Friday, 23 January 2015


hostels, albergues, alberges . . . serving pilgrims, surfers, backpackers all over the world . . . common aims - cheap, convivial accommodation, and some interesting differences too.

The Pousadas de Juventude in Portugal have a government feel to them (and, like Youth Hostels in the UK are not restricted to the young any more). The Galician municipal albergues had the same feeling . . .systems run from the centre, apparently with EU capital funding (thus modern, spacious buildings) and local revenue funding (so the modern kitchen has an odd assortment of cooking utensils and no attempt to encourage shared cooking or to provide basics like oil, salt and so on).

The Portuguese Pousadas de Juventude have a consistent offer (on the evidence of Tavira, Faro, Portimao, Lagos and Almograve anyway): €10 a night in a dormitory, with 10% discount for pilgrims; breakfast included, served at 8.30 am and comprising 2 bread rolls, one portion of butter, one of jam, one slice of processed cheese, one of ham, a portion of cereal, pot of youghurt, a cold drink and a hot drink . . . which is plenty for breakfast and lunch too . . .

. . . great value for the money and some may say undercutting the local provider with public funds . . . I prefer not to comment, since my line manager, after one week in the clammy embrace of the council and being forthright with my opinions, took me into a dark room and advised me, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you". Since I am not a dog I kept on biting for two and a half years and they kept on feeding me . . . which was fun . . .

Municipal hostels along the Camino de Santiago varied in style, with some run by the village, some by bigger councils, in Galicia by the regional government . . . never more than €10, without breakfast.

The Parish or Church run ones were often donativo or by donation and around €5 was usual.

Then there were the independent ones, some run as businesses, some to serve the pilgrims.

And the one in Santiago, without beds, a day hostel, run by the evangelist Americans, with very low key missionary techniques, just there "in case any incoming pilgrims wanted spiritual guidance". Nice, naive folks, playing at the camino for weekend walks, with all the answers straight from the book (or The Book), somehow missing the point that a month and more, day after day, usually in silence, pushing personal physical and mental limits, often opens doors previously closed by the books and clergy with their certainty . . .

The surfer hostels in Portugal bring another dimension, but the same basic offer of dormitory rooms (as well as doubles), shared kitchen and lounge . . . and wifi, of course.

And my motivation for all the reflection on hostels? When not walking, I love to be in them, especially when the design is right and the spirit bright . . . donativo sets the tone, shared soul food . . . and with the Portuguese routes developing, to Santiago de Cacem or Compostela, pagan routes along the edge of the continent, there is plenty of scope for pilgrim hostels . . .

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