What if someone told you that for the price of a few pints you could spend the night in an Irish castle? Or, that one of the best places to sleep while vacationing in Canada’s capital is a jail cell? If your response is that your informant has probably been kissing the Blarney Stone or guzzling the Guinness, you’re in for a surprise. In fact, the castle and jail are just two examples of historic buildings that have been converted into hostels in recent decades.
Treasured by budget travelers for their utility and affordability, these hostels are also tourist attractions in their own right. Foulksrath Castle is a fine example of a successful transformation. When this 15th century Norman Tower House was slated for demolition in 1946, the community rallied and saved it by turning it into a popular hostel.
Seated in lush, peaceful farmland about eight km (five miles) outside of the frenetic tourist town of Kilkenny, the castle’s eight-feet-thick (2.5 m) stone walls and arrow-slit windows look cold and forbidding, but step inside and it’s a different story. Foulksrath is reminiscent of W.B. Yeats’ infamous 16th century castle home, Thoor Ballylee, in Gort town.
This castle is truly a home away from home. On the first floor, you’ll find a fully-equipped kitchen where you can cook dinner or make a cup of tea. If you’re tired, just sit back in one of the wing-backed chairs in front of the fireplace in the common room. The steep, circular stone staircase (haunted, they say, by a female ghost) leads to three dormitory rooms holding 12 to 22 beds each, so this isn’t the place to take your prince or princess for an intimate getaway.
On the other hand, the price is right, around €12 per night (US$ 15) and the communal sleeping arrangement is historically more accurate than today’s prettified luxury castles. After all, people in the Middle Ages didn’t sleep in private en-suite bedrooms, but in great halls filled with beds for the entire family.
The Ottawa International Hostel offers another authentic historic experience, albeit one of a different sort. The squat gray stone structure, built in the 1860s, is a former county jail. The hostel bills itself as the site of Canada’s last public hanging (whether this is intended to attract or deter guests is not certain). You can visit death row and the gallows during a Jail Tour and sleep in a real cell with metal bars on the door. For more privacy, ask about renting a single/family room for the night. The hostel publishes postcards of its site, and who can resist the temptation to send a postcard home with the message: “Staying in jail in Ottawa, having a wonderful time!”
If a haunted castle sounds too spooky and the jail reminds you too much of that job you’re fleeing, don’t despair. There are many other interesting, off-the-beaten-path alternatives:
· Teepees, log cabin and covered wagons: AYH Ranch Hostel. 12119 SW Cove Road, Vashon Island, WA 98070 USA; 206-463-2592; www.vashonhostel.com
· Lighthouse: Campbellton Lighthouse Hostel. 1 Ritchie Street, P.O. Box 100, Campbellton, New Brunswick E3N 3G1 Canada; 506-759-7044 or 506-789-2773; www.hihostels.ca
· Corn mill : Russagh Mill Hostel & Adventure Centre. Russagh, Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Ireland; 353-021-22451; www.hostels-ireland.com
· Factory: Paddy’s Backbacker Linen House. 18-20 Kent Street, Belfast, Ireland BT1 2JA;44-028-90586400; www.belfasthostel.com
· Monastery : The Old Monastery Hostel. Letterfrack, Co. Galway, Ireland; 353-095’41132; Within Ireland: 095-41132; www.hostels-ireland.com
· 18th Century Hunting Lodge: Ballintaggart House Hostel, Racecourse Road, Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland; 353-066-9151454; www.dingleaccommodation.com
· Medieval town house: Barnacles Quay Street House. 10 Quay Street, Galway, Co. Galway, Ireland; 353-091-568644; www.barnacles.ie
· Freighter ship: Jugendgaesteschiff Rostock Hostel, Rostock-Stadthafen, 18055 Rostock, Germany; 0381/6700320; web01.djh.de/international
· Hilltop Fortress: Koblenz Hostel. 56077 Koblenz, Germany;0261/972870; web01.djh.de/international
· Courthouse: 7 West Seymour Street, Kamloops, British Columbia V2C 1E4 Canada; 250-828-7991; www.hihostels.ca
· Immigration Station: Seattle International AYH 84 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101 USA; 888-622-5443 or 206-622-5443; www.hiseattle.org
· Jail: 75 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1N 7B9; 613-235-2595; www.hihostels.ca
· Castle: Near Ballyraggert, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, 353-05667674. www.anoige.ie/accommodation_kilkenny_foulksrath.html