original frescos on display.

More recent history is on offer at another Georgian building, in what is described as a “poshtel”. The location is described as “central London”, which will amuse the neighbours on Walworth Road near Elephant and Castle.

To enter the Safestay hostel, you walk up the steps where Neil Kinnock conceded defeat in the 1992 general election – because this is the former Labour Party headquarters, later known as John Smith House. The classless apparatchiks have moved out, to leave room for classy backpackers.

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