Spain's Historic Pilgrimage - 550 km, 25 days
SPAIN'S CAMINO FRANCES is one of the best known walks in Spain. This walk takes you through the drier regions such as Rioja and Castile, then through to cooler Galicia. The traditional Camino begins in St Jean Pied-de-Port, crosses the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. Then to Pamplona, Burgos, across the Meseta to Leon. Then through Ponferrada, O Cebreiro and through Galicia to Santiago de Compostela.
ALISON RAJU wrote one of the original guidebooks ‘The Way of St James’, which is a useful book, with maps, route directions and accommodation suggestions.
The Camino route is 750 km long (from St Jean Pied de Port), and for those contemplating this trail for their walking journey or pilgrimage, planning is required. The route is well marked, and it’s always advisable to take a map and guide book.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE WALK: Camino Route: Starting from St Jean Pied-de-Port, the 750 km trail wends its way westwards and ends at Santiago de Compostela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The terrain is quite variable, taking you through warm flat regions to colder, wetter mountain ranges. Good footwear, and a range of walking clothes including wet weather gear is neccessary to make your journey a pleasant and memorable one.
Luggage transfer: This efficient service is not readily available but can be organized through a number of tour operators on the ‘self-guided’ or ‘guided’ itineraries.
Your Camino Accommodation: This is usually in refugios with mixed dormitories which cannot be booked in advance. Other options include pensions and hotels which we advise to book in advance.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS: Pamplona’s gothic cathedral, the pilgrim bridge at Puenta la Reina, cathedrals at Burgos and Leon, Templar castle at Ponferrada, Celt-Iberian village at O Cebreiro and the wonderful Obradoiro Plaza and cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.
WALKING ROUTE PLANNER: The number of days required depends on how fit and how quickly or leisurely you want your walking holiday to be. Work out the average number of kilometres you are prepared to do in a day, taking into account the landscape and the town or village in which you will end your day. It's also nice to plan on arriving a little earlier in a town or city if there are interesting attractions you may like to visit, such as in Burgos or Leon. We did the walk in 25 days (missing out the section between Burgos and Leon), however it's also possible to do it in a shorter time, but this misses the point of the journey.
Santiago - walking the pilgrim path
READ THIS COMPANION GUIDE BEFORE YOU WALK
Your COMPANION GUIDE to the CAMINO
This will prepare you for your journey and give you that "edge" which can make a journey so enjoyable. Experience the age-old allure of medieval villages and towns through the eyes and ears of a modern-day pilgrim.
Spanish Culture and Food.
The Story of the Knights Templar.
Sites to Visit.
Gear to Take.
Challenges and Rewards.
Price includes Post.
AN IDEAL COMPANION GUIDE for all walkers setting out on the CAMINO.
The European scenery is spectacular, but according to Almis Simans, a guide who has taken several journeys on the Camino and written a book about the track, it is the historical and spiritual elements that make the trek special. “It’s that sort of journey that calls to you,” he says. “It’s very different to Coast to Coast,
or the Milford Track, or Kilimanjaro, or any other walk. This is a pilgrimage, and this pilgrimage is about 1200 years old.”- Mike Rossi, Top Treks: El Camino, AG Outdoor July 2011
An attraction to the legends and myths to be found on a pilgrimage walk from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela led Almis Simankevicius to pack some walking shoes and head over to spain in 1997. In fact the walk - about which Almis with partner and former staffer Carol Payne have written a book - took 18 months to plan, 25 walking days to complete and two years to write and publish. "I think the experience of being on the pilgrimage is main aspect of it," he said. "It is participatory. I found that you really have to do the walk before realizing its gift".- Travel Reporter, Manly Daily January 21, 2000
The following is an outline of the full 36-day 750 km walk. We did a 550 km 25-day walk due to time constraints. We decided on this itinerary because of the reasonable distances and the available accommodation.
- Where to Start: St Jean Pied-de-Port, France or Pamplona, Spain.
- How to get there: Take a train from Madrid to Pamplona. Then take a bus to St Jean if you are starting from there.
Walking itinerary: 36 days (we recommend some rest days)
- Day 1. St Jean Pied Du Port - Roncesvalles (27 km). A challenging day to climb through Roland’s Pass from France to Spain.
- Day 2. Zubiri (23 km). Still getting used to the distances, but the Menu del Dias are worth it.
- Day 3. Pamplona (23 km). A great city to take a rest in. WE STARTED FROM PAMPLONA.
- Day 4. Puenta La Reina (27 km). The Bridge of the Queen. This part of Spain can be very hot in the summer months.
- Day 5. Estella (21km). One of the most elegant towns along the Camino.
- Day 6. Los Arcos (18 km). A mysterious town with a good refugio.
- Day 7. Logrono (24 km). Another fine Roman bridge to cross.
- Day 8. Najera 26 (km). A town built in a split of a rock. A good refugio here.
- Day 9. Santo Domingo De La Calzada (21 km). Try the restaurants here, they’re excellent.
- Day 10. Belorado (21 km). Another good refugio after a full day of walking.
- Day 11. San Juan De Ortega (23 km). Out in the middle of the old medieval forest areas, this is a rare opportunity to stay in an old monastery.
- Day 12. Burgos (23 km). Burgos is a place to take a rest day. The refugio is in the centre of a park, just the thing for a day off. From Burgos the pilgrim enters the Meseta – 160 km of wide open flat spaces, which end a little after Leon. WE HAD A REST DAY HERE. AND THEN TOOK A BUS TO LEON.
- Day 14. Castrojeriz (10 km)
- Day 16. Carrion De Los Condes (18 km)
- Day 19. Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (17 km)
- Day 20. Mansilla De Las Mulas (22 km)
- Day 21. Leon (18 km). Arrive in Leon with its glorious light filled Gothic cathedral. Its stained glass windows are considered to be some of the best in the world. There may be time to visit the Hospital (now parador) of San Marcos, once the headquarters for the Knights of Santiago. And if possible visit the superb Real Basilica de San Isidoro and to see the Crypt and Pantheon of Kings. WE STARTED WALKING AGAIN FROM LEON.
- Day 22. Villadangos (19 km). Today we walk to Villadangos del Paramo, with its historic Church of Santiago.
- Day 23. Hospital Del Orbigo (11 km). A shorter walk today to give us an early rest. Puente del Orbigo is the longest original bridge on the Camino, subject of one of the most romantic legends of the Way.
- Day 24. Astorga (17 km). Our journey takes us to Astorga, where the Camino Frances meets up with the Via Del Plata. We visit the Cathedral with its Museum of the Way, Gaudi’s Palace, and the Museo Romano. For those with a sweet tooth there is a museum of chocolate.
- Day 25. Rabanal (21 km). The next few days are a little more challenging - across the mountains to Ponferrada. We walk through the old region of the Maragatos, a mysterious, race of muleteers to Rabanal Del Camino. We visit Santa Maria with its Romanesque Templar origins.
- Day 26. El Acebo (18 km). From Rabanal and Foncebadón we climb to the emblematic iron cross called Cruz de Ferro, with an enormous mound of stones placed by pilgrims at its base. We then enjoy a fairly level section through heather and broom before descending quite steeply into the lovely little stone village of El Acebo.
- Day 27. Ponferrada (14 km). We enjoy a gradual descent through the hills to the larger town of Ponferrada. Here we visit a fabulous Templar Castle, and if time also the Basilica de la Encina (has Statue of the virgin) and the Museo del Bierzo.
- Day 28. Villafranca Del Bierzo (20 km). A longer walk today brings us to the foot of a mountain range. At Villafranca we visit the Church of Santiago with its Puerta del pardon. The Church of San Francesco was reputedly established by St. Francis when he journeyed to Santiago.
- Day 29. O Cebriero (27 km). Bus to La Portela. The stiff walk up to the ancient village of O’Cebreiro, just on the Galician side of the León-Galicia border is one of the most famous stages of the entire Way. We visit the Church of Santa Maria Real.
- Day 30. Triacastela (21 km). We climb through the pass at Alto San Roque. The Church of Santiago in Triacastella is another attractive church along the Way.
- Day 31. Sarria (24 km). A beautiful stretch of walking today – although it passes through extremely rural areas with very few services. Samos Monastery is historically very important. The Sarria Churches of Santa Marina and El Salvador are worth a visit.
- Day 32. Portomarin (22 km). Portomarin has a great setting and Pilgrim’s atmosphere. A nice place to relax, read, and update your journal. We walk across the Mino Bridge and visit the Church of St. Nicholas.
- Day 33. Palas De Rei (25 km). Out in the countryside again. We pass small hamlets and Eucalypt stands to arrive at Palas de Rei. There is a Pilgrims’ monument there.
- Day 34. Arzua (28 km). We hike through rolling rural terrain. Much of the walk to Melide (wonderful square and church) is on quiet surfaced country lanes, dirt and cobbled paths and medieval bridges. Then on to the bustling town of Arzua.
- Day 35. Arca (21 km). Other northern pilgrim’s routes merge with the Camino Frances in Arzúa – we will notice more pilgrims from here on. Walk through Ste. Irene and another Eucalyptus Forest.
- Day 36. Santiago (17 km) - your destination! Our last stretch before arriving in Santiago.
- How to get back from Santiago de Compostela: Take a train back to Madrid.
This is an ancient journey which has been undertaken by countless pilgrims throughout the ages. In following them, you become a part of this tradition. It’s one of Europe’s best walking journeys.