Hostels and ‘albergues’

Hostels provide excellent budget accommodation for bikers travelling light or an alternative to camping if you need an early start – or you’re getting fed up with the weather! The downside is that hostels are arranged in dormitories – so you haven’t got to mind sharing.

With roads like this to play on who wants to be fooling around all morning with a spirit stove! The Port del Comte inte Pyrenees
With roads like this to play on who wants to be fooling around all morning with a spirit stove! The Port del Comte in the Pyrenees

The Spanish for ‘hostel’ is albergue and it’s as well to adopt this word to avoid confusion with hostales (see Accommodation: Hotels and ‘hostales’). Spain’s equivalent to the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) is the Red Española de Albergues Juveniles (REAJ) which operates a card system that is syndicated worldwide through Hostels International. This has an on-line booking facility (NB in March 2011 not all albergues were bookable on-line). In addition to these there are many independent albergues that are not affiliated. These come in two broad categories: camp sites and former inns and taverns. The three types have their own characteristics:

  • REAJ: these tend to be large and modern, although some are in converted historic buildings. As well as small towns and country areas  they are well represented in the major cities, including Madrid and Barcelona. They are somewhat regimented and formal – quite a common management style in Spain. The big advantage will be the on-line booking when this gets fully operational. In contrast to some of the larger albergues, the Albergue de Banyoles in Catalonia looks positively luxurious – Banyoles is a very lovely little town whose lake played host to the 1992 Olympic Games, it also features on my Tran-Pyrenean route.
  • Camp sites: many camp sites offer areas for children’s summer camps, colonias, and a sub-group of these keep an albergue for these. These are open to all but will be full from late June until the end of August. Camp sites with albergues and summer camps are often run by the local councils, in association with education authorities, etc. – a bit of a mixed blessing. Summer camps for Spanish children are very noisy! The albergue at Camping Asolaze in Navarre is typical – the announcement meaning ‘Under New Management’ comes not a moment too soon from my experience there in 2009!
  • Independents: these are often found along the various pilgrims routes, especially the Camino de Santiago de Compostela* (the Way of St. James which follows several routes across the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia). This route in particular is used all year round and attracts large numbers of Christian pilgrims from the world over. These are the most characterful of the albergues and will also be more geared to the older guest. Typical of this breed is Albergue Pepito Grillo in Canfranc – for many pilgrims their first stop in Spain – which is very warm and informal.

Leaving aside the privacy angle, the downside of staying at albergues is security for one’s belongings, although most, if not all, will have safekeeping for valuables in the reception, and many will have lockers, etc. for a small extra charge.

* I’ve received some very helpful feedback from a reader called Eurobiker on the subject of hostels and albergues along the pilgrims routes. As I can’t improve of Eurobiker’s knowledge deserve to be quoted below:

. . . there are many more albergues which are municipal, church, or run by various pilgrim associations, all across Spain, Portugal and France on the way to Santiago de Compostella. These require a ‘credential’ and such albergues are strictly for those on foot, bicycle or horseback. They are NOT available for others.  . . .  I mention it because I didn’t want that those unfamiliar with this situation be puzzled at being turned away, especially if they have no Spanish.