And, also watch this short video on the Albergue Acacio & Orietta in Villoria de la Rijoa:
What are they? Where are they? What are they like?
Are they all huge, noisy, crammed dormitories with snoring, snuffling pilgrims? What are the beds like, and the showers? Do they give you meals?
What are they?
Pilgrim shelters - albergue de Peregrinos - are places for pilgrims (not tourists) to sleep overnight while on their pilgrimage. Found in almost every town and village, they follow in the thousand year tradition of providing shelter to pilgrims on their way to the tomb of Saint James in Compostela.
They are found in restored churches, halls, renovated barns, private homes and many other structures. Some are open all year, others only in summer so always check your guide book before deciding on where to stay.
In Ribadiso do Baixo, also known by pilgrims as Puente Paradiso, there is an award winning albergue in the restored hospice of San Anton on the banks of the Rio Isa , which dates from the fourteenth century. It has modern ablutions, a washroom for clothes, kitchen, and in 2007 we found a new bar and restaurant right next door - business must be booming!
In Manjarin, a donativo albergue, 10 people sleep in a small stone barn on mattresses laid out on a wooden platform. There is no running water, toilet or electricity. Tomas Le Paz is a Knight Templar who conducts a Templarios ceremony every morning at 11am (when it is 12pm in Jersualem). He provides an evening meal -cooked on a gas stove - and a breakfast. He also provides tea or coffee to passing and visiting pilgrims throughout the day.
Few albergues offer any meals but some, in the more remote areas, offer a communal evening meal and, perhaps, bread, biscuits, tea and coffee for breakfast. These are either ‘donativo’ or for a few euros. Some that come to mind are Eunate, Villa Mayor Monjardin, Granón, Tosantos, Arroyo San Bol and Manjarin. Pilgrims might be asked to help prepare the evening meal and to wash the dishes afterwards.
There are very few albergues that have single beds. Villadangos is an exception with beds in one large room and bunks in smaller rooms: Bercianos also has a room with beds and in Azofra - a large modern albergue - there are two beds per cubicle.
Yellow Arrows lead the way along the camino paths and also in the towns and villages to the albergues.
Albergues close for most of the day so that volunteers can clean up and get it ready for the daily influx of new pilgrims. Most only open at about 2pm and you have to leave by 8am or 8h30 the next morning.If you arrive at an albergue that is still closed, you put your backpack down on the ground in line and wait for the volunteer 'hospitalero' to arrive. Some hospitaleros ask you to take your boots off before entering the dormitories. You might also be asked to leave your walking sticks in a predetermined place.
You usually have to sign in by writing your name, age, nationality, starting place, whether you are walking, cycling etc. into a register. Your credential is stamped and you give a donation or pay the required amount.
You might be shown where the bedrooms and ablutions are, and you might also be told the rules of the house - lights out, time to vacate in the morning etc.
You mark your bed by unrolling your sleeping bag onto it. You leave your backpack next to the bed and go off to shower, wash clothes, find food or sightsee.
Shower and bathrooms are usually uni-sex. Two places I've stayed in did not have shower curtains or doors.
Most albergues have a curfew - 10h30pm or 11pm when lights are switched off and doors are locked. Pilgrims may only stay one night and the only exception might be if you are injured and cannot walk the next day.
Pilgrims staying in the albergues will have free medical treatment for minor injuries such as blisters, tendinitis or pulled muscles.
30 euro: hotales from 30 - 45 euro: hotels from 45 - 60 euro.
*Manjarin – Atmospheric albergue run by Tomas the Templar - basic, no running water, electricity or toilet. Sleep in a stone barn on mattresses – stay for the Templario blessing and ceremony at 11am. (Open all year)
*Villafranca del Bierzo - Ave Fenix run by the Jato family for almost 30 years – Jesus Jato is a healer. (Open all year)
*La Faba – Albergue Vegetariano run by a German hippie who sells incense and Eastern jewellery: pick the vegetables in the field next door and help cook the dinner.