Best Hostel Chains 2013

HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ have announced their ‘Best Chains’ for 2013 and the winners are:

Generator, PLUS and Equity Point!

All are juggernauts in the industry and set for expansion in 2013.

Generator Berlin Mitte is due to open towards the end of April, along with their two Barcelona properties (Hotel & Hostel – same building, separate receptions). The growth that Generator has experienced in the last two years has been phenomenal. Long gone are the days of having a stand-alone property in London – they now hold fort in Hamburg, Venice, Dublin, Copenhagen and Berlin East. They have recently re-branded with a new bright pink logo and have modernised their look, moving away from the rave hey day of the nineties.

Generator Logo

I was at ITB last week and attended a great party by Generator – billed as “rising from the ashes for one night only!” in the Mitte property. Great location for the hot ‘industrial Berlin’ party that ensued, with VJs, DJs spinning proper vinyl, fire performers and classy mixologists creating deadly cocktails for the night.

Equity Point is considered the most worldly of the three chains, with properties in the USA, UK, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Equity Point also opens in Prague within the next few weeks. It’s location can’t be beat, in close proximity to Charles Bridge in the ‘Old Town’, where you find the famous Prague Astronomical Clock.  Equity has always fared well in regards to recognitions and industry awards, with a lot of other hostels trying to follow in their footsteps.

Equity Point

PLUS has really grown due to its Berlin opening a few years back, making it the third country it has foundations in. Infamous already for providing fun and varied accommodations in Italy, the chain also has a base in Prague…. and is rumoured to be eyeing off their next country  to conquer! Their camping grounds and facilities really set the brand apart from the other winning chains…. if you want a real ‘Roman holiday‘ than this chain is definitely for you!

PLUS logo

Congrats to all three on the amazing achievement and for forging their niche products in what has become an extremely cut-throat, competitive market

Check out all the Awards for Excellence winners here:

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet


HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013

Well – that time of year is upon us again, where we get to award all the best properties from around the world who work with us at HostelBookers! For the second year, I have had the honour of selecting the winners – a mind boggling task. So many excellent properties working hard to achieve their personal objectives of creating great brands and customer experiences.

The selection process took roughly 3 days and involved analysing a lot of data based largely on customer reviews. This year’s categories include Best Hostel Chains, the first time we have done this in the four years history of our Awards for Excellence! Other categories include the following:

Most Popular ; Best Overall ; Best Atmosphere ; Best Staff ; Award for Cleanliness ; Best new accommodation ; Best for solo travellers ; Best for families ; Best for couples ; Best value hotels ; Group recognition

So many awards – 200 to be exact! This is such a small percentage of the 22,000 properties that we have on our books at HostelBookers… so it is rather exclusive.

The Awards for Excellence launch at the start of March, so keep your eyes open for this year’s winners…. this is definitely the strongest list put together ever. You will see all your favourite brands and some great independent properties…. small (6 beds) to large (800 beds)… hostels, hotels, B&B’s, apartments and even campsites!

I should stop there, as I don’t wish to give too much away… needless to say, we are all super excited for the launch…. check out last year’s winners here:

Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget

Tanneries Morocco e1330608829318 Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget

Here are a few tips from HostelBookers’ Ryan Bennett on how you can save money while travelling through beautiful Morocco…


From Marrakech you can organise tours and trips out into the Sahara desert, which is a must – you can sleep under the stars in a Berber tent, ride camels across the desert at sunset, watch the sun rise over the dunes, and drive through the Atlas Mountains. All tours on this route stay in the same places, so there is a chance to meet heaps of people, and food, petrol, and accommodation are usually included in the price.

Look out for tours where you sleep in Berber tents in the Sahara Desert.  The ‘staff’ here cook for you and host a big musical jam session, playing their drums around the fire and getting you involved in a Berber sing along!


tagine Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s really easy to eat cheaply and well in Morocco – the average meal will be around €5 for a simple Moroccan curry and flatbread, or roast chicken and rice in a restaurant. Even cheaper are street stalls and fast food shops. You can get steamed broad beans, roasted nuts and barbecued corn on the cob on the street, and hot roasted chicken or huge sandwiches stuffed with french fries and mayonnaise from Rotisserie shops. Another cheap meal is Harira – a soup of lentils, chick peas, tomatoes and vegetables, served with bread.

Make sure you try a tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables served with heaps of couscous, or Pastilla, thin pieces of flaky dough layered with sweet and spiced meat, almond paste, and dusted with icing sugar. Typical Berber dishes include Kaliya, a dish of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.


Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, and so dry. Alcohol is usually only available in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels and discos. As a rule, alcohol is easier to find in backpacker-friendly places like Essaouira, or in supermarkets out of town.

If you don’t want alcohol, you can drink amazing freshly squeezed orange juice or fresh mint tea for only a few cents.

As a rule, do not drink the tap water in Morocco, because you might get an upset stomach. Bottled water is widely available.

Any traveller will be offered mint tea, or as locals like to call it ‘Moroccan whiskey’. Often this is a chance to lure you into a shop, but it is polite to accept. Before drinking look the host in the eye and say ‘bi saha raha’ – which means ‘enjoy and relax’.


A popular way of getting to Morocco is from Tarifa, on the southern tip of Spain. A one-way high-speed Ferry service is roughly €25 and takes 35 mins. Entry point is the port town of Tangier. Tarifa is great for windsurfing and attracts a large crowd.Algeciras is also an exit point if you don’t wish to travel to the southern tip.

Tarifa ferry e1330609811386 Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s quite common, and surprisingly cheap to get cabs between cities – e.g. Tangier to Chef, or Marrakesh to Essaouira – if you split the cost. Otherwise, it’s quite easy to get around by bus. Supertours and CTM, the main bus companies charge for luggage, depending on what you have, but the service is quick. If you are in a hurry, try to take a Supertours bus as they take make fewer stops.

Trains are fine to catch, and you’ll sit in cabins. If you have food and drink be sure to offer it around to everyone, especially if they are Moroccan, as it is the custom.


The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (Dh or MAD), which is divided into 100 centimes. Only local currency is officially accepted in Morocco, so it’s virtually impossible to obtain local currency outside the country. Luckily exchange rates are the same at all banks and official exchanges, as required by law. To exchange your money, find a bank, dedicated exchange office, or major post office. Cash machine/ATMs are usually in the modern ‘ville nouvelle’ shopping districts of big cities – but make sure it accepts foreign cards before you put your card in!


The biggest religious event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the daytime and feast at night. The dates are July 21 – August 19 for 2012.

This shouldn’t affect travellers too much, as the restrictions don’t apply to non-Muslims. But it is respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during this time. Most restaurants are closed for lunch and things generally slow down. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for about a week and the roads are packed as everybody heads back to their home village.

Advice for Women

Traveling to Morocco alone or in a group of girls? Then check out Lauren Smith’s top tips for girls heading to Morocco.

souk 350x233 custom Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s unusual for women to be seen travelling alone in Morocco, so some single women may find themselves being stared at or asked questions by locals. On public transport, single girls may find Moroccan women try to look after you – just remember these actions are all out of a motherly instinct or concern rather than anything threatening.

As a Muslim country, women should respect the culture and dress accordingly – wear long trousers, skirts and long sleeved shirts. A shawl around your shoulders or over your head will also prevent you from getting harassed in the more manic cities. Blonde girls especially will find they get a lot of attention at the souks!

Note that a women travelling alone may feel more comfortable in a pastry shop or restaurant rather than a cafe, as these are traditionally reserved for men.

Both women and men should check before entering a Mosque in Morocco – some do not allow foreigners or non-Muslims of any sex inside.

Hammam etiquette

If you want a bit of pampering on the road, a Hammam (a type of steam bath) is an authentic and dirt cheap alternative to a hotel spa. Stripping off in a public bath can seem a little daunting, but going to a Hammam is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette. Just remember these rules:

  1. Bring dark underwear with you, and a dry pair to change into afterwards.
  2. Bring your normal bath stuff with you – soap, shampoo, scrubbing mitt and towel.
  3. Once inside, you collect hot and cold water in buckets. Mix the buckets for temperature and pour them on yourself as you wash.
  4. Once you have paid your entrance fee, remember to tip the person who looks after your belongings with a couple of dirhams.
  5. This is not one for couples – men and women take their Hammam seperately!

Bilbao, San Sebastian, Biarrtiz & Bordeaux

Backpacking from Bilbao to Bordeaux!

Thinking of backpacking across Europe? Then follow our blogger Ryan Bennett, who travelled from the Spanish city of Bilbao to Bordeaux in France. With itineraries, tips on food, sights and getting around, it’s the essential guide for travelling on a budget…

PB020071 461x346 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to Bordeaux

The route between Bilbao and Bordeaux is a notorious ‘foodie’ route, and you can do it in 10 days. With amazing food, great sites and scenery along the way, it’s also affordable too: Here’s my budget for a 10 day trip:

Easy Jet flies into Bilbao and out of Bordeaux
2 x one way Flights (inc. taxes, baggage & online check in) – £75

Travel expenses between cities (inc. buses & trains) – £70

Main Travel Expenses between 5 cities (3 countries) – £145


There is no doubt that the main attraction here is The Guggenheim, a spectacularly modern piece of architecture that houses some interesting  artworks, exhibitions and installations. It is very easy to just fly into Bilbao, visit the Guggenheim (allow 3 hrs minimum) and catch the bus for an hour to San Sebastian. However, an overnight stay in this city is definitely recommended to get to the heart of  Basque country and discover what makes it tick.

Getting There:

PB010026 393x295 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxFrom the airport, a Shuttle bus will quickly take you into town for €1.20. There are 3 stops. The 1st stop is just over the main bridge into town, where you will get a glimpse of the Guggenheim. Get off here if you’re staying in the ‘Old Town’. The 2nd stop is a few minutes around the corner on a main road of the city with lots of other accommodation options, whilst the 3rd stop is actually at the main Bus Terminal, great if you wish to bypass Bilbao and move straight onto San Sebastian.

Stay: The Petite Palace Arana (Bidebarrieta, 2, in front Teatro Arriaga). 

Situated ‘front centre’ of the Old Town, this is a fantastic base with all points of interest within easy walking distance. The hotel is very secure & modern, and provides an excellent buffet breakfast and internet in all rooms.

Culture, shopping and nightlife are all on your doorstep. The Old Town offers some of the best restaurants and bars in Bilbao, some steeped in family tradition for generations.  A jaunt along the river will take you straight to the Guggenheim. There is also central tram line (green) out front of the hotel which will run you directly to the Bus Terminal to keep you journeying onto San Sebastian. The stop for the Terminal is ‘San Mames’.

Eat: ‘Rio Oja’ (C Perro, Txakur Kalea 6).

A favorite with locals, this is a winner if you want to sample regional dishes. Comprised of a casual front room wrapped around a central bar, and a back room for more discreet dining, the restaurant serves big portions and has a relaxed atmosphere with fast service.  The bill for 2 came to €40, including 5 shared dishes (2 entrees, 3 main), bottle of wine and digestives. Highly recommended is the Squid in Black Sauce, the Cod and the Tuna & Anchovie salsa salad.


PB0403141 302x403 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxThe alleyways and backstreets of the Old Town, behind the Cathedral are chock full of bars servicing the young and funky, similar to the Barrio Alto district in Lisbon.  Follow the echoing voices and laughter, grab your beer/cider and bar hop all night. The city has stapled itself over the last decade as a University city and the students sure like to party, but the bars are most vibrant on a Friday and Saturday night.

Visit: The Guggenheim (Avenida Abandoibarra, 2).

What Bilbao has become famous for. A piece of art itself which attracts roughly one million visitors a year, you can take advantage of the excellent photo opportunities from the outside.  Comprised over 3 Levels, there are works from artists such as Kandinsky, Chillida and Warhol, and a selection of  changing exhibitions and installations.

Entry is €11 and includes Audio Guide. Closed on Mondays (except in July & August)

If you have time, a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts is also worthwhile. You can get a combined ticket for both galleries for just €16 (without audio guides).


Buses to San Sebastian generally leave on the hour from the ‘Terminbus’ (Gurtubay, 1). The cost of a ticket is roughly €10 one way. The bus company is ‘PESA’ and tickets can be purchased from the terminal.


PB040320 389x292 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxWhat’s not to like about this city? Set on a picturesque coastline within the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is a fun, vibrant and unique playground within the Basque region. Surrounded by hills, there’s a tidal river running through its center and two separate bays to enjoy.  San Sebastian offers the traveler a great place to chill out and explore while spoiling yourself with cuisine typical of the area. Enjoy great surf, tasty ‘pintxos’ (tapas) and cider, friendly locals, siestas and shopping.

Stay: Pension Goiko, (Calle Puerto 6).

A small Pension with 6 private bedrooms and shared bathrooms, this accommodation is clean, cheap and central. Found on a great little street within the Old Quarter with an old ‘Churros and chocolate’ diner (Santa Lucia) underneath, which also does a hearty breakfast for a fiver. It’s the perfect hangover cure and you literally just have to roll out of bed to get there!

The main reception is at the Urban House Hostel, which is found on the corner of the ‘Boulevard’ as you enter this district. Convenient if you luck out on a room at Goiko, as the friendly and knowledgeable staff will look after you here. The owners of the Hostel and Pension have joined forces and will soon be opening a 3rd property with a Moroccan vibe!

Eat: Bar Borda Berri (Fermin Calbeton, 12).

Do not pass on this experience, the food is simply superb, and different to the run of the mill pinxos bars in the city. You won’t find plates of food displayed on the bar there for the taking. Instead, all dishes are made to order. Be warned though, you will not be able to stop at 1 dish. Most dishes are either €2.50 or €3 and dishes may change as ingredients are largely sourced locally. On the day we had seared scallops, blood sausage cannelloni, squid, cow cheek and pork off the rib, all washed down with a bottle of House Rioja. Excellent quality and value, all coming in at under €30!

Drink: Petritegi Sargadoa, (Petritegi bidea 20115).

This is about 15 minutes by cab out of central San Sebastian and is a great place to go with a group of people. A proper Cider House and dining experience that offers all you can drink cider, straight out of the barrels! Really popular with locals in the know. Urban House Hostel is looking at doing a regular run up there, so if staying with them be sure to ask. If going by cab, allow about €30 for a return trip.

PB040477 3 302x403 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxOnce there, grab a glass and head toward the barrels and vats of cider. Twist the taps and the cider shoots out, with everyone standing around catching the streams in their glass (or mouth!).  Food wise,  for about €20 a head you get dishes of sausages cooked in cider, salads, meats, fish, omelets, bread, cheeses and of course, all the cider you can stomach!

Visit: La Concha, Ondarreta and La Zurriola.

You won’t be able to stay away from these beautiful beaches. Whether it’s surfing, kayaking, boarding or just working the tan, this is what it’s all about! Even if the weather is below average, you can still walk along the stretch of coast or up to the old fort, Castillo de la Santa Cruz de la Mota. This is the ‘Jesus statue’ on top of the hill, where you will be met with sweeping views of the surrounding environment. In the area below you will find the Aquarium and the harbor with its fleet of boats.


There are 2 Train stations so make sure you got to the EuskoTren. From here, you need to catch a train to Hendaye, which is right on the border of France. It costs €1.50 and  takes just over 30mins. Once you get to the final stop of Hendaye, go directly to the ticket booth and purchase your ticket for Biarritz. It is timed so there is usually a connecting train waiting. Cost of ticket to Biarritz is €7 and again it takes roughly 30mins.


The city may also lie on the Bay of Biscay and offer some great surf, but that’s where the similarity to San Sebastian finishes. Distinctly different in style and cuisine, Biarritz is more of a ‘resort town’ with some great sporting facilities. If you want to learn to surf, the beaches here are perfect and there are almost a dozen surf schools to choose from in the area. You will find yourself purely in holiday mode here and if travelling off season, you can snap up some excellent accommodation deals.

Getting There:

From the train station on the hour, there is a local bus service into town. Not the most attractive name, the STAB service will take you into and around Biarritz. Single journey is €1.20. Otherwise, a taxi into town is roughly €13.

Stay: Hotel Argi Eder, (13 Rue Peyroloubilh).

An excellent choice right in the heart of Biarritz, this hotel comes highly recommended from Lonely Planet, so try and book in advance. However, as stated, Biarritz is a resort town so you can grab come absolute bargains off season. Try the 4 star ‘Residence Biarritz Ocean’ , where you can grab a 1 Bedroom Apartment (sleeps up to 4) with a kitchen and balcony, for just €70 per night!

Eat: Ahizpak (13, Avenue de Vaerdum).

This restaurant in the heart of town is a real gem. Prices are about the same compared to most other restaurants of this town, around €7 for entrée and about €15 for main. Difference here is the quality of the food is fantastic and the portions are substantial. The establishment is actually run by 3 sisters – one chef and two front of house. There is a relaxed and elegant ambience and a good wine selection. Dessert of the day with a coffee is only €3. Overall, an excellent choice if you want a nice night out enjoying locally produced dishes typical to this southern region of France.

Drink: Newquay, (20 Place Georges Cleamenceau).

Whilst not an elegant drinking hole or club, this bar is smack bang in the middle of all the action. It gets a mention as there are also two internet terminals for those who need to connect. It also caters for everyone, with a good dose of sports and live music being served up alongside its pints of Guinness and typical seaside bar menu. Friendly staff and generally a good crowd from all over so a very social hub.

Visit: Musee Asiatica, (1 Rue Guy Petite).

PB060689 365x274 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxThis is actually one of the more fascinating places in Biarritz and is well worth a visit. It is touted as the 5th most important private collection of Asian art in Europe. There are antiquities from India, China, Tibet and Nepal which cover over 5,000 years of history. Entry is just €5.

If this isn’t to your taste, then maybe chocolate is! The ‘Planete Musee du Chocolat’ may be small but is a heralded attraction of Biarritz and its tradition of chocolate making. Entry is €6 and includes a few complimentary chocolates and a hot chocolate on departure.

The ‘Musee de la Mar’, or the Aquarium, is also worth a visit.  Biarritz was an old whaling town, so it seems fit to drop in and view the collection. There are seal and shark enclosures, with the seals being fed as part of a show twice daily (10.30am and 5pm). Entry is €7.

Lastly, check out the lighthouse. From the hill top there are amazing views straight down all the surf beaches. A nice place to soak it all in and relax away from the crowds.


From Biarritz Train Station there’s a train every couple of hours to Bordeaux, taking approximately 2 hours. The one way journey is €16 and you will arrive at Bordeaux St. Jean (TGV Atlantique).


PB0809471 272x363 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxA nice city which is easy to navigate on foot.  The region is, of course, known for its excellent wines. The city itself is UNESCO listed and built alongside the river, with some beautiful buildings and great examples of Roman architecture. Bordeaux is fairly refined and offers some great dining and shopping experiences, most of which are centered around the main pedestrian street of ‘Saint Katherine’. Day trips are essential to understand what this city is all about – the wine!

Stay: Teneo Suites (4 cours Barbey).

Just a five minute walk from St Jean Station, Teneo Suites offers an excellent standard of budget accommodation. There is a self check-in system next to the main entry. Great value and close to the main market place of Bordeaux, this hotel has easy access to main areas of the city.

Eat: Le Marche des Capucins, (Courts de la Marne).

How could you pass up the freshest produce in Bordeaux? Under the roof of this market you will find delectable local cheese, meat, seafood and fruit and veg. This is the best place to sample food in bulk at a minimal cost, such as fat grilled sandwiches stuffed with goat’s cheese and salmon with side portions of wedges (€6 ). Seafood plates (more like platters) can be found for €18 at ‘Bistro a Huitres’, and outside the market is a small restaurant named ‘Le Cochon Volant’, a favorite for locals which dishes up very typical food of the region.

Drink: Clos La Madeleine (Saint Emilion).

PB091091 277x369 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxOkay, so it’s not in Bordeaux city. But as mentioned, you must get out of the city to understand what Bordeaux is all about. If you don’t like the thought of a full day tour,  then the region of Saint Emilion is for you! Just 40 minutes out of Bordeaux from St Jean station,  a trip costs just €16 return and you are rewarded with excellent wine and  beautiful scenery.

‘Clos La Madeline’ comes recommended from the Tourist office in town. You must have an appointment to visit the wineries/chateaus, but the tourist office will organize this for you at minimal cost and provide excellent reading material.

The town of Saint Emilion is quaint and scenic and provides insight into the process of wine making. It is also one of the most expensive regions of the wine world, even outstripping the ‘Champagne’ vineyards. In Saint Emilion, each hectare sells for anything between 2 – 4 million Euros!

Visit: Bordeaux city center.

Bordeaux has UNESCO status for its many beautiful buildings, and is relatively easy to get around on foot. If you do visit the market, continue up the main road until you come to the open square with the twisted obelisk (Place de la Victoire). At the base of this you will find a city mascot, the turtles munching a bunch of grapes! From here, it is a direct walk down to Saint Katherine, the center of town.

Places of interest include the Palais Rohan (Town Hall), the Grand Theatre, the Porte Cailhau, Saint Michel Bell Tower, the Palais Gallien, the Saint Seurin Paleo-Christian site and the Petit Hotel Labottiere.


Take the airport bus from Gare St Jean. This whole area out the front of the station is being re-developed. About 20 meters in front of the taxi ramp you will find the stop for the Airport Bus. Cost is $7. Journey time is 45 minutes and there are actually 2 other pick-up points in town, so it’s worth looking into if you are staying far away from the train station.