Glendalough, a lovely wooded valley 20 miles south of Dublin, Ireland, has a magical feel to it. Since the 6th century, saints and scholars have traveled to this peaceful spot to meditate and study. The Glendalough International Youth Hostel was recently reopened after extensive renovations, offering an economical base for exploring the area.
Legend has it that the site began as a monastic center in the 6th century with the arrival of St. Kevin, who retreated to a cave just above a lake to meditate and pray. Today the cave, which can be reached only by boat, is known as St. Kevin's Bed.
Modern tourists still come to wander around the ruins, which include St. Kevin's Church and a 10th to 12th century tower well over 100 feet tall.
The recently renovated Glendalough Youth Hostel, telephone 011-353-404-45-342, also known as The Lodge, can accommodate up to 120. Expect to pay about $12.50 for accommodations in a shared room. The hostel stays open year-round, and there is daily bus service from Dublin. The national hosteling association, An Oige, produces a free pamphlet with a map that outlines hiking routes between eight of the hostels in the region. Copies are available at the Dublin Youth Hostel.
This is only one of several key Irish hostels that have gone through major face lifts this year. Budget travelers will also find newly renovated facilities in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.
The Dublin Youth Hostel is in what was originally a convent. Its chapel is now the hostel dining room, and the confessional houses the pay telephone. This hostel is centrally located at 61 Mountjoy St., tel. 011-353-1-830-1766. The 353-bed hostel also offers city walking tours and has bike rentals available. Guests can prepare their own meals or visit the hostel restaurant (overnight fees include continental breakfast). You will also find Internet services and travel information. Beds are available in shared rooms for $14.50 to $17.50 per night. Nonmembers pay an extra 75 cents.
The 100-bed Cork International Youth Hostel, located at 1/2 Redclyffe Western Road, tel. 011-353-21-543-289, has been completely redone, and all rooms--maximum 10 beds--now have private bathrooms. Rates for beds in shared rooms (two to 10 beds) range from $11 to $18. The hostel is open 24 hours per day, year-round.
Cork is the second largest city in Ireland. Hostel guests can follow a tourist trail that leads to the Cork City Gaol, St. Finnbarr's Cathedral, Shandon's bells, the Firkin Crane Centre, the Crawford Art Gallery and the English Market. The city museum and University College Cork are next to the hostel in Fitzgerald Park. Blarney Castle is about five miles out of town. Bike rentals are available from the hostel.
Also recently redone is the 66-bed Limerick City Hostel at 1 Pery Square, tel. 011-353-61-314-672. Settled by Vikings 1,000 years ago, Limerick is just 10 miles from Shannon Airport. One of its major draws today is King John's Castle, built in 1210. The hostel is located in a townhouse on a quiet city square. Beds are available from $11 per night.
The Irish Youth Hostel Assn. has created "Go As You Please" packages. They cover periods from one to four weeks and include accommodation vouchers that can be used at affiliated hostels, as well as train tickets or bicycle rentals. Contact An Oige, 61 Mountjoy St., Dublin 7; tel. 011-353-1-830-4555.
Hostelling International: American Youth Hostels (HI-AYH) has opened another hostel in Portland, Ore. It is located at 1818 N.W. Glisan, tel. (503) 241-2783, a neighborhood that features shops, cafes, bookstores, theaters and a Saturday craft market. Guests have use of a kitchen. There are 32 beds, an on-site espresso/pastry bar, laundry facilities and 24-hour access. Dorm beds are $14 to $15 per night for HI members; nonmembers pay $17 to $18. There will be walking tours plus trips to the coast, Mt. St. Helens and the Columbia River Gorge. The HI-AYH Web site is http://www.hiayh.org.
Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at http://www.izon.com.