CF21 Day 16 – Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Walking through the vineyards from Camponaraya to Villafranca is one of the great joys of the camino for me, and the rain had passed for now, so yet again I took a slow lazy bimble soaking up the views and marvelling at all the wine to be.

I stopped for a little chat with the little lady inside the very odd little chapel/museum at the entrance to Cacabelos and got a sello for a donation before sitting down for a spot of lunch at La Galega. My usual haunt was closed – so many places seem to be closed or running at reduced capacity at the moment. Even the big cubicle style municipal, with two beds per pod (like in Azofra), was closed. Someone suggested the munis were closed to protect their volunteers as well as to give the private albergues a chance to survive financially.

Then I arrived at Villafranca, where I immediately stopped to have chicken and salad on the square, before lunch time finished.

Then I went to check in at albergue Leo, owned and run by the charming and fabulous Maria aided by her equally charming mother. I decided to have my laundry done to spend a bit more money – a win-win situation in my book. After my shower Maria found time to have a little sit-down and a drink with me in the little corner bar next door, which was much appreciated. She works so hard, like all hospitalero/as, and was constantly having to organise luggage transport, answer questions, provide local info, even sort out a peregrina that seemed to have arrived at the wrong town and needed to get herself to O Cebreiro or Triacastela early next morning. Maria took it all in her stride and sorted it with her trademark smile.

There were only two of us in the room, which was great for us, but you have to wonder how some of these places are going to survive unless there is a change soon – or unless they turn up their prices. Maria told me she had already had a group in that refused to pay the 12€ she is asking for a bed in her big, quirky house with hot showers, bed linen, heating and comfortable mattresses provided. She also has a communal kitchen which is closed as per regulations, and several small corners and places to sit and read, write or chill after your walk. Absolutely worth it in my opinion, but some people seem to think that they can hold the albergues to the prices listed in out of date guidebooks …? Please don’t be that person. Value your hospitalero/as and let them know that you do! What would the camino be without them?

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