The Best Albergue on the Camino

We arrived in Granon after only walking 7km. When you have been walking between 20 and 30 kilometres every day, anything under 10 feels like nothing. It feels like walking 1 or 2 km when we’re back in Australia.

We followed the unmistakeable yellow arrows that signify you are on the Camino and found a little sign saying: albergue. We arrived at a little door that sat inconspicuously on the back wall of the town cathedral and thought is this it? In every town you go to in Spain, the biggest and grandest building is always the cathedral. It is the first building you can see from kilometres away and it always bring you comfort knowing there is a town close by. We have only been inside a handful as they are usually closed when we pass through. So we were quite surprised when our albergue was actually located in a church.

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We opened the heavy door that was hiding a dark, stairway that disappeared up into the wall of the church. We climbed the narrow stairs awkwardly with our big bags on our backs until we arrived at a door that said: pelegrinos and then another door and another door until the staircase opened up into a large room with a fire place, dining room, kitchen and an open loft for sleeping in.

The albergue was one of those that runs on donations only and is looked after by volunteers who come from Spain and all over the world. There was a box in the doorway with a sign that read: ‘give what you can, take what you need’. The feeling we got as soon as we walked in was home. Jack said it felt like ‘Grandma’s house’ and you could see why.

The volunteer running the albergue was Alberto – a young Spanish man with a kind face. As soon as we walked in he greeted us with a big smile and offered to make us a coffee. We gratefully accepted and settled in. We were starving after our walk, but Alberto had pre-empted this. He told us that in a few minutes we would all cook lunch together, we couldn’t hide our surprise and delight.

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We all helped prepare our lunch which was an absolute feast of chorizo and vegetable pasta, fresh salad, red wine and profiteroles for dessert with tea and coffee. I couldn’t remember the last time I had fresh vegetables and fruit, let alone the last time I was full to the brim just on lunch. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore and then we cleaned up and sat around the fire/furnace, reading writing in journals and solving the world’s problems. Adam found a guitar and began playing, my sister Tessa sang along and the atmosphere was warming and revitalising.

Alberto told us that although he was not religious himself, that the albergue had many traditions that he liked to uphold out of respect. Apparently after dinner, it was customary for everyone to enter the chapel of the cathedral, sing a song, light a candle and say a few words. As we aren’t religious ourselves, under normal circumstances we might have felt apprehensive about entering the chapel and partaking in prayer for fear of disrespecting the place of worship. However it would have felt more wrong not to participate in this situation. So Alberto asked Tessa if she would sing and after dinner we rugged up and were led up a few more flights of stairs before we entered the chapel from the back.

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Alberto lit candles and the glow in the church was both eerie and beautiful. We couldn’t see anything in the chapel until he switched on the alter lights. That was when we realised that we were above the chapel looking down into the church from the back. It was breathtaking. After a few moments he asked us all to sit and we had a minute of silence. Alberto invited Adam to play, he did beautifully, and we closed our eyes and just listened. After that, Tessa sang Hallelujah (the Leonard Cohen version). Her voice filled the entire church and she sounded like an angel with Adam playing in the background. I couldn’t help but cry and was a little embarrassed until I looked around and noticed that I wasn’t the only one. Alberto lit a candle and we passed it around saying a few words about the camino and what we were thankful for. We were up there for an hour or so but it felt like 5 minutes. That night, in that church is safely the most spiritual moment of my life so far.

We slept like babies up in the loft, and when we awoke Alberto had prepared breakfast for us and we ate, chatted and packed up ready to walk the next leg of our journey. As we walked away we all agreed that we’d just stayed in the best albergue on the Camino.

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4 thoughts on “The Best Albergue on the Camino”

  1. I am happy to hear that someone else loves Grañon as I do. I came upon it in 2001. What a treasure. At that time we sung in 3 languages and had a “roll call” praying for the pilgrims before us. And then, our names were added to the large book. I knew going forward there would be pilgrims here praying for me and my way to Santiago. It gave me comfort when I struggled. I am happy and hope to return in a few weeks, this April 2017. I promised to return one day. Now, the time is here. Ultreia and Buen Camino!

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