A pool at our hostel?! Sold.
Better yet, this was after finding that a private room (with an ensuite bathroom) would only run us about $15 per night, per person.
We’d been planning the ultimate trip, and had already dished out quite a bit of dinero. Zagreb, the capital, would be our first stop in Croatia and the last place we’d book our accommodations. The hotels I saw online just weren’t cutting it; too expensive, too far from the center, horrible reviews, hideous decor. I thought I wasn’t asking for too much, but the options were rather bleak. Until I stumbled upon the Swanky Mint Hostel.
I couldn’t believe the prices coupled with the pictures. I kept doing the math, four of us staying for two nights for…$114USD??? Was it actually as cool as the website’s pictures? And actually that cheap? Did they seriously have a pool?? After a little bit of Google-searching and review-reviewing I decided this was the winner, and, boy, did we hit the jackpot!
Our heads are spinning in the hustle and bustle of downtown, but we find the place without problems with a little guidance from our friendly taxi-driver. We’re welcomed by even friendlier Swanky staff at the front desk who kindly store our luggage free of charge while we wait for the room to become available (it was about 11am). Petra, the receptionist, then offers to show us around the property.
Thru the lobby we make our way to the cafe/bar where the exposed brick and pipes give an historic, rustic feeling, while the multicolored chairs suggest adventure. Hostel guests plan their day while enjoying the breakfast buffet, and locals meet for drinks at night, eventually pouring out onto the covered terrace to enjoy the brisk, summer Zagreb air. There’s a homey, garden feel to the multi-leveled terrace; wooden decks or artificial grass beneath your feet, beanbags and oversized pillows strewn about, large umbrellas offering generous shade. Just steps away, the secluded Swanky pool offers another sanctuary. “Bikini. Sleep. Swanky. Repeat,” it reads. I like their style ;).
We anxiously make our way down the stone stairway towards the exit, itching to become acquainted with this unfamiliar city. But on our way out we pass yet another cool feature of the hostel: the kitchen and common room. Shop the lively Dolac market for local produce, meats, cheeses, and more and whip up dinner like a local. Delight in board games, a book, or conversations with other wandering strangers and feel like you belong. Every inch of this place is a welcoming retreat.
Finally, Petra whips out a city map and offers her input on all the essential Zagreb sights and adventures, insider tips sprinkled in. So off we go!
We’re neck-deep in Croatian culture, wandering the streets and squares of Zagreb, but we honestly can’t wait to see our room at the hostel! We venture back to Swanky and pick up our keys. Two keys for four people…but no worries, the door has a keypad as well! They’ve thought of everything.
We instantly notice all the excellent amenities with our room; a kitchenette, cable TV, private bathroom, loft space for two to sleep, day bed and trundle that slides out from below (and linens/towels provided for all guests), table with chairs, wardrobe space with hangers, shelf space, AC that seems unreal in Europe but normal in Texas, free WiFi. The amenities seem more in line with what a hotel would offer! Already loving this place.
But it gets better. Petra hands over vouchers for one free shot of rakia (fruit brandy, popular in Croatia) per person from their bar, as a way to say “Welcome”. Umm yes, please!
At this point, we’re down to only a few clean clothes and need to hit a laundromat. Conveniently located literally a two minute walk away is the Wash & Go. We wash, then less than an hour later we go! Hooray! And here we were thinking we’d be spending loads (ha) of cash and time to get this done. The machines are modern and fast. There is free WiFi. There is beer at the convenient store between Swanky and the Wash & Go. All is well — and clean.
About that convenient store. Teeny tiny place, friendly cashiers, beer and liquor selection. Large bottle of water for about 10 cents. We were regulars by the time we left Zagreb.
The next morning we see the front desk about a free walking tour of the city we’d set up through Swanky when we checked in. I, personally, have low expectations for such events. Eva, however, blows us away. Sure, there are typical war stories, descriptions of local sights, monuments, etc., but she gives us her personal touch as well. Our proud (and rightfully so), local tour guide (Swanky staff, btw — top notch) tells us personal anecdotes from her life. She leads us through a war tunnel (not exactly a tourist attraction, and exactly what we’d been hoping for). She guides us to the Art Park and tells of its grungy past amid its present-day beauty. We walk away with appreciation for the welcoming locals, confidence in our getting-around this fascinating city, and gratitude that we still have 24 hours left to explore it.
To venture out a bit further, we drop about $12 per person for bikes for the day (including locks, of course) — yes, from Swanky’s own bike rentals. We get the Swanky staff’s advice per usual, then head out for a day covering just about everything we hadn’t in the last 24 hours.
It’s worth noting that at no point did we ever feel the need to stay out in the city for the sake of being there. Hanging at the hostel is just as tantalizing as the rest of Zagreb! Croatian cable TV at our fingertips, meeting locals on the shade-covered terrace, planning our next adventure with the help of Petra or Eva. We can’t get enough.
A couple little extras I’d like to point out before I wrap up: first, I was expecting to have to receive a package at Swanky that would arrive before we did. I emailed Swanky regarding this, and they happily replied that they would receive and hold on to the package for our arrival, free of charge. (We ended up not needing this service, but I definitely expected a flat-out ‘no’, so I was wowed from the start!)
Second, the night before our departure I email Swanky staff asking if they could print our rental car documents for the next day. They quickly respond that they’d printed them and would have them waiting for us to pick up at any time. I just keep falling in love with this place again and again.
There is an unwavering commitment to service excellence here; everyone is welcome and feels welcome. The air holds a sense of adventure with a laid-back attitude, and anything seems possible. It’s any wanderer’s dream.
SO. The final verdict is in: Swanky. Is. Perfection. –Brandi B.