Friday, August 01, 2008

Refuge, refugio, albergue (del peregrino), pilgrim hostel (click here to view video)

Refuge, refugio, albergue (del peregrino), pilgrim hostel – these are all terms for the pilgrim shelters along the various camino routes in Spain. If you can spare 10 minutes to watch the Youtube video of the DVD "Welcome", you will get a sense of what the pilgrim albergues are all about.
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.
Where are they?
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.
What are they like?
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 Leon, one of the most cramped shelters but also one of the few that separates men and women, your hosts are the nuns of the Convento Santa Maria de las Carabjalas. You can attend a mass at 8pm and will have a blessing and breakfast before you leave in the morning. There is no kitchen but you can make tea or coffee in the common room.
Are they all huge, noisy?
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.

In Hospital de San Nicolas, 10 people sleep in the loft of a restored hermitage church. The monks wash the pilgrims' feet - following the tradition of Maundy Thursday when Christ washed the feet of his disciples - you have a pilgrim blessing and sing pilgrim songs at dinner by lamplight.
Some modern albergues are like university campus digs with all mod-cons including vending machines, cafeteria, bar and computer room for internet. Not much atmosphere and little camaraderie with other pilgrims.

There are over 400 pilgrim albergues (refuges) on the Camino Frances. Some are provided by the church, some by the local government or municipality; others are owned and run by volunteers from different Confraternities of St James around the world such as the 'donativo' Gaucelmo albergue in Rabanal which is owned and run by the CSJ - UK.
There are albergues that are owned by individuals or families who have devoted their lives to providing shelter to pilgrims, such as the refuge at Manjarin which is run by Tomas Martinez Le Paz, and Ave Fenix at Villafranca del Bierzo which Jesus Jato and his family have been running almost all their lives.

Most of the church, municipal and confraternity owned albergues are ‘donativo’ – donation. However, from 1 January 2008, all the municipal or church sponsored albergues in the Province of Galicia started levying a charge of 3€.
You cannot book a bed ahead at a church, municipal or CSJ owned albergue. These are run on a first come, first served basis. Most of these also don’t accept pilgrims with vehicle back-up, those who have sent their backpacks on ahead, or who have arrived by bus, train or taxi, and many do not accept large groups.These albergues also have a ‘pecking order’ in that walking pilgrims take priority and pilgrims on bicycles often have to wait until evening before being told whether or not they have a bed for the night.

Many of the privately owned albergues have come together under the umbrella of an organisation called Red de Albergues Camino de Santiago. They publish an annually updated fold out list of all the albergues along the Camino Frances ‘donde el camino se hace reposo’ (where the camino sleeps) with the mileage between villages and towns, and symbols indicating whether the establishment has internet, a kitchen, laundry facilities, a bar or restaurant etc.
Their ‘Rules of Use’ are that the albergues are for the exclusive use of pilgrims on foot, bicycle or horseback who have the pilgrims’ credential. However, they also provide contact details for pilgrims wanting to send their backpacks on ahead. You can download a brochure from their website:(
Some of the newer albergues offer single and double rooms, rooms for 4 people in 2 bunk beds with en suite bathroom, rooms for 10 people and dormitories that sleep up to 80 pilgrims. The charges vary from 5€ for a general dormitory to 9€ for a private room.

Do they give you meals?
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.

Some albergues have kitchens although most of these are usually poorly equipped with shortages of pots and pans, crockery and cutlery. Most albergues have electricity and those that don’t, cook on gas stoves and eat by lamplight.

What are the beds like?
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.
Most provide bunk beds in dormitories or rooms that sleep from 10 people to 200 people. None provide linen so sleeping bags or liners are essential. The majority offer blankets and some even provide a pillow.
There are a number of albergues where pilgrims sleep on mattresses on the floor. This, in my opinion, is often more comfortable than sleeping on a bunk bed especially if the mattress is soft or lumpy or if the bunk is a triple deck bunk!

All but the most basic albergues have showers, basins, toilets and wash tubs for washing clothes. Some provide washing machines and dryers. There are a minimal number of albergues that do not have electricity, running water or even toilets. (Manjarin, San Bol, Hospital San Nicholas, Convento San Anton). These, almost medieval refuges, are often the most spiritual, atmospheric places to stay.

Itzandegia at Roncesvalles is the first albergue a pilgrim will stay in along the Camino Frances in Spain. It is a large restored 12th century stone building with a vaulted ceiling that has 100 bunk beds, a heating system and hot water for the showers. It is necessary to show the Pilgrims' Credential and the inscription ticket at the entrance. Price: 5 euros. (They do not have blankets).
In Larrasoana the beds are in the old municipal hall as well as a second building not far away that caters for overflow numbers. The ablutions are in a pre-fab hut alongside the building.
There are two albergues in Pamplona – Paderbon which is run by the German St Jakob Association and for 4€ you can stay in a large modern albergue in the newly restored church of Maria y Jesus.
The albergue ANFAS outside Estella is run by people with special needs.
In Granón you climb a spiral stairway up a tall bell tower of the church and sleep on mattresses on the floor. The donativo albergue has a box with an inscription – “Give what you can – take what you need’.

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.

In most towns you have the option of staying in alternative accommodations such as small hotels, hostales, fondas (inns) or even up-market paradors. A single room in a small inn can cost from 20 -

30 euro: hotales from 30 - 45 euro: hotels from 45 - 60 euro.

Paradors are the state-run hotels that are found throughout Spain. In 2008, they range from 100€ a room to 500€ a suite. Many are restored medieval castles, Arab fortresses, palaces, monasteries and convents.
The Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago was built in 1499 as a pilgrim hospice and hospital. It became a hotel in 1953 and is one of Spain’s most sumptuous state run Paradors. The cost of the rooms range from 210E to 525E per night. It retains the tradition of providing a free meal to at least 10 pilgrims each day.
Stone barn at Manjarin. Pilgrims sleep on mattresses on the floor

Modern albergue in Azofra: Kitchen, 2 beds to a cubicle, splash pool.

Albergue San Javier in Astorga - noisy, wooden floors, nice courtyard, equipped kitchen, friendly hospitaleros

New, private albergue in el Ganso. Friendly owner, use of kitchen, 3 bed room downstairs, bunk beds upstairs, use of washing machine

Beautiful gardens - Boadilla - bunk beds or on mattresses in the loft: family run

Arroyo San Bol - very basic, bunk beds, no running water, medicinal spring, gas stove (no electricity) no toilet. New Knight Templar took over in 2008

My favourite albergues? (Not the 'best' most upmarket, clean, modern, but the best for atmosphere, caring and spirituality.
*Eunate – meal by candlelight – walk around the church in the moonlight (Check opening times – sometimes is closed if there is no hospitalero)

*Granon – sleep on mattresses in the bell tower of a church – sing for your supper (Open all year)

*Tosantos – sleep on mattresses - pilgrim blessing in the attic chapel – pray for pilgrims who have left a prayer request (not sure of opening times)

*Arroyo San Bol - Run by Francisco, a Knight Templar – no running water, 1000yr old medicinal spring at the back, no electricity, no toilet –.(Open April – mid October)

*Convento San Anton – magical, basic albergue in the ruins of the San Anton convent (Open to end of September)

*San Nicolas - – sleep on mattresses in the loft of a restored church – communal meal cooked by Italian hospitaleros, pilgrim blessing includes washing of pilgrims feet (late June to mid-September)

*Bercianos – ancient straw and mud house, watch the sunset before being allowed to have a communal dinner

*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.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:22 pm


    Thanks for the comment you left on my blog! Your journey sounds amazing! Maybe someday I will have the chance to go on a similar pilgrimage!