menu del peregrino

house wine in at the municipal albergue in Ages

as I wager many of you know, Spain is known for their late dining habits. restaurants routinely do not open for dinner until 9:00 p.m. or later, which proves monumentally inconvenient for peregrinos who start hiking by 7:00 a.m. each day and hope to be asleep, or at least in bed, by 9:00 p.m. to adjust for this, along the Camino many, if not all, restaurants offer a fixed menu del peregrino that gets served around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. for about 10 euro, you get a starter, an entree, dessert, bread, water, and wine.


our first experience with the menu del peregrino was in Roncesvalles; the upscale hotel next to the albergue advertised theirs well and had us walking through the door to reserve seats before we knew how big town might be. the advertised start of the meal was 7:00 p.m. but when we showed up at 7:02, or so, nearly all the  50 or so seats were filled — fellow peregrinos as hungry as we were anxious to get a jump on the meal. this particular meal was served family style on long tables, which fostered a communal feel that resulted in my receiving about six left-over dessert yogurts at the end of the meal. the main course was fish and when word made it down the table that I don’t eat fish, people passed the yogurt served as dessert that they either didn’t care for or didn’t have room to eat. I managed to eat about four before tapping out; it was the best yogurt I ate the entire time we were in Spain.


my favorite meal — at the Hotel Dona Mayor in Fromista

while occasionally we had family-style peregrino meals (usually at private hostels that also had menus or restaurants), usually we had a table to ourselves. the menu options were always fixed to three or four options per course and were never veg-friendly; even the uninspired iceberg lettuce salads came with hard boiled eggs and tuna. even thinking about it now exasperates me (and re-inspires me for the CSA salad I’m eating for tomorrow’s lunch). once I figured out how to manipulate the menu, I managed fine by ordering two veg-friendlier first courses — often soup and pasta with tomato sauce. after a while, the pork or beef stock they used to make the soup got frustrating, but it for a time it served as a welcome alternative to terrible salads. on one memorable occasion, I ordered pasta with tomato sauce without meat and, as often happened, it came out with ham and chicken in the sauce anyway; our server/owner of the establishment was aghast and swept the plate away before I could take another bite to make a plate without meat. I’m never one to make a fuss about meals not coming out as expected and would have eaten around the ham and chicken, but after two weeks it was nice to have someone look after my dietary preferences.

Roncesvalles

the village of Roncesvalles has served pilgrims coming over the pass since the 9th century and in the late 12th century, Sancho VII El Fuerte ordered the construction of a church, done in the Gothic style. his remains and that of his wife now lie in the crypt of the church. in 1400, fire destroyed the original church building, though other structures survived, including the chapel of Sacti Spiritus, which stands over a crypt where Roland is reputed to have stabbed himself after the defeat in the Pass and served as a burial place for peregrinos that perished on the Camino. a bishop from Pamplona bolstered Sancho VII’s decision by creating a co-fraternity to administer to peregrinos at Roncesvalles. in the 13th century, Navarre underwent a period of prosperity which served to enhance the power of this co-fraternity even more; by the end of the 14th century their strength was such that the Navarrese Crown borrowed money from the collegiate at Roncesvalles. reforms over the 16th and 17th centuries enhanced their position, which were threatened by the French Revolution and instability that followed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


as a first experience with albergues (aulberge in French), the one in Roncesvalles was about what I anticipated from one of the most popular points of origination for the Camino. the space we stayed in was recently renovated and modernized to match the rapidly increasing demand for beds and amenities. previously, up to 120 people bunked in the same large room in the collegiate facility on the main road next to the river. the new building (seen above) was converted from an old youth hostel (I believe) and has something like 300 beds on three floors, which are broken up into little bunk alcoves of four beds with a locker for each bed and had a reasonable three-showers-per-gender-per-floor ratio. the Russian guys sharing our alcove snored like the dickens but weren’t the worst we endured by a long shot (our roommates the next night in Zubiri was muuuuuuuch worse).

Roncesvalles from Col de Lepoeder – today’s peak