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How hostels got hip

Lowcost used to mean low comfort. But now even the cheapest rooms can be seriously chic – and you don’t have to be a backpacker to see the attraction. Lucy Gillmore checks in



If economic-downturn fatigue has got the better of you and your bank balance won’t justify an indulgent holiday, perhaps it’s time to rethink your options. Hostels (try not to choke on your cappuccino) have grown up and had a designer makeover. And it’s no longer allabout“youth”. Feargal Mooney, chief executive of the booking website Hostelworld. com, says: “Hostels have broadenedtheirappealbeyond 20-something backpackers. With much higher-quality accommodation now on offer, including private and en-suite family rooms, we’re seeing an increasing number of older travellers using hostels.” When the YouthHostelling movement began a century ago, hostels were spartan affairs. In the past few decades, though, independent hostels offering a more relaxed ambience have provided stiffcompetition for organisations such asthe Youth Hostels Association (YHA) of England and Wales, which has responded by improving hostels – from remote properties such as Black Sail in Cumbria to large city-centre places on London’s Oxford Street.There are now hostels to suit all tastes– “boutique” hostels, independent hostels and hostelling chains,funky city pads and hip (not hippie) rural hideaways. Hostelling is hot.


Portugal. Last month, Lisbon swept the board for the third year running in the annualHoscars, the hostelling version of the Oscars, founded by Hostelworld. com. The top three hostels were all in the Portuguese capital: Travellers House in the top spot, with Lisbon Lounge Hostel and Living Lounge Hostel – part of the same organisation – taking silver and bronze. Travellers House, in Baixa, the capital’s atmospheric old quarter, is a 250-year-old buildingwhich has been turned into a stylish hang-out. Beds start at €17 (£15) in a four-bed dorm (00 351 210 115 922; travellershouse.com).


Kex Hostel, an old biscuit factory in Reykjavik, is due to open next month. You probablywouldn’t expect the owners, Icelandic footballers Hermann Hreidarsson (Portsmouth FC) and Eidur Gudjohnsen (on loan at Fulham FC), to be samplingthedormbedsandcommunal kitchens, but they’re aiming for the premierleague of hostels with Kex. The contemporary design incorporates many of the factory’s original features. Flights from£89one-way with Iceland Express (0118 321 8384; icelandexpress.com) and beds fromISK3,200 (£17) in a four to sixpersondorm make the once-wallet-mugging city look oddly affordable (00 354 561 60 60; kexhostel.is).


The first lodge in Ireland to receive the EU ecolabel for tourist accommodations isaHobbit-like dwelling burrowed intoahill in Sligo. The Gyreum has been built from a mix of sustainable and reclaimed timber with sheep’s wool as roof insulation. Its name roughly translates as “round building”. During the summer and winter solstices, rays of sunlight flood the central hall of this cavernous construction. Dorms circle the central round hall, which is perfect for yoga and meditation, and there’s a wood-heated saunaand icy plunge pool. Prices start at €17 (£15) for a bed in a dorm sleeping six; breakfast is €7 (£6) (00 353 71 916 5994; gyreum.com).


Fancy bedding down in an old lighthouse keeper’s cottage? Rattray Head hostel overlooks a remote 11-mile beach in Aberdeenshire. Or how about a former Women’s Land Army hostel built in 1940 on the edge of the Northumberland National Park? On each bedroom door there is a profile of one of the girls housed there during the Second World War. In London, Clink78 Hostel is a 200- year-old courthouse. The new Independent Hostels UK handbook features 334 hostels, including 50 new additions for 2011. You can buy it for £7.45 at independent hostelguide. co.uk, where you can also search for hostels free. Or call 01629 580427 to order a copy.

FORGET BOUTIQUE HOTELS Why not check into a boutique hostel? Each room in the Fort Boutique Hostel, which opened last summer in York, is designed by a different young artist. “Country living meets city buzz”, for example, has a log cabin theme and its designer – fine-art graduate Steven Haygarth – was inspired by his aversion to hostel rooms.Prices start at £20 per person during the week, £25 at the weekend. Double rooms from £52 (01904 620 222; thefortyork.co.uk). From York to New York… the New living on a realistic budget. The 1913 building, set in Brooklyn’s hipster-central neighbourhood of Williamsburg, is all high ceilings and brickwork. Mixeddorm beds start at $52 (£32) per night with breakfast; doubles start at $80 (£50) (001 718 366 1351; nylofthostel.com).


For pampering, head to the funky Base Backpackers hostels that pepper Australia and New Zealand. In Melbourne, Base is an eye-catching architectural landmark of red glass and concrete in the cool, seaside suburb of St Kilda. As well as the Red Eye bar, there’s a gym and a girl-only Sanctuary floor. Dorm beds start at A$27 (£17), or from A$34 (£21) for a bed in the Sanctuary (00 61 3 8598 6200; stayatbase.com).


“In 1909 a teacher named Richard Schirrmann had the idea of providing low-cost overnight accommodation for young hikers, especially school parties, while he was sheltering from a thunderstorm during a school trip. In 1912, the first permanent Youth Hostel was established in Altena, Germany.” From DJH, the German Youth Hostel Association (djh.de).


“Youth hostels are for the use of members who travel on foot, by bicycle or canoe. They are not for members travelling by motor car, motor cycle or any power-assisted vehicle.” From the YHA handbook, 1964.