If you’ve been following the blog recently, you probably know that in May we embarked on an adventure to discover some of Germany’s coolest and most unique hostels. After heading to the obscure North Sea island of Wangerooge, we had a wonderful few days at the DJH Resort in the sleepy fishing village of Neuharlingsiel. Next step of our trip would take us 350 kms south towards the cultural hub of Western Germany- the medieval beautiful city of Cologne. After a brief stopover in Cologne, we would next head to the third hostel in our series of extraordinary hostels across Germany: Jugendherberge Waldbröl Panarbora Family Youth Hostel. If you have ever dreamed of having a treehouse holiday with friends or family, this is the perfect hostel for you.Here’s a blog entry where you can get an idea of this ‘tree house hostel’ and I’ve also talked a little about our time in nearby Cologne.
1.Back to Cologne
It is always feels emotional for me to come back to Cologne. The city was one of the first cities I visited in Germany as part of my Germany roadtrip back in 2012.
I’ll never forget the moment of arriving in Cologne. The moment the train rolls across the vast width of the Hohenzollernbrücke, the cloudy murky waters of the mighty Rhine flowing beneath me. Brief glimpse of the vast carpet of love locks attached to the bridge. Can love be immortal? Maybe, maybe not. In 2018 they had to take down some of the love locks because of security concerns to pedestrians and cyclists that use the bridge.
The crowning moment of coming to Cologne for me is when the train rolls into the station. You look up and catch your first glimpse of the soaring twin gothic spires of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. Step out of the station and raise your eyes to the towering magnificence- at 157 metres, Cologne Cathedral is the third highest cathedral in the world. You then rest your backpack on the steps of the cathedral and soak it all in with the rest of the travelling pilgrims, a brief moment when all the the different corners of the Earth meet at one place. Briefly, you feel part of something much bigger than yourself. Sounds familiar?
As with all our favourite places on mother earth, we have some traditional customs I like to observe.
In Cologne, the first thing I dream of having is the local Kolsch beer and my go to place is the Fruh am Dom brewery at the foot of the cathedral. Sabrina who comes from Flensburg is not convinced of my grand claim that Kolsch is the greatest beer in Germany. We happily quaff a few kolsch’s before escaping the bar. It is a very dangerous place to be.
My other favourite tradition when visiting Cologne is meeting my good friend Melvin Boecher who runs the very popular Traveldudes website. Dating back to that 2012 trip, we’ve met here a few times and had a few epic adventures and hangovers to match them. We start off with a sensational pho at Cafe und Banh Mi. Then we have beers as per tradition at the alternative punk/rock music bar called Stiefel. Afterwards, Melvin took us to Gaststatte Lommerzheim , one of the oldest bars in Cologne. It is a beautiful wood panelled bar with a fantastic boisterous atmosphere that you tend to find in most classic German beer halls. The kolsch is fab and the food looks great. Definitely see myself going back here the next time I’m in Cologne. We say goodbye to Melvin at ‘Lommi’ and stagger a few steps to our hostel for the night- the very modern, sleek DJH Jugendherberge Koln-Deutz.
It was a brief but nice stopover in Cologne. Hostel was fab. Clean modern rooms, lots of light, fab buffet breakfast and also the proximity to Messe-Deutz train station make this hostel another good budget option to consider when visiting Cologne.
2. A hostel with a treehouse and Yurts!- Jugendherberge Waldbröl Panarbora Family Youth Hostel
Next morning, we repack our bags and head to the next hostel in our #DJHExtraordinary trip- Panarbora in Waldbröl. Panarbora is in the heart of the Bergisches Land -a beautiful stretch of countryside with pristine historic villages and rolling hills that hide a dark past. Nearby Waldbröl was intended to be developed into the biggest town between Cologne and Kassel. There were plans from Dr. Robert Ley, one of the leading representatives of National Socialism to build an Adolf Hitler School and a Kraft durch Freude – Strength Through Joy (KdF) hotel. The hotel project was started but never finished just like the disused site in Rugen. Apparently the wall from the school which also remain undeveloped still exists and carries the slogan: “No more war!” in huge letters upon the wall. I never got a chance to see this. Panarbora itself used to be a site of the American army barracks, storage place for Patriot missiles and also a launchpad for V1 rockets. After the war , the British destroyed the barracks leaving little trace behind. PS: One of the few remaining intact bunkers from the site is still visible in the grounds of the hostel.
A 40 minute train journey and then a 15-20 minute bus ride from the station brings us to the doorstep of the hostel. First thing that catches your eye when you arrive here is the 40 metres high observation tower. Running 1635 metres in total, once you’ve made it to the top ( I suffer a little from vertigo so was a tad unnerving for me but I managed to conquer my fears and get to the top ) you get some epic views of the surrounding Bergisches Land. Its very lush and green, gently rolling hills-reminded me a lot of Britain.
Other notable first impressions- the hostel is huge. Built as part of a huge natural observation park the size of almost 11 football pitches there are playgrounds, a maze, tunnels , barbecue pits and lots of trails through the forest for kids to explore, encounter nature in a safe secure environment.
The treetop paths that lead from the observation tower into the forest is definitely one of the standout features of the hostel and the park. Similar to our experience in the Park of Senses in Valmeira, the treetop path gives you the feeling of almost floating and flying from tree to tree a la Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. You get a wonderful perspective of the forest and also of the surrounding countryside. There’s numerous information and interactive boards that bring the flora and fauna of the forest to life-again, fab for the kids.
The other standout feature of the hostel is the range and types of accommodation available- guests can choose to stay in one of their themed global villages where you can sleep in a yurt or an african mudwalled house plus my favourite -treehouses! Wooden cabins built on wooden stilts, the treehouses are simple yet modern. The unit we were in had 4 bunk beds but there are options for 2 bed and 6 bed bunk treehouses. Lower bunk beds have a small window with views onto the forest. All the treehouses are equipped with a modern WC including shower. There was also a small terrace per unit which included a table and 4 chairs-perfect for having a picnic with the family or having a beer with friends when the sun is shining.
Other noteworthy features-you can choose to stay here on bed and breakfast, half and full board basis. They have a nice restaurant on site that offers cuisine from the 4 corners of the earth. From stir fried noodles to vindaloo curries to burgers-there is a variety of food. In terms of price vs quality, the food is pretty decent.
I love the concept of a hostel inside a nature park. This is the perfect place to come for a few days and enjoy the silence, stillness of nature. Bring a few books. Drink a glass of wine from the hostel restaurant and soak in the sun. For kids, this is perfect and a fertile playground for their rich imagination-lots of playgrounds, mazes, tunnels, treetop paths that weave you into the forest plus yurts and treehouses…so much fun. I mentioned in my review earlier of Neuharlingsiel-I would have loved to go on here on holiday to a hostel like this when I was kid. The bigger kid inside me still appreciated the fun spirit of the place. I appreciated even more given my knowledge of the area’s painful history and the former identity of the surroundings- a happy ending to a difficult story.
To give you an idea of prices, a tree house hostel with 2 beds costs €89 a night going upto €139.00 a night for a tree house with 6 beds. The yurts in the African village have the same pricing structure. If you want to stay on a full board basis, it costs €16.90 which I think is pretty good value for money.
I visited Panarbora as part of my #DJHExtraordinary trip with the Jugendherberge aka German Youth Hostel Association. The mission was simple- the challenge to seek some of Germany’s most unusual hostels in some of the country’s not so well known places. If you missed the earlier instalment, checkout our trip to island of Wangerooge and then the Plus you can see more pictures and short videos from the trip on Instagram or Twitter- search for the #DJHExtraordinary. Plus if you are looking for more hostel inspiration from Germany, do checkout our last year’s guide to Castle Hostels across Germany.