Published on Thursday, June 7, 2012
Follow in the footsteps of Celts and Christians (Part 3 of 3)
Walking the Camino de Santiago leads you along the camino francés from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the French Pyrenees to the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela and on to Finisterre is an experience of a life time.
The routes are especially significant for Christians, as they were used by Christian pilgrims during Muslim domination; but the churches, cathedrals, chapels and monasteries dotting the routes could interest any religious traveler.
At some point along the camino, you may need to recover from injury, catch up time, or simply miss out a section of the route. Spanish trains
, run by RENFE (www.renfe.es
), are generally good value, and the most useful line for pilgrims is the one from Santiago to Hendaye on the French border, which passes through Ponferrada, Astora, León and Burgos.
Buses link smaller places, and are run by a huge variety of different companies. One of the biggest is Alsa (www.alsa.es
). Car hire is cheap compared to the rest of Europe, and can be a good way of visiting sites on rest days, or of getting from Santiago to airports like Bilbao and Madrid.
Not all albergues
allow cyclists to stay, and some will make you wait until late evening, after walkers have arrived for the day. Road conditions are generally good, and most of the off-road tracks can be ridden on a mountain bike.
, also known as refugios
, provide cheap beds at regular points along the camino: only self-powered pilgrims can stay the night. No longer simply a roof over your head, modernalbergues
can contain microwave ovens, washing machines and coffee makers, and about half have kitchen facilities. Accommodation is mostly in mixed bunk-bed dormitories, and while blankets are often provided, it's a good idea to bring a thin sleeping bag. Most albergues
have a 10pm curfew, and mornings begin early, usually before 7am.
For an up-to-date list of albergues
, including number of beds and cost, see the excellent and well-designed consumer.es
Casas, hotels and paradors
There are places to stay in most villages, and even if there isn't a hotel, someone in the village will rent out rooms; local café-bars are the best place to ask about somewhere to stay. At the other end of the price scale,paradors
are government-run luxury hotels, often in sumptuously converted historic buildings; they're well worth the splurge.
Most campsites are inconveniently located a few kilometres off the camino or a fair way out of town. It may be worth bringing a tent in summer, as packed-out albergues
sometimes let pilgrims camp in adjoining fields or gardens.
equipment & fitness
Bring as little as possible. Spain is a modern European country and the camino passes through many towns and cities where you can shop to your heart's content. Remember that you'll have to carry everything you bring, and every luxury in your backpack leaves you more vulnerable to blisters and other injuries. Once you start walking, it's easy enough to ditch non-essentials and send them on to Santiago or post them home.
Many pilgrims hang a scallop shell from their packs or round their necks to distinguish themselves from ordinary tourists. If you're starting the camino before Ponferrada, you should also bring a small stone from home to place on the pile at Cruz de Hierro, a longstanding pilgrim tradition.
You don't have to be a fitness fanatic to walk the camino. The most important thing you can do is to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes and walk them in thoroughly before you leave home. If you've left things until the last minute, or if you plan to get fit along the way, don't make your first day too tough. Begin at Roncesvalles or Pamplona to avoid the climb over the Pyrenees from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, or start at León or Triacastela rather than Villafranca del Bierzo or Rabanal del Camino.
(post offices) in smaller towns often close at 2pm, while city correos
re-open after the siesta from 5pm to 8pm.
Most public phones will take both coins and tarjetas de telefónica
(phonecards), and many mobile phone companies provide Europe-wide coverage. Internet cafés are springing up in cities and bigger towns along the camino.
The Spanish take the siesta seriously. Most shops, banks and post offices open at 10am, firmly close their doors at 2pm, then open for the evening from 5pm to 8pm. Museums often stay open through the siesta and close for the day at 4pm; most also close on Mondays.
Apart from traditional western holidays (Christmas, Easter, New Year, 1 May), Spain takes the day off on the following dates:
Part 1 of this series
Día de los Reyes (Epiphany)
Asunción (Feast of the Assumption)
Día de la Hispanidad (National Day)
Todos Santos (All Saints' Day)
Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day)
Inmaculada Concepción (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)
includes: walking & maps | guided walks | environment
Part 2 of this series
includes: when to go | food & drink | flora & fauna visas, money & costs
Source: Pili Pala Press who publishes books on these popular pilgrimages in Spain, the Camino de Santiago and the Vía de la Plata, and provides historical background and photos of each.