A hard-won ‘best of’ list if there ever was one. I’ve spent many uncomfortable nights around Romania over the years to boil this list down to the perfection that it is today. The good news is that each year another worthy budget place opens up and one or two god-awful places disappear. This is just a snapshot of the living list that usually gets one or two changes every time I return from a trip. (Meaning, if you’re reading this after September 2010, you’d better refer to the living list.)
In the meantime, here are my favs:
A 14-bed sanctuary, roughly mid-way between the train station and the center. The Romanian-Irish husband and wife team have put a lot of thought into the design, including tasteful German, Hungarian and Romania influences. On Thursdays they whip up a Transylvanian Goulash, served with a palate-sterilising shot of ţuică, naturally.
In an 18th-century building designed to stay naturally cool, this place has ‘classic’ furniture and decor courtesy of an interior designer’s brain splatter. There’s great beds, a flowery inner courtyard, a cafe serving excellent coffee and a basement pub that gets raucous at the weekend.
It doesn’t get any more central or affordable than Midland. Just a few blocks from the Universitate metro station and just across from the entrance of the Cismigiu Gardens. It’s a little hard to find. Walk west along B-dul Regina Elisabeta to the park entrance and make a right; the hostel entrance is three doors down. Buzz and then find ‘Scara 2’ (stairway 2) to the right; walk up three flights.
This is a busy, dorm-y, four-floor, six-room villa. They have a DVD library, playful staff and one free beer/soda each day to get your evening started. It’s the party-leaning hostel in town.
Run by the high-energy, friendly Bolea Family, the Stone is a welcoming hostel spot with a more homey feel. Unfortunately, it gets pretty tight in the kitchen and bathrooms. They also rent private apartments off-site.
Monica, your interminably good-natured, problem-solving host, is a licensed tour guide for all of Romania and has particularly encyclopaedic knowledge of Bucovina, Neamt and Maramures. Not surprisingly, she leads outstanding monastery tours. The comfy hostel occupies a flowery villa, five minutes walk from the bus station. A self-cater kitchen and laundry service are available.
On a quiet lane amidst 16th-century citadel wall fragments, the happy, superbly run Retro is one of Romania’s best hostels. The larger dorms are a bit tight, but colourful with gold walls, moonlight windows and sunshiny bedspreads and the privates are a good value. The chatty and tirelessly helpful staff offer maps and good-value day trips.
The leafy inner courtyard is prime end-of-day, cruisy, drinking territory. Even without the copiously consumed alcohol, this centrally located, 50-bed place is disarmingly welcoming, with all the next-gen hostel attributes: PCs, wi-fi, home theatre, large self-cater kitchen and combo sauna/massage showers inspired by Star Trek. The privates feel a bit overpriced.
Tel. +40 (0) 727 827 675
Str Negru Voda 104
Family-run Pensiunea Ruxi, sitting inconspicuously across from Hotel Confarg, is exceptional. The rooms are new and comfortable (though the walls are smidge thin). Never mind that, the real treat is the homey atmosphere, where the family will go to heart-breaking lengths to take care of you. Daughter Ruxandra speaks passable English and sweet talking her will likely win you access to her computer for a quick, gratis email session. A home cooked breakfast is three euros and is served on in front of the TV, with remote control at the ready. Just like home.