Camino Highlight: Grañon
If you ask almost anyone who has walked the French Way (Camino Francés) from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Burgos, they will tell you that one of the most special albergues on the whole Camino is the one in Grañon.
Grañon is a small town situated on the Camino between Pamplona and Burgos with not much else to recommend it aside from the albergue, the quiet, and the friendliness of the locals. The albergue itself (Albergue Nuestra Señora de Carrasquedo) is housed in a Romanesque church and is probably one of the least comfortable places you will stay – the spots on which guests sleep are about the same thickness as a gym mat, but less firm, and the sleeping quarters are not well ventilated. Since it is donation-only, however, the rustic sleeping quarters are easy to forgive, especially for those trying to save money.
The common area is a homey, inviting place for conversation with other pilgrims, or, if any of the guests are musical, a song or hymn played on the upright piano in one corner. Those who look unoccupied, however, will quickly be recruited by the volunteers to help make dinner that, they insist, everyone helps prepare. Some guests will set the table, some will help in the kitchen, some will arrange tables and collect chairs from all over the building to seat the sometimes overly large crowd around the long tables.
When all is ready, the volunteers will lead everyone, usually holding hands, in a song or prayer, and then encourage conversation at the tables. There is often a mix of people from at least four different countries within earshot of each other at each table, and everyone is cheerful. By the time most people get to Grañon, they are starting to get the hang of the daily hiking and rhythms of pilgrim life, as well as feeling the freedom from work or whatever other burdens they carry at home, but they have not been walking for so long that they are bored or beaten down by some of the harder physical and spiritual aspects of the Camino.
After dinner, the volunteers lead everyone in clearing up, and then those who desire to go up to the gallery of the church for a special candlelit service of thanksgiving and a time for pilgrims to share what they have learned. It is an atmosphere of acceptance and care for those present. Then it’s off to bed on the thin mats spread on floors.
The volunteers set out toast, jam, and butter and brew tea and coffee for breakfast, encouraging guests to sleep in past the typical lights-on hour of 6:00am, and send them off with a hug.
Grañon is one of the few places I have stayed every time I have walked the Camino, and I hope to visit it every time in the future as well. The volunteer-staffed albergues are only as good as their volunteers. Some places seem harried, other volunteers can be downright unpleasant toward certain guests, but Grañon seems to attract the best and most friendly folks to serve, and that makes all the difference.
If you have a story about Grañon or another Camino Highlight, send it to me at hunter@CaminoProvisions.com.
Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter.
Contact Hunter at hunter@CaminoProvisions.com