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A biscuit tycoon’s hostel at Palmers Lodge.

by Andrea on August 27, 2010

Palmers Lodge offers great value only marginally out of the centre of London

We all know that London hotels can be expensive.  But you can also pick up a bargain at a London hostel, a high-quality B&B which loves to delight guests or even a value-for-money central London “military hotel”.

I’m just back from staying at the Palmers Lodge hostel in Swiss Cottage.  It’s a Grade II listed building – a very fine Victorian example – which was once the home of Samuel Palmer, the head of Huntley & Palmer biscuits.

This was a massive business and Palmer was a very wealthy man; no expense was spared in building the hostel, from the elegant stained glass in the fanlight over the entrance door to the huge oak staircase.

The hostel’s website also reveals the fascinating history of Palmers Lodge.

It certainly isn’t easy to make a hostel out of a listed building, as there are very tight planning restrictions.  But I think Palmers Lodge has succeeded.

The reception, with its deep-hued wood panelling and coffered ceiling, is certainly impressive – but its expansiveness also means it’s never cramped, even at check-out time.  Walk into the lounge and the huge bay windows, chandelier and opulently-tiled fireplace still give it that feeling of late Victorian wealth, while big squashy sofas provide relaxed comfort.

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The comfy lounge at Palmers Lodge creates a sociable and chilled out vibe

The dorm accommodation is functional by comparison, but it’s been planned to give you as much privacy as you can expect in a hostel – each bed is curtained off and has its own lamp.  Room sizes go from 4 beds up to 19, and there’s even a small dorm with double beds for couples.

There’s also a choice of single sex or mixed dorms.  I’ve stayed in smaller dorms in other hostels and found them noisier and less private – and Palmers Lodge was pretty full while I was staying there.

Prices include a free continental-style breakfast buffet – with juice, toast, croissant, cereals and fruit – as well as free wifi.  Sky News on the big screen was definitely my cup of tea, but for those who prefer a breakfast uninterrupted by modern media there’s a second space at the back.

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Breakfast is certainly a bargain and the hostel’s unusual character again comes through, with a collection of old enamel advertising for Huntley & Palmer biscuits on the walls and ancient copper jelly moulds!  The corridors sport 19th century wildlife illustrations  – I especially liked the curled-up hedgehogs on the top landing with their strange but cute grimaces.  I don’t know if hedgehogs can laugh, but it did look like they can grin!

The cleanliness of the hostel is impressive.  Management clearly has all the right processes in place for running a tight ship – cleaning the toilets here seems to be like painting the Forth Bridge, it never actually stops!  That again is something I don’t find in a lot of budget accommodation – and of course the more guests you have in a small space, the more important it is.

A free continental breakfast is included in the rate at Palmers Lodge

The hostel features evening films in the lounge (‘Fight Club’ was on when I got back from an evening out), and has a restaurant and bar (open to 11).

As you’d expect, the clientele was predominantly the young backpacker crowd but there was also a fair scattering of more mature travellers.  This is not a ‘party hostel’ but a nice and relaxed place to stay.

In some budget accommodation you know that you’re a commodity – reception is brisk, you’re rattled through the registration process, and there are queues for everything.  Even when it got busy at Palmers Lodge, I never had to wait more than a couple of minutes.

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Of course, it IS still a hostel and the standard and style of accommodation is very different to a hotel, so it’s certainly not for everyone.

Palmers Lodge is currently in the top 20 within the London “speciality accommodation” category on TripAdvisor.  But recent reviews have been mixed so you are advised to do your research carefully.

This article was written by Andrea Kirkby, who paid her own way for the above accommodation and conducted her review anonymously.

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Photo credits: Palmers Lodge.

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