Refugios and Auberge (same thing – one word is Spanish, the other French) I think that just about every village along the trail has at least one refugio in various states of repair, capacity and degrees of hospitality. Apparently some have private rooms but I never saw any and didn’t know they existed until a year ago. Sometimes I shared a huge room with a hundred people, or only five other people or sixty. It all depended on the size of the refugio, which can range in cost from around 5 Euro a night to a donation. Most have kitchens and all have bathrooms and clotheslines (I washed out my underwear and T-shirt every afternoon and my shorts about once every six days). Most refugios had a bit of grass outside for lazing around after a long day’s walk.
Many (if not all) had blankets and pillows but I never used those, preferring to use my sleeping bag, an inner sheet, and my own blow up pillow. Sleeping was always in bunks.
I recommend that you try to get a bottom bunk so you can have your backpack unpacked under your bed. That way, when I got up in the morning I could easily dress, grab my toothbrush, towel, moisturiser, soap (shampoo) etc without having to unpack the backpack, go to the bathroom, come back and roll up my sleeping bag, stuff it in the bottom of the backpack and be packed and ready to set off in less than 10 minutes.
Every morning I would wake before dawn and lay listening to everyone sleeping (snoring). I loved that time of day and the anticipation of getting out on the road to see what the new day would bring.
All the refugios have lights out at 9.00 pm and it is frowned upon if you come in late (no one wants to be woken up by late night revellers). I was often asleep by 8.30. I used ear plugs (the snoring can be atrocious) and eyeshades to block out the light. The lights are turned on again at 6.00 am but it is frowned upon if you get up and start to prepare to leave before that time because you can disturb those still trying to sleep. However, you did need to be gone by a certain time but I don’t know what that time was because I was always out of the refugio before dawn. Those who work in the refugios need to clean the rooms to have them ready for the next load of pilgrims who will start arriving sometime after lunch. It’s all a bit of a production line, especially in the European high season. I DO NOT RECOMMEND that you walk the Camino in the high season (too many people and too hot). I began on 5 May and on some days it felt like I was walking on a superhighway, but not too often. I hear the high season can be terrible.
If you are ill you can stay more than one night and if you get tired of the refugios you can stay in a hotel or some other sort of accommodation, but I recommend you stay clear of brothels, or rent by the hour rooms.
One night, in Burgos actually, a young woman and I decided to rent a room rather than stay in the refugio. It was a strange hotel and when we first walked in I said that I didn’t like the feel of it but we decided to stay anyway. After being shown to a room we put our backpacks away and went out to explore the city and then for a meal. We had decided to enjoy ourselves, stay out late and sleep-in in the morning (something you couldn’t do in a refugio). When we returned to the hotel late that night we were both cold so I decided to pilfer blankets from one of the vacant rooms. When I went looking (the doors to each room were open) I discovered we were the hotel’s only guests. During the night I was continually woken from my sleep by the sound of doors opening and closing and toilets flushing. In the morning we discovered all the beds had been slept in. Didn’t take a genius to work out what sort of hotel it was.