Albergues and the menu del pelegrino

All the hostels along the Way, called albergue in Spanish or refugio in French are for the pilgrims’ use only (recently some private ones take tourists as well). To stay in one for a night you have to present your credential (pilgrim’s passport) to the hospitaliero, the person who runs the place.

Some albergues belong to the towns and villages – these are called municipal, others are private properties (albergue privado) while charities and churches run others (albergue parroquial). The latter will more often than not only ask for a donation and they may also invite you for a communal dinner and/or breakfast. Albergues municipal are pretty cheap; villages and towns try to reduce the cost to a minimum. Private ones are a little more expensive but may offer some extras. In general, you will pay between 6 to 8 Euros a night in an albergue municipal and 10-15 in a private one. Churches and charities will ask you for a donation.

Granon, La Rioja, Amazing albergue in church tower run by volunteers.
The albergue in Granon is one of many fantastic places on your route true to the spirit of community and brotherhood Photograpy: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

You will be able to switch from one type of albergue to another along the Way until about the last 100 km (Sarria or even earlier) when it starts to get really crowded. As a cyclist count from about Saria onwards rather on private albergues, because municipal ones are usually full of walkers as soon as they open. Most of the albergues do their best to accommodate everybody so in high season they put additional mattresses in schools or gymnasiums. On very rare occasions, especially in smaller towns and villages, you might be asked to cycle to the next albergue or to wait until 7 pm before being offered a bed. Don’t take it badly – with all the effort and kind-heartedness the hospitalieros put into their work they still only have limited space at their disposal. Tired cyclists will still manage to cycle another 3 kilometres while tired walkers might not be able to hobble another 500 meters. Volunteers run most of the albergues, even the private ones, and are mostly former pilgrims who wanted to share their experience of the road by serving others. They usually work for one or two weeks. Personally, I don’t limit myself to only one type of albergue and I highly recommend you do the same.

Albergues have a special opening and closing times to provide pilgrims with enough time to rest and to ensure that people that stay there are genuine pilgrims rather than tourists wanting cheap accommodation for sightseeing or partying. The rules are strict and if it is written that the albergue closes at 10 pm – it does. If you don’t obey the rules you might have to play Spiderman like a pilgrim in Astorga until you find a kind soul like me to open the door for you, but most often than not you probably won’t – that means spending the night on the street. The same thing in the morning – you are asked to leave by a certain time (usually around 8 am, although it might be earlier). Again take it seriously, be respectful and don’t linger. Remember that you are staying in one room with 10 or 20 other tired folks, so people who are noisy, banging on the door after closing time, using torchlight at night to go through rustling plastic bags inside their rucksacks etc. are very annoying.You can usually stay for one night only in an albergue, but if you are unwell ask the hospitaliero privately in the evening if you can stay an additional night.

Restaurants and bars will offer you the menu del pelegrino: a three-course meal for a set price consisting of a choice of starters, mains and desserts. Wine or water is usually included. It is an attractive offer and the albergue will advise you on which restaurants in the neighbourhood do it. To order the menu del pelegrino, you need to show your pilgrim’s passport or at least look like a pilgrim; this usually happens by a natural course of events after a few days of cycling. The menu costs between 9 and 11 Euros. Along the way, there are also plenty of bars that prepare fresh sandwiches (bocadillos) as well as grocery shops that sell delicious local products like cheeses and cured meats

In that guidebook, I list all the albergues on the Way and most of the bars and the restaurants (I have sat for a coffee or meal in almost all of them; not sure this is something to be proud of, although very useful if you are writing a guidebook). I also added recommendations for places I went to and appreciated. I very rarely advise against going somewhere – only if I found the place very problematic on more than one occasion or if an albergue is repeatedly criticised on the Internet by other pilgrims. I can very honestly say that I know the Camino Frances by heart, but bear in mind that businesses change hands, hospitalieros come and go and so your experience may vary from mine.