"The south coast town of Plakias was once a tranquil fishing village before it became a retreat for adventurous backpackers" — Lonely Planet.
Welcome to Y. H. Plakias – the southernmost hostel in Europe!
The hostel was purpose built on a green field site and opened in April 1994. One boundary of the gardens is a small river, one of only 3 on Crete to flow all year. Within the site, and all around, are olive, lemon and orange trees. Yet we are only 10 minutes walk to the beach and town.
This general view shows the toilets, showers and washing area on the left. You will note that we are all solar panel hot water – why not when we get 92% sunshine throughout the year! Below the tiled roof is a shaded communal seating area, with the inside communal lounge and reception behind. To the right side are 5 mixed dorm rooms and one female dorm; all the same with 4 bunks in each and with a popular outside terrace bunk added to each room during the summer. This gives us a total capacity of 60 people. The building on the upper floor is the manager’s pad and to the left of it, now completed, is a workshop and store.
The hostel is independent and is owned by a local Cretan businessman who only spends about 10 minutes at the place each week; a great boss. Due to an almost complete lack of tourists during the winter we are open from just before Easter until the end of October. This coming season we will be charging 9 Euro for a bed with a 10% discount for payment by the week.
Walking down the path on the way to the communal terrace. The rooms are to the left and right of the picture. You can see the arched mulberry trees and bushes all planted when the hostel was built and now looking good.
The toilets, showers and washing block is the pale building in the background.
Having a lazy breakfast on the communal terrace. The tree to the left of the picture is an olive about 60 years old. The door to the communal lounge and reception is above the guy with the white t-shirt.
We do not have a communal kitchen as, this being a small town, the hostel has to be seen to be patronizing the local cafes and restaurants. However, it is very cheap to eat here and a lot of fun if you go out with a crowd; twice I have known a table of 56 hostel folk!
As a hangover cure we cook breakfasts, a plate of 2 fried eggs, bread, butter and a coffee for €2.25, And, to provide the hangover, we sell beer, standard half litre, for €1.15 and the cult local wines for €3.00 per 1½ litres (we fill used water bottles from the barrel, our attempt at recycling).
showcase-plakias.jpgThe hostel has a rather unusual security system which takes many people by surprise, especially North Americans: we have NONE! The rooms are open 24 hours a day; the communal areas are open 24 hours a day; no keys, no smart cards, no spy cameras, no nothing!
We use the Cretan tradition of respect and honesty; and it works, in my 12 years I can still count the times that we have had thieving on one hand; and we have usually caught the culprit.
In the rooms, as you can see, we have open shelves for the storage of luggage.
Many a morning, when cleaning up from the night before, I have come across wallets, i-pods, cameras, even cash, just lying around in the communal areas.
One woman left her laptop in the communal lounge for her whole two weeks, all day and night, knowing, full well, that no one would touch it.
However, I am sensible enough, each evening, to lock the office and beer fridge! We also have a secure room for valuables but less than 50% use it.
We do not even have fences or gates at the entrance.
showcase-plakias.jpgA lot of thought, and money, goes into the design and construction of the facilities to make them durable and easy to keep clean. It simply is not worth cutting corners.
It is great to have space around the hostel to let the children play or to be able to get away from it all.
There is only one full-time employee, me, Plakian. My normal working day is from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, but with a 5 hour siesta in the afternoon. There is no real need for reception to be open after 9pm as the last bus has already arrived and most guests have gone out to eat before partying the night away in town. Afternoon arrivals leave their bags in the communal lounge, check out the beach and check-in after 5pm.
The down side is that I work 7 days a week for the whole 7 months, but then I do get all my weekends and holidays all in one big lump; with the added bonus of 5 months unemployment benefit.
Then there are the part-time staff: a cleaner for 3 hours a day, a kitchen help and waitress (know by the regulars as the Eggs Princess!) for 3 hours in the morning and a casual gardener (if you knew him the description is accurate!). I am lucky this season to have staff who have all worked here before, respectively, Sonja from Bulgaria, Manuela from Germany and Brian from Scotland.
Running the Hostel
So, how can one person run a busy hostel of 60 people on their own, especially in the evening when there is a lot of check-in. It is down to systems and keeping them very simple. I much prefer sitting and chatting with folk, especially the new arrivals, than sitting behind a computer. For this reason I operate with pieces of paper and update the computer just twice a day; it doesn’t take long.
The first paper lets me know which beds are occupied and whether the people have paid for them, or not, which is the more likely! The second tells me how much they owe on their tab (only really needed at check-out time). The third is a small paper which records sales: beers, wine, water, breakfasts, etc: and on the reverse records these sales against each individual. I also keep with them the registration book and the print out of any booking engine reservations for the day. Most of the above are on Excel.
In this way I have freedom. Freedom to sit and chat. Freedom to go out and water the gardens. Even freedom to leave the hostel if really necessary; watching for the frosting on newly taken beers on my return!
Provided I sit where I can see the “help yourself” drinks fridge, I can keep chatting and record sales at the same time. K.I.S.S!
We have our own custom built, web based, internet access for guests that requires very little work from me. Hundreds of regulars come back and the computer still remembers them! Thanks Uli, and if you are looking for a system I can recommend it.
"Partying is much in evidence here helped along by Chris’ eclectic music collection." — Lonely Planet.
For many years my hobby has been collecting “World Music”, a useful hobby to bring to a hostel. Now the regulars are helping with my hobby – last season the hostel was given 133 cds. To assist them I have a list of our music on our web site.
It is just wonderful when someone comes in and says that the music I am playing is great and they write down the details for when they go home.
The Free Mail Barrel
Plakias hostel is the home of the world’s second “free mail barrel”. The first is on the Galapagos Islands and has been in use for over 200 years.
Folk write a card, stamp it and put it in the barrel. If someone is traveling to the same destination then they take the card with them. Hand delivery only!
Social networking from before it became trendy! More hostels should join in.
In October 2004, just before I closed for the winter, I thought “I have too many books! Why not make them available to the local community here”. And so was born the Plakias Lending Library.
It started in an empty hostel room and grew, boy, did it grow! I seemed to spend half my winter making more shelves for the growing collection. I have a lot of retired friends here who have taken over the management.
Luckily, I was able to find a permanent home for the collection in a vacated shack just 70 metres up the road from the hostel, just before the hostel opened again for the season. We now have over 6000 books (in 18 languages) and over 700 dvds – all donated – and I have had to extend the premises twice; I double as the local carpenter in the winter!
For the regulars at the hostel the Library is one of their first calls. The books are free – but the tea, coffee and wine do cost you a Euro!
Are we the only hostel in the world to ever found a public lending library?
So, who are these regulars that I keep mentioning? Well, if you stayed here you would know one when they arrived because they may well know half the other guests and that I greet them with a shot of raki, our local fire water.
There is quite a lot of dedication to the cause. Marilyn, a grandmother from New Zealand has visited 10 times in the last 11 years, including 2 stays in one season. Amy from Texas has also stayed twice in a season, as has Rebecca from New York. As for Europeans, well, 5 visits in a season from Germany and England have been known.
Many people leave luggage here knowing full well that they will return soon. Bernie from south London leaves his entire luggage, including a classical guitar and music stand. When he travels he just has his daypack which contains two boxes of tea bags, one for himself and one for me as thanks for keeping his bags. One year though, as it was my birthday, he also brought an Indian take-away!
I will let Selena from New Zealand tell you about it. “I am naturally a cynic, and when Julie and I arrived here, we were at first doubtful – I’ll be honest. Within ten minutes of being here we had been asked at least 12 times about how many visits we had made before and when would we be back. Each time we would exchange glances and wonder how we had stumbled upon such a strange cult and could we escape with our lives? But as the week turned into a month we slowly realised it wasn’t Chris brainwashing everyone with raki and mad music, there is something special about Plakias. It’s a place where there are no complicated social circles, just everyone getting along in all languages; there is a magic in the hostel, and in the town itself, which is impossible to describe. And although I say the eggs princess will not be back, I think I am in denial!!”
Marriages and Hostel Reunions
There have been 6 marriages of folk who have met here for the first time; amazingly, in every case, the individuals come from different continents. There have also been 7 babies born to couples who have met here for the first time, with 1 more on the way.
During the winter they miss each other and so re-unions take place. This winter in London, Berlin, Dublin and Hamburg; people fly in from all over Europe.
The regulars now constitute over 60% of our turnover.
"All in all. Plakias is one of the better choices for independent travellers looking for a hang-out on Crete." — Lonely Planet.
Within an hours walk it is possible to find secluded beaches.
But the night life goes on in town all night, every night. Don’t ask what they are doing!
The town can be seen to the left of the picture.
For the more adventurous there is our waterfall 'walk' known only to hostel people.
Hostel people like Plakias so much that 10 of them now live in the town permanently.
Photo courtesy of Y.H. Plakias Hostel