Before I answer that question, let me take you back to my first (proper) Camino in 2012. I walked from Leon to Sarria and stayed solely in albergues, if you exclude the hotel in Leon. I walked at my own pace and most of my days were finished at 1 or 2pm. Most of my mornings were early as I personally love the rising of the sun. As a result, I had a choice of beds when I arrived at my destination each day.
Fast forward to 2014, I walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to Belorado. I left at the start of September and on arriving in Roncesvalles, I managed to secure one of the last beds in the large renovated monastery. It wasn’t long before that albergue was completo (full). The hospitaleros told us that they had never seen so many people. I started to wonder if the rest of my Camino would be like this. Was this just a freak event? The next town of Zubiri is tiny that there was no way it could hold over 180 pilgrims. Luckily I had pre-booked a bed in Albergue Zaldiko before leaving home. Otherwise I could be walking to the next town. Other slower pilgrims were busing from Roncesvalles to Pamplona or further to escape this “wave”.
As the days went by, more and more pilgrims started to call private albergues ahead to pre-book, being fearful that they will arrive with no bed. Some were booked up, others not. I did it twice..once in Torres del Rio and another in Logrono. Looking back, there was no need as there were free beds once we arrived. This kind of fear or tension has an affect on your Camino and can be less enjoyable. I have also spoken to people who have arrived at an albergue at 12pm only to learn that it is booked up. This should never be the case.
The crowds walking the French Way this year are increasing (read this post from a pilgrim on the Frances), mainly due to it being a Holy Year, however there are a number of ways to avoid this feeling of “oh we are not going to get a bed”:
- think of the date you are starting and ensure it is not a public holiday in Europe. A public holiday can see a large increase of pilgrims, especially from Spain. The recent holiday at the start of May saw 250 pilgrims leave St Jean, which is astounding.
- you could also think about staying in towns in between Brierley’s end stages. Some of these towns are amazing, especially Viana, Lorca, or Ciruquai.
- why not talk to the hospitalero in your albergue and ask what the crowds have been like the day prior. If they are not as bad, then take a rest day.
- choose another Camino to walk in Spain.
I love the Camino Frances but there are so many other quieter routes in Spain that I would prefer to walk. September sees me on the Camino Finisterre and in Spring next, I hope to walk the Camino Ingles. In time, it will be quieter on the Frances and a little less stressful. I will be back then.