From cities to mountain resorts, Swiss youth hostels offer affordable lodging and increasingly luxurious amenities. Since the association "Zürcherische Genossenschaft zur Errichtung von Jugendherbergen" was founded almost 100 years ago in 1924, it has established hostels in a variety of historic buildings, ranging from castles to former factories.
And while the term "youth hostel" might still remind the older ones of us of school excursions and first travels, these days, the travels under 25 are actually a minority of the guests. 50 percent of the hostel guests are now over 35 years old and the hostels now cater to singles as well as families. Adapting to this trend, since 1993, the "Stiftung für Sozialtourismus" defines guidelines for the construction and maintenance of youth hostels, specifying for example, that each room has an entrance zone with a cloakroom or that every bed is equipped with a small reading light and a mobile phone holder.
Let's explore five of them that really stand out through their history and architecture !
The Basel Youth Hostel is located close to the Rhine inside a classicist factory building, built for a silk ribbon factory in 1850 / 1851. It was converted into a Youth Hostel in 1979 and the outer facade was kept almost unchanged. The building was renovated in 2010 according to a design by the Basel architecture practice Buchner Bründler. Since then, a bridge across the St. Alban ponds leads to the main entrance and a wooden walkway leads to a quiet terrace. It now offers around 250 beds in different room configurations.
A window in the reception area allows beautiful views of the neighbourhood. The vaulted hall of the former dye cellar is now used as the dining hall. In the early evening hours, it shows an interesting mix of natural and artificial light !
The Youth Hostel Bern is located in the Marzili neighborhood of Bern, below the Bundeshaus and just meters from the Aare. The main building is by Peter Indermühle and was built in 1955 and 1956. It contains the reception, restaurant and offers a total of 90 beds across 20 rooms.
The new expansion building with 90 beds in 30 rooms was designed by Aebi & Vincent Architects and built in 2017 and 2018.
After two city hostels, let's head into the countryside, to Scuol in the Val Müstair region of Grisons, one of the most eastern places in Switzerland.
Four architects from Graubünden, Marisa Feuerstein, Men Clalüna, Annabelle Breitenbach and Jon Armon Steiner created the architecture practice ARGE Sursass for this project, Jugendherberge Scuol, completed in 2007. As typical for traditional Engadine houses the windows sit at irregular intervals in the facade and are recessed within the thick walls. It's a very modern take on a hundred of years old regional design.
The next two stops will be in Valais, perfect for hiking and skiing !
The Crans-Montana Youth Hostel is located in a former sanatorium built between 1928 and 1930. South facing balconies and the mountain air lead many patients with lung diseases to Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century. The aptly named Bella Lui ("beautiful light") was designed by Flora & Rudolf Steiger-Crawford and Arnold Itten in the Bauhaus style. It even was the first residential building in Switzerland with a welded steel frame.
A listed building since 2002, the Bella Lui's conversion to a Youth Hostel began in October 2016, overseen by the architecture practice Actescollectifs. Many of the colours were restored to the original ones.
Its reopening happened on June 16, 2017 and the Crans-Montana Youth Hostel now offers about 150 beds.
There's even a single room with the original furniture if you really want to step back in time !
wellnessHostel4000, Saas Fee
The wellnessHostel4000 in Saas Fee, the first youth hostel with its own wellness area, was designed by SSA Architects and built between 2009 and 2014. It is located right at the entrance to the car free village. Its name is due to the fact that there are no less than 18 mountains higher than 4000m around Saas Fee !
A beautiful white spiral staircase connects the hostel entrance to the swimming pool and the almost 2000 square meter large Aqua Allalin wellness area with views of the surrounding mountains and the 300m deep canyon of the Feevispa.