A very special night
Despite having a lovely room on the top floor of the little hotel in Hontanas, with its own skylight and a very clear night sky, we ended up being a bit short on sleep because the nearby church bells struck every hour, on the hour. I heard them every hour between 2 and 7, and by 7am I was just ready to get up and start walking, dammit!
We called in to see a small albergue in the ruins of San Anton Convent, then found breakfast a few kms up the road at Castrojeriz and bought some supplies for lunch at a little supermarket, then started a long slog up a hill. Fantastic views for miles at the top, and a fountain with a long trough that we soaked our feet in for a while. We met a Canadian couple, chatted for a while with them and discovered that it was the wife’s 60th birthday that day. What a great way to celebrate a special birthday, walking the Camino.
Michelle, the hospitalerro at Rabe, had made a point of telling us all about St Nicolas, a very special little auberge at Puente Itero, and she encouraged us very strongly to stay there if we had the opportunity. There are only 12 beds but after hearing Michelle describe it, we decided to try and stay there if we could. It was ‘only’ 19kms from Hontantas which meant another short day, but we were prepared to walk extra later on to make up the distance if it meant that we got to stay at St Nicolas. I’m not sure if it’s the same St Nicolas as the one we associate with Christmas, although staying there was certainly like a very special gift for us.
This place has been giving pilgrims shelter and sustenance for since the 12th century. It fell into disrepair and has been restored by an Italian Confraternity, which usually also provides hospitalleros to run it, although when we were there the hospitalleros were a Spanish couple with 3 children from Burgos. There are only 12 beds, which is why we thought we might not get in, but the night we stayed there were only 4 of us plus Alberto the hospitallero – his wife Anna and the kids had gone home to Burgos after dinner. There is no power at this auberge, but there is a gas stove and plenty of running water, all of it cold. There is a building with bathroom/kitchen behind the main stone building and it has a solar-powered light. We did our washing by pumping water from the hand pump in the yard, then I spent a lovely hour or so sitting in the sun in an alcove in the south-facing wall which is currently a mass of roses and other flowers in bloom. The bees were working hard all around me while I read, of all things, a book about the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank in the US, which was one of the direct causes of the current GFC.
We ate dinner by candlelight, then after dinner the kids played chess and checkers against Greg and the other pilgrims, while I sat with Anna and she told me how to make a proper Spanish Tortilla di Patata while we drank grappa. It was definitely the best auberge we have stayed at and an unforgettable experience. I’m so pleased we made ourselves slow down so we could do it.