WALKERS’ WORLD
Camino de Santiago (St James Way)
Guided walk across Northern Spain


May 14 - 29, 2019 (15 nights)           Sept 18 - Oct 3, 2019 (15 nights)
 

15 night  Itinerary:  

Day 1  - We meet in Bilbao. If you want a chance to see the Guggenheim Museum there we suggest you arrive a day early.  The Guggenheim is devoted to 20th-century American and European art and itself is a spectacular masterpiece of architecture. Our meeting place is the Barcelo Nervion Hotel in Bilbao at 2.30 pm. From here we transfer by private coach to our first hotel at Roncesvalles. This is a quiet hamlet in a stunning mountain setting near the French border at the end of the pass through the Pyrenees where medieval pilgrims arrived into Spain en route to Santiago. Roncesvalles is steeped in history. Legend says that Charlemagne’s army was defeated here in 778. In medieval times pilgrims took refuge in the "Collegiata", a beautiful old monastery that is now a museum. Our hotel is a lovely mountain “pousada” surrounded by peaceful forest.   Dinner included.

 

 Day 2   - This morning we travel a short distance by bus across the border to the lively French village of St Jean-Pied-de-Port. After a chance for a cafe-au-lait we are taken by mini-bus up into the Pyrenees (weather permitting) and from here we begin our walk following the trail through the mountain pass. The walking is easy with only a few short ascents and after a few km the path gradually descends to Roncesvalles. On a clear day the views are stunning with snow-capped peaks in the distance and it is a spectacular start to our Camino walk. (If the weather is inclement we walk the lower route from St Jean to Roncesvalles).  In medieval times this high route was considered safer than the low road where ambushes by robbers were frequent. We spend the night again at Roncesvalles. You may wish to visit the Collegiata whose construction is thought to have begun in the 900's. Its museum contains artifacts and paintings associated with many legends including the tomb of the legendary King Sancho El Fuerte (Sancho the Strong) whose broken chains are part of the today’s symbol of the region of Navarre.  Dinner included  Distance 12 km  

 

Day 3  -   Today we continue walking towards Pamplona through rolling countryside. From Pamplona we continue to the village of Puente la Reina where we stay in a small inn located on a narrow, cobble-stoned street which is still part of the pilgrim's path as it has been for a thousand years. At the end of the street is the Puente La Reina (Queen's Bridge) built in the 1100’s and still used today. Legend says that an image of the Virgin Mary used to adorn the bridge and whenever the statue was covered in cobwebs a bird miraculously cleaned then away. St Francis of Assisi and many other notables would have used the bridge on their way to Santiago.   Distance 20 km or 12 km  (you choose)   Dinner included

Day 4  - Our walk continues through gentle countryside filled with vineyards and tranquil villages of the La Rioja wine district. La Rioja wine is the most famous in Spain but the region is also known for its wonderful white asparagus and its variety of fruit. Our walk ends at the interesting town of Estella which sits astride a craggy bend in a rushing river. There is time to explore  before we continue by bus to our accommodation, an amazing four-star hotel inside a four-hundred year old monastery at San Millan.   Distance 20 km or 12 km (you choose)  Dinner included

Day 5  - Today’s walk starts at Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Legend claims this town was the setting for many miracles but the one where chickens suddenly rose from the dead is the best known. Today, the church at Santo Domingo houses live chickens said to be descendants of those 12th century birds. From the old town we walk towards Belorado. The route is in a wide valley surrounded by high tablelands where caves once housed holy hermits.  Later we continue by bus into the fairy-tale city of Burgos where the castle, palaces and monasteries reveal the city’s past grandeur. In medieval times Burgos was the most significant stopping place for pilgrims and today it contains a staggering wealth of art.  Burgois was the birth place of Spain’s legendary hero El Cid who, in 1094, fought with Christian forces against the Moors and his body lies in the magnificent cathedral (the second largest in Spain). We spend the night in an atmospheric hotel which faces onto the cathedral plaza in the historic quarter of the city. Distance 18 km or 9 km (you choose) Dinner included.

Day 6  - Our bus takes us to today’s starting point on the Camino outside Burgos. From here we walk through the “meseta”. the flat countryside of Castile with its great plains and vistas. We enjoy a picnic lunch and later in the day we reach Carrion de Los Condes, a town which, in the 11th century, was the site of a monastery that gave refuge to pilgrims. Today the historic San Zoilo monastery is a lovely hotel. Rooms are comfortable with modern facilities although the hotel still retains the atmosphere of medieval times with Gregorian chants echoing through cavernous stone halls. Be sure to explore the beautiful old cloisters before heading for the bar. Distance 20 km or 12 km (you choose)   Dinner included.

 Day 7  - Today our walk is through more of Castile’s golden meseta that is easy walking.  On a clear day mountains are visible in the distance but this part of Camino follows an ancient Roman road that is mostly flat. The breeze ripples fields of grain as we walk alongside a small river. We stop at the town of Villacazar which, in the 1200's, belonged to the Knights Templar who defended holy places and patrolled the Camino protecting pilgrims from bandits. There is a fascinating Templar church called the "Church of the White Virgin" which is associated with many legends and miracles. King Alfonso X insisted the White Virgin cured pilgrim ailments although perhaps he didn’t give enough credit to the hospitals in the town .From here, late in the day, we continue by bus into Leon, a remarkable city of soaring stone.  Our hotel in Leon is a lovely restored Posada in the heart of the historic quarter.   Distance 15 km or 10 km  (you choose) Dinner included
 

Day 8  -  In Leon an expert guide leads a  morning walking tour to explore the old quarter - the magnificent cathedral with stained glass windows preserved from the 13th century, the Basilica de San Isidoro with its Pantheon of Kings filled with golden treasures, the Hostal de San Marcos, the 16th century Palace of Los Guzmanes and the Casa de Botines, a 19th century building by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. The afternoon and evening are free to explore, shop and sample Leon’s many restaurants.  Dinner NOT included

 

Day 9   - This morning we drive from Leon to start our walk at Orbigo. It was here, on the bridge at Orbigo, in 1434, that a knight, Suero, held what may have held the last great medieval tournament. Having been scorned by his lady love, Suero challenged other knights to a joust. Today, if you stand on the bridge and use a little imagination, you can almost hear the horses whinny and the clash of steel. The tournament is still re-enacted each year by the people of Orbigo. As we start to walk, the terrain changes from flat plains to low foothills. The clouds ahead soon reveal themselves to be chains of mountains in the distance but the walking is still quite easy. In the afternoon we reach Astorga with its Cathedral built in 1471 and a fairytale Bishop's Palace designed by the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudi which now holds an interesting "Museum  of the Camino". There is a baroque Town Hall and a Museum of Chocolate. The museum tells the tale of the local chocolate industry which flourished when cocoa was first brought to Spain from the New World. The town still prides itself in its great chocolate and there are many mouth-watering window displays. Distance 20 km or 12 km (you choose)   Dinner included.

Day 10  - 
Beyond Astorga we begin one of the most historically important parts of the Camino over Mount Irago. Our bus takes us up as far as Foncebadon and from here we ascend to the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) under which pilgrims placed a stone which they had carried from home as penance.  It is  uphill but those who want to avoid the ascent can take the bus to near the top. The surrounding terrain is rugged but with lovely views and in spring the wildflowers are gorgeous. From the top we descend gradually into the lush Bierzo valley and along the way pass through the village of El Aciebo which appears to be lost in a time-warp from the Middle Ages. We continue down to the beautifully restored  old town of Molinaseca with its Roman bridge. Our reward at the end of the day is staying at the lovely Parador at Villafranca with its heated pool and spa. Villafranca is one of the most atmospheric towns on the Camino and retains much of its medieval and Renaissance atmosphere. In medieval times if a pilgrim was too frail to continue his journey the same papal indulgences were granted as if he had reached Santiago.  Distance 20 km or 12 km (you choose)  Dinner at the Parador included.

Day  11  -
From Villafranca we have a short bus ride up the Cebreiro pass and stop to visit the hamlet of OCebreiro. Legend says that the Holy Grail (the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper) is hidden at OCebreiro (although many other places in the world make the same claim). This is one of the most scenic stretches of the Camino. The terrain is wild and rugged but then we descend into the beautiful region of Galicia. Gray and green tones predominate and one hears the "Gallego" language (local dialect). Villages are strung along this part of the Camino - sometimes just a few houses surrounding a stone church. Fields are fenced with stone and brambles and one sees the ruins of castles that once protected pilgrims. We begin today’s walk at the official 100 km mark near Sarria and from here we walk to the village of Portomarin. In 1963, during the dictator Franco’s era, the old town of Portomarin was moved stone by stone from the valley to a hill to make way for a reservoir.   Franco was from Galicia and tried various improvement schemes but nothing really succeed until the revival of the Camino.  We stay at the Pousada de Portomarin overlooking the lake and after dinner we sample. a "queimada" (a flaming liqueur with sugar, lemon and coffee beans). If you sample one you are guaranteed to sleep well.  Dinner included.   Distance 19 km or 12 km  (you choose)

Day 12   -  We follow a tranquil, hamlet-laden trail through gently rolling countryside to Palas de Rei.  The trail winds alongside jewel-like green fields and between stone fences covered with blackberries and wild-flowers. In spring the gorse is brilliant yellow and beautifully scented. In the surrounding fields one sees "horreos" (granaries) and farmers using agricultural methods that have changed little for centuries. On reaching Palas de Rei our bus takes us on a side-trip to the interesting town of Lugo. where we stay. Lugo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Roman walls surrounding the town. Dinner included.   23 km  or 12 km (you choose)

Day 13
-  
In the morning we return to Palas de Rei to continue walking. The trail is easy with no long ascents or descents. Those interested in local legends learn that this stage is dominated by St Julian. It seems that Julian was tricked by the devil into killing his parents. To atone for his sin he ran a pilgrim hospital and the church of San Julian do Camino illustrates the story. But the Camino need not be about saints or history. The next town of Melide has shops, bars and restaurants scattered along the narrow streets. Melide is famous for its "pulpo" (octopus cooked in it’s own juice in large copper pots and sprinkled with paprika). If octopus for lunch doesn't appeal, this region is also known for its wonderful cheeses made from the milk of Galician cows who graze on the lush grass.  From Melide to Arzua sections of the Camino are  on farm tracks and occasionally we may have to wait while a farmer herds his cattle across the path. Enterprising farm wives often sell fresh-picked fruit and home-made sugar-coated pancakes to passers-by.  The trail passes through oak and eucalyptus forests that offer both shade and a lovely fragrance.   When we reach Arzua our bus awaits and we return for the night to our hotel at Lugo.  If there is time you may want to try a dip in Lugo’s natural hot spring pools. 
Dinner includedDistance 20 km or less for those who are not trying for the Compostela certificate

Day 14 - 
On the trail from Arzua to Rua we pass fields, oak groves and small hamlets with bars catering to walkers. One enterprising local brewer has even labelled his beer “Pilgrim Beer” in several languages. Thetrail is undulating so there are some low hills but nothing steep or difficult. Tonight we take a short side-trip to stay at Padron. The name Padron means "mooring stone". According to legend, this is the place where, two thousand years ago, St James' body arrived in Iberia after his disciples carried the body by sea from Jerusalem. It si said they landed at Padron and took the body inland for burial. In the local church one can see what is claimed to be the mooring stone from that boat. If ancient legends are of little  interest, you may choose just to enjoy our lovely “pazo” accommodation with its pool set in acres of pretty gardens. Once a palatial country escape for the Bishops of Santiago, the pazo dates back to the 16th century but today it is a four star hotel. Dinner included   Distance 19 km or less for those who are not trying for the Compostela certificate
 

Day 15 -  Almost there! We are now on the last stage of the Camino from Rua to Santiago. The Galician countryside is fragrant with forests of eucalyptus and pine. By mid-afternoon we approach Santiago and the Camino leads us to the "Mount of Joy" where pilgrims first caught a glimpse of Santiago Cathedral’s bell towers.
Tradition says that the first one of a group to arrive at the top of Mount Joy was nicknamed Leroy (The King). Pilgrims also stopped to wash at Lavacolla (probably the first time in months since in the 1100's soap and water were considered unhealthy). We head for Santiago’s main square and the Cathedral, collect our certificates, have a quick tour of the historic Cathedral then check into our lovely hotel in the old quarter

Dinner included
. Distance 19 km or less for those who are not trying for the Compostela certificate

Day 16  - Our Camino experience ends after breakfast. Optional extra nights in Santiago can be booked so you can explore the city’s historic sites and narrow medieval streets filled with shops and cafes. Galician cuisine is known for its wonderful sea-food and its many varieties of local cheeses. You might want to take a local bus to Finisterre (end of the earth) which was the traditional sea-side end to the Camino. Here, pilgrims of old picked up a shell as a souvenir before they began the long walk home.  You don't need to walk home - there are planes or trains from Santiago to Madrid or buses to Porto. .

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