I close my eyes and I am there on the Camino again: Resting my weary legs and at peace looking forward to the adventures ahead.
Life on the Camino de Santiago is very simple; you walk, you eat, you sleep and you walk… So sometimes when urban life feels too much I reflect and imagine I’m back on that road. And often my Camino memories that shine brightest are the pilgrim’s resting places, the albergues; the place to rest the weary pilgrim’s head. But they’re more than just a place with a lot of bunk beds. They’re a community for the evening: a place to share laughter, insights and of course food and drink.
Cheap and abundant they come into different shapes and sizes and have been a welcome rest place for pilgrims since medieval times. An extract from my novella, Candyfloss Guitar, gives a flavour of an albergue municipal (basic dormitory style hostel maintained by the local authority):
The red brick municipal albergue was the only sign of life in the village. Outside, in the first patch of green Diego had seen that day, pilgrims nestled together in different groups. Some were helping each other patch up their blistered feet; others planned the next leg of their journey and the drinkers quenched their thirst with beer and chatted like familiar locals in a bar. Diego and Isa dumped their bags on their beds and joined the drinking crowd.
The sun disappeared behind the horizon and the corn fields glowed goodbye to the day as Diego left Isa at his table. He found himself stumbling across the garden, guitar in hand, to a table where a strawberry blonde was sitting…
Everyone has an opinion on their favourite albergues, and I thought it would be fun to share my top three in reverse order.
Number 3: Monastery of Samos
Samos is like a secret community in a land only discovered by pilgrims who take the alternative path to Sarria. It is a monastery town, first spotted from a ridge that overlooks a hamlet that clings to the dominating Benedictine monastery. The dormitory is dank and dark. But by the time you’ve completed the tour of one of the oldest monasteries in the world, and its history seeps into your bones, you are an ascetic pilgrim; grateful for faith in the human spirit. I slept like a log during my night there.
Number 2: En El Camino, Boadilla del Camino
There is an oasis at the end of the Meseta (the hottest most desolate stage of the Camino) and it comes in the form of a converted barn, in the shade of an octagonal medieval church. You drop your bag, remove your boots and you discover a swimming pool surrounded by lush green grass. My companions and I were smiling faces the late afternoon we arrived as we relaxed with ice creams and drinks. And the merriment at the albergue continued to its restaurant where we discovered freshly dressed communal tables and hearty Castilian food.
Number 1: Albergue Roncesvalles
The view of the roof of the abbey at Roncesvalles still remains one of the most welcoming sites of my life. It’s the albergue most pilgrims stay in after their first day on the Camino; and you certainly earn you bed for the night as it comes after a 1,500 metre climb across the Pyrenees into northern Spain, making you question what the hell you’re doing!
Though the albergue is part of the monastery, it has the most modern of dormitories; sectioned off into small units with firm single beds, crisp white sheets and personal plugs and lamps. And there is a bar and restaurant sitting in the shade of the medieval abbey, making my pinta one of the most refreshing beers of my life.
Has anyone walked the Camino? If you have please share you alburgue experiences or anything esle you fancy about the journey.