Camino De Santiago : Roncesvalles Hotels And Pilgrim Albergue
Created by Colleen Sims * 6 February 2024
Many people walking the Camino Frances are unsure about staying in Roncesvalles. I’ve walked this stage eight times; here are my thoughts.
Roncesvalles is a significant stop on the Camino Frances, located in the foothills of the Pyrenees close to the border between Spain and France.
There is no denying that Roncesvalles is an iconic stage-end for those starting their journey along the Camino de Santiago. There is also no denying that this tiny village gets very busy during the main hiking season (mid-April to June and September to October).
When I’m planning this section of the Camino for my walking club, I always question whether it’s the best place to stop. The short answer is maybe not BUT it’s not that simple and everyone who walks with me agrees that they would not have missed their night here for anything.
Read on and I’ll explain :
The Pros And Cons Of Staying Overnight at Roncesvalles
There is no denying that Roncesvalles can be very busy during the peak walking seasons. When I first walked from St Jean Pied de Port I simply rolled up to the pilgrim albergue and checked in. Today I would never recommend this for two reasons :
- There are less beds in Roncesvalles for pilgrims now than there were a decade ago.
- There are more pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago today than there were a decade ago.
Staying in Roncevalles : Cons
Choosing to stay overnight in Roncesvalles means that you’ll need to accept some queues and the noise and hustle and bustle that goes with this number of people.
Another slight disadvantage is that dinner has to be served over two sittings AND you must get a meal ticket in advance of eating. Because of the two sittings dinner can feel rushed.
If you can accept the high pilgrim numbers then Roncesvalles is a really great choice for an overnight stay.
Top Tip : I cannot stress enough that you should book your bed in advance. During peak season it is common for Roncesvalles to be full. If you know when you are going to arrive then book your bed and book your dinner and breakfast at the same time.
Staying in Roncesvalles : Pros
The advantages for staying overnight are predominantly the iconic history associated with the Monastery and the Camino de Santiago. Roncesvalles has been providing refuge since 1127 and for this reason alone it’s worthy of one night. Other reasons include :
Camaraderie : You will meet other pilgrims walking the Camino. Some you may have met in St Jean Pied de Port or during your walk across the Pyrenees. Many of those first friendships will last a lifetime and you’ll be greeted by those same faces time and time again as you walk toward Santiago de Compostela. I have made many friends over dinner in Roncesvalles and the communal spaces are the perfect place to break the ice with strangers.
History : Roncesvalles has been welcoming pilgrims for a thousand years. You can almost feel the weight of the pilgrim history as you arrive. A daily pilgrim mass is held in the small church here and no matter your reason for walking the Camino, I’d recommend that you attend. It’s a joyous celebration of togetherness and adds to the feelings of achievement in crossing the mountains and the excitement at all that is still to come.
Pilgrim Services : Roncesvalles exists because of the Camino. Because of this there are many services geared towards the needs of pilgrims walking the Camino.
In the Albergue you will find quiet rest areas, a kitchen, vending machines, a library and a host of bilingual volunteers who will assist with any issues or questions that you may have.
When I walk from St Jean Pied de Port, I choose to break my journey and stay at either Refuge Orisson or Auberge Borda; so when I reach Roncesvalles I have 2 days of laundry. In the basement of the Roncesvalles Pilgrim Albergue there is a fabulous laundry. You can either use the facilities to wash your clothes by hand or pay a few euros for a wash and tumble dry.
You’ll also find bars and restaurants offering pilgrim meals and refreshments within the hamlet.
Tiredness : I know that I have reached Roncesvalles previously and felt that, after a rest, I’d be good to walk for another hour. However it’s all too easy to forget that you will be walking day after day after day once you leave Roncesvalles.
No matter your level of fitness, if you have walked from St Jean Pied de Port, and travelled some distance to reach the start of your Camino, then it’s a good idea to keep some of that energy in the tank for the coming days. Tiredness catches up with you and your feet will thank you and you’ll be glad later that you stopped.
Transport : Many people choose to start their Camino from Roncesvalles. It’s a popular destination for tourists as well as pilgrims and as a result there are a number of ways to reach Roncesvalles. ALSA operates a bus from Pamplona, Express Bourricot offers a pilgrim minibus service but for more detailed information on travel then take a look at my post on how to reach St Jean Pied de Port, as it also includes Roncesvalles.
Festivals and Special Celebrations: There are many significant dates in the Roncesvalles calendar. If your Camino coincides with one of these dates then I would definitely recommend an overnight stop. To see if there are any events taking place when you arrive, check the Collegiate Website.
Accommodation Choices: Albergue Or Hotel?
The choice of albergue or hotel is entirely personal. I have read in some groups that only real pilgrims stay in bunk beds. I cannot stress enough how much I dislike this kind of talk. It’s nonsense. Please, please ignore it.
Your choice of bed will be down to three things only
Top Tip : I know I’m repeating myself but do book your bed as soon as you can. Roncesvalles is busy and there are limited beds. As soon as you have your walking dates then book ahead using the links that I’ve provided below. These are the only five accommodation options at Roncesvalles.
Roncesvalles Pilgrim Albergue
The Pilgrim Albergue is an excellent choice. The bunk beds are divided into cubicles of 2 bunks, accommodating 4 people (2 up 2 down). The cubicles feel private, you also get a locker and as albergue go this is one of the best.
Of course there will be noise (and snoring) but the beds are comfortable, the showers are hot and the price for a bunk is very reasonable.
When I first walked, Gerry stayed 1 night at Roncesvalles Pilgrim Hostel. He left thinking that all albergue along the Camino would be like this; oh how wrong he was.
You should book you bunk bed directly from the Pilgrim Albergue website and book your meals at the same time.
The Roncesvalles Hotel is a great choice if you have the budget for a private ensuite room. Located right next door to the albergue, this is the perfect end to your day after your walk over the mountains.
They offer a variety of doubles, twins and triple rooms with your own bathroom. Private rooms do book quickly with tour groups and holiday visitors too so book as early as you can.
If you have watched the film The Way you’ll see the characters sleeping in a vast open dormitory before sneaking out to eat some snacks. The huge open dormitory no longer exists but the snacks were eaten outside La Posada.
Most pilgrim come here to eat and drink when they first arrive; the bar serves drinks and snacks throughout the day. It is also here that you may come to eat your pilgrim dinner. However La Posada is also a small hotel offering private ensuite rooms.
As with all Roncesvalles accommodation, these rooms book very quickly so reserve well in advance.
The bar downstairs serves food and drinks, including the pilgrim dinner and breakfast. Again, I stress that you must book early to avoid disappointment.
Casa de los Beneficiados
The apartments of Casa de los Beneficiados are part of the Hotel Roncesvalles. This 18th century building was restored to create 25 separate apartments. This accommodation is perfect for groups and perhaps ideal for those wishing to spend a few days in the area before starting their Camino.
The apartments are popular with holiday makers so if you think this accommodation would be perfect for you, then as with all accommodation in Roncesvalles, book ahead.
Good To Know : I noticed on my last stay in Roncesvalles that non-albergue residents are not able to visit inside the albergue. However you can still visit the courtyard and all other historical sites around Roncesvalles. It is only the Pilgrim Albergue that is limited.
Where To Eat In Roncesvalles
I love communal dinners when walking the Camino. It’s a great way to talk about your experiences and share stories with other pilgrims. There are a few choices at Roncesvalles for meals.
Snacks, Drinks and Lunches
The majority of pilgrims arrive on foot after crossing the Pyrenees from France. If you’ve already booked your bed then your first port of call will usually be one of the bars.
Casa Sabina is located to the left of the Monastery and is the smaller of the two bars and can sometimes be less busy.
La Posada is perhaps the most popular stop for pilgrims when they arrive and cool beers and plates of french fries are continually being served. It’s often a meeting point for pilgrims but it’s worth noting that it’s also a popular with day visitors so it can be very busy; especially when looking for a table with shade.
Hotel Roncesvalles has a bar and restaurant and a terrace open to non-residents. It can be busy with residents and is a little pricier than the other establishments. However it’s tucked away from the main thoroughfare and is maybe a quieter alternative.
Pilgrim Albergue has a well equipped kitchen and a run of vending machines where you can purchase snacks, drinks and even ready meals.
I have had issues getting the vending machines to work previously but if you’re having problems ask one of the volunteers for some help.
You can eat a pilgrim dinner at the hotel or either of the two bars but I strongly recommend that you book ahead; if for no other reason than you can relax knowing that the job is done.
There are two sittings for dinner in both Casa Sabina and La Posada, one at 7pm and the later at 8.30pm. Usually the 7pm meal is ideal for those wishing to attend the pilgrim Mass. I do recommend that you check when you arrive, as Mass has been known to change on celebration dates. We missed pilgrim Mass at Easter as it was much later than normal.
Whilst the two sittings are popular with different nationalities (eg Brits like to go early and the Spanish prefer late) it can mean that the first sitting is rushed. Do not expect to linger over your meal. You’ll be asked to move outside with drinks to allow for the next diners.
If you are staying in the hotel I recommend making dinner reservations when you make your booking to ensure you have a table.
If you stay in the pilgrim albergue they will wake you at 6.00am. But if you have reserved a breakfast the restaurants do not open until 7.30am. And I have to say breakfast is okay but nothing amazing and it’s very busy.
Pre-covid I always waited to have my breakfast on the trail as there are several villages between Roncesvalles and Zubiri. However, these days I would say that you are not guaranteed to find an open bar or cafe and I can assure you that the first one that is open will be very busy.
I feel that breakfast can be a little bit of a lottery. You can choose to wait at Roncesvalles or choose to move on and hope that the first bar is open. Alternatively, pack a snack or a breakfast bar in your bag and have a vending machine coffee instead. It offers you something to start your day at your own pace.
If you are staying in the Roncesvalles Hotel, La Posada or Casa Sabina or an apartment then this isn’t such an issue as you don’t have the early morning alarm call and you can linger in bed before breakfast at 7.30am.
Either way do not skip breakfast. The walk from Roncesvalles to Zubiri is challenging and you should start your day well hydrated and nourished.
Click to Book Hotels and Albergue in Roncesvalles
Top Tip : Do mention when you arrive for your dinner (or when making your booking) if you have any dietary requirements. I have always been given gluten free choices.
What To See In Roncesvalles
Most pilgrims arrive at Roncesvalles tired, hot and extremely happy to sit down and take their boots off. Most will check into their accommodation, shower and head to a bar for refreshments and many don’t get to explore this little village. My advice is allow just a little time in your schedule to seek out a few of the treasures.
Collelgiate Church of Santa María de Orreaga: Do make time to visit the church’s magnificent interior and if allowed, the cloister and the alabaster sarcophagus of King Sancho the Strong. The church dates from 1215 and if you don’t plan to go to Pilgrim Mass do step inside and visit the interior. You can find more information about tours and visits on the Visit Roncesvalles Blog.
Chapel of Santiago: This tiny 12th-century Gothic chapel was used as the parish church until the 18th century. It lay unused for a few hundred years before being restored and re-opened.
Capilla del Espíritu Santo, sometimes called the ‘Silo of Charlemagne’, is according to local legend, said to have been built upon the graves of Charlemagne’s soldiers killed in battle of Roncesvaux Pass in 778. This is the oldest building in Roncesvalles and also served as a pilgrims’ cemetery for centuries.
Museum of the Collegiate contains some of the most important pieces of Navarre’s historical and artistic heritage, including the Roncesvalles Gospel Book and Charlemagne’s chessboard. Visits aren’t available every day but check the website to see if it is open when you arrive.
Where Exactly Is Roncesvalles?
Roncesvalles sits in the Navarra province of Spain, about 900m above sea level and a stone’s throw from the French border. If you’re a pilgrim, it’s few hours walk or about 8 kilometres on the Napoleon Route.
The nearest large city in Spain is Pamplona; a 2 day walk away or an hour on the bus.
Good To Know : Orreaga or Roncesvalles? Orreaga is the Basque name for Roncesvalles. Navarra is part of Spain’s Basque Region. You will often see the name written as Orreaga-Roncesvalles.
A Potted History of Roncesvalles
Roncesvalles was firstly famous as the location of the mighty battle of Charlemagne’s army and the site where Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, was killed during the Battle of Roncesvaux Pass in 778. According to legend, Charlemagne’s mourning was recounted in the Chanson de Roland, the epic 12th century poem.
After the discovery of the remains of St James in Santiago de Compostela pilgrims travelled from across Europe to worship at the Apostle’s tomb. At first pilgrims crossed the Pyrenees by way of the Somport Pass, now on the Camino Aragones. But later, due to its strategic location above St Jean Pied de Port, what we now know as the Napoleon Route to Orreaga-Roncesvalles became the most popular entry into Spain.
The Collegiate Church and pilgrim hostel of Roncesvalles was opened in 1127 to offer accommodation, care and food for pilgrims and this tradition has continued unabated to this day.
So Is It Worth Staying In Roncesvalles?
I believe that Roncesvalles is so intrinsically linked to the Camino de Santiago that every pilgrim walking from St Jean Pied do Port should stay here.
You may have ‘the legs’ to keep walking but the Camino de Santiago is more than just a hike. The history, the spirituality and the camaraderie that you’ll find here should not be overlooked or under estimated.
The popularity of the modern Camino does mean that Roncesvalles is busy but on balance, that doesn’t detract from this stunning location and the amazing pilgrim spirits that exists here.
Book your bed and your meal in advance. Arrive and savour the experience. You won’t be disappointed.
Click to Book Hotels and Albergue in Roncesvalles
Are You Walking The Camino De Santiago?
I have a series of posts that may be of interest you and help with your Camino planning :
- Roncesvalles to Zubiri : Step By Step Guide to Stage 2 on the Camino Frances
- St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles : How Hard is Day 1
- St Jean Pied de Port Pilgrim Accommodation : 10 Albergues, Hostels and Hotels
- How to Get to St Jean Pied de Port to Start Your Camino de Santiago
- The Pilgrim Office : St Jean Pied de Port
- St Jean Pied de Port : A Guide for Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago
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