Camino de Santiago

All Ways Spain – Camino de Santiago Green Spain

Walking in the footsteps of history

The his­to­ry of the Camino de San­ti­a­go (“Way of Saint James”) dates back to the year 813 AD when the bish­op of Iria Flavio informed King Alfon­so II of Asturias that a tomb had been dis­cov­ered con­tain­ing the remains of the apos­tle San­ti­a­go (St James). St James had been decap­i­tat­ed in 44 AD in Jerusalem, but his fol­low­ers had stolen the body and trans­ferred it by boat to Spain, sup­pos­ed­ly bury­ing it at Iria Flavio.

Once the word was out that the remains of St. James had been found, pil­grims began to pay homage at this holy site, which over time became the town of San­ti­a­go de Com­postela. The Cathe­dral of San­ti­a­go, con­se­crat­ed in 1128, stands over the tomb of the apos­tle and the faith­ful have been flock­ing here ever since, fol­low­ing a series of well-worn paths known col­lec­tive­ly as the “Camino de San­ti­a­go” which stretch across north­ern Spain and Por­tu­gal.

James Hugh­es, part­ner in All Ways Spain, is an expe­ri­enced guide of the Camino, hav­ing biked or walked it with groups on over 40 occa­sions, and here describes what a typ­i­cal Camino tour is like:
“On the Camino one meets fel­low-walk­ers from all over the globe, with a wealth of tales and expe­ri­ences that you share with them as you walk. I nev­er cease to mar­vel at the var­i­ous rea­sons that peo­ple choose to under­take the Camino de San­ti­a­go! Meet­ing local peo­ple, too, forms a rich part of this adven­ture — on the Camino vil­lagers feel hon­oured to see pil­grims pass through their vil­lage. As for traf­fic, all you are like­ly to encounter for much of the way are herds of gen­tle, lazy cows as they return to their vil­lage barns in the late after­noon…

Although the full Camino Francés is a six weeks walk from the Pyre­nees to San­ti­a­go, the route I have most often guid­ed begins in León. This is a mar­vel­lous city, endowed with out­stand­ing medieval mon­u­ments such as the goth­ic cathe­dral and the Basil­i­ca of San Isidoro (hous­ing tombs of the Kings of León). The fol­low­ing day we start on the Camino at the bridge of Órbi­go, a Goth­ic struc­ture which has sur­vived the rav­ages of time, floods and war­ring armies to appear to mod­ern-day pil­grims more or less as it would have done in the 15th cen­tu­ry. Indeed, dur­ing the week we walk over many ven­er­a­ble bridges, pass stone cross­es, and see count­less church­es, monas­ter­ies and chapels, both ornate and sim­ple, man­i­fes­ta­tions of the devo­tion of the cen­turies of pil­grims who have passed this way.

Pil­grims, mod­ern or ancient, all need feed­ing and water­ing of course and one of the high­lights on any tour are the local spe­cial­i­ties that we encounter, such as the excel­lent local wines from the Bier­zo region, the empanadas – pas­tries stuffed with meat or fish – in the town of Caca­be­los, and the famous pulpo a la gal­le­ga (octu­pus Gali­cian style) as we near the coast. Many of the hotels we stay in are on the Camino itself, mean­ing we can walk straight out of the front door to begin our day’s walk. One of my favourite hotels is the one near Por­tomarín on account of the own­er Mario’s jovial hos­pi­tal­i­ty, great food, and local wine direct from his bode­ga!

As for the many fas­ci­nat­ing places that we pass through I would sin­gle out maybe two: Vil­lafran­ca del Bier­zo, an old town steeped in the tra­di­tions of the Camino with its impor­tant Romanesque church (which, inci­den­tal­ly, hands out indul­gences for pil­grims too sick to make it all the way to San­ti­a­go!) and the old celtic vil­lage of O’Cebreiro. Arriv­ing here brings us along one of the most beau­ti­ful stretch­es of the Camino, through gen­tle rolling coun­try­side and a land­scape that is tru­ly pas­toral. An added bonus that evening is hear­ing the monks chant evening prayers in plain­song at the famous monastery of Samos.

Journey’s end, San­ti­a­go de Com­postela, is one of Spain’s most attrac­tive cities, rich in atmos­phere and tra­di­tion. A uni­ver­si­ty city and a site of pil­grim­age for over eleven cen­turies, it has been the site of dynam­ic exchanges of ideas and cul­ture, a des­ti­na­tion for many out­siders, and yet at the same time it rep­re­sents Gali­cia — an area which his­tor­i­cal­ly has been pro­found­ly rur­al and con­ser­v­a­tive. The last night’s din­ner on a Camino tour is always a joy­ous occa­sion: I have some won­der­ful mem­o­ries of people’s con­tent­ment and sense of achieve­ment after fin­ish­ing the Camino in such a spe­cial place as the mag­nif­i­cent Plaza de Obradoiro in front of the cathe­dral. Hard to describe…you are bet­ter to do it and see for your­self!”