Cape Town’s boutique backpackers opened in 1990, when apartheid ended and The Backpack’s switched-on female owners decided to create a hostel worthy of the new South Africa. True to that mission, the Backpack remains a hip, vibrant hangout, where you can play pool in the courtyard, drink local beers in the bar and organise a trip to the bushveld or a stint in a local township program. The Afro-funk décor is a colourful canvas of Xhosa beadwork and shweshwe fabric, celebrating Cape Town’s current tenure as World Design Capital 2014 (www.wdccapetown2014.com), and the on-site shop sells Zulu necklaces, Xhosa dolls and Mandela bags.
Accommodation ranges from the safari tent and small en-suite dorms to luxurious attic rooms, which have features including exposed beams and skylights with Table Mountain views. Best of all, the Backpack contributes to its African employees’ college funds and supports township schemes.
“On several stays at The Backpack, I’ve always enjoyed the sociable atmosphere, which is encouraged by the chatty staff and often leads to a night in nearby Long Street’s bars.” - James BainbridgeEnjoy five-star views from Sydney's best-situated hostel. Image courtesy of Sydney Harbour YHA.
Location, view, bargain rates, history, friendly staff? It’s hard to say exactly what makes this one of the best hostels in the world so it’s probably wisest to say everything. The location, in the Rocks, is second to none, with narrow pub-lined streets offering stop-you-in-your-tracks glimpses of the harbour. Which brings you to the view from the hostel itself. Most rooms have great vistas, but for the best, head to the roof terrace which lauds it over the city with a 360-degree view taking in the Opera House, Bridge and just about everything else. And while nearby hotels charge large sums for this kind of panorama, the YHA charges what you’d expect a YHA to charge – from $45 for a dorm bed. Plus the staff are friendly, the décor cool but practical, and there’s even some old (by Sydney standards) archaeological remains to explore in the basement.
“For someone like me, interested in history and appreciating a good view, this place ticked all the boxes. I got room 214 (the best in the place) and could happily have spent my stay just looking out the window.” - Cliff Wilkinson
3. Inkosana Lodge, Champagne Valley, Drakensberg, South AfricaInkosana Lodge, tucked away in the glorious greenery of South Africa's Champagne Valley. Image courtesy of Inkosana Lodge.
When a sign on your bed says ‘made up’, you know you've found one heck of an organised place. Nestled in the undulating hills of Champagne Valley in the Drakensberg region, Inkosana Lodge has everything, from a stunning setting in indigenous gardens with a panorama of the Drakensberg peaks, to great accommodation options - a backpacker's lodge with bunk beds and private thatched-roofed rondavels with (or without) ensuites. Then there's braais (barbecues) and a self-catering kitchen.
Inkosana is the perfect launching pad for walks - long and short. Fortunately for hikers, the lodge's charismatic owner, Ed, is a former climber, and is the region's trekking-man-in-the-know. However, Inkosana is also renowned as a relaxing getaway - think prolific birdlife, a swimming tank and home-cooked meals.
“I have goose-bump moments when I sit on Inkosana's lawns at dusk watching the dramatic cloud formations over the rugged peaks, while listening to the birds or songs that echo across the valley from the local villages (oh, and if it's tunes you want, Inkosana is located near the Drakensberg Boy's Choir, which gives performances in summer)”. - Kate Armstrong
Whether you’re savouring a leisurely breakfast in the sun-dappled courtyard or snuggling down in an antique bed, the Old Plovdiv Guesthouse oozes old-world charm. This beautifully restored boutique hostel is right in the heart of Plovdiv’s colourful and cobblestoned Old Town. Private and dorm rooms are all bedecked with hand-picked antiques, and lovingly painted in pastel shades from orange to sky blue.Stay the night in Plovdiv's most characterful hostel. Image courtesy of Old Plovdiv Guesthouse.
The entire property is a labour of love for the owner Hristo Giulev and his wife, who rescued it from dilapidation. Today it’s unrecognisable, easily as lovely as the folk museums sprinkled around Plovdiv’s Old Town. And the entire staff welcome guests like family.
“Within ten minutes of arriving, I was sitting with hot tea and a basket of fish, shooting the breeze with the owner who immediately hooked me up with travellers heading the same way as me. The welcome I received at this guesthouse is a large factor in why I fell head over heels with this spirited city.” - Anita Isalska
5. Gasthof Grüner Baum (www.gasthofgruenerbaum.it), Glorenza, Sudtirol, ItalyLow-price luxury amid the wild Italian Alps. Image courtesy of Guenter Wett.
At the Val Venosta's far end, just shy of the Swiss border, lies Glorenza (Glurns), a tiny city entirely enclosed by its medieval walls and snug in the embrace of some of Italy’s wildest, snowiest Alps. Gasthof Grüner Baum’s typically Tirolean façade dominates the cobbled central square and what awaits inside is unexpected. The inn’s some 500-year-old bones combine with an arresting, if ever graceful, contemporary refit. Light filters across floors, stark white walls are offset by pale, patinaed boiserie and a scattering of antiques. There are just ten rooms: all unique, all generous of scale and featuring a beguiling mix of elegant, often witty, modern furniture, vintage curios and unfussy, but rather luxurious, linen.
“Spring was dragging its heels the weekend I happened upon Glorenza and it was wet, with a chill sweeping down from the still snowy Ortler peaks. Perfect weather to thaw out in my room’s freestanding ‘egg’ bath, pore over a history of local frescoes in the library's calm and to linger over an earthy, big-flavoured dinner and an elegant white in the pretty, pared-back stuben.” - Donna Wheeler
6. Oztel, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilBeat Brazil's high prices with a stay at Oztel. Image courtesy of Oztel.
A founding member of an idea to turn Rio's residential Botofogo neighborhood into an artsy, bohemian nightlife enclave that draws travellers away from Ipanema and Copacobana's often overpriced hotels, this boutique hostel and hotel is a conceptual revelation: a design-forward blueprint doesn't have to mean alarmingly cold and/or wallet-retreating expensive. Buried discreetly away on a nondescript thoroughfare under the nose of Corcovado and Rio's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, entering Oztel is bit like stepping through the looking glass.
As you wander across clean marble from garden patio private rooms with views of Christo to the colorful bar and groovy front deck, this space evokes a Warholian aesthetic that leaves you feeling as though you've had a night in a MOMA. The fact that you can actually secure a dorm bed here for as little as R$55 in the dead of summer is downright chimera-esque.
"I've seen a lot of hostels in my day, but Oztel was unlike anything I had previously stumbled upon, especially when you factor in cost in a notoriously overpriced country like Brazil. Behind uneventful walls, a world of kitsch and design presents itself as if Scandinavian, not tropical; but the real coup is that the owners maintain the space like a work of art, not a hotel and certainly not a hostel." - Kevin Raub
7. Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth, IsraelExperience Nazareth like a local at this inn with an incredible history. Image courtesy of Fauzi Azar Inn.
The Fauzi Azar inn, named after the patriarch of the owning family who died saving the house from a fire, is an inspiration. Rescued from years of dilapidation and damage thanks to the efforts of an Israeli backpacker, the 200-year-old Ottoman-style stone house has been restored to its former glory (frescos and all) and now acts as one of the world’s most interesting guesthouses.
The highlight of any stay is the morning walking tour organised by the inn that allows an unrivalled and authentic experience of Arab life within Israel while helping to support the local community. The steady trickle of tourist shekels spent in local businesses thanks to the tour has helped to rejuvenate Nazareth’s Old City from a crime-ridden no-go area into an increasingly prosperous one.
“Sitting around the breakfast table, listening to Fauzi Azar’s granddaughter talk about the history of the house and the leap of faith for an old Arab family to allow a young Jew to redevelop it left me hopeful that common ground can always be found if you look hard enough.” - Tom HewitsonStep into We Hostel's immaculate interior in São Paulo's leafy Vila Mariana district. Image by Felipe Hess and Fran Parente, courtesy of WE Hostel.
In a gorgeous 100-year-old historic white mansion in the leafy residential neighborhood of Vila Mariana, We stands out among the crowded São Paulo sleeps. If not for the near wraparound porch and pristinely preserved exterior, then for its intensely curated interior common areas: retro furniture perfectly placed just here, procured antiques strategically positioned just there, an overall attention to detail and design that no hostel in its right mind would ever take on. Hardwood parquet flooring and a spiral staircase evoke a bygone area of the city, when form and function trumped efficiency and price. Though the rooms are simpler affairs, they take advantage of the olden architecture, with bright casement windows providing natural light and yet even more hardwood. File it under Hostel: Redefined.
"My first thought when I laid eyes on We was, 'How do they keep a hostel this nice?' Travellers can accelerate wear and tear but this place was obviously tended to with Downton Abbey diligence. Then I started noticing the attention to detail: even the dishes were meticulously researched and presented. It looks like a display hostel from a Midcentury Modern Hostel Museum, except here you can sit in the chairs and walk across the floors " - Kevin Raub
9. Hotel Hotel Hostel, Seattle, USAEmbrace Fremont's quirk with a stay at Hotel Hotel Hostel. Image courtesy of Hotel Hotel Hostel.
With such an unconventional name, it comes as no surprise to find that Seattle’s Hotel Hotel Hostel is located in Fremont, the city’s wackiest neighbourhood, famous for its outlandish public sculpture, junk shops, and annual nude cyclist’s parade.
Encased in a terracotta building sandwiched between a bar and a micro-creamery, the establishment’s interior is modern but minimalist with exposed brick walls, grey office-style carpets and low-slung beds creating a look best described as ‘industrial-chic’. Far from being just another hostel for cash-strapped backpackers, HHH is a hybrid that welcomes all-comers. You can hang out in its brain surgery-clean lounge and kitchen with old hippies, young hipsters, or even parents with their kids. Aside from dorms and double rooms, some with private bathrooms, the accommodation includes a specially designed family room.
“The hostel’s biggest draw is its location. Refreshingly detached from the sirens, panhandlers and 24/7 pace of central Seattle, this is a place to come to sample some of the city’s more unusual attractions in a neighbourhood whose motto is ‘De Libertas Quirkas’ (Freedom to be Peculiar).” - Brendan Sainsbury
10. On the Corner, Kolomyya, Ukraine
The proprietors of Ukraine’s five-star palaces have been scratching their heads in bewilderment for a few years now. The reason? Well, they just can’t fathom how a family-run guesthouse in a provincial town in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains could be persistently rated as Ukraine’s best place to stay.Feel like one of the family at this cosy Carpathian guesthouse. Image courtesy of On the Corner.
The answer is simple – run by Vitaliy Pavliuk, his mother and several uncles, cousins and so on, the On the Corner experience feels like a get-together with a family you’ve known for years. Some of Eastern Europe’s most mouth-watering homemade fare, a surprising range of facilities, tours with incredibly knowledgeable guides and an atmosphere of authentic Carpathian hospitality make this by far the best base for exploring the region’s cultural tapestry. And when you return in the evenings, a colourful story swap across the long communal dinner table with a gaggle of global travellers is guaranteed.
“I arrived ‘On the Corner’ the day before the American Ambassador was due to visit – he’d heard so many Peace Corps volunteers rave about the place, he’d decided to come and check things out for himself!” - Marc di Duca
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