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Hostels Overseas

Offbeat Sleeps

By Guylaine Spencer

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 Ottawa is a jail cell? 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 (near Ballyraggert, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, Tel. 056-67674; is a fine example of a successful transformation. When this 16th century Norman tower house was slated for demolition in 1946 the community rallied and saved it by turning it into a popular hostel.

The castle is reminiscent of W.B. Yeats’ famous Thoor Ballylee. From the outside, its 8-feet-thick stonewalls and arrow-slit windows look cold and forbidding, but step inside and it's a different story. On the first floor is 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 £10 Irish per night), and the communal sleeping arrangement is historically accurate. After all, people in the middle ages didn't sleep in private ensuite bedrooms but in great halls filled with beds for the entire family.

The Ottawa International Hostel (75 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1N 7B9; Tel. 613-235-2595; offers another authentic historic experience. The squat grey 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). For privacy, ask about a single or 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 alternatives:

Lighthouse: Campbellton Lighthouse Hostel. 1 Ritchie St., P.O. Box 100, Campbellton, New Brunswick E3N 3G1 Canada; Tel. 506-759-7044 or 506-789-2773;

Corn Mill: Russagh Mill Hostel & Adventure Centre, Russagh, Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Ireland; Tel. 011-353-021-22451;

Monastery: The Old Monastery Hostel. Letterfrack, Co. Galway, Ireland. Tel. 011-353-095-41132 (within Ireland: 095-41132);,

Freighter Ship: Jugendgästeschiff Rostock Hostel. Rostock-Stadthafen, 18055 Rostock, Germany; Tel. 0381/6700320;,

Hilltop Fortress: Koblenz Hostel, 56077 Koblenz, Germany;,

Courthouse: 7 West Seymour St., Kamloops, B.C. V2C 1E4 Canada; Tel. 250- 828-7991;

To find and book hostels worldwide, the Internet is the best source, since published directories can go out of date quickly. has 6,000 hostels listed and claims to be the largest and most up to date site. lists about 5500 hostels. lists more than 2,000 hostels.

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