Do you have a wish list or, as some people call it, a bucket list? I don’t really have a list of places I simply must see before I die, I tend to just go with the flow. However, this hostel has been on a wish list of mine for over 2 years.
This hostel caught my eye one day when I was browsing on Booking.com and I very nearly didn’t make it here at all. Having been laid low with a wretched cold for the last few days I did think it would be simpler to just stay in Porto rather than drag my weary body off to Braga. I had even booked a hostel in Porto but when I arrived I was told that they had an upper age limit of 39 years and so I was left with a bit of a dilemma, should I look for something else in Porto or bite the bullet and get the train to Braga?
As I was only a few metres from the train station in Porto I decided I would make the journey and so I quickly booked the Dans L’Atelier Hostel and had a very enjoyable sleep on the hour long train journey. Braga isn’t a huge distance from Porto, only 57 km, but the train stops at every station along the way.
I only had a quick glimpse of Braga town centre on the 20 minute walk to the hostel but it looked very intriguing, and my quick look around today confirmed that. Thankfully it is fairly flat unlike many towns and cities in Portugal so that makes a pleasant change. More about Braga to come another day, for now, I will tell you about the hostel.
The hostel is in a building dating back to the 1700s designed by André Soares a leading Portuguese sculptor and architect active in Northern Portugal during the 18th century, he is responsible for the design of many of the buildings in the city.
From what I have been able to ascertain the building was lying derelict and unloved until an artists collective, brought together by João Guerreiro, managed to procure it as a shared workspace a few years ago. More recently it was converted to a hostel but is still crammed full of an impressive mix of artwork, and from time to time some artists still come to work in the space.
Some of the art work
To attempt to compare it to any other hostel would be impossible, it is unique. I would say though that it is not for the faint hearted, it contravenes absolutely every criteria I usually apply when selecting a hostel, but if you love the quirky and unusual then it is a place well worth a visit.
It is a cavernous building with seemingly unending and twisting corridors. there are numerous areas for sitting and relaxing, indeed the communal spaces are vastly disproportionate to the sleeping areas and most definitely to the bathroom facilities.
Some of the communal spaces, corridors and reception
There are two dorms, one with ten beds and one with eight, one family room that sleeps four, and 4 double rooms. I also noticed mattresses propped against a wall so I suspect that in busy times they are simply laid out on the floor somewhere.
In the basement, where my dorm is located, there is an abandoned kitchen but there is a working communal kitchen on the first floor. There is a room with a toilet and wash basin off my dorm and there are 2 shower rooms in the building, which isn’t a lot for 30 people but I believe some of the private rooms have ensuite bathrooms.
Speaking of the people, on my first night here I was one of only three females in the entire building. There was a young couple with a child, a couple from Canada who had just arrived to work as volunteers, and me. Everyone else is male and many appear to be settled in for a longish stay. You find this sometimes in hostels, especially in the low season, the prices are so cheap it is an economical way for people to live, it suits long term backpackers, digital nomads and transient workers. Most of the people I have spoken to are here for at least two weeks. Maybe it’s the time of the year when people just slow down and stay put for a while.
The kitchen is an interesting place, and watching the ingenuity of the men preparing meals for themselves on a one ring hob is impressive. There is also a microwave and a toaster if anyone wants to really push their culinary skills to the max, and even a kettle, albeit a travel sized one. Teaspoons appear to be non existent and forks outnumber knives by about ten to one. To use the kettle you need to unplug something else from the alarmingly overloaded looking adapter. One can only wonder if health and safety regulations exist here.
A Different Focus
But, please don’t dwell on these practicalities, if you don’t manage to have your turn in the shower first thing in the morning you aren’t going to suffer an early death, and if you have to eat your yogurt with a knife it just takes a little longer. Thankfully I always carry a spoon in my handbag.
These aspects are more than compensated for by the camaraderie offered by the other guests and the great craic (as we say back in Ireland) when people gather in the kitchen. On my first evening here it was someone’s birthday and he popped open a very large bottle of bubbly and shared it with everyone. This afternoon a few of us gathered on the small balcony and indulged in some great conversation, discussing everything from the Persian Empire to hip replacements, and busking.
The ‘chicken coup’
And being somewhere with so much history is worth giving up a shower for, as I write this I am sitting in what, apparently, used to be the chicken coup. I kid you not, an indoor chicken coup separated from the rest of the room by a piece of netting, some of which still hangs from the ceiling above.
If you come in winter you may need a coat, on the first night there were three of us sitting in ‘the chicken coup’ all of us with coats on, and one chap also wearing a wooly hat and with a rug wrapped around his knees. Tonight someone has turned on gas heater. I, of course, have my trusty hot water bottle tucked behind my back. There are a few heaters around the place but it is such a huge building and with such massively thick walls that I doubt it ever gets overly warm, although I am sure in the blistering heat of summer it offers a welcome refuge.
In a hostel of this nature it’s all about the experience, the vibe, the atmosphere, call it what you will but it revolves around the people, and perhaps it’s the very unique aspects of this place that attracts very interesting people.
The volunteers in a hostel can make or break it and I have to commend Pedro, from Brazil, who has been here for 3 months, for presenting a very warm and welcoming face to the place, he is always smiling and nothing is too much trouble. And already, Mas and Sherry who arrived just minutes after me, are making their presence felt. Originally from Iran, and now living in Canada, they have recently completed a month’s workaway in Iceland before coming to Portugal to work in hostels as volunteers.
João Guerreiro, the manager is often around and delights in telling the history of the house and the artists collective, and the development of the hostel. He obviously cares very much about the concept, although seems a little sad that it no longer has the focus it once did in relation to the artists collective.
In spite of being old, battered, and more than a little cracked in places, it is incredibly clean and that is not an easy thing to maintain in such an old building. There may not be any privacy curtains, lockers or individual reading lights for the bunks but who cares, it’s the aesthetics of the place that will remain foremost in my mind.
And if you are wondering, it is €9.00 a night (Jan 2020). I booked through Booking.com but I have spoken to someone who booked with Hostelworld and it was more costly, so check prices before booking.
Some of the battered bits
I came for one night, intending to move on elsewhere, but I have stayed, and will remain for another 2 nights, I am having such a wonderful time. I hope, if you are ever visiting Braga you too will come and savour the delights of this hostel, it really is an opportunity not to be missed.
Enjoyed this? You can read more here
Disclaimer: In the name of full transparency, please be aware that this blog post contains affiliate and referral links which may reward me in the event of a subscription or sale (at no extra cost for you).