For the most part, Albergues, on the Camino, are chosen in the town that you decide to stop walking in. Many of the guidebooks make recommendations or classify based on the three main criteria: municipal, private and religious.
These are broad categories and say little about the experience that you’ll have once you’ve chosen your bed and left your boots by the door.
The people that you encounter can make or break the quality of your stay and there is no way, other than travelling with people you’ve met, to ensure that your company will be pleasant.
I would say, hands down, that if the person handling checking you in is unpleasant, run. Run away fast. This individual sets the tone for the whole place and it is difficult to overcome a stern or grumpy host. I’ve experienced this twice and will no longer stay if not greeted warmly.
One of the most unique I’ve stayed at was in Villarmentero de Campos. When you walked through the gates you entered a large garden with trees, hammocks, a ping pong table and two donkeys. This space resonated with quiet contentment.
The owners allow people to stay for more than one day and encourage people to relax and take a load off. There is an option to sleep outside in a tee pee, if that is your thing and the property is visited by locals and many pilgrims.
A donativo, or an Albergue that does not charge but asks for donations, also provided a unique experience. In Bercianos del Real Camino there is a place like this. They held a communal meal that was served out front. Everyone contributed to setting up the tables and serving the meal.
Before dinner began each country was called so that people from each place could identify themselves. This fostered a feeling of community and inclusion. The evening closed with a viewing of the sunset.
The town was beyond capacity, but this place provided showers, washrooms and laundry facilities for those that were forced to sleep outside. This was not an inconvenience for the people staying at the Albergue because there were enough facilities for everyone.
The third place was a surprise to me. When I first walked up it appeared to need some TLC. The grounds were not as groomed as other places. Flowers had been planted and the watering had been neglected. I almost didn’t stay, but my guide book said that there was only one place to stay in Puente Villarente. I was not up to walking several more kilometres.
The owner thrived having guests. He put on an exceptional Pilgrims dinner and then kept the wine, music and conversation continuing until late in the evening. It was an exceptional experience with classical music, good conversation and great food.
Over 200 km to go. I’m sure there are still some great places to explore.