I have used term “albergue” many times in these blogs but thought it time to explain the key role they play in the pilgrim experience. When pilgrims began to flock to Spain in the late twelfth century, many of them were ill-equipped to handle the journey, and charitable organizations were formed to assist them. The most notable of these were the “hospitales” that ministered to the sick pilgrims (from which we get today’s hospitals). But another service was to offer accommodation to pilgrims and albergues ware set up along the main pilgrim routes.
Today there are two types of alɓergues, municipal and private. The municipal ones are operated by the local governments and are very inexpensive, sometimes as low as five Euros for the night. Some are “donativos” so the pilgrims can decide what they think the accommodation was worth and pay accordingly. They are “no frills” and inevitably offer bunk beds in crowded dormitories. I have experienced enough of these dorms to know that whenever there are more than four people in a dorm, at least one will be a snorer. Most municipal albergues have kitchens where pilgrims can cook meals as long as they clean up after themselves. They are the gathering places for pilgrims and an important part of the pilgrim experience. But they trade comfort for economy. A pilgrim can travel very inexpensively if he or she is up for the communal nature of the municipal albergue.
Another type of albergue is the private one. These tend to be more expensive and to offer single or double rooms. These are really hostels, but many use the albergue name. They too serve a purpose and cater to the older pilgrims (and there are many of us) who are not interested in crowded dormitories and who are willing to pay more for their creture comforts.
On this camino, I have found that some towns only have a municipal albergue, so I have happily stayed there and enjoyed the company of other pilgrims as well as the light touch on my wallet.