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Late in the evening of my night’s stay in Saint Jean Pied de Port, having just completed the walk from Prague and looking forward to an early morning start to the Camino Frances/French Way, the two Italian pilgrims whom I had met earlier and myself were standing outside our albergue when we were met by a slightly odd looking pilgrim with a completely white, long beard. He evoked an aura of a well-traveled pilgrim and as we gazed uncertainly into his almost mystic gaze he told us of the Hotel Parador in Santiago de Compostela; the poshest hotel in the city and where a few lucky pilgrims could feast to their heart’s content on 5 star hotel food. He also mentioned that for one extremely fortunate pilgrim, he or she would be given a complimentary night’s stay in one of the Parador’s upstair suites. He relayed these tales with an absolute seriousness and topped the story off by rummaging in his worn trousers and producing a set of hotel room keys with the Parador logo inscribed on, which he proceeded to jangle in front of us and with a manic laugh to add effect.
During my Camino I spoke about these stories with other pilgrims.
Some agreed that it was possible, while others dismissed the stories as tales clearly smelling of the product which emanates from the rear of a male cow.
The stories turned out to be partially true – well, the one about the free food anyway – and if you are a pilgrim newly arriving to Santiago and in need of a free meal then this article is for you 🙂
In case you are wondering where the Hotel Parador is located, it can be found prominently located on Praza do Obradoiro. This is the main square in Santiago and the cathedral is also located on this square. The hotel looks like so:
Please remember that you can click on any photo to enlarge. Thank you.
A close-up of the hotel main entrance:
There is a specific meeting point for pilgrims who wish to eat their free meal and this is located to the left of the hotel, a short way down the steps which continue on to the Finisterre/Fisterra Way. So, you walk a few metres down the steps until you reach a green door on your right (the hotel garage) and this is where you need to enter. This is also known as the Corralon Gate:
At the meeting point there is a sign which lets pilgrims know at what times they should be there for their free breakfast, lunch and dinner:
There is also a sign which explains the history of the free meal policy, and also the rules for successfully obtaining a free meal:
When I arrived I read this sign and realised that I hadn’t brought with me my credencial or compostela, neither any identification, so I ran back to my room to grab them and then raced back to the green door of the hotel garage just in time for the evening meal. An evening meal btw which I had high expectations of.
The time came for us to be met and as we numbered less than 10 there was no need for anyone to be turned away. Nobody checked any of my documents and I suddenly found myself walking back up the steps and through the main door of the hotel with a group of people I had not known 5 minutes earlier.
My expectations of the meal ahead were growing considerably, based on the stories told by that strange knowing pilgrim back all those kilometres ago in Saint Jean. I pictured immaculately set cutlery on pristine white tablecloths. I imagined the aroma of medium rare steak and perfectly cooked fries. Green beans in my mind balanced the colours on the plate and I pictured this all going down with a glass of oak aged Spanish Gran Reserva. I obviously hadn’t read the sign properly which mentioned that it was self service and involved trays 🙂
We were whisked through the hotel public areas, a little like we had a contagious disease, and found ourselves in the hotel workers eating quarters. We each grabbed a tray and items of food were dolloped onto plates in front of us, which we then manually shifted onto our trays. Interestingly a lot of (cheap) wine bottles were provided; too much for the number of us present at the mealtime.
I took these photos as our meals were being served up:
The meal itself was of standard quality and a million light years from the image the white bearded pilgrim had seeded in my mind, but I personally really enjoyed the experience and I was so lucky to be joined with a delightful group of people. We ate, talked, laughed, joked and no-one I think had any idea that there was a time limit on our welcome there of one hour 🙂
We drank wine, we shovelled up the free food, we celebrated what was to be for me my last joint pilgrim experience of my Camino (apart from of course meeting Ines and her husband directly after the meal).
We had a great time:
I didn’t return for breakfast the next day because I had money and I preferred to go to a cafe and enjoy a well-baked croissant and a well-prepared espresso. If I was low on funds though I would definitely have gone and I can completely recommend the experience to any pilgrim who finds themselves in Santiago and with a hungry stomach, or simply any pilgrim wishing to meet a new group of pilgrims over some hyped up canteen food 🙂
Btw, I never did find out whether the story of the hotel letting out one of their penthouse suites for the night to a random pilgrim was true or not, but based on the meal experience I would tend to doubt it and put it down to being a Camino myth.
If you have any questions about free pilgrim meal(s) in Santiago de Compostela or if you wish to add information, then please feel free to leave a comment or question in the Reply box below.