Somehow, people do not associate “homestay” with Europe. Usually, “homestay” is only used to describe a hut in the jungle without a toilet and with no dental clinics within a 1000 km radius. Of course, this is a rather limited view of what a homestay is. If you look at a homestay as any occasion when you sleep over in someone’s private home rather than a specially designed location such as a hotel, then Europe is full of homestays. I myself have had quite a few experiences with homestays all over Europe, and here are 3 tales of European homestays.
- Njeguši, Montenegro
I know it sounds cliche, but really – the sun was setting down behind the mountains as we were seeking our way around Mount Lovćen. Turning right instead of left took us to the top of the mountain and the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, the king-poet national hero of Montenegro. The sunset view from the top was stunning but we’d rather have a place to stay for the night. The Mausoleum was about to close, it was almost dark, and we were nowhere near a lodging. But this was the Balkan, and what could have been a problem elsewhere was an opportunity here. Granted, what is a minor misunderstanding elsewhere can erupt into a full-blown civil war in a matter of minutes here, but that’s besides the point. And the point is that the guardians of the National Monument were more than happy to earn a few Euro’s by keeping it open half an hour longer just for us. “Closed? No! Two Euro – open! Let’s go! I call family in village, we find place to sleep! Let’s go!” While we were touring the megalomaniac mausoleum, the guard was frantically calling relatives in the village down in the valley to get us lodgings (and a commission for himself, no doubt). Half an hour later, we were welcomed to Njeguši (population 17) by an old lady into what was obviously her living room, which she vacated for us to sleep in. Surrounded by the dusty complete works of the king-poet Petar II we collapsed to sleep. The next morning we were awakened by the classic call of the rooster. The old lady was serving breakfast in the village’s cafe (we were lodged in the downtown area of Njeguši, that’s for sure). The locals at the next table were having a traditional Montenegrian breakfast consisting of four shots of Slivovica. We opted for the fried eggs and Njeguši cheese instead. This little episode to me was the essence of the Balkan experienced in just a few hours.
- Lecco, Italy
As the date of my flight to Milano was approaching, I was rapidly running out of options. I was going to the Lecco campus of the Politecnico di Milano, for a week-long course in Green Architecture. Being the poor student, I wanted to go Couchsurfing instead of paying for a hotel, but of the 6 Couchsurfers in Lecco, none was available for a variety of reasons. The only positive response I got was rather vague. The guy had no references, no picture on his profile, and was not even living in Lecco! Yes, he said he worked in town and would drop me off at the campus in the mornings and pick me up on his way back, but it all sounded rather weird. I took my chances and was so right about it. As my fellow students whined about their dilapidated hotel with wallpaper peeling off and stale smells, I was staying in a mountain village, and waking up every morning to a view of snow-capped peaks around me. The dude I was staying with was absolutely charming, a unique character. He hand-crafted his entire furniture, could you believe it? As a culmination of his hospitality, we went to visit his parents for a taste of his mother’s amazing tiramisu, and spent an evening full of laughter there watching Italian reality show about plastic surgery. One of the best nights out I ever had, I kid you not.
- The hostels in Iceland
Can a hostel be called a homestay? Yes, it can! Because the Icelandic hostel is more often than not just a couple of extra rooms in the owner’s house. In my travels in Iceland, I’ve stayed in hostels in all corners of the country and I never felt as a customer, always as a welcome guest. I’ve been welcomed by an open door and a note saying “If no one is at home, please come in and settle down. You can use everything in the kitchen. If by the time you leave, no one has shown up yet, please leave the fee in the tin box next to the door”. When you see a note like this, you do feel like home. And to me, that is what defines a homestay.