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Unique Swedish Hostels

Wandering Homes Offer Lodging with Character

The 300 youth hostels of the Swedish Touring Club offer tourists and locals alike the chance to stay in surroundings ranging from former castles to converted prisons at affordable prices.

In Sweden-where youth hostels are called vandrarhem (wandering homes)-hostels have never been exclusively, or even typically, for young people. When it started managing youth hostels in 1933, STF had already been around since 1885 and saw hosteling as an extension of its ongoing mission: to bring Swedes to the Swedish mountains. It built hiking and skiing trails as well as cabins throughout much of the country's high terrain. At lower elevations it established hostels, usually at one day's cycling distance from each other. The "wandering homes" contributed to the preservation of cultural landmarks. Only a small minority of Swedish hostels were originally built as hostels. In Stockholm, for example, you can book a bed at a former prison, L´┐Żngholmen, or on a 115-year-old sailing vessel, af Chapman. As you travel from one Swedish hostel to another, each offers a new discovery. While you still see bicycles in front of Swedish hostels, you also see Porsches, Mercedes, and Volvos.

More than 90 percent of hostel guests arrive by car-many loaded with bicycles, canoes, fishing gear, and diving equipment. Many hostels also recreational equipment; they may even collect greens fees for the local golf course. Swedes and foreign visitors alike who vacation via hostels prefer environment over luxury and want to meet other people without being forced to mingle. They prefer to spend money on restaurants and other attractions rather than on accommodations, and they like to be active.

Hosteling is a self-service activity. You make the bed yourself. You have a kitchen in which to prepare your own food and a lounge for TV and visiting with other guests. Because you are almost forced to converse with fellow guests, it is easy to get acquainted. Soon you will be chatting up a storm and meeting lifelong friends who will likely be locals. Of the more than one million guest nights registered in hostels each year, only 25 percent are by foreigners.

For More Info: The Swedish Touring Club (STF), www.stfturist.se, is one of 65 members of Hostelling International. You don't have to be a member of Hostelling International to overnight at its hostels, but in Scandinavia membership saves you $5 to $6 per night. You can also obtain membership through your own national organization in North America.

Contact: American Youth Hostels, Inc., 733 15th St., NW, Suite 840, Washington, DC 20005; 202-783-6161, fax 202-283-6171; hiayhserv@hiayh.org, www.iyhf.org.

MAIT JUHLIN worked as marketing manager in Swedish tourism for 20 years. Today she is a freelancer in the field of tourism, art, and Swedish design and commutes between Sweden and the U.S.

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