stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (2)

The oldest hostel in the world?


Feldkirch youth hostel, Austria

If these walls could talk, there would be a world-weary rasp in their voice. It would probably be a slow voice, one that needs time for thoughts to be collected. There would be a lot of thoughts to sort through… but also an inevitable sluggishness that comes from age.

You see, here at the Feldkirch youth hostel near Austria’s western border, there’s a lot of history. The hostel doesn’t claim to be the oldest in the world – but it probably could if it wanted to. It first offered respite from the road more than 300 years ago.

stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (1)

The first document that mentions the building is from 1362 and describes it as having “been around for a long time”. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was used as a leper colony – a sanctuary for them but moreso a cage to keep everyone else safe.

stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (3)

It was in the 1600s that this old castle first opened its doors to weary travellers looking for a bed for the night. Technically, the building was being used as a hospice for people who had paid a form of insurance levies during their life so they would be able to come here when they got sick in older age. But some beds were spare. They were able to be rented cheaply for a few nights by people passing through Feldkirch who couldn’t afford a room at the inn. And so the hostelling began.

By the early 1800s, it was time for a change but the community couldn’t decide what they wanted to do with ‘The Old Siechenhaus’, as it was called (or, in English, ‘The Old Infirmary’). In 1818 there was a proposal to turn it into a mental hospital but that plans was shelved because it would’ve been too expensive. In the end it became a halfway house for the poor and unemployed… again, in some form, a hostel.

stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (5)

Imagine a hostel without staff, though. A hostel where no pride is taken in the social environment or the physical condition of the residence. One where checking in means a moral defeat, rather than a step in an adventure of opportunity. That’s what the building came to embody and it fell into disrepair – much to the despair of the local community.

In 1982 a decision was made to restore the glory of The Old Siechenhaus – both its physical appearance and its social responsibility as a home for the travel-weary. About 18 million Austrian schillings (1.5 million dollars) were spent to upgrade the facilities but still maintain the history of the building – including completely preserving the façade.

stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (4)

In 1985 it opened as the youth hostel we know it today. Centuries after it first gave shelter to travellers, it was again unlocking its doors to those of us looking for a friendly roof over our heads.

It’s a pleasant place to spend a few days, nestled at the base of a green ridge. In the distance you can see the snow-topped mountains of Austria. Just a couple of kilometres away are the borders with Switzerland and Lichtenstein. The hostel itself is welcoming and comfortable with a large garden, spacious common areas and a good breakfast. And (perhaps the best part) a bed in a dorm room will only cost you 13 euros.

stel, youth hostelyouth hostel in Feldkirch, austria, world's oldest hofeldkirch, austria (6)

It may not be the oldest youth hostel in the world – or maybe it is. Who knows how you should judge these things? In some ways, descriptions like that don’t mean much anyway. What is important is knowing that if you stop here, you are following a long tradition of people doing the same. And those people have always been welcome.

* You can find out more information about staying at the Feldkirch Youth Hostel here.

  • Bret @ Green Global Travel | Jun 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Great storytelling, Michael! I Love hearing about the history of old buildings such as this one.
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: The Incredible Story of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-StarsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 2:57 am

      I’m always amazed by buildings with such a rich history. I guess it’s because none of the ones back home have more than 200 years’ worth (if that!)

  • Angela | Jun 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    This is lovely, must be fascinating staying there 🙂
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 2:57 am

      It was a really nice place to stay. The interesting building aside, it was a lovely little city to spend some time.

  • Laurence | Jun 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I really like the pictures of the old wooden structures in this post, and how you have framed/cropped them so they are interesting shots. Nice work!
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 2:58 am

      It was difficult to capture the sense of the whole building… so I just got lazy and did it this way 🙂

  • Caz Makepeace | Jun 20, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Oh what a great story. I love staying at places like these where the walls talk. Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad they restored it
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 2:59 am

      Yeah, it would have been such a shame if it had just gone to ruins.

  • Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey | Jun 20, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    A 300 year old hostel? I hope they’ve changed the mattresses…
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 2:59 am

      Ha ha. I think I’ve been to a few hostels in my time that haven’t!! 🙂

  • Natasha von Geldern | Jun 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Absolutely fascinating Michael, and a well told journey. I love the detail of the little boot – bet there’s some good hiking around.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 3:02 am

      Some great hiking nearby! I ended up going for a long walk for a couple of days that was just beautiful!! (More on that soon…)

  • jade | Jun 22, 2012 at 5:29 am

    That’s really interesting. The building looks like something out of shakespeare’s time!
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      Yeah, it’s got similar architecture to The Globe in some ways, doesn’t it?

  • Andrew | Jun 23, 2012 at 2:27 am

    How far out of town is it? We were in Feldkirch near the center last summer on our weekend to Liechtenstein. Did you get up to the old castle in town as well?
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    • Michael Turtle | Jul 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      It’s on the main road through town, but a couple of kilometres away from the centre. The old castle is pretty cool. In fact, the whole town was kind of neat!

  • Cole @ Four Jandals | Jun 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Super cute looking. Any good adventure activities nearby? Even if there weren’t probably worth a visit just for the photos 🙂
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    • Michael Turtle | Jul 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      There’s lots of great hiking in the region. And it’s a good jumping-off point to visit Lichtenstein (which is the main reason I was there).

  • Natalie | Jun 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I am not normally one for places like this but it actually looks quite cool
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    • Michael Turtle | Jul 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      And it was really relaxed and casual when I was there. A great place to chill out for a bit, if you’re ever in the region.

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