Ben Grove, our resident Travel Geek, is not only into travel industry facts and figures – he also loves fishing and, as this article proves, walking.
Here he has details about some of the routes you can walk on the historic Camino De Santiago pilgrimage trail – many of them are closer to popular tourist resorts than you may think.
‘Buen camino’ which literally translates as ‘good path’, is the common courtesy exchanged between pilgrims, many of whom spend a month to six weeks with a shared common goal – to complete the Camino De Santiago and do so with no blisters, the latter being wishful thinking.
The Camino De Santiago is in fact a group of paths all leading to the holy city of Santiago De Compostela, in the Spanish region of Galicia.
By far the most popular and well serviced route is the 791 km ‘Camino Frances’ which extends from the French town of St Jean Pied De Port, where pilgrim pass through the Pyrenees, the Basque Country and the Meseta plains in Castilla y Leon, finally reaching the very green but notoriously rainy Galicia.
Walking the Camino is no new idea as its history can be traced right back to the early middle ages. Pilgrims travelled to see the remains of the apostle St James the Great who preached in Spain from the early part of the 7th century. The Camino has gathered momentum over recent years – in 1987 only 690 pilgrims walked the route but by 2012 that figure had grown to 192,488. If you decided to complete the Camino during the holy year (Xacobeo Jacobeo) in 2010 then you would have been one of 272,703 pilgrims.
Although having religious roots, the Camino attracts a wide demographic of participants ranging from physical exercise keensters, culture vultures, career breakers, couples, singles and even walking enthusiasts who have retired.
This scenic set of routes is open to anyone who decides to take that all important and often most difficult first step. If you think you have what it takes to complete this enthralling walk all you need is a flight ticket to Biarritz (nearest airport to the starting point for the ‘Camino Frances’), a medium sized backpack (remember you are the one lugging it all the way), a pilgrim’s passport which documents your journey and of course a bit of will power and self belief.
On the money front don’t let this be a convenient excuse to back out as it will be one of the longest and cheapest holidays you will ever take. The French and Spanish government have provided great infrastructure on the ‘Camino Frances’ with ‘Albergue’ accommodation dotted all along the way at healthy intermittent distances where pilgrims can rest their weary legs and exchange tales of their journey. What’s more, on proof of your pilgrim passport this will entitle you to a night’s stay for as little as 3 euros – when was the last time you stayed at a hotel or even hostel dormitory for this little? But, I must put a disclaimer here – this is bunkbed accommodation with communal showers. For those of you that want to travel the route in style then there are an abundance of hotels where you can have private ensuite facilities.
If you aren’t religious don’t let that stop you – these well-trodden paths offer some of the finest walking holidays options in the world with superb landscapes, villages and cultural sights to . They and can be enjoyed for as little or long a distance as you choose – you may even be able to take in a few kilometres of one of them as a day trip away from your holiday resort.
The ‘Camino Frances’, the flagship route of all the Camino paths, makes for a great first experience of pilgrim life. However, for the more intrepid there are other routes all leading to Santiago starting in various points in Spain, France and Portugal.
Camino Del Norte – 825km
This translates as the ‘Northern Way’ and traverses the coastline of northern Spain, starting in Irun just outside of San Sebastian. This route will take you through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and finally Galicia. Notable points of interest along the way are Santander, Bilbao, Oviedo and of course the stunning and often overlooked northern Spanish coastline, not to mention the Picos de Europa mountain range.
Camino Aragones – 170 km
This route joins the Camino Frances at Puente La Reina and takes six days to reach. It acts as an alternative starting point to the Camino Frances. This is a great path to take if you are coming from Barcelona.
Camino De La Plata – 1,000km
This translates as the ‘Silver Route’ and is the longest of all the Caminos routes. Don’t let this put you off as this takes in Spain nearly in its entirety, from south to north, providing a great Spanish cultural insight starting off in superb Seville.
Points of interest along the ways are Merida, Salamanca, Zamora and Ourense. If you are a person who likes to get off the beaten track and not rub shoulders with too many people, as you would on the ‘Camino Frances’, then this is the Camino for you.
Camino Ingles – 110km or 75km
‘English Way’ starts in the Galician coastal town of Ferrol, or the city of La Coruna. One important point is that 75km does not count as a pilgrimage, so to be entitled to your completion certificate or ‘Compostela’ you must complete a minimum of 100km on the longer route. This is the shortest Camino retracing the steps the English would have taken by getting a boat to the coastal ports of Ferrol and La Coruna, and then walking the final stretch.
Camino Portugues – 550km
This starts in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. The route provides an alternative experience as it is predominantly through Portugal, with points of interest along the way including Coimbra, Oporto, Vigo and Pontevedra.
Camino Primitivo – 350km
This translates as the ‘Primitive Way’. This walk starts in Oviedo and goes through western Asturias and Galicia, before you return for the final stages of the Camino Frances at Melide. This is quite a mountainous route so although the pilgrim may have sore calf muscles they will be rewarded with spectacular views. A great point of interest along the way is the city of Lugo which has a well-preserved roman wall.
Camino Vasco – 200km
This provides an alternative starting point to the ‘Camino Frances’ leaving from Irun just outside San Sebastian and joining the same route in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. This is great option if you want to experience the culture and scenery of the Basque region.
The Camino offers the fledgling pilgrim the chance to experience both modern and traditional Iberian culture from a unique perspective. If you want to be part of this unique experience then dust off your backpack, wear in your walking boots and most importantly have a ‘buen camino’.