Nine Quirky Accommodation Options Around Europe

When we are planning our next European gateway we all know what it feels like to obsess over inflated accommodation prices, and  wonder why we’re paying so much for a room we’ll only spend a few hours (during which we won’t even be conscious) in.

To add to the frustration, a lot of expensive hotels are characterless and charmless modern creations which definitely do not entice you to stay in them during the day. If you’ve ever been in this accommodation dilemma, don’t fret. Europe is packed with sleeping options that can turn into an experience and not have you running for the door as soon as you wake up. If you’re looking for some accommodation that goes beyond the ordinary, check out these nine unusual options.

Agriturismos

What better way to enjoy the iconic Mediterranean countryside than by booking yourself a into a wonderful agriturismo? When applied to its Italian meaning, Agriturism literally refers to a farm stay, though such farms can be made to incorporate all sorts of luxuries.

Staying at an agriturismo means not having to drive from the city to take a spin around the local countryside, but being directly in it with the opportunity to stroll through it early in the morning before breakfast, or at sunset after the strong afternoon sun has turned into mellower warmth. Many agritourismos offer the chance to learn more about the local agriculture, from farm tours and cooking classes to wine tastings and private picnic dinners. For those out of you who think that staying in a typical Italian farm involves spending a fortune, think again. Low-end prices are affordable, and agriturismos are not just limited to Italy. You can find anything from simple farm b&bs to more refined buildings in France, Spain and even the U.K.

If you’re happy with agritourism at the very lower end of the scale of style and comfort, consider WWOOFing, and then you won’t even have to pay accommodation costs, as this organization sets you up with room and board in exchange for work on the farm premises.

Monasteries and convents

You don’t have to be religious to stay at one of the many monasteries and convents around Europe which offer simple accommodation for the traveler who wants more than a concrete block of a hotel, but you certainly need a good measure of respect. While convents charge a set fee as a guesthouse would, monks, who have as one of their vows hospitality, only ask for a ‘donation’ in return for offering simple accommodation.

Obviously, this sort of sleeping option is not for party animals, but more for those of you out there who want a little bit of quiet time  to yourselves. If all the above has got you interested, check out any online bookshop, as plenty of guides out there cater specifically for those looking for this sort of accommodation. For a comprehensive list of books and online resources, click here.

Ice hotels and igloos

Traveling around in much of Western and Northern Europe in winter is not always fun due to the often-freezing temperatures, but if you’re looking to celebrate winter and all that it entails, consider of incorporating it in your accommodation. Ice hotels and igloo accommodation have been springing up all over Europe, and now you can find them in countries including Norway, Switzerland and Sweden. If you’re traveling further north, you might also be able to spot the Northern lights from the comfort of your bed. And if you can’t take the temperatures, some hotels, like Sweden’s famous Ice Hotel, offer warm accommodations choices as well.

Caves

While being underground may not seem like much fun, it has its benefits during the hot Mediterranean summers when the thick rock all around you keeps the room cool without the need of that dreaded air-conditioning system. But let’s face it; it’s also figuratively cool because of the novelty factor. You can find cave houses from Andalucia to Italy. And though this is not really Europe, (though a small bit of the country does cling to the continent) cave accommodation in Turkey’s famed Cappadocia region is also worth a mention.

Prisons

What happens when a prison is no longer used for the purpose it was initially intended? You guessed it. It is turned into a hotel. For such a strange concept, there are a lot of former prisons which are now delighting sleepers with their ‘cozy’ rooms. For your inmate experience you can head to Stockholm, Istanbul or Oxford, though there are many, many more options. Also remember that while some have kept their prison-related ‘charm’, like the Oxford MalMaison hotel, others, such as the Four Seasons Hotel in Istanbul, have wiped the slate clean and been transformed into luxury accommodation.

Boats

With its many pretty canals, Amsterdam just begs for boat accommodation, but it’s not the only place in Europe where you’ll be able to sleep on water. In London, you can rent a narrow boat, sleep in it, and, if you’re adventurous, sail it through the narrow canals of London so that you end up having both sleeping accommodation and a mode of transport. The same can be done along France’s Canal du Midi, which with the Canal des Deux Mers, allows the appropriate boats to go from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean without interruptions.

Mountain huts in the Alps

Hiking around the Alps does not have to include staying in St. Moritz-style glitzy hotels and chalets, as the mountains are dotted with mountain huts offering anything from simple beds to sleeping bag accommodation. Bear in mind that most huts are only open during the summer season, so for hiking outside of this time frame you should make sure to research in advance which huts remain open and what services they offer.

Hay hotels

‘Hay hotels’, as they have been nicknamed, are also a fantastic way of getting a good night’s sleep in the European countryside without spending a fortune. Farms across Switzerland, Germany and Austria are now offering, literally, a hay bed in their charming barns. Switzerland’s farmers have particularly warmed up to this scheme, and in a country where a simple hostel bed can cost you 30 dollars, this budget accommodation choice is welcome. Somewhere in between camping and hosteling, barn stays are an original and memorable way of getting in touch with nature.

Castles

If you’ve always dreamt of being a prince or princess for a day, splashing out on a room in a castle in a stunning location may just be what you’re looking for to fulfill a childhood dream. Whether it’s an ornate French Chateaux or a Castle in the Scottish highlands, you are bound to get your money’s worth as you’ll be more interested in exploring its architecture and manicured grounds than to run off to seek entertainment elsewhere.

Last but not least, it would have also been great to include the famous Swiss nuclear bunker turned zero-star hotel, but unfortunately, it was only open for one year and can now only be visited as a museum. You might want to check it out though if you’re in the area.

Check out more weird and unusual sites in the world:

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Older comments on Nine Quirky Accommodation Options Around Europe

jim humberd
02 March 2011

In travel as in life, different strokes for different folks.

We enjoyed 968 nights in 32 countries in
Europe, Asia, and Africa – slept at least one night in 452 spots in over 396 towns, cities, and other locations.

That includes sleeping 605 nights in 406 different places in 28 European Countries in our RV

WT
03 March 2011

Great tips! We’ve been to all of the above except the prison option. ;)

We’ve been on an open ended world tour as a family for the last 5 years ( 39 countries on 5 continents on 23 dollars a day per person) and have spent most of 4 years exploring 200,000 miles of Europe.

We’ve found that the cheapest and most luxurious, most convenient way to see Europe for a family is via a small motorhome. Also it is the BEST way to meet other Europeans as this is the most popular way for them to travel on a low budget.

I wrote about some of our favorite ones here like a Barcelona Luxury Beach Resort for 17 euros a night or a similar one in Portugal for 7 euros a night or fantastic ones in Florence, Tuscany, Paris, Dubrovnik, Rome, Vienna, Prague, Marbella, Provence, Stockholm, Cinque Terra, Romantic Road, Ireland, Santorini, Norway, Granada etc etc.

Dave Guilford
05 March 2011

I can vouch for the Agriturismo. Last summer we stayed at Podere Paglieri, an organic vineyard in Tuscany. Very upscale, inexpensive, and when you run out of wine you just walk down to the cellar and grab another bottle.

Can’t wait to go back. Here’s a page about the place:
http://www.vacation-key.com/location_6690.html

NB: if you travel in the summertime, give some thought to bugs. As it is an organic vineyard, they don’t use pesticides. Being from Louisiana, we don’t have a big problem with bugs but I could see where it might be off-putting for others.