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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Camino Frances Part 3: Albergues Bersianos to Santiago

Continuing on in 2006, we walked to Bersianos.
This seemed to be a nice little albergue. It was locked up tight when we arrived so we did our laundry and took a walk in the village. When we returned, the door was open. We went upstairs, found a bed, and I lay down for a siesta when all of a sudden I heard a woman's voice saying, "What is this on my stomach?" Then another "Oh, and my legs!" then "My neck!"

I looked up at them and saw the signs of 
(horror music and deadly drums) 
I'd seen so many pilgrims disfigured from these bites on this trek, that I immediately went into panic mode! Now knowing what caused the huge welt on my neck at Zubiri, I wasn't in the mood to get bitten again!
Under the bandage is a bedbug bite. We didn't know at the time what it was.
With dusk approaching, we quickly packed up our gear and set out on the road, walking to the next village. This is the part where I got shin splints and my 2006 Camino was greatly transformed.

Without my notes, I can't recall the name of the village where we found lodging, but it was a nice little bar with beds upstairs and a private bath. We rested that night and from here bussed into Leon next morning. From this point in 2006, we walked, bussed, walked, bussed from here to Santiago, missing some of the more strenuous sections of the Camino Frances because of my injury.

In 2009, we returned to Leon to pick up the sections we missed and so I'll give you information about albergues we stayed in on both trips.

Santa Maria de Caarbajalas (the convent) at Leon was our next stop. There, we were met by vigilante nuns, who insisted we empty out our mochillas completely, spray the whole lot, wash everything in hot water and dry it in hot dryers before we were allowed inside the building.
Actually this was a good thing, we thought, except all those bedbugs weren't caught. Next morning, the fellow in the bunk below me told us he'd stayed up all night battling the little buggers and had a paper full of dead bugs to prove it!
We didn't get bitten that night. Seemed all the folks that did get bites were on the BOTTOM bunk, which led me to always seek out a TOP bunk as part of my "no bedbug" routine, which I'll post in my next blog. This turned out to be an easy task, as most pilgrims prefer the bottom bunk.

In 2009, when it grew too hot to walk the Via de la Plata, I returned to Leon to walk the stages I missed in 2006. I arrived late at night, around 11 pm, and knocked at the closed gate of the Convent. I told them I'd just arrived by train and pleaded for a bed. They graciously unlocked the gate and let me in, and I quietly snuck into bed, thankful. This is a nice place to stay, if you don't mind crowds. The first time I stayed, men and women were separated unless married. I honestly can't recall if that was the rule the last time, I was so weary when I arrived, but I believe it was. There are nice hot showers here and you're sent off with a good breakfast of coffee, chocolate, toast and jam.

In 2009, from here, I walked to Villar de Mazariffe where I stayed at Refugio de Jesus. This was a wonderful, quirky little place with foam sculptures and a swimming pool in the yard. The beds were clean, and there was a possibility of sleeping on a mattress out on the open air patio if one wished, which I did. There was awesome pilgrim art all over the walls, a nice kitchen, and NO MORNING CURFEW which was out of the ordinary. You could even stay there for more than one night, if you wished. I loved this place and would stay there again in a minute! Here are some photos:

There was another albergue on the right, as you walked into the village. We checked it out. It was nice and clean and offered dinner with your bed, and had a massage therapist available, but we chose to stay in Jesus.

Walking into Hospital de Orbigo next day, we crossed the bridge and up into the village on the right hand side we found a lovely parochial Albergue San Miguel (I believe it's #32)  where we stayed with Frida the Flemish Hospitalera. She really made this albergue inviting. The beds were clean, the rooms small, but I chose to sleep out in the yard under the stars, which she allowed. There is a nice kitchen here and clean hot showers. If you prefer to buy your dinner there are several options in the village.

Leaving at dawn, we walked back to the bridge, where we found breakfast and coffee.
We then continued on to Astorga. In 2006, when we passed through Astorga, we stayed in the San Javier Albergue and enjoyed it very much, so in 2009, we immediately went there. However, once checking in, we found bedbugs in the beds and asked for our money back. They sheepishly returned our money and we went to the Municipal Albergue, which we found was very clean and bug free. In addition, it has a lovely terrace where you can sit and have dinner and see the countryside. I recommend the Municipal in Astorga, simply because San Javier rented beds to people KNOWING they had bedbugs... not nice!
Stopped here for tortilla on the way into Astorga

Pilgrims on the terrace at the Municipal in Astorga
St. Javier
Beds in the Municipal
I would be willing to try St. Javier again, but not without checking for bugs first. It was a shame, because from that point onwards, we could trace almost every bedbug infestation BACK to St. Javier's albergue. Not very responsible behavior!

Please take a day to explore Astorga! The Gaudi Palace is fantastic! There is a park at the end of town near the municipal with incredible views! There is a wonderful archeological museum that gives discounts to pilgrims. A good place for a rest day!

For some reason I can't recall, we took a short 10 kilometers the next day and stayed in Santa Catalina de Somoz. We found a nice restaurant/bar who had rooms. It was lovely, dinner was good, and we totally enjoyed it. Later down the road, however, we met a German boy who had been eaten alive by bedbugs in this same albergue, probably infested by some pilgrim staying in San Javier!
View from my window
 From here we continued to Rabanal del Camino where we stayed at the albergue run by a UK Confraternity right next door to the Benedictine Monk house. We were hoping to hear vespers sung, but there was some problem between the villagers and the monks that year and so we missed it. Perhaps on another walk. This was a lovely albergue, with a nice big kitchen. There was a priest from Croatia walking the Camino who stayed with us that night and offered Mass in the back yard. A nice experience.
Rabanal has a nice big kitchen
Monjarin was our next stop. We had heard the tales of this eccentric man who claims to be a Templar Knight and wanted to meet him for ourselves. If you want a very precious and different experience, and you are not afraid of being pushed out of your comfort zone, please don't miss this stop! The strangeness disappears the minute dinner begins. We were served a wonderful dinner and escorted up the stairs to some scary mattresses whose sheets had obviously not been laundered for weeks (the place has no running water). The toilet was a makeshift outhouse across the street, open air, and honestly, I was worried. But my fear dissipated as the evening went on. This turned out to be one of my favorite stops and I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again. The experience was one of richness and love. Stay... you won't be sorry... and by the way, there were NO bedbugs here!
Sleeping in the attic at Monjarin

The kitchen at Monjarin

The famous "Tomas" the Templar Knight - a wonderful supporter of the Camino!
We left at dawn, hiking through some beautiful high country, and stayed the next night in Molinesca. Having found bedbugs inside the albergue, I chose to sleep out on the porch and had a wonderful night's sleep!
From Monjarin to Molinesca, we passed through this beautiful village high in the mountains

I don't recall it's name, but they had lodging here also and it was beautiful

The Porch was fine for sleeping!
Molinesca had another lovely albergue, but it was not in my budget
From here we walked to Cacabellos, where we stayed in the Parochial Albergue. It is interesting, with a circle of rooms, each having two beds, around the church. We tried 3 rooms before finding one without bedbugs (which doesn't mean anything because the critters can crawl fast!).
Behind each door is a small room with two beds.

This is what is behind each door
Leaving Cacabellos, we walked through beautiful fields and vinyards to Vilafranco del Bierzo where we had hoped to stay in the famous Ave Fenix albergue.

We checked ourselves in, but were distressed to find the beds so close together they actually touched each other, and after a bedbug check, found several live bugs. The hospitalera generously not only refunded our money, but called some friends she knew who had a Casa Rural and arranged for us a room and a ride. We had a wonderful dinner, guitar jam session, and slept that night on a bed stuffed with straw. These folks also guide Camino treks on horseback. The woman, a Brazilian named Alejandra and her partner, a Spaniard whose name I can't recall at the moment, were wonderful hosts! I'm not sure how to find more information on them until I retrieve my journals, but if anyone has names and addresses, I'd love to post it.
I really felt sorry for the guy who own Ave Fenix. I found out that just the past weekend, they'd taken ALL the beds out, washed them, and even went over the metal frames with a blowtorch to kill bedbugs and eggs... but then a few days later, were reinfested by new pilgrims carrying the bugs. I hope if you are planning a Camino, you will read my next blog about how NOT to get bedbugs!

Next morning, our host drove us back to the Camino and dropped us off. Our next stop was Vega del Valcarce. There are two albergues here that I'm aware of. The first, you pass right before you get to town. If I walk again, I will stay here because I think it is a fine place. We went inside to see it and to speak with the Portuguese lady who runs it. It looked VERY clean and she offered dinner with bed for a fair price.

However, we were budgeting, and so continued on to the Municipal Albergue. We found it to be clean, with a good kitchen and showers. It is a bit of a climb up from the street, but at the bottom is a tienda where you can purchase food for dinner or a bar where you can buy a Pilgrim's Plate. There are tables outside where you can eat or journal.

The local tomcat
If you want to see something interesting, be outdoors at dusk, when a group of ancient people make their winding way up the hill to a clubhouse where they drink and watch the sunset. The locals say they're "holding Parliment" and it is something to see!

An elder returning from Holding Parliment
O'Cebreiro was our next stop, and we stayed at the Municipal Albergue there. It was clean with about 100 beds in the room. They had a great kitchen, but no utensils or cooking pots, so we found food in the village.

If you go to the edge of the village and look down over the wall, you'll find a man making the thatching for the rooftops! It is interesting to watch him!

From here, we walked a stage and stayed in a Casa Rural that we really enjoyed. Unfortunately, I do not have my journals - so I will post the name and place later.

Next we walked into Samos where we stayed across the street from the Parochial, which just seemed too crowded. Again, I don't have my notes.. sorry.

From here, we went to Sarria. In 2006 we stayed in a wonderful albergue called Don Alvaro. This was a sweet place with an outside fireplace and clean beds. I highly recommend it.

In 2009, we took a chance and stayed at the Municipal Albergue. In my opinion, this was the WORST albergue on the entire Camino! It was filthy, crowded, unfriendly, and dark. I won't recommend it, and in fact, if you can't get into Don Alvaro, find any other albergue besides the Municipal!
 In 2006, from Sarria we walked to Ferreiros where we stayed in the Albergue there.It was small, clean, and sufficient. There was a kitchen, but no utensils or cooking pots. There is a bar there where you can buy food, but beware of the owner. She made a pilgrim pay twice for a bottle of wine - we watched it happen!
Small nice kitchen but no utensils

I actually enjoyed this tiny albergue in its park setting
In 2009 we stayed in Casa Morgade, up the road a bit. I absolutely adored this place and will stay here again! Clean beds, great food, nice clean hot showers - and only 4 beds to a room!
Casa Morgade is a popular lunch stop for Pilgrims passing through

Inside, the cafe is nice. The dining room is much nicer still!

One of the several patios.

A sitting room with fireplace for cold evening journaling

Four beds in this room. I believe they also have a doble.
Not far up the trail next morning, we stopped here for coffee. This is another option for sleeping.
On to Portomarin where we kept seeing signs for a new albergue. We decided to try it! It's up on the hill to your right as you go into the village and it's brand spanking new. It has a huge room with hundreds of beds, but it's clean and the showers are awesome! Also, there is a large, lovely kitchen with a great view where we cooked our dinner. And lastly, a TELEVISION!  WOW!

Onwards to Ligonde, where at the end of the alley through the village is a tiny albergue which I fell in love with! Only 18 beds, and a wee kitchen with no utensils, this still was one of my favorite places. From here we walked a kilometer into the next village for dinner, then returned to sleep in peace and quiet. 
A pretty little albergue at Ligonde

Walking to the next village Eirexe for dinner
There is an albergue at Eirexe also where many pilgrims stayed. The next day we continued on to Albergue Mato in Casanova. The albergue there is nice and clean, with a good kitchen and showers. I don't have a good photo, so I've borrowed this one from another website by Gunnar.
 There is no restaurant here, but you can buy a dinner ticket and a taxi to the restaurant is included. There are other albergues in town, as well.

From here we walked to Ribadiso and Arca where we stayed in a private home. 
And from there to our little secret spot in Santiago.

I hope this will help some of you decide where to stay. 

Just remember that the volunteers change about every two weeks and that can change the entire experience. They may be kind and helpful or tired and cranky, and that will leave an impression about that particular albergue. So don't be shocked if your experience is different from mine. And don't be afraid to try new places!

One thing I will suggest is looking above your head as you walk through villages for signs saying "Habitacciones" -- these are often as inexpensive as an albergue if 3 or 4 pilgrims rent the rooms together, and are more private. You will get a better night's sleep and sometimes a real BATH!

The other tip is to go to bars or the police station and inquire. 
Also the fire stations are good for finding unadvertised lodging.

Tomorrow I will do another blog on bedbugs since my last one was deleted. 
It will help you learn how to recognize the signs of bedbugs
and how to avoid being bitten on your walk.

Buen Camino!

* * *
If you'd like to walk the Camino
but aren't quite ready to do it alone,
see my website:
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe


  1. I can recommend the Mercadorio (sp?), the albergue you stopped at between Morgade & Portomarin.

  2. Thanks - the Mercadoira - what can you tell me about it? I had coffee there and it seemed like a really nice place.

  3. The beds are in a separate building from the cafe/restaurant. There are several rooms & it's a bit confusing at first to find your room & bunk. The showers & toilets are clean, as are the rooms. I didn't get bitten that night, I know. :) The owners serve a menu peregrino in the evenings. Can't recall what I paid for it, but it was good! And they have a dog & a cat. The cat sat on my lap at breakfast the next day. Can't go wrong with that! :D I'm glad I stayed there & dealt with the steep descent into Portomarin the next morning on fresh legs.

  4. What brand of towel do you recommend ?


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