Ever since I saw Luis Buñuel’s masterpiece The Milky Way, I knew that one day I would join the pilgrim crowds hiking on the Camino de Santiago. Come 2010, a Holy Year according to the disciples of Saint James, I decided to pack my bags and take to the road. Two months later, I found myself at the doorsteps of Santiago de Compostela, my pilgrim’s passport filled with stamps of all the albergues I had stayed at throughout my journey. It was one of the best travel experiences of my life.
Living life on the road is not for everyone, but those that have a penchant for traveling at a leisurely pace while taking the time to absorb their surroundings will find a lot to like on the Camino. This kind of laid-back approach to travel is viable thanks to the wealth of roadside accommodation options. No matter where I found myself on the Camino, I could be certain that there was a hostel or a refuge nearby ready to take me in.
To be perfectly honest though, some of these places were not much of an upgrade compared to sleeping outside, but there were a couple that really made the journey for me. I will go over those that stood out to me, in the interest of helping fellow pilgrims have the best possible experience while hiking on the Camino.
Albergue Verde, Hospital de Órbigo
Albergue Verde is one of the more famous refuges on the Camino. You can find it in a village called Hospital de Órbigo, on the second leg of the French Way. It is best to make your reservation early, to ensure you will have a spot once you arrive.
I shared a bunk bed with a fellow pilgrim, and there were a few other people in the sleeping room as well. The bed itself was really comfortable when compared to the other places I slept at. The nights on the Camino can get quite chilly, but the bed came with full bedding, so there were no problems there.
Albergue Verde is known across the Camino for its vegan cuisine, and I can attest that the reputation is justified. All of the ingredients are locally grown, and the chefs know their way around the kitchen.
If you are traveling by bike, there is a dedicated bicycle room to store your vehicle overnight. The hostel also comes with a room for yoga, meditation and massage, a garden and a fireplace, for those of us who like to have creature comforts available wherever we go.
Albergue Parochial, Grañon
On the other side of the spectrum from Albergue Verde is Albergue Parochial in the village of Grañon. This refuge is housed in the bell tower of the church of San Juan. It offers the most authentic “pilgrim” experience you can find on the Camino.
There are no actual beds in Albergue Parochial, just makeshift sleeping mats. The place was really crowded during my stay, but I didn’t mind that much, since the extra bodies made the room warmer during the night. If you are looking for a comfortable stay, this is probably not the best place, but I personally enjoyed it.
The food on offer is basic, but it has a certain rustic charm to it that took me back to days of old. It was quite enough to satiate my appetite in any case. It was also free of charge, provided you left a donation.
The main selling point of Albergue Parochial is its guestroom. Sharing supper with fellow pilgrims while the fireplace hisses and crackles is a unique experience that I would recommend to anyone. You can also attend a sermon afterwards, if you are religiously inclined.
Albergue de la Piedra, Villafranca del Bierzo
A more modern take on a pilgrim refuge, Albergue de la Piedra lies in the village of Villafranca del Bierzo in the province of León. It was once a hotel, but it has been renovated since to become an albergue. To reach it, you have to cross a bridge and go down the Street of the Holy Spirit.
The sleeping facilities were clean and comfortable, even with many people passing every day. I slept in a bunk bed in a large common room, as is the standard for these sorts of places, but you can also rent out a separate room with 3 beds, if you are traveling with company.
I am a fan of buffets for breakfast, and this place did not disappoint. While it is not included in the price, I was more than willing to spend 2 euros to have my fill for the day. There were vegetarian and vegan meal options as well.
The people running the place are an old pilgrim couple. I enjoyed talking to them about their experiences on the Camino. The surrounding town is well worth a visit as well. It lies fairly close to the mountain slopes, so you can do a bit of mountain trekking if you are so inclined.
Casa Susi, Trabadelo
Casa Susi is more of a modern hostel than a refuge, but it is a place that pilgrims often use nonetheless. It can be found in the town of Trabadelo, close to the Valcare River. The building has been renovated recently, and has all the modern amenities, including access for the handicapped.
There are 12 single beds available, so you ought to reserve yours in advance. Since fewer people can stay at the same time, this place is ideal for having a good night’s sleep.
The hostess is an excellent chef. All meals are prepared with local ingredients, with a slight leaning towards vegan and vegetarian meals. There is a bar available as well, and you can have drinks free of charge, within reason.
The hostel has a garden with direct river access, so you can go for a swim during the hot summer months. If you like to socialize, most visitors here speak English, so it’s easy to find someone to talk to. For solitary types such as myself, there is a terrace where you can simply relax in peace.
Paloma y Lena, San Mamede do Camino
Among the places I stayed at, Paloma y Lena is probably the most luxurious of the bunch. You can find it in the municipality of Sarria, and it is only about 150km from Santiago de Compostela. It is a great place to prepare for the last leg of your journey.
I found the accommodation to be top notch, with several sleeping rooms with 10 bunk beds in each. There are also double rooms available, each with their own bathroom, for those that value their privacy. In the unlikely event that you are traveling by horse, you can leave your steed at one of the 5 available stables as well.
The kitchen is fully staffed at all times, so you can ask for a meal at any point during the day. Vegan and vegetarian options are readily available. Communal dinners are a joy to attend, with many people from all over the world sharing their experiences.
The place has a huge garden that’s perfect for lounging during the day. The surrounding nature is also a sight to behold, with no large cities nearby to spoil the view. I would recommend this place even to people who are not on pilgrimage, it is simply that good.
Some of my most memorable moments on the Camino were those that I spent at various hostels along the way. The five that I’ve outlined here are by no means the only good ones. They are simply those that stood out to me the most while I was traveling the French Way. Hopefully, you will discover new ones as well, once you go on a pilgrimage of your own.