Even if you carry a small daypack your sleeping bag can be wrapped in plastic and strapped on the outside
Use a black plastic garbage bag as an inner lining to keep clothes dry
Too much to carry?
We all start off too heavy - don't despair! Post extra stuff to yourself Poste Restante in Santiago. Pack a nice strong white plastic bag for your unwanted items, sticky tape and put on labels addressed to yourself eg: Mr 'Joe Soap', Lista de Correos, 15780 Santiago de Compostela, A Corúna. You can also buy pilgrim boxes, some large enough to take a suitcase, at the Post Office. On arrival, take your parcel ticket and ID/passport to the Post Office (Correos). It is open till about 7pm, and they will keep it there for 30 days.
A "porter" service
Originally started for ailing or handicapped pilgrims is now available if you are really desperate. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Most refuges have electricity but not all have kitchens. Spain uses normal European 220 volt current with round two pin plugs
Take a toilet roll, remove cardboard inner and fold it flat - handy when refuges run out of paper or for use along the road. And please respect private property!
You do not really need maps, as the trail is very well way-marked. Some guidebooks have strip maps for each stage.
Available all along the route. You can purchase call cards or use cash.
Take a plug for Spain to recharge. Switch off when in a church, monastery, museum etc. Vodaphone covers all UK and Spain with the same Sim card.
What about security - Theft?
Emergency Telephone numbers
09 3491 436 3780
Carry passports etc in money belts or in a pouch around your neck, concealed beneath your clothing. There is some petty crime such as pickpockets in the larger towns. Be sensible and you should be fine. It is rare to hear of any theft from the refugios. However it is practical not to leave valuables unattended in your backpack, and sleep with your valuables on, or under your pillow. Most South Africans - and those who live in big cities will be very security conscious, and will in fact find the low crime rates and safe traveling quite liberating!
What about women travelling alone?
Hundreds of women travel alone and have had no problems. But following the sad events of this year on the Camino Francés many pilgrims have been worried about their personal safety. Of course the Camino remains generally very safe and we know that the police have stepped up their presence both in uniform and in plain clothes on the Camino routes. However it is understandable that people are anxious.
Problem dogs are an urban legend! Most dogs are tied up and the rest seldom cause any problems that can't be handled with a shake of a walking stick. Pilgrims often take their own pets but they do struggle to find accommodation, as few refugios accept dogs.
Where do you sleep?
The official Camino accommodation (refugios or albergues in Spain or gîte in France) is in simple dormitory-style buildings of various ages and designs. Run by a host of organisations including local municipalities and Friends of the Camino groups, they mostly offer bunks and showers, some with kitchens and living rooms. A few provide pillows and blankets. Bathroom facilities vary quite a lot and if you come late there may be a shortage of hot water. Prepare for the fact that some refugios (mostly the ones in Galicia) have communal facilities for men and women and a few don't have doors on the showers! Somehow the pilgrims all work this out without too much embarrassment or discomfort!
The accommodation varies in comfort levels but mostly pilgrims are so tired that as long as there is a bed or mat to sleep on, they are happy. Some offer communal evening meals for a small amount, others have kitchens with basic utensils. Most have clothes washing areas and lines. Many have opening times around lunchtime (between 13h00 and 15h00) and curfews of 22h00. All expect you to leave by 8h00 in the morning, and you can't spend more than one night in a refugio unless there is a serious reason. Preference is given to walkers over cyclists.
Some refuges only open in June and close again in November. It is first come - first served. When you reach a refuge you secure a bed by placing your pack outside the door. Almost every pilgrim refuge is staffed by volunteers for the sole support of pilgrims from all over the world. Refuges are not a right but a privilege and should be treated as such. Help to keep the refuge clean and welcoming for the next influx of pilgrims. Give a generous donation; be gracious and helpful to the hospitaleros.
South Africans tend to have quite well developed 'personal space' concept and it takes a bit of getting used to the lack of privacy and space. Persevere, as it gets easier after the first day or two, and staying in the refugios is really part of the whole experience. Remember you're not looking for five star comforts on a pilgrimage - otherwise you may as well take a nice little hike around South Africa or drive the route and stay in hotels! The other thing to remember is that many Europeans seem to prefer having the windows and the shutters closed - something foreign to most South African - and Australian - pilgrims who are big on fresh air, so try to find a compromise.
For most pilgrims the accommodation becomes incidental and secondary to the wonderful friendships formed, meals shared and support provided by the hospitaleros (hosts) and fellow pilgrims. Also available in most towns are hostals, which are the local equivalent of our B&B's - but mostly without the breakfast! They provide privacy, a few home comforts and quiet for the pilgrim who needs a break from the refugios. There is a range of basic accommodation offering bed and sometimes private bathrooms (cama con bano or cama combinado) with varying comfort levels.
Prices for refugios and hostals
As with the standard of accommodation, prices for the various refugios and hostals do vary. The least expensive - often the municipal facilities and those run by volunteers - range from "donation based (donativo)" to 4 €. We recommend that at least 3€ be paid as a donation. The private ones range between 6 and 10 €. Some offer breakfast for an additional 3 €. Hostals range from 21 to 54 € for twin bed room with en suite. Some offer breakfast as well. See section What happens when you reach Santiago? for details about accommodation in Santiago.
Camping and alternate accommodation: Rough camping is difficult as there are not many rural places in France or Spain which are public open areas. A guide to accommodation called 'Guia Oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago' listing all accommodation, ranking, and prices etc including camping sites is available from Spanish tourist offices or Tourspain in Madrid.
This is a list of the favourite refugios/albergues as reported by pilgrims after their walk of the Camino Frances route in 2005.
ST JEAN PIED DE PORT ± 777KM FROM SANTIAGO
GITE (NEED TO BOOK)
Sous un chemin d'étoiles, Rue d' Epagne 21
05 59 37 20 71
12€ incl continental breakfast
ESPRIT DU CHEMIN REFUGE
ORISSON ± 769KM FROM SANTIAGO 28 €
8km from St Jean on the Napoleon route
For dinner, bed and breakfast
TRINIDAD DE ARRE ± 721KM FROM SANTIAGO 5 €
Just before Pamplona
good kitchen, nice garden, snoring room!
NAVARETTE ± 608KM FROM SANTIAGO 10 €
small private albergue, nice bathroom, use of kitchen, friendly hosts.
NAJERA ± 592KM FROM SANTIAGO
Big but comfortable; kitchen, dining room, internet (donativo); do not miss the church/museum; it is definitely worth a visit.
AZOFRA ± 586KM FROM SANTIAGO
The municipal one is great if you are travelling with someone. Silence and privacy in your own 2 bed little room with hanging space and the kitchen is absolutely pristine and well stocked. The refugio doesn't look like much from the outside but great on the inside.
BELORADO ± 547KM FROM SANTIAGO
Refugio Quatro Cantones, private albergue run by kind people (in the town), nice small garden with fountain and braai (barbeque), kitchen, small pool, good breakfast. (donativo).
TOSANTOS ± 543KM FROM SANTIAGO
Hospitalero Luis (a darling of a man who speaks only Spanish) has evening prayers and everyone sits at table for dinner with him. A very gentle soul and very special.
AGES ± 518KM FROM SANTIAGO
People who walked on to the new albergue here said that was very nice.
SAN ANTON ± 459KM FROM SANTIAGO
Albergue in the ruins, fairly primitive but great atmosphere. Pilgrims help to prepare supper, wash up (donativo).
BOADILLA DEL CAMINO ± 438KM FROM SANTIAGO
A great private one, Maison de Campagne, with a pool, run by a friendly mother (an artist) & son, great stay - with good Castilian food and nice atmosphere.
EL BURGO RANEROS ± 352KM FROM SANTIAGO
Smaller rooms, internet, good kitchen with laundry facilities, dining room (donativo).
VILLADANGOS DEL PARAMO ± 291KM FROM SANTIAGO 3 €
Tables and chairs outside, good kitchen, a lot of beds on one level. Very well looked after.
HOSPITAL DE ORBIGO ± 279KM FROM SANTIAGO 6 €
Albergue San Miguel (new private albergue) with garden, full of super art, nice kitchen, beautiful showers, salt and vinegar provided for feet etc.
ASTORGA ± 255KM FROM SANTIAGO
San Xavier private albergue, close to cathedral and Palacio Episcopal, fountain for feet, kitchen, internet, nice bathrooms.
Private refugio San Nicolas
RABANAL DEL CAMINO ± 228KM FROM SANTIAGO
Nuestra Senora del Pilar. Very nice with bar inside, friendly hospitaleros. (5 €)
Albergue del Pilar
Refugio Gaucelmo. Confraternity of Saint James of London
PONFERRADA ± 201KM FROM SANTIAGO
4 people in a room, drinks on arrival, fountain for feet, kitchen, nice garden. (donativo)
VILLAFRANCA ± 177KM FROM SANTIAGO
Albergue Ave Fenix, next to the famous church as you enter the town, nice communal meals, over 40's dormitory.
VEGA DE VALCARCE ± 165KM FROM SANTIAGO 5 €
Alberge Nossa Senhora Aparecida do Brazil: share good meals, nice blankets, friendly hospitaleros
TRIACASTELA ± 134KM FROM SANTIAGO
A private one called ' Aitzenea' full of sacred paintings & big table to eat at. The lady does your laundry.
PORTOMARIN ± 91KM FROM SANTIAGO
SAN JULLIAN/ XULIAN ± 65KM FROM SANTIAGO 16 € - dinner and bed
O Abrigadoiro, private one in small town, they cook steaks on their fire in the dining room, comfortable.
SANTA IRENE ± 22KM FROM SANTIAGO 10 € - extra for wine
Private albergue in a private house, sheets and towels, nice garden and very good food
RUA ± 19KM FROM SANTIAGO
Hotel O'Pino - divine
Refugios and places recommended for good spiritual support
EUNATE ± 695KM FROM SANTIAGO
short detour before Obanos on the way to Puenta la Reina
Adjacent to the interesting octagonal church, it is run by a special couple, Jan and Mariluz Melis
VILLAMAYOR DE MONJARDIN ± 660KM FROM SANTIAGO
A refugio run by a Dutch Evangelical group. Fabulous facilities, home-cooked food and best breakfast you'll get. Bible readings with dinner.
LOS ARCOS ± 648KM FROM SANTIAGO
The priest at the church of Santa Maria is very pilgrim friendly, giving postcards with the blessing in all languages to the pilgrims and talking to them.
GRANON ± 563KM FROM SANTIAGO
Refugio in the bell tower of the church, communal meals, prayers in the choir loft.
BURGOS ± 497KM FROM SANTIAGO
Off the camino, go from Silos by bus from Burgos to experience the famous Gregorian chants at the monastery.
CASTROJERIZ ± 457KM FROM SANTIAGO
Albergue San Esteban - very quiet, lovely spiritual music playing and incense.
ITERO DE LA VEGA ± 447KM FROM SANTIAGO
Hospital de San Nicolas (about one km from Itero de la Vega). Run by the Italian confraternity, Peruggia Pilgrim Society, the hospitaleros, during my stay, had a ritual of prayer and washing of the pilgrims' feet before the evening meal. The freshly prepared meal was amazing - pan, French onion soup, tortilla, sheep's milk cheese, biscuits, vino and cafe. After breakfast in the morning those departing were blessed with a prayer. Donativo.
CARRION DE LOS CONDES ± 410KM FROM SANTIAGO
A very friendly priest who blesses pilgrims at 06h00 in the morning in their rooms, meets with them over a video etc.
MANSILLA DE LAS MULAS ± 334KM FROM SANTIAGO
Amigos del Peregrino the very special hospitaleros is an energy healer & wise man.
LEON ± 311KM FROM SANTIAGO
Convento Santa Maria de las Carbajalas, near the Cathedral and in the centre of town. Address c/de Escuria/Plaza de Santa Maria del Camino. The nuns have vespers in the evening and pilgrims are welcome to attend.
ASTORGA ± 255KM FROM SANTIAGO
For sheer kindness there is no one to beat Alfredo Santos Costa at the albergue.
RABANAL ± 228KM FROM SANTIAGO
Where it is possible to stay over with the monks for a couple of days of spiritual strengthening.
PONFERRADA ± 200KM FROM SANTIAGO
I also liked the evening service at the chapel close to the albergue - a lamp was sent round and pilgrims could share prayer requests, a song, a scripture etc.
VILLAFRANCA DEL BIERZO ± 177KM FROM SANTIAGO
Albergue Ave Fenix - Jesus Jato is a healer and his family cook, so there is an opportunity for a shared pilgrim's meal.
RUITELAN ± 164KM FROM SANTIAGO
Albergue Pequeno Potala - Carlos and family are healers. You can even get a massage or foot rub. Carlos makes an excellent communal meal, good conversation. We woke up to Ave Maria, smells of coffee and breakfast cooking.
LIGONDE ± 76KM FROM SANTIAGO
Albergue at Fuente del Peregrinos is run by volunteers affiliated to Campus Crusade. They make available booklets on St James, bible verses for every km of the last 100 km, tapes on Jesus etc. Although the albergue is very simple, they provide an evening meal, breakfast, beds with duvets, bathroom with towels etc to demonstrate Christ's unconditional love and they are very prepared to talk about spiritual matters.
Accommodation on side trips
Well worth the visit and greatly enjoyed walking round the top of the city walls - Roman origin and complete.
BILBAO Aterpetxa Albergue
From Plaza Moyua walk to the Aterpetxa Albergue which is close to the bus station.
Click here visit albergue.bilbao.net
PENSION GUREA in the old city Albergue
21 € for a double room with bathroom (2 people), no breakfast
Phone: +34 944 163 299
Bidebarrieta 14, 3rd floor
What is there to eat?
No account of the Camino would be complete without mentioning the food. Most pilgrims travel on limited budgets and so enjoy the availability of the simple traditional food with plenty of fresh produce and breads. Breakfasts generally consist of orange juice, coffee or hot chocolate and croissants, toast, muffins, or churros (a sweet fried dough delicacy) from bakeries or small bars (more like cafeterias than places to consume alcohol) along the way. It is advisable to check the day before to see what time bars open, as not all have hours to suit pilgrim departure times. Those that prefer a more healthy option generally stock up on yoghurt, muesli, fruit etc to prepare in the refugio before leaving in the morning or to eat somewhere along the trail.
Locals tend to have cooked lunches, but pilgrims mostly choose bocadillos (crusty rolls) with cheese, chorizo sausage, sardines or smoked ham (jamon) with fresh fruit, or possibly a tortilla (omelette). Many bars are closed during siesta time (mostly 13h00 to 15h00), so if you plan to arrive somewhere at around that time, stock up beforehand. Picnics in the countryside are always an option when you carry a bit of food with you.
Other readily available treats are almonds and other nuts, good cheeses and some nice packets of biscuits and chips for snacking. The local confectionery shops with their delicious pastries and homemade chocolates are too much to resist, (especially in Astorga - where they also have chocolate factories - and a museum of chocolate!) And of course, in Galicia there is always Santiago Tart (almond tart) for a mid morning boost.
The evening meal is sometimes a communal affair at the refugio with pilgrims sharing their resources and sociability. Some pilgrims choose to cook their own meals such as pasta and salad or cold food. If you chose to cook at the refugios, keep it simple as facilities are minimal, and remember that you will either need to leave surplus behind for following pilgrims or carry loads of leftovers. Some of the refugios have oil and salt available. Many pilgrims take advantage of the special peregrino menus or menu del dia (special of the day) in the local bars.
The pilgrim menus are good honest food but can be repetitive. It usually consists of plate 1: mixed salad, soup or pasta; plate 2: beef or chicken or pork or fish or lamb chops with chips; plate 3: dessert is usually pre-made and is crème caramel (flan), ice cream or yoghurt. Most restaurants offer local specialities and the ever-popular tapas - a variety of delicious appetisers to be enjoyed with the local beer or wine. The Spanish tend to eat dinner late - around 21h00 - but many bars are happy to serve famished pilgrims from around 19h00. Remember that many restaurants charge separately for items such as bread (which is often brought to the table unsolicited). So check before you eat!
Pilgrims mostly choose the very acceptable vino de casa, but the excellent red wines of the Rioja province should definitely be sampled if possible. One of the special experiences along the way is the stop at the Fuente del Vino (fountain of wine) in Irache, where the local red is available free of charge to pilgrims who pass the winery. The beers are great and mostly quite cheap by South African standards - and there were different brews in virtually every town.
The amount of water and method for carrying it are personal choices. However, it is essential to carry water, which can be replenished safely at any drinking fountain in the villages except where you see the sign NON POTABLE . Options for water storage include army-style bottles attached to the outside of the pack, simple plastic cooldrink bottles carried in a side pouch or the "Camelbak(tm)" type system often used by cyclists.
Shopping is very simple. There aren't a lot of big supermarkets, as we know them in SA; mostly little bakeries or corner stores with a small range. Other pilgrims and the hospitaleros are generally a good source of information for where to shop - many of the shops are in houses and not immediately obvious to the passer-by. Whatever your preferences, you certainly won't starve!
Alongos 11 Pulperia in Melide for a feast of pulpo (octopus) and delightful restaurateurs
What happens when you reach Santiago?
On arriving at the cathedral in Santiago, there are a number of special rituals which pilgrims choose to perform as part of the 'closing ceremony' of their walk. These are all described in detail in many of the publications, and include obtaining the compostela, visiting the cathedral to place a hand in the beautiful carving of the tree of Jesse at the main entrance and hugging the 13th century statue of Santiago before giving thanks at the tomb. The special pilgrim mass is a wonderful spiritual opportunity with hundreds of pilgrims still in their travel stained clothes all gathering to offer prayers, and if lucky to observe the spectacular botafumeiro (huge incenser). Though it's mostly in Spanish it is a truly moving experience. And of course it's a chance to reconnect with people met along the way. This is when the celebrating begins as you share the achievements before heading back home to plan your next Camino!
Be aware that after completing the pilgrimage, very often people have a bit of a downer - either exhaustion or a feeling of depression or anti-climax. You'll just need to be gentle with yourself, and try to ease back into your normal life slowly, enjoying those never ending memories and flashbacks to the Camino.
ACCOMMODATION AND EATING IN SANTIAGO:
The following recommendations were received during 2005
HOSTAL LA ESTELLA
Just off the main Cathedral square (at the foot of the stairs off Praza do Obradoiro) and not too expensive. However it is necessary to book in advance or you might not get a room, as they are not strictly geared for pilgrims. Address Avenida de Raxoi 1. Tel: 981 58 27 96
HOTEL PAZO DE AGRA
In R.C. Paya - it is attached to the restaurant Zingara which is round the corner in Rua dos Orfas. (32 € per room per night) and the people running it are charming - also it is only about 3 minutes walk from the Cathedral, more or less en route to the refugio
On the outskirts of the Old Town. Very convenient for Cathedral and bus
Ask for the third floor where one can look out over the old city
In Rua Nova. A good, clean room with bathroom across corridor 15 €. Breakfast (6€ for coffee, toast and orange juice) and lunch (12€ or R90 for calamari, salad, water and coffee) in the bar
HOTEL POMBAL OR HOTEL SAN CLEMENT
10 minutes from the old city, are very good and priced around 80€ per night for a double room. The tourist info will give you the addresses or the internet
Often ladies renting out their flats hang around the pilgrim office in Santiago (where you get your certificate) - their flats are cheap, clean and convenient (if in a group)
PENSIONS/HOSTALS Range from 20 - 45€
HOTELS Range from 60 - 120€
In Via Traversa is recommended for meals - but queues at peak times can put one off!
And don't forget the free meals at Hotel de los Reyes Catolicos for pilgrims who can present a compostela, are an experience not to be missed!! Limited numbers per meal.
There is a bus service from Santiago to Finisterre (Fisterre) every day. Also you could hire a car for the day. It takes about 3 hours by the coastal road to get there and it is a very long walk from the bus to the cape itself. There are two per day from the Bus Station in Santiago.
GETTING HOME FROM SANTIAGO
· Bus (2 € ) or taxi (15 € and takes 20 mins.) to airport near Lavacolla, then Ryanair or GO airlines to Stansted.
· Overnight sleeper train to Madrid leaves at about 10pm and arrives in Madrid at about 7am the next morning - about 50 €.
· Iberia airline to Madrid/Barcelona - they offer pilgrims with Compostela a discount on completion of pilgrimage.
· Easy Jet from La Corunna
· Hire a car from ATESA (cost excluding petrol approx 95€ for a day 400km free travel.) Bookings can be organised through
an agency in Hotel de los Reyes Catolicos
· Bus to Madrid (Tel: 981 542 416)
At the Oficina del Peregrino near the cathedral you can make travel reservations and also get a city map.
· Catch a bus to Ferrol, (overnight accommodation at Hostel Zahara)
· Catch a train at 7.50 am next morning to Santander. (There are hostals close to the station),
· Train to Bilbao. (Or Ferrol to Bilbao by Feve train).
· Ryanair or GO airline to Stansted