Zen top-up: Villafranca to Vega de Valcarce

The next day I took my time getting up, just kept turning around whenever a noise woke me, and when I finally got out of bed I noticed two things: Someone had left a bar of chocolate on the storage box by my bed (thank you, peregrina!), and I was alone. Yep, every single pilgrim had left before I even got up, and my shoes were the last left on the shelf. Nicole would be starting late too, but she was going to the same albergue as me in Vega de Valcarce, so we would meet eventually.

I know a good place to have breakfast between the park and the church, and since I was late – in a pilgrim sense – I had the place to myself. The bar owner is a man of very few words and exceedingly good coffee, and the croissants were fresh, so I was in no hurry to leave. When I finally did, at least most of the fog had lifted from the hilltops and made it easier to both see and breathe.

I decided against the Pradela route out of town, also known as The Donkey Killer because it is so steep going up and again going down. It takes you up just across the bridge leaving Villafranca, up to Pradela where there is a bar and an albergue, and then down again to Trabadelo, which has plenty of albergues. I chose the soul destroyingly boring grey roadside route instead, which rises gently and steadily up towards Pereje and Trabadelo. Well, I say grey but in fact there was a lot of greenery as well, and the chestnuts and figs were all nearly ripe.

There was a steady trickle of pilgrims slogging it up the seemingly never ending hill, and I had a few little chats here and there. Every time I came around a bend I was hoping to see the turn towards Pereje, where there is a great little bar/café with a covered outside seating area, but when I finally did, it was sadly still closed. My first stop – everyone’s first stop – was the Crispeta. I always forget how close it is to the main pilgrim drag in Trabadelo, it is just so nice to finally see some red plastic chairs with tired and happy people in them, so I join them. I do try to not stop at the first place – sometimes the second is better – so I decided that the next stop would be somewhere I hadn’t stopped before. So I bypassed the big hotel place and stopped for a clara and some campesiña crisps at El Peregrino in Ambasmestas before following the Valcarce river to Vega and the El Paso albergue, where I had reserved a bed.

The Rock’n Roll Pizza and Vagabond Vieiras albergue was closed when I walked past, which was disappointing. I would have liked to stop there for a slice; Nicole and her brother had enjoyed a tasty and long farewell dinner there the day before. Never mind, I would be fine with whatever the little restaurant in Vega had to offer, and some of that lovely local albariño I had had last year …

When Nicole arrived, she got the bed above mine, and after sitting around in the large garden watching our laundry dry and catching up for a while, we decided to go back to the Rock’n Roll pizza place for dinner. Since it had been closed at lunch time, we called to make doubly sure that it would be open for dinner. Not only were they open, but they had pilgrims staying in their donativo albergue, and the meal was a communal three course meal with wine and beer at a donativo price. Marvellous! Two of my favourite establishments in one evening, with one of my favourite camigas!

I had met a Swedish lady who wanted to come along, and Nicole had met a young lady in a church on the way who also wanted to join us, as did a German cyclist. Then we were five, so we called a taxi to take us there for the communal meal at seven. And what a feast it was! We five joined the maybe eight, ten? pilgrims who were staying there, and who were sat on two long tables outside in the evening sunshine. We were treated to starters of mozzarella salad and garlic bread, massive delicious vegetarian pizzas, and a choice of red or white wine or beer.

The five of us shared a table with two young German ladies and a Dutch woman who were all staying in the albergue, and pretty soon we were all chatting, sharing, laughing and taking group photos. The evening flew by, and after the table was cleared, diners seemed to put a decent amount of money into the jar. I love that there are still donativo places, and I love it when people don’t take advantage of it – donativo doesn’t mean free! If you really don’t have money to pay for the bed or meal, offer to help out instead.

Suddenly it had gone late and dark, and as we approached albergue curfew we called our hospitaleros, who had said they would pick us up. They took the opportunity to pick up not only five happy pilgrims, but two large pizzas as well for the perfect takeaway. The pizzas went on the table in the communal kitchen … but the tired and full pilgrims went straight to bed.

2 thoughts on “Zen top-up: Villafranca to Vega de Valcarce

    1. Yes you should walk it again, it is so nice to start walking uphill, enjoying the views and green lush Galicia … If I had to pick ONE one-week stretch on the CF it would be Astorga to Sarria every time!

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