Two Venice Hotels, Two Sides of a Celebrated City

A & O Venezia Mestre

The A & O Venezia Mestre is a warehouse of a hostel-hotel, with nearly 1,000 beds on multiple floors, a cavernous, industrial-chic lobby and, on a late morning in mid-May, a bevy of backpackers gathered at the mile-long reception desk or sleeping it off on the multicolored couches.

The company, which had its start in Berlin in 2000 and now has a presence in 21 European cities, represents a generation of budget lodging that broke the mold of what was once considered the typical backpackers’ hostel: dingy dorm rooms, zero design sensibility, a place to escape as soon as you secured your bed. These days, a convivial lobby, clean spacious rooms and a decent breakfast are becoming the norm, and that is what you will find here.

The Venice branch is one of the A & O’s newest additions, and it has clearly been discovered by the budget-travel bunch. Judging by the people in the lobby on a May evening, that bunch is a large group: lots of 20-somethings, as one might expect, but almost as many 30-somethings, with a generous sprinkling of young families, retirees with backpacks and ambitious schedules and, in a less frenetic section of the lobby, a few people who looked like business travelers tethered to their computers and cellphones. Languages and accents I heard included French, Danish, British, Italian, Slovenian, West African and German. Oddly, not a single American accent.

Still, the staff is both helpful and harried, intent on moving people in and out quickly and efficiently. Still, A & O offers an environment that encourages socializing and communication, and that is not by accident.

The Neighborhood

This part of Mestre isn’t pretty, but easy bus and train connections to the old town make it convenient. After arriving in the chaotic transport hub for which Mestre is known, my husband and I negotiated the snarl of streets and traffic until a group of backpackers picking their way around haphazardly parked vehicles alerted us to the hotel’s presence. An open patio area in front was lined with comfortable seating, occupied by young travelers who seemed oblivious to what lay all around them: a construction zone, some of it devoted to low-cost accommodations, including another A & O that will soon add hundreds of beds to the company’s presence in the area.

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