Hospitality is, without a doubt, one of the fundamental elements that sustain the Camino. But owing to the absence of common regulations, a variety of privately owned, fixed-price “pilgrim albergues” are proliferating along the Way.
MANIFESTO: “ …..a variety of privately owned fixed-price “pilgrim albergues” are proliferating along the Way.”
Many Spanish people have opened their homes and rent out rooms to passing pilgrims. This was encouraged by Elias Valiña’s 1987 guide, which suggested that Tourist offices could help pilgrims find these rooms.
In the middle-ages thousands of French families were encouraged to relocate to the north of Spain in order to populate the country with Christians and so balance the threat of Islam and locals welcomed pilgrims into their homes. (Hence the number of towns with the name Villafranca).
There was class distinctions in the middle ages with better accommodation reserved for the upper classes, the best food allocated to the wealthy and numerous relics only displayed to a special class of pilgrim, not to the masses. Today all pilgrims are treated equally and all pilgrims have the right to choose where they want to stay.
Not every pilgrim wants to stay in a basic albergue with no beds and two showers (Tosantos, Grañon) or no electricity (Manjarin, San Anton) even if these are voted as the most spiritual albergues on the Camino.
Monasteries that traditionally provided accommodation for pilgrims in the middle-ages are now big business with tourists (and rooms are not cheap). You can buy guides to lodgings in hundreds of monasteries all over the world.
1.To begin a movement to standardize existing rules on pilgrim accommodation.
Let pilgrims be the watchdogs! Pilgrims are quick to complain and albergues that are not up to scratch, or that are unsanitary, over charge, or that have bed-bugs are soon exposed on the Camino grape-vine via social networks like forums and Facebook. There is nowhere for them to hide!
Instead of starting a movement to impose more rules, perhaps a watch-dog group to investigate complaints would be more useful.
What about traditional albergues that charge pilgrims?
In Elias Valiña’s Pilgrim Guide (reprinted 1n 1987) there is a list of 72 ‘refugios’ on the Camino Frances whose “.... maintenance depends on the AMIGOS Ayuntamientos, Religious communities, Parishes or individuals.”
There is no indication whether these refugios charged pilgrims or not but with so few donativo albergues left, I’m sure that a search to compare then and now will show that many of those that were donativo now charge – like all the municipal albergues in Galicia, the one in Santo Domingo and the convent in Leon.
According to Colin Jones of the CSJ, there were about 88 refugios in 2000 - 58 municipal, 10 private and 20 belonging to the church.
The 2002 CSJ (Confraternity of St James) guide to the Camino Frances, lists 107 refugios; only 15 more than in 1987 so not a huge growth in numbers.
Doing a rough count, there are over 400 albergues on the Camino Frances today and only 15 of these are traditional non-profit (i.e. donativo). They are in Estella, Viana, Logrono, Najera, Granon, Tosantos, Villalcazar de Sirga, Sahagun Madres Benedictinas, Bercianos del Real Camino, El Burgo Ranero, Rabanal, Parroquial de Foncebadon, Parroquial de El Acebo, Ponferrada and Samos.
If the church, or the municipalities, or the various Jacobean organisations had been able to keep up with the number of pilgrims needing accommodation, it might not have been economically viable for so many private albergues to be established. Instead, as things stand, the number of traditional donativo albergues have dropped (two of the oldest parish albergues started charging in 2013) and the private albergues have taken their place.
Fair enough - I know where they are coming from, and this is what we teach trainee hospitaleros, but I think this rule could have contributed to the bed-rush in the past! A possible solution was considered for pilgrims in Galicia in 2005 but I don’t think anything came of it. In 2005 this was posted on the St James’ forum:
“Last week the Xunta, and the new Director of Tourism, Ruben Leos, arrived at an accord whereby pilgrims that occupy the albergues will be asked to contribute to their upkeep by paying a fee which will range from 3 to 10 Euros. The income from such fees will allow the albergues to offer better service, including bed-clothing and towels, and it will also provide some means for augmenting personnel in the albergues so that claims of being a pilgrim may be looked into in such a manner that phony ones may be detected.
The good news about the proposed change is that, in addition to better services in the albergues, true pilgrims will be able to make reservations in the forthcoming albergue as they leave one. This will avoid the necessity of pilgrims starting out before dawn, in the dark, so that they may reach the next albergue by one o'clock in order to find a space. Since the reservations will be made from one albergue to another presumably the increased attention, time intervals, and tracking will uncover free-loaders pretending to be pilgrims and will provide needed ease of mind to true pilgrims.”