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A reader, Laura, recently asked about albergues I’d stayed at between León and Santiago when I walked the Camino last year. I’d advised her that my best accommodation tip would be to make friends with some German pilgrims!

It’s true! All of the German pilgrims I met (and there were lots of them!) had the best guidebooks, only available in German, of course, and updated every year, which means they’ve the inside scoop on albergues. The three Germans I walked part of the Way with each had the same yellow guidebook that was pocket size but chockfull of info.

My little Michelin book (at left) was only a year old and already out of date, with some of the listed albergues closed, but it was still handy for hostels and especially for distances and altitudes.

What I realized walking the Camino is that you need to be flexible, because many lovely little albergues pop up in the middle of nowhere and aren’t in any guidebooks. While others in the books, even in those beloved yellow German Camino guidebooks, are no more.

So here’s where I stayed and where I wish I’d stayed on the Way.  

LEÓN

Albergue: The Nuns’ Hostel, a.k.a. Albergue del Monasterio des las Benedictinas, or Santa Maria de Carbajal (Plaza Santa María del Camino).
No. of Beds: Approx. 56 beds. 2 sparse dorms, housing about 14 bunkbeds in each.
Washrooms: A few showerstalls (with curtains), toilets and sinks. Separate for men and women.
Vibe: Austere. It is a hostel in a convent, after all, run by the Benedictine Sisters. There’s a small patio with a few tables in the tiny courtyard near the entry, and a larger dining area above the dorms. I never went to the main dining area, so I’m not sure if there’s a kitchen; I suppose there’s one, however, because my friend had yogurt stashed in there.
Curfew: 9:30 p.m., a half hour before most albergues. Keep in mind that León only starts to come to life at that time, so if you want to enjoy the nightlife, a hotel would be a better choice.
Cost: 5 €.
Bonus: If you’re so inclined, you can join the nuns for mass or vespers. Remember to withdraw cash from an ATM here, because you won’t find another ATM till Ponferrada (Molinesca may have one, but I didn’t notice).


ASTORGA

Albergue: As you can tell from the pic, Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier (Calle Portería 6; tel. 987 618 532/ 679 154 383; alberguesanjavier [at] hotmail [dot] com) is very near the cathedral, but I walked all over town before finding it! It’s on the street off the small parking lot to the left of the cathedral.
No. of Beds: 110 beds in a large dorm with lots of wooden posts and beams, which somehow adds warmth to all those the bunkbeds.
Washrooms: One has a few showerstalls, and another has a few toilets.
Courtyard: Yes, a pretty little courtyard where you can line-dry laundry.
Vibe: Cosy log cabin. A spacious open-concept kitchen/dining area with a sunken lounge area piled high with comfy cushions and loads of books. A second dining area off the kitchen. Astorga is famous for macarons, and I can imagine pilgrims huddled around the tables, munching on the yummy goodness. (I preferred to taste the town’s treats while sitting on a bench across the cathedral, but I spent every sec I could outdoors, soaking up the Spanish sunshine!)
Curfew: 10 p.m.
Cost: 8 €.
Bonus: Pilgrims staying at San Javier get a coupon for 2 euros off the pilgrims’ menu at the stunning Hotel Gaudi (that means that guests of the hotel actually pay 2 euros more for the pilgrims’ menu than guests of the hostel do! The Hotel Gaudi menu is 14 euros regularly).

RABANAL DEL CAMINO

Albergue: Rabanal la Senda is the first stone building on the left when you walk into the village, right on the Camino.
No. of beds: I can’t remember how many beds there are, but there are 3 types of rooms on the 2 floors of this converted house: the more beds per room, the cheaper the rate. Note that the two smaller rooms upstairs have fewer beds (3 or 4 bunkbeds) because the rooms are sooo small. The two 5-bunkbed rooms on the main floor are nice and roomy.
Blankets: Yes. Blankets are a must here, with the stone interior walls of the downstairs dorms making the rooms freezing at night. Or at least I was freezing, understandable as there was frost on the grass outside in the morning.
Cyclists: Cyclists are welcome, and you can see some in the photo above! Bike storage is in a shelter across the road.
Washrooms: There’s a modern, spacious unisex washroom on the main floor (complete with shower, toilet and sink). Two less modern, unisex washrooms are upstairs, but be warned: they’re open to each other via a gap at the top of the dividing wall.
Vibe: Cosy like a home, with 2 dorms and a washroom downstairs and 2 small dorms, 2 washrooms, a kitchen and a dining area upstairs. The friendly guy who runs it speaks “a little English” (really! he has a sign on the door that says that) and lives in another town. The large dining room has three wooden tables topped with tablecloths and wildflowers, and a fireplace, a coin-operated computer and a massage chair. The quaint kitchen is just big enough to squeeze 3 people in it, and overlooks the yard across the road.
Cost: 5 €.
Bonus: Rabanal is small, but there are a couple of restaurants (one’s beside the albergue) and a tiny grocery (it closes for siesta). This albergue is homey, with the cosy kitchen and dining area upstairs and the patio tables out front, where you can sit and watch the pilgrims walk by. It’s also a bike-friendly albergue, with a large wooden bike shelter/laundry room next to the picnic area, chaise longues and laundry line on the lawn across the road. My friend and I bought foodstuff at the grocery, cooked up some pasta in the kitchen, then ate it at the picnic table outside, enjoying the last rays before sunset.

FONCEBADÓN

I didn’t stay in Foncebadón, as it was too close to Rabanal (the 5.6 kilometre steep climb up Montes de León from Rabanal makes it feel like it’s more than that!). Most of Foncebadon is in ruins and looks like a ghost town (notice the rubble in the photo), but there are a couple of hippie albergues/restaurants that bring it to life. I stopped at this café for a snack (think homemade energy bars and self-serve coffee), and discovered the owners run an albergue in the back! Sweet!
Albergue: You can’t miss Albergue Monte Irago. There’s only one road – the Camino – going through the village, and the albergue was the first intact building we came upon on the left side of the road. The owners are hoping to rebuild Foncebadón, so here’s hoping!
No. of beds: 35.
Washrooms: As I didn’t stay here, I’m not sure how many there are.
Vibe: The hippie vibe of the café extends to the albergue! As soon as I found out they had accommodation, I so wished I’d stayed here instead of Rabanal, just because the vibe was so funky and French-like.
Curfew: 10 p.m.
Cost: Around 5 €.
Bonus: The cafe is so warm and friendly and kinda French granola, and the owners were the same  –  they were joking around with me the entire time I was there, letting me stamp my pilgrims’ passport myself and tossing me a rag to wipe up the coffee I’d spilled, even teasing that I was on staff!


EL ACEBO

Again, I didn’t stay in Acebo, but it was such a pretty little village, all done up in flowers, and one albergue even had chaise longues on a pretty patio. I was tempted to stay here had my feet needed to stop. Alas, I only took a washroom and water break in Acebo, resting at La Posado del Pelegrino, the first bar I came across.


RIEGO DE AMBROS 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the albergue, as my camera battery died and I couldn’t charge it, since I’d forgotten my plug adapter in the wall at San Javier, back in Astorga. This village is near the base of the mountain, which means the town is on a slope. There’s no store, and the 1 restaurant is at the far end of town, which means the walk back to the albergue is uphill.
Albergue: Albergue de Riego de Ambros is a nondescript building with giant wooden doors, on the main road and to the left of the fountain.
No. of beds: 50. There are 2 bunkbeds in each little cubby room, with sliding doors at both ends of the room for privacy, plus shelves (both inside and outside the room).
Blankets: Yes.
Washrooms: At the back of the sleeping area, there are mens’ and a women’s washrooms, but they only have one toilet (with a door), one shower (closed off) and one sink in each. Despite the lack of facilities and given that 50 pilgrims could stay here, there never was a line for the washrooms!
Backyard: There’s a pretty treed yard that gets lots of sun, perfect for stretching out on the grass or line-drying your laundry at the sink outside. A few tables and chairs are clustered on a small patio off the kitchen/dining area, which is well equipped with spices, olive oil and sea salt. Given the nice setting, it’s a shame there’s no store in town, but if you’ve foodstuff in your pack, it’d be a cosy albergue to cook dinner and lounge in the dining area or picnic outside in the sun.
Vibe: The sleeping area is rather modern and almost Scandinavian in feel, with the wooden sliding doors and cubbies. There’s a spot at the front of the sleeping area for everyone to leave their boots or shoes, and some comfy clubchairs by the floor-to-ceiling windows. The kitchen and dining area, by contrast, are more rustic, and the treed courtyard is charming.
Cost: 5 €.
Curfew: 10:30 p.m. Later than most albergues, but there’s nothing much to do in this village. I climbed up on the stone wall in the backyard to watch the sun set around 10 p.m.; most pilgrims were asleep before 9 p.m.
Bonus: This albergue gets lots of light thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors.


MOLINASECA

I really wish my camera battery hadn’t died and I hadn’t stupidly left my adapter at the hostel in Astorga, because Molinaseca is one seriously picturesque town. If I’d been able to take a picture as I crossed the stone bridge into town, I swear I’d have turned it into a postcard. At the base of Montes de León, Molinaseca is a sight for sore eyes and feet, resembling a Swiss village, albeit with some touristy shops and lots of restaurants/cafes and grocery stores. Almost every pilgrim stops at the first café and languidly savours a café con leche and croissant on the large patio beside the Meruelo River. Though it’s not even 5 kilometres from Riego de Ambros, I was mighty tempted to call it a short day and just chill here.


PONFERRADA 

Hotel: I’m including Hotel Los Templarios (calle Flórez Osorio 3; tel. 987 411 484) because sometimes you just want to splurge on a good night’s sleep at a hotel. 
No. of beds: Aha! We ditched the dorm for one night, choosing to stay in comfy beds and enjoy hot showers/baths and, better yet, a snore-free sleep!
Blankets: You betcha! I was toasty under the covers.
Washrooms: Of course! A blissful tub full of hot water, real towels, and a toilet that was just steps from my bed was well worth the extra euros.
Vibe: It’s not high end, but it was clean and comfy, and as you can see from the photos, there’s a juliet balcony and glass doors – and they overlook some rooftops and the clock tower. There are 2 computers off the lobby, but the connection is seriously slow.
Curfew: Of course not! And so I stayed out late to take pics.
Cost: 60 € for a room with 2 double beds.
Bonus: As opposed to the lone albergue, which is in a parking lot on the outskirts of the city, Los Templarios is just off the main square. As you walk toward the tower and you get to this spot, look down the alley to your left, and you’ll see the hotel’s flags. Not far from the Templar Castle, the hotel is also close to restaurants, supermarkets, boutiques, a park, 2 outdoor outfitters (I bought my coveted Smartwool long-sleeve shirt at the smaller one, Fitzroy), and a little small-appliances shop that carries plug adapters for about 1,5 euros apiece! Hence, I was able to charge my battery and take pics again! Woohoo!

This is the first part of a 5-part series on albergues between León and Santiago. Read Part 2 here!
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For more on my Camino, check out:
Camino Albergues: Where to Stay Between Ponferrada and Triacastela
León, Spain: My First Steps on the Camino de Santiago
Walking the Camino, Day 2: León, Spain
The Way of the Lightweight Backpacker

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