Venice is a beautiful freak. Where other cities have exhaust-choked roundabouts, it has sleek teak speedboats winding down canals, gondolas gliding across a turquoise lagoon and grand faded architecture in a mother-of-pearl palette.
But as a home to only around 70,000 people, with about 25million visitors a year, it can feel like a high-end Disneyland.
Accommodation options have long rendered the city all but shut to younger or less flush travellers – offering a toss-up between wincingly expensive luxury venues such as the Gritti Palace on the Grand Canal, where double rooms at this time of year start at £540 a night, or a variety of more affordable but still fairly prohibitively-priced bed and breakfasts, where prices tend to fall between £120 and £210 for one night in a double.
But things have just changed dramatically with the arrival of Generator Venice, the latest European opening from the fast-growing urban design hostel brand.
I’ve stayed in plenty of hostels in my time – from the one on a Thai island where I returned to find a rat squatting on my bed, to the one in Croatia at the end of the tramline. Gorgeous Generator Venice is worlds apart.
It sits inside a 200-year-old Palazzo that used to be a grain store in the 1800s, on the waterfront in the quiet, residential island of Giudecca, just a short vaporetto (water bus) across to Venice’s main hub St Mark’s Square.
It has panoramic views across the lagoon and, later on, the hostel habitants naturally congregate outside to catch the sunset with a drink.
The main area is a boutique-like mix of original fixtures, local antique finds and modern twists. An old fireplace from Verona is home to a neon sign saying fuoco (Italian for fire).
I also like the stone columns, dark timber beams and an old apothecary cabinet, which becomes the backdrop to the DJ booth when the hostel hosts its launch party in conjunction with cool French electronic music label Kitsuné.
Designer Anwar Mekhayech has cleverly made the most of the small space, creating a series of different little enclaves to chat in.
There’s even a huge four poster bed to slump on in the chill-out area.
The all-important bar lies at the centre between twin staircases leading upstairs, where the décor is completely different – modern, crisp and white.
As well as dorm rooms suitable for five to ten people there are the options of female-only dorms and private twins, triples and quads – with the attic double providing the most stylish room in the house.
All the private rooms have lovely views straight across the water. Breakfasts offer the usual continental range of cereals, pastries, bread and fruit, but are truly good value at €3.50 a pop.
The launch party, where I take my instructions to sample local Proseccos (such as the ominously named Birra Corti Veneziane Hell) very seriously, is the first in a series of planned events at Generator Venice.
Soon there will be a party celebrating the end of the art Biennale, a Halloween party featuring special onsite make-up artists and an on-going collaboration with local percussionists – one of whom performed for us on a very strange but beautiful-sounding convex drum, like a steel drum blowing its belly out.
The hostel is also launching a competition to find a series of artists in residence, who will host a weekly open studio day for Generator guests and leave artworks in the hostel as their legacy.
Once notorious as the party capital of Europe, Venice is no longer known for its nightlife but the late-opening bar at Generator looks set to become a hotspot – and with a little guidance from the locals, and some ramblings of my own, I discover a less ossified side to the city.
There’s fun to be had in Santa Margherita square in Dorsoduro, a spot that’s popular with arts students, where bars such as the (suitably satsuma-coloured) Orange bar are open until 2am, as late as it gets in Venice.
In summer the city’s sandy Lido island, usually quiet, transforms into a fun seaside resort with open-air parties at the Aurora Beach Club.
On a tip-off we head to Canaregio, a northern residential district where few tourists seem to tread.
As the vaporetto chugs its way there, the views become less and less salubrious – and when I step off next to a busy train station surrounded by streets coursing with tourist tat, I’m convinced it’s a terrible idea.
But a short wander away we uncover a gorgeous, chilled-out district. By sundown there’s a real vibe outside the osterias (little bars serving drinks and delicious small bites) lining the Ormesini canal. I join locals having an after-work spritz at Osteria Al Mariner and 10 Metri Quadrati.
Noticing with tipsy satisfaction that my Aperol spritz exactly matches the colour of the sun slinking under the horizon, as a dalmation slides by on the prow of a motor boat, I realise that Venice isn’t a theme park at all – it’s just like nowhere else on earth.
Rooms at Generator Venice start from E15 per person per night. www.generatorhostels.com
Amy flew with easyJet. Flights from Gatwick, Luton and Southend to Venice start from £59.98 per person. www.easyJet.com
Three other Generator hostels to try
Located in the hip Gràcia district, which also contains Gaudí’s bonkers Park Güell, this is Generator’s only property combining a hostel with a hotel.
The top floors have private roof terraces (pictured), with amazing views across the skyline and the colour scheme is a bright mish-mash, with mosaic-style tiles.
Generator Berlin Mitte
The second Generator hostel in Berlin, this boho-style building is slap bang in the city’s ‘middle’ district – within walking distance of a host of sights. It has a historic, listed interior courtyard and features the artwork of iconic street artist Thierry Noir, who painted some of the most instantly recognisable sections of the East Side Gallery.
Located in a former folk-dancing hall in the Smithfield Square neighbourhood, this is just steps away from the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery, so naturally there’s a light installation made of emerald green Jameson bottles in the bar. There’s also a Jacuzzi room – for girls only.