Many years ago, my travel friend and I, on a quick tour of Europe with Contiki, landed in Lucerne late in the evening. And as the whole aim of traveling with Contiki was for a unique experience, our accommodation for that night sure lived up to the whole ‘unique experience’ feel.
Barabas Jail Hotel was an actual prison in the heart of Lucerne. It was purpose-built in 1862 and was a functioning prison until it was decommissioned in 1998. It had 60 cells, including five for women. Before that, convicts were usually rounded up and locked away in monasteries or towers. When the authorities closed the prison, it was renovated and repurposed as a hotel with single, double, and family rooms.
And being where we were, do not expect any creature comforts that you may be used to staying in plush hotel rooms and resorts. All we got was a tiny room with two single cots, not that one complained much about that. They were clean and surprisingly comfortable. There was also a washbasin and a bathroom with a simple shower. And just in case either of us had any thoughts of freedom in the middle of the night, there was a barred window to dissuade us. So, if like me, you feel claustrophobic and plan to make a quick getaway through the window, then forget it.
Once we had settled down in our cells and set up for the night, it was time to check out the rest of the, ahem, prison, which we could do without being stopped by a gruff-looking prison guard. Instead, what greeted us were friendly staff busy doing what they do best – entertaining guests and their whimsical requests. There were also other interesting touches to give it a prison feel, such as a reception area with stone walls and a dining mess with a glass ceiling that looked into small cell windows.
As for dinner, if you were expecting a bowl of soggy gruel, then do not worry. It has a fabulous Japanese restaurant serving authentic cuisine that greatly helped make the thought of a night in a cell much more palatable.
While I am not sure if it is around if you do get a chance to check in someday, then do so. It is an experience worth recounting with friends.