Like the landscapes, languages and foods of Spain, a pilgrim will discover a great variety of accommodation in Spain, ranging from humble family-run pensions to five-star luxury hotels, often in dramatic historic buildings.
Albergues – hostels
Along the most popular routes such as the French Way or Camino Frances, the traveler’s first choice from many is the excellent network of albergues (hostels). The classic Camino albergues are run publicly or by private operators. The public spaces can be either municipal (municipal – run by the local council) or religious (parroquial- church run) They are often staffed by ‘hospitaleros’ (Camino volunteers) and offer dormitory-style accommodations, access to bathrooms and cooking facilities. The private sector has seen an opportunity and also provides albergue accommodations along the route. For the most part, neither of these can be booked in advance. Beds in dorms are allocated on a first come first served basis. You will need to have your passport stamped, as part of the ‘check in’ process and walkers always take priority over other pilgrims (ie. on horseback or bike pilgrims). Some accommodations are even more basic. In the village of Granon, for example, pilgrims sleep on mats on the floor of the bell tower of the San Juan Bautista church.
Guesthouses and hotels in Spain go under various traditional names – pensión, fonda, residencia, hostal, etc – though only hotels (hoteles), hostales and pensiones are recognized as official categories. These are all star-rated (hotels, one- to five-star; pensiones, one- or two-star), but the rating is not necessarily a guide to cost or ambience. Some smaller, boutique-style pensiones and hotels have services and facilities that belie their star rating; some four- and five-star hotels have disappointingly small rooms and an impersonal feel.
At the budget end of the scale are pensiones (marked P), fondas (F) – which traditionally had a restaurant or dining room attached – and casas de huéspedes (CH), literally an old-fashioned “guesthouse”. In all such places you can expect straightforward rooms, often with shared bathroom facilities (there’s usually a washbasin in the room), while occasionally things like heating, furniture (other than bed, chair and desk) and even external windows might be too much to hope for. On the other hand, some old-fashioned pensiones are lovingly cared for and very good value, while others have gone for a contemporary, boutique style.
In general, hostales are more like small or budget hotels. There are two types of hostels in the country: the “hostal-residencia” (denoted by “HsR” on the main entrance sign) and the “hostal” (marked “Hs”). Both are graded on a three-star system. Residential hostels are on par with one- or two-star hotels except they don’t have on-site restaurants. They generally offer good, if functional, rooms, usually with private bathrooms and – in some cases – probably heating and air-conditioning. Many also have cheaper rooms available without private bathrooms. Some hostales really are excellent, with good service and up-to-date furnishings and facilities. Many hostels are as nice as hotels, even if they only merit one or two stars. The Parador of Santiago de Compostela is actually called the Hostal de Dos Reis Catolicos.
Hotel quality in Spain is government-regulated, with all establishments rated on a scale of one to five stars (with five being the best). Hotels are emblazoned with a capital letter “H” and the star rating on a placard at the entrance. The ratings take into account such characteristics as amenities, services, room size and staffing. One-star hotels are pleasant enough, with basic in-room amenities and hotel services. As you go up in star ratings, you’ll also go up in price and amenities.
Spain has over ninety superior hotels in a class of their own, called paradores, which are often spectacular lodgings converted from castles, monasteries and other Spanish monuments (although some are purpose-built). There are paradores in Santo Domingo de la Calzada (actually two), Leon, Villafranca del Bierzo and Santiago de Compostela.
Casas rurales (rural houses) are boutique country properties refurbished keeping in mind the traditional architecture of the region. It’s a wide-ranging concept, from boutique cave dwellings to restored manor houses, many with pools and gardens. You can rent by the room, or by the property, either on a B&B basis or self-catering, depending on the accommodation.