When you search for environmentally friendly accommodation in Antwerp, very likely Antwerp Central Youth Hostel will come up among the first. Locally also known as ” Hostel Pulcinella”, this modern complex in minimalist design couldn’t be better located – right in the city center but far enough from the main tourism attractions to provide the necessary quiteness.  The hostel’s manager, Caroline Decoster tells us the story and what makes Antwerp Central Hostel so special.

Caroline, you are the manager of Antwerp Central Hostel since 2011. Did you always want to work in hospitality and tourism? What brought you to leading the team at “Pulcinella” hostel?

During my studies of culture management (after archaeology) I worked in the Hostel of Leuven. In 2008 I moved  (with my then boyfriend) to the west of Flanders and worked there as a manager of the Peace project, a hostel for groups focused on cultural exchange and peace. Here I could combine my interest in culture management/history and also work in the tourism industry.

After this I worked again as an archaeologist, but still loved the tourism industry. So, I moved to Antwerp to be the manager of the new hostel Pulcinella, which opened in May 2011. I need to be challenged from time to time.

What does “Pulcinella” stand for?

There used to be a puppet theater on the place where the hostel is now. There are still a few puppet theaters in Antwerp that have the origins in this ‘commedia dell’ arte’ and are called Poesjenellen in our dialect.

Pulcinella, often called Punch or Punchinello in English, Polichinelle in French, is a classical character that originated in the commedia dell’arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry.

So that’s why it’s called Pulcinella.

Antwerp Central Hostel has become quite popular among travellers visiting the city. To your mind, what makes it stand out from other hostels in the city?

It’s modern, quite big and open. We try to help you with any question you may have. Other strengths are our location and ability to host big groups. There are of course still some points that I want to improve and change, the hostel is always evolving.

Can you tell us a bit about the hostel’s history – when was it founded and how has it changed or evolved since then?  

Hostel Pulcinella opened in May 2011 and is run by the Flemish youth hostel federation. It was a new building then, designed by Vincent Van Duysen architects, known for its minimalism.

The building itself hasn’t changed: many people like the minimalism, but we have tried to make it “warmer” by adding green things, especially plants. We try to make it always a little more ‘greener’ every year, with little of bigger steps.

But already from the beginning Antwerp Central Youth Hostel was conceived as a green building. For example, we recuperate rainwater for the communal toilets and have sun panels for heating the water.

Sustainability is becoming more and more important in tourism, and Antwerp Central Hostel seems to be leading the way in the city. Which of the many sustainability initiatives that you have in place do you find the most important, or inspiring, personally?

I think the most important is that you don’t stop adding green initiatives, or to try to make it greener. You can’t ever think that it’s ‘green enough now’.

Apart from the green building design, from the beginning I decided to work with eco-friendly products for the housekeeping, for example. And then year by year we’ve added things, such as our “bee hotel”. Every Thursday we offer a vegetarian meal to promote a vegetarian diet. We offer free tap water, no longer use plastic straws and use recycled paper in the office, a well as recycled toilet paper.

The most important thing is that you can never stop to be inspired J

Antwerp Central Youth Hostel
Outside view of Antwerp Central Youth Hostel

Which aspects of running a hostel sustainably do you find the most challenging?

Actually, running a hostel sustainably or eco-friendly is not so difficult, in my view. Financially it doesn’t make a big difference. But I think it’s more difficult to make the building itself more sustainable in the beginning.

Something I would like to change is to offer more local products for breakfast, but logistically and financially this is still challenging.

Would you say that Antwerp is a green city destination?

Yes, because in the last years there have been many local initiatives to make Antwerp greener. There are the cycle sharing projects, new vegetarian restaurants, and projects like Susta where you can find organic produce and eco events, shops, restaurants, and so on. Of course there is still room for improvement.

Also, Antwerp city center is fairly small, so as a tourist you don’t need a car to explore the city. You can do everything by foot, bicycle or public transport very easily.

Your five bits of advice for environmentally conscious visitors, on how to best explore the city – what to do?

  • Stay in our hostel J
  • Rent a bike or go by foot and explore the city (using our city maps)
  • Eat at least once in a vegetarian restaurant or a restaurant with local food and drinks
  • Visit one of the parks in or around Antwerp
  • In the summer: take a swim in the ecological swimming pool in Deurne

Which restaurants, cafés or bars in Antwerp would you recommend, for their commitment to sustainability?

Near the hostel I would recommend:

  • The Broers van Julienne (Kasteelpleinstraat): mostly vegetarian dishes, very savoury
  • Amici Books & Coffee bar (near the corner in Kammenstraat): a social project where only people with a mental disability work. Sustainability for me is also about giving opportunities to disadvantaged people.
  • De Bomma (suikerrui): Local, Belgian specialities
  • Rosenobel (Grote Markt): all vegetarian restaurant
  • Greenway (Groenplaats): a fast, healthy vegetarian option

Thank you, Caroline! Check facilities, availability and rates here

Find out more about where to stay and what to do on our Antwerp city page.

Interview with Caroline Decoster, Manager of Antwerp Central Youth Hostel
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