Accommodations can be a touchy subject in Pilgrim World. Some say you’re not a real Pilgrim if you eschew albergues for hotels. Others bemoan the fact that more and more, people are phoning ahead to book beds at lodgings. And still others judge those who get up so early in the morning in order to get a head start (to ensure they get a bed), that they end up walking in the pre-dawn darkness.
Of course, I have my own opinions! First one is: stay wherever you want. Pilgrims of old stayed where they could afford to stay – under the stars, 8 to a bed, or in a fancy inn (do you really think nobles bunked with pigs and peasants?). Second opinion is that I actually wished I had a working phone (long story) to book ahead. It would have meant freedom to ramble to my heart’s content with no lingering thoughts of having to taxi to the next town or three in order to find the last bed which just happens to cost 100 euros. When someone offered to book a bed for me, I took them up on it. Twice I ended up in a hotel because everything else was booked by the time I arrived (and not late, either: both times before 3pm! And this was springtime, not the height of summer!). And my third opinion, to each his own – if you want to walk in the pre-dawn darkness, your prerogative. I normally didn’t do it – I wanted to see and appreciate my surroundings.
In terms of accommodations along the Camino Frances (CF), they were a mixed bag. Though I walked the CF in 35 days, I had 37 nights of official Camino lodgings. And I managed to do a mixture – numbers in brackets represent total nights spent at that type of lodging.
Municipal/Xunta albergue (8): Think of it as a basic hostel but generally huge. Facilities tend to be limited so count on hand washing your clothes and waiting for a cool shower (or one of those annoying showers where you have to push the button every minute to get water). Feels like a people factory and has lots of rules. Generally 5-10 euros or even donativo.
Association albergue (5): Generally like the above but the atmosphere tends to be nicer. About 6-10 euros.
Private albergue (17): Tend to have less rules than the previous two. For example, usually no “lights out by…” or “door locked by…” Also have good facilities such as washer/dryer, perfect for those of us who can’t get our clothes to reach the squeaky level of clean when hand washing (did you know the clothes is actually supposed to squeak?) or need to dry rain-wet clothes. Downside is a tad more expensive – generally about 10 to 15 euros.
Monasteries/Convents (2): If you’re a dork like me, a chance to stay with monks/nuns sounds like a cool random experience. They can have shared rooms or private rooms so the prices vary accordingly (about 10 to 25 euros). Facilities tend to be simple but good.
Hotels (5): You can vary from simple hotels to swanky 5-star ones in cities. If you feel guilty about staying in hotels, check out the Paradors which used to be actual pilgrim lodgings in the past. There are five along the Camino Frances!
General Albergue Tips
- Eye mask are necessary and earplugs are a sanity-saver. Do you know the trick to hearing absolutely NOTHING external while wearing ear plugs? I do 🙂 (let me know if you want to know!) but having this blind-deaf combination, this means a vibrating alarm is necessary (ie. cell phone).
- Choose the bed away from the exit and the bathroom.
- Keep your flip flops by your bunk ladder for nightly bathroom trips.
- Keep your valuables in the foot box of your sleeping bag.
- If the albergue has a breakfast option, don’t go for this. It was never ever worth the money.
- Please keep the rustling bags to a minimum. And pack your bag as much as possible the night before.
- Wear clothes. No, a speedo doesn’t count.
- If there is an early “door locked” time, check for window entry/exit possibilities.
- Be patient with the hospitalero/a! Smile! Say hi! Say THANK YOU!
- Stay near your washing if using machines. And DON’T take other people’s clothes out of the machines! Unless, of course, it’s been sitting there doing nothing for a ridiculous amount of time.
- Check for bedbugs. Not just the mattress but also storage areas, (some places give you a drawer under the bed or a little locker by the bed). If storage area is made of wood, don’t use it. Trust me.
- If a place is donativo, please give at least a few euros. They need the money to keep the place running and to keep it at a good clean standard.
Some Recommendations Yea or Nay (year 2013)
Auberge Orisson (Pyrenees; Private): I booked 6 months in advance – this place is popular and there was no way I was doing the Pyrenees in one day!
Albergue (Azofra; Municipal): The best municipal albergue in which I stayed; the enclosed cubicles were only two beds each! Pretty good facilities as well.
Albergue San Lazaro (Redecilla del Camino; Municipal): Yes, it is always important to be grateful for having a bed and shelter, but I did wish I kept on walking that day. In a word – gross.
Albergue La Hutte (Atapuerca; Private): Simple but pretty neat converted barn-type space with restored walls and ceiling.
Albergue (Hornillos del Camino; Municipal): Urgh. (see #2)
Albergue Casa Nostra (Castrojeriz; Private): Traditional townhouse, charming, good facilities.
Albergue Santa Clara (Carrion de los Condes; Convent): Has private rooms so you can pretend to be a nun/monk (with a great shower) in solitude.
San Marcos (Leon; Hotel): Treat time! Gorgeous, historical Parador with awesome Pilgrim price. And the buffet breakfast? After weeks of tostada, it was to die for. I didn’t end up leaving Leon until after 10am that day all because of that breakfast.
Albergue Verde (Hospital de Orbigo; Private): A Zen-corny oasis, emphasis on healthy eating (dinner and breakfast provided donativo), great facilities, free yoga session in the morning.
Albergue Guacelmo (Rabanal; Association): Lovely restored building with awesome fireplace lounge room. Monks check here for readers at the nightly service (see #3).
Albergue (La Faba; Association): Very well run by the Germans, good facilities, nice atmosphere.
Hospiederia San Martin Pinario Seminario Mayor (Santiago; Hotel): Historical, beautiful, near Cathedral, good Pilgrim price. Perfect way to end the Camino.