Forest hut at Kolarbyn (Photo: Lasse Fredriksson)
List Words : Rosie Driffill | 15 August

7 eco-friendly youth hostels in Europe

Rosie Driffill highlights the best of Europe's eco-hostels, ideal for short city breaks

Marrying a passion for travel with a desire to preserve the planet is no mean feat; air travel, car rental and higher-than-usual levels of consumption and waste continue to find themselves the subject of contentious debate. Yet finding somewhere ‘green’ to stay is not as tricky as it once was, and if you’re into backpacking, a sojourn at one of these eco-friendly hostels is well worth a go. From support for the local economy to water-saving initiatives, energy efficiency to extensive recycling schemes, those behind the concept strive to adopt a comprehensive approach to eco-hostelling, proving that when it comes to travel, guests’ interests are far from compromised by sustainable initiatives.

Though there is some scope for improvement – some of the lodgings featured serve meat and are yet to make full use of renewable energy resources, for instance – there is much to be lauded in the efforts to improve visitor experience and creating a new mindset among tourists...

1. National Forest Youth Hostel, Derbyshire, England

Contemporary and functional, with en-suite rooms and self-catering equipment, this forward-thinking hostel is renowned for its vested interest in the local economy. Serving up organic wines, local ales and produce from the National Forest, it offers a rustic, back-to-basics feel in spite of its modern amenities. With features that range from solar panels to spray taps and showers designed to reduce water consumption, this hostel serves as an ideal eco-base from which to explore the local attractions – llama trekking anyone?

Facilities include: 83 beds, restaurant and dining area, cycle store, self-catering kitchen, lounge area, TV, garden, internet. 

Ideal for: Families looking for a cheap, activity-filled break. 

2. Loch Ossian, Inverness, Scotland

Located at the top of the striking Rannoch Moor, when it comes to green initiatives this self-catering hostel certainly doesn’t do things by halves. Having incorporated dry toilet systems and ecological paint, not to mention recycling of grey water, its appeal lies in its ability to deliver on sustainability and guest satisfaction. Lauded as homely and practical by visitors, Loch Ossian has done away with showers and fridges in favour of wash rooms and a small portion of the loch for keeping perishables cool!

Fancy blow-drying your hair after a drizzly day on the banks of the loch? Dry away! This hostel’s electricity is sourced from wind and solar power, completing its holistic approach to green hostelling.

Facilities include: 20 beds, nearby harbour, garden, common room, self-catering kitchen.

Ideal for: Hikers and cyclists with a penchant for cooking up delicious food from scratch.

3. Hostel Milan Piero Rotta, Milan, Italy

In line with the city’s reputation for architectural mastery, the renovation of Hostel Milan (Ostello Milano in Italian) was based on cutting-edge innovation, incorporating rooftop vacuum-tube solar for the production of hot water and solar panels to generate the building’s electricity. The inspiration behind these refurbishments was the carbon-conscious spirit of the hostel’s young visitors, and designers have made it their mission to set standards for the future of eco-hostelling.

Facilities include: 240 beds, garden, self-catering kitchen, free Wi-Fi, coin laundry.

Ideal for: Couples and groups looking for a sustainable city break.

4. Kolarbyn, Skinnskatteberg, Sweden

Two hours from Stockholm, Sweden’s ‘most primitive hotel’ is swathed in wilderness, offering lodgings to only the most intrepid of tourists. Comprising 12 forest huts, each with two beds and a (sustainably-sourced) wood heater, Kolarbyn leaves no stone unturned in its mission for all guests to be completely at one with nature.

Fancy a wash? A jaunt to the spring it is: any water used has to be fetched from here. Hungry? Guests must cook everything from scratch using only the most primitive of kitchen tools, and are encouraged to incorporate as much local, organic produce as possible into their fare.

Facilities include: 12 huts, candles and matches, rugs, basic kitchen facilities, access to big hut (45 seats) if not occupied.

Ideal for: Nature lovers for whom ‘creature comforts’ does not feature in their vocabulary.

5. Can Sala, near Girona, Spain

Can Sala offers much to the solace-seeking tourist, but a stay here warrants a couple of days’ respite at least: guests are discouraged from using this lodging as a mere pit-stop on their travels. The location is far from Girona’s city centre, and visitors are invited to experience the hostel’s ethos rather than treat it as a crash pad.

A stay at Can Sala is defined by the owners’ embracing – and protecting – the environment; they ensure the on-site shop is stocked only with organic produce, maintain a natural swimming pool for their guests to use and base their water and agricultural systems on permaculture.

Facilities include: 29 beds, swimming pool, internet access and Wi-Fi, laundry service, common area, outside area.

Ideal for: Outdoors-y types seeking activity by day, peace by night.

6. Hostel Reykjavik City, Reykjavik, Iceland

An eco-certified lodging since 2004, Reykjavik City Hostel’s green credentials extend beyond its walls to the city itself. The team’s aim is to ‘contribute towards a style of travelling that increases people’s knowledge of their environment’ and ‘respect for the cultural values of cities and towns,’ and as such has made sure there is ample scope to make the most of the capital by way of promoting green methods of travel: guests are encouraged to travel to and from the hostel by bike or on foot. From an extensive recycling system to organised glacial tours, when it comes to environmental awareness this hostel’s features rectify the cause and home in on the effect.

Facilities include: 170 beds, garden, TV room, self-catering kitchen, playground, games room, internet access.

Ideal for: Couples and groups looking for an alternative city escape.

7. Palace Hostel Schlossherberge, Vienna, Austria

Open 24 hours a day in one of Europe’s most lively cities, you’d be forgiven for thinking this hostel’s primary aim was to lure in the masses. Yet proving that this can be done in an environmentally-conscious way, Hostel Schlossherberge has been awarded an Austrian eco-label for its commitment to sustainable tourism, as demonstrated by its bike rental scheme, organic breakfast products and recycling initiatives. Surrounded by vineyards, meadows and forest, this hostel is ideally placed for a city-cum countryside retreat.

Facilities include: 164 beds, games room, lounge area, bike hire, laundry service, TV room, outside area, internet access in public areas.

Ideal for: Sports fans: ballgame facilities reign supreme here.

Have you visited one of these hostels? Think you know of an even greener place to stay? Share your thoughts!