If I were to utter the words ‘youth hostel’, I can imagine that several among you would have mixed reactions; shudder even. Many of us, me included, can conjure memories from our childhood of school trips, staying in cold communal dorm rooms with a certain…‘fragrance’ in the air. I can also remember legging it through the corridors after drinking my body weight in cheap pop only to discover one of the other sardines crammed into this metaphorical tin had locked the door to the only toilet within eyesight of our room. I literally danced on the spot, bursting to go, while they cried out for me to find another bog because the swimming pools worth of ice cream they’d had for dessert had given them belly ache.
Don’t get me wrong, we had an absolute blast on these trips away, but they were hardly what I’d call comfortable. The clue, surely, is in the title: ‘youth’ hostel. What’s suitable for over-excited pre-pubescent lunatics may not auger well with families, particularly those with young children, right? Wrong. Prepare to have your perceptions drastically changed.
We were recently invited to spend a weekend at the YHA Snowdon Pen-y-Pass to run the rule over their family-friendly credentials. Having recently undergone a £1.3m restoration and refurbishment, this property, literally at the foot of Snowdon, barely resembles youth hostels of old. Not only that, this former mountain lodge has a rich history too. You see, this was where George Mallory stayed while he used Snowdon as a training base for his ill-fated Everest Expedition. Not only is the bar named after him, but photos and artefacts of his adventures are scattered about the building.
The first thing to marvel at is the location. Situated directly opposite the start of the Snowdon Pyg and Miner’s Tracks, outdoor families will be in their element. You can literally roll out of bed and be on a footpath up the highest mountain in Wales in about two minutes. Perfect. Furthermore, everyday distractions such as iPhones, iPads and laptops lose their relevance. With no phone signal or Wi-Fi this deep into the mountains, you can be sure of some quality time together. However, if you still crave just a little bit of entertainment the hostel stocks a variety of books and games in their mini library on the ground floor, which you can use free of charge.
If you’ve exhausted yourself on the trails all day, then there are still plenty of options available should you wish to venture out further. Betws-y-Coed, for instance, the charming, small Welsh town, with its shops, restaurants and country pubs is located just a short drive away. A little further afield, but still within easy reach, is Caernarfon and its mighty castle. Fancy something energetic that doesn’t involve hiking? Well, Bounce Below, the world’s only underground cavernous trampoline centre, and Velocity, Europe’s longest zip line (and the fastest in the world), are also nearby, as is the awesome Surf Snowdonia artificial lagoon. You and you’re family would seriously struggle to find anywhere better placed for an adventurous break away.
However, it’s no good being surrounded by all of this if the property itself is not up to scratch. To put it simply, I guarantee that the YHA Pen-y-Pass will surpass all of your youth hostel expectations. As soon as you set foot inside it’s easy to forget you’re in a hostel. From the modern branding welcoming you in, to the cosy seating areas with fireplaces and historic photographs, this is the reality of the 21st Century YHA.
Another reality of the modern YHA is the pub-quality food that they serve at more than reasonable prices. As if to emphasise their family-friendly status, all children under 10 eat free with a paying adult. The high energy/ravenous pigs that we are, we sampled quite a bit of the menu during our weekend there and can honestly say that, for the price, it’s second to none. They’ll even prepare a packed lunch for you should you need one for a family adventure the following day. Every food base is covered.
Fancy a drink? The well stocked bar will more than serve your needs. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a budget hostel could never fulfil your sophisticated alcohol palette that you’ve spent years (and a small fortune) perfecting. Premium beers, such as Moretti, kept me hydrated during our family evening meal, while there’s also a wine menu for the grape connoisseurs among you. The bar is a warm and welcoming area to relax after a hard day of exploring and adventuring. I think if it hadn’t have been for the fact that both of our kids were ready for bed, myself and Nat could quite happily have whiled away quite a few hours down there.
Elsewhere on the ground floor you’ll find all of the outdoor family facilities you’ll need. With everything from a laundry to wash out those little accidents, to a drying room that will have your precious, but rain-soaked, outdoor gear shipshape in no time. There’s also a games room with a pool table that will keep teenagers occupied in the evening.
Our en-suite family room meant there was no more dashing through the corridors desperately searching for toilet facilities. The room was a good size and our toddler loved his first foray into the exciting world of bunk beds. We may not have let him sleep up top, but just sitting up there with one of us for short periods was a novelty he enjoyed. The room, like the entire building, was toasty warm. We could forget all about the cold temperatures that we’d experienced out on the hills and trails as soon as we stepped foot through the door. There was ample bedding and both the en-suite shower room and toilet were ultra-modern.
Just down the corridor from our room was the communal self-catering kitchen. A really spacious room with multiple ovens, hobs, microwaves and fridge-freezers; it literally has everything you could possibly need to cook up your own family feast. Also available are a selection of utensils that would put most home kitchens to shame. Adjacent to the kitchen is a dining room so, if you don’t fancy heading back to your room to eat, you have another great communal space to get together as a family. For those of you on a budget, or with strict dietary requirements, these self-catering spaces make life much easier. You really couldn’t ask for anything else for the price.
And that’s the thing: the price. At £55 for a modern en-suite family room sleeping four, with everything that we need or want within touching distance, it’s a great affordable option for outdoor families like us. It’s the best of both worlds: you get hostel prices with better than budget hotel facilities. Furthermore, you get the very best access to explore these mountain and isolated regions. Lastly, people often either don’t know or overlook the fact that the YHA is a charity. They don’t make profits. Instead they reinvest their money offering opportunities, such adventurous summer camps, to help underprivileged kids learn and experience things that some of us take for granted. I’m pretty sure that the Holiday Inn can’t claim the same! In our opinion the YHA is simply fantastic.