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Use of pilgrim accommodation

Bridget and Peter

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Home to Reims 2007
Reims to Limoges 2008
Camino Ingles 2009
Limoges to Gernica 2009
Gernica to San Vicente de la Barquera 2010
San Vicente to La Isla 2012
La Isla to Santiago Sept/Oct 2014
On the Vezelay route this autumn we came across a gentleman using refuges who may not have been a genuine pilgrim. We first heard about him at Benevent where Dr Conquet, who holds the key, described someone who may have been a bit 'fou' (you can imagine the gesture he made as he said this) who had been found fast asleep at 11.30 in the morning ,and left later that day without returning the key as requested.
We then met the actual person (or so we assumed) at St Leonard de Noblat. Although the kind lady at the tourist office told us we would be the only pilgrims in residence, we discovered a shaggy haired and rather silent man in there, with the heating and telly (!) on full blast. We thought perhaps he had made a collection of keys.
He didn't want to talk, was drinking from a bottle and, watching the TV, let his supper cook to a mush, which he then threw away. But he didn't act in any way objectionably, was drying clothes which he had washed, had a normal rucksack and left at the same time as us in the morning. When I asked where he was heading he didn't give the name of the next refuge as others had, but said 'St Jacques' in a tone of voice that hinted 'of course - why do you ask?'
He didn't seem like any of the other pilgrims we met, he didn't seem 'fou' (mad) or a drug user (Dr Conquet's other suggestion) or like a tramp. Perhaps a bit 'inadequate' but who am I to judge?! Maybe if I had been a woman on my own I would not have felt comfortable spending the night with him, and I was glad there were separate bedrooms.
Perhaps he travels from one refuge to another up and down the pilgrim paths? Perhaps he was a pilgrim and I am a nasty suspicious woman. I was a bit bothered that he had got in without registering his presence at the tourist office, which is usual practice. We didn't shop him when we dropped our key back, because he had done no harm, and was moving on. It didn't seem in the spirit of the pilgrimage to pass judgement.
Have people come across others like this? On a more frequented route I'm sure one meets lots of 'oddballs' (some would no doubt label all of us as 'oddballs' so I don't mean to be unkind). And I don't suppose it matters, really! What do others think?
 
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KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
Apparently there was a man like this in the gite at Come d'Olt the evening before I was there. People felt most uncomfortable and unsafe with him. The woman responsible for the gite would not let him remain another night and apparently had to put up with a very aggressive response from him. Basically, he appeared to be homeless, and could well be doing the rounds of gites in France.

The gites in France are not actually limited to 'pilgrims' - they are also intended for 'randonneurs' - walkers- who may be walking GR or local tracks other than the pilgrim routes.
Margaret
 

Bridget and Peter

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Home to Reims 2007
Reims to Limoges 2008
Camino Ingles 2009
Limoges to Gernica 2009
Gernica to San Vicente de la Barquera 2010
San Vicente to La Isla 2012
La Isla to Santiago Sept/Oct 2014
The refuges we used on the Vezelay route were specific to pilgrims - set up by local 'amis de St Jacques' organisations, and we had to produce our credentials/pilgrim passports to get the key. Sometimes the local mairie had the key, sometimes the tourist office and occasionally a private individual.
These were wonderful places - often right opposite the church and generally very small - maybe a single room with two sets of bunks, a kitchen area and a table, a loo and a shower. There is no hospitalero figure to monitor use, and the locals who maintain the place - washing sheets, stocking up with food items like pasta, tins of fish, biscuits, etc - are doing so out of kindness and respect for the pilgrimage, I guess. There was either a fixed fee - 6 or 8 euros, or a suggested donation which was usually asked for at the same time as handing over the key. Sometimes the food items had price on (to be left), sometimes they were free.

The level of trust and generosity shown to complete strangers is amazing and very heartwarming, and we felt that we should respond by being extra scrupulous about leaving the place clean and tidy, writing thanks in the guest books, etc. So it is a system which could be badly damaged by people misusing it.

As yet we have not used a gite d'etap and I'm still a bit confused about the different categories of gites
A Gite de France seems to be the same as a Chambre d'hote ie what we brits call a b and b. Is that right?
A gite d'etap is what Margaret is referring to - a hostel for walkers, pilgrims, etc - a bit like a little youth hostel in Britain used to be?
what is a gite rural? We nearly ended up in one but it had closed down.
 

KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
I never did quite work out the different kinds of gites..... but you are right.... I stayed in gite d'etapes in most places along the way. Some of them were private, and often in those you could have demi-pension, which usually meant you got a wonderful evening meal. And others were often run by the local municipality, quite often in adapted historic buildings, but also in more modern purpose-built ones. I stayed in one chambre d'hote, a much more expensive option, especially as a 'single', and it was much like what I imagine a bed and breakfast would be. On the Le Puy route, I only stayed in a handful of places that were specifically only for 'pilgrims', though most of the people walking the GR65 were probably more-or-less 'pilgrims'. In fact one of the most interesting mealtime discussions I was involved in was in SJPP, when people talked about whether they felt they were walkers or pilgrims. It seemed that most people had felt more like walkers (randonneurs) to begin with, and somewhere along the way they realised that had become 'pilgrims'.
Margaret
 

surlechemin

New Member
I found the use of the word gite in French highly confusing at first as well. A gite rural is what you would call a holiday home/flat. A gite de sejour is accomodation for (large) groups in the holidays or for school parties. A gite d'etape is a bit like a hostel for walkers/cyclists/... and chambre d'hotes (literally guest room) is excatly a B&B. Accordingly a gite de pelerin like those on the Voie de Vézelay is a pilgrim's hostel. A lot of accomodation lists only list "gite" and leaves it to the reader to figure out which type of gite it actually is. I suspect that some non-French guides aware not aware of the different types and just list information from tourist offices without checking them. So I had lots of frustrating phone calls in the beginning of my trip in Belgium and France.
 
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KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
Great explanation surlechemin!
surlechemin said:
. I suspect that some non-French guides aware not aware of the different types and just list information from tourist offices without checking them. So I had lots of frustrating phone calls in the beginning of my trip in Belgium and France.
That was one of the good points about using the Miam Miam Dodo guide for accommodation on the Le Puy route: you knew all the accommodation listed in there was pilgrim-friendly. It also listed prices, so you had a guide to these, though they might have risen a bit.
Margaret
 

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