For young cost-conscious travelers worldwide, hostels are as much a staple as fold-up maps and books of foreign phrases. They date to 1909, when German schoolteacher Richard Schirrmann arranged for his students to stay in barns and empty schoolhouses in the German countryside to broaden their horizons. Now Hostelling International, the organization Schirrmann founded, is nearing its 100th anniversary with more than 4,000 hostels in 89 countries. But hostels are more than cheap, convenient places to stay. You'll find them in some interesting and unusual buildings -- castles, Buddhist temples or former prisons. Here, some unusual hostels in the HI network.
ALTENA YOUTH HOSTEL
Altena, Germany; 011-49-2352-23522, www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel022064.en.htm.
Details: 60 beds, meals available. Close to train and bus transport.
Wow factor:Opened by Schirrmann in 1912, Altena is said to be the world's first youth hostel, and it's housed in a 12th century castle. Highlights: Some original rooms are on display, views of the city, and there is a castle museum.
COLDITZ YOUTH HOSTEL
Colditz, Germany; 011-49-34381-45010, www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel022641.en.htm.
Details: 161 beds; open 24 hours; breakfast included in price; meals available; close to bus station.
Wow factor: The nearly 1,000-year-old German castle was built as a hunting lodge for the king of Saxony in the 11th century, destroyed in the 15th century, turned into a mental hospital in the 19th and served as a camp for prisoners during WWII. Some prominent people -- the nephews of Winston Churchill and King George VI -- were held there.
LANGHOLMEN YOUTH HOSTEL
Stockholm, Sweden; 011-46-8-7208500, www.langholmen.com.
Details: 272 beds; kitchen, family rooms, meals available; Internet access; 24 hours; close bus stop, train station.
Wow factor: Most try to avoid spending a night in a jail cell, but not at Langholmen, built as a prison in the 1830s. Like a mini-Alcatraz, Langholmen sits on a small island in Malaren Lake. The hostel has a game where guests group up and try to "escape" from the prison. The jail break comes with a two-course dinner.
LUA CHEIA YOUTH HOSTEL
Praia de Ponta Negra, Natal, Brazil; 011-55-84-32363696, www.luacheia.com.br/ingles/index1.htm.
Details: 49 beds, open 24 hours, meals available, close to bus stop.
Wow factor: Europe is teeming with castles, but not so much Brazil. The Lua Cheia hostel looks like a medieval fortress along the country's Atlantic coast. Though the castle isn't the real deal, it has a drawbridge, tavern and a dungeon.
PETER PAN YOUTH HOSTEL
Pomezia, Italy; 011-39-06-9190-0051; www.hostelbooking.com/dba/hostel031142.en.htm.
Details: Eight beds; kitchen; sailing year-round, weather and sea conditions permitting. Book early.
Wow factor: If you've ever felt a little sedentary on your travels, perhaps a stay at the Peter Pan sailing hostel will put some wind in your sails. Affiliated with Univelica, an Italian sailing school, the Peter Pan is the world's first sailing hostel. Guests aboard the Peter Pan enjoy views of the Tyrrhenian Sea as the ship's crew traverses the waters off Italy's western coast. For land lovers, the ship makes several stops along its voyage.
POINT MONTARA LIGHTHOUSE
Montara, Calif.; (650) 728-7177, www.hostelbooking.com/dba/hostel060087.en.htm.
Details: 50 beds; single-sex dorms; kitchen, meals available; Internet access.
Wow factor: Lighthouses are often seen as fortresses of solitude -- not when they're hostels, though. Established in 1875 as a fog signal station and still in operation today, Point Montara now houses a 50-bed hostel. Guests stay in converted Coast Guard quarters on lighthouse grounds. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Point Montara offers views and access to tide pools teeming with sea life.
ST. BRIAVEL'S CASTLE YOUTH HOSTEL
Lydney, England; 011-44-1594-530-272, www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel018062.en.htm.
Details: 46 beds; meals available; close to bus stop, train station.
Wow factor: Moat? Check. Drawbridge? Check. You'll find the real deal at Briavel's Castle hostel, which dates to the 13th century, when it was a hunting lodge for King John. The rooms have a Gothic charm and in August, the hostel celebrates with medieval banquets.
QIXIAN YOUTH HOSTEL
Xian, China; 011-86-29-62296977, www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel024618.en.htm.
Details: 80 beds; open 24 hours; meals available; Internet access; close to bus stop, train station.
Wow factor: The Qixian, located in the ancient city of Xian of terra-cotta-warrior fame, is in a community of traditional Chinese row houses. The building dates back to the early 1900s, and served as a post for revolutionary activities and a liaison office for China's army.
TENSHOJI YOUTH HOSTEL
Takayama-shi, Japan; 011-81-577-326-345, www.jyh.or.jp/english/toukai/hidataka.
Details: 95 beds, meals available, single-sex dorms, Internet access, close to train station.
Wow factor: Seeking a little Zen on your travels? The Tenshoji Youth Hostel in central Japan is housed in the 850-year-old Tenshoji Buddhist Temple. You'll bed down among Buddhist carvings and statues. The rooms have traditional Japanese furnishings, including tatami mats and futons. In the mornings, guests are treated to traditional Japanese music.
TREEHOUSE YOUTH HOSTEL
Mission Beach, Australia; www.yha.com.au/hostels/details.cfm?hostelid=52.
Details: 56 beds; meals available; close to bus stop, hostel courtesy bus available.
Wow factor: Roost in a treehouse in Clump Point Mountain National Park rain forest on the continent's eastern coast. During the day, cassowaries, white cockatoos and wallabies roam the grounds around the hostel. After sunset, forest sounds fill the air. The hostel, built on stilts, also affords expansive views of the rain forest and even the coast on clear days.
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