tradition of pilgrims walking from their own front
door to Santiago has led to a whole network of paths
crossing Europe, all of which are part of the Camino
de Santiago. Branches of the Camino start as far
away as Scotland (though obviously incorporating
a sea journey), Scandinavia and Sicily. Many of
these are now half-forgotten side branches, and
most of the trails only take on significance when
they cross into Spain. Here are the most famous
of the routes:
French Way begins at Le Puy, in southern France
and covers around 750 km (1) of Spain after crossing
the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles. It runs through the
cities of Pamplona, Burgos, León and Ponferrada
before finally reaching Santiago, and crosses a
variety of terrain from the rugged mountains of
Navarra and León to the hot flat meseta plains.
is the classic Camino route. When people refer to
'the Camino de Santiago', they are usually referring
to the Camino Frances. In fact, whichever Camino
you take, you are likely to join onto the Frances
at some point.
crossing the Pyrenees at the Somport Pass, further
south, face a rugged trek before joining the Camino
Frances at Puente la Reina (just west of Pamplona).
This route crosses a higher pass and feels like
a trek in the mountains, rather than just one near
them. Traditionally, this route would have been
used by pilgrims coming from the French and Spanish
areas of Catalunya, and from the western Mediterranean
coast of France.
badly marked and sometimes following main roads,
the network of infrequently used Northern Caminos
reflects the fact that many pilgrims would take
a boat to the northern coast of Spain, before continuing
inland and converging on the city of León. Travellers
walking down the west coast of France and crossing
the border at Hendaya would also come onto one of
these Caminos. For modern pilgrims, these Caminos
are probably best avoided.
de la Plata
'Silver Way' begins in earnest at Sevilla and runs
roughly north through Andalucia and Extremadura,
joining the Camino Frances 690 km (2) later at Astorga.
Unbearably hot in summer, and with poor infrastructure
and infrequent water especially in the early stages,
this is a route for well-prepared and hardy pilgrims
and should not be considered lightly.
Portuguese Camino, appropriately enough, begins
in the Algarve and runs right through the countryside
to Santiago without joining the Camino Frances.
This version is becoming more popular, particularly
among Brazilians with an ancestral link to Portugal,
but for non-Portuguese speakers communication can
Camino Fisterra runs for 75 km (3) west to the sea
from Santiago. It was rarely used historically until
the Camino Frances became a popular route for long-distance
hikers. People began to walk it as an add-on to
the Camino route, to finish at the sea instead of
Santiago, and as such is the only Camino that is
usually walked away from Santiago. It makes an interesting
rural jaunt to the sea for pilgrims who feel that
the distance of the main route isn’t quite testing
English Camino is the shortest of all. Eschewing
the idea of walking all that way across Europe,
the English simply hopped on a boat, put their feet
up and sailed down to La Coruna or O Ferrol on the
north coast and, presumably with grumbles of complaint,
dragged themselves on foot over the last 65 kilometres
are you considering walking the Camino yourself
? Not a bad idea, when you consider that if you
make it all the way to Santiago, after completing
at least 100 km on foot or 200 km by bicycle (5),
you will be presented with a certificate in Latin
that absolves you from all earthly sin (6). These
are some of the things you need to consider if tackling
the Camino Frances:
best months to walk in Spain are May, June and September.
July and August can be extremely hot, especially
on the plains, and accommodation can be hard to
find. The trail gets so busy in these months, because
of the school holidays, that some towns open leisure
centre halls to accommodate the influx! Winter can
bring harsh weather, particularly in the mountainous
areas, and passes are often closed due to snowfall.
The shoulder months either side of July and August
are good compromises for a fairly quiet trail and
generally pleasant weather.
the Camino, pilgrims' refuges (or refugios) have
been set up in many towns and villages to the extent
that, on the Camino Frances, you are never more
than three or four hours walk from one. Often nothing
more than a simple dorm with as many beds packed
in as space can allow, they are an extremely cheap
way of sleeping. At your first refugio, you will
need to register that you are a pilgrim and buy
a small 'Camino passport' (Known as the 'Credential')
which you then show and have stamped at every place
you stay. Some charge a nominal fee for a bed and
others invite a voluntary contribution. Traditionally,
many refugios were monasteries and churches and
although this is not usually the case now, you're
still likely to sleep a few nights in incredible
refugios have small kitchens attached where pilgrims
can cook their own food. Often you will be lucky
enough to have a fantastic meal where everyone shares
their food with everyone else in a convivial atmosphere.
If not, look for restaurants that advertise 'Menu
del Peregino' (Pilgrims' Menu) - often you
will be able to get a two- or three-course meal,
with wine, for just a few euros. It can be a good
idea to adjust your habits by starting your walk
early in the morning, avoiding the hottest part
of the day by taking a long, luxurious lunch and
continuing mid-afternoon, finishing with a light
snack at the end of the day.
as little as possible. Forget the camera tripod,
selection of books and reams of spare clothing.
If you’re planning the whole walk in one go, minimising
the weight makes all the difference. A suggested
bare minimum is:
Walking boots. Some pilgrims complete the whole
route in sandals, but boots are highly recommended.
Make sure you have 'worn in' new boots before you
set off, or blisters will become a debilitating
Rucksack. Aim to get all of your gear into a 35-40
litre rucksack so that it is not tempting to fill
up a larger bag with things you don't really need.
Food and water. Be prepared to carry at least three
litres of water and refill every time you pass a
drinking fountain. Sugary snacks and fruit to munch
on through the day will help keep your energy levels
Lightweight sleeping bag. Refugios do not usually
provide linen, and a light two-season sleeping bag
will keep you warm enough without being too heavy.
First aid kit. Make sure you have rehydration salts,
insect repellant and plenty of plasters for the
Spare clothes. Go by the principle of 'one to wear,
one to wash, one for tomorrow' on small items like
underwear and socks. Then get the bare minimum of
larger items that you think you will need, put them
on your bed and allow yourself to pack only half
of them. If you haven’t got enough, there are plenty
of shops in Spain!
Guidebook. Most important for route finding and
letting you know how far away the next refugio is.
Waterproofs. There’s no need to take your big, heavy
mountain jacket. A light, shower-proof set will
suffice as you’re never going to be far from somewhere
you can dry off.
Sunhat and sun cream. A wide brimmed hat will stop
your head boiling; high factor sun cream will help
to stop you burning.
A scallop shell, gourd and walking stick. These
are the symbols of the pilgrim. Tie the shell around
your neck or to your pack; traditionally they were
used to scoop water out of streams to drink or wash
with. The gourd (7) is tied to the top of the walking
stick, presumably because it looks nice.
Toiletries. Just enough to stop you smelling!
following are some of the sights and places worth
visiting along the Camino Frances. Although by no
means exhaustive, this list should give you an idea
of what's worth seeing:
east to west, the most famous and impressive cathedrals
you will encounter before Santiago are in the cities
of Burgos, León and Astorga.
beautiful cathedral at Burgos, started in the 13th
Century and not completed until the 15th-16th Centuries,
is considered Spain's finest Gothic cathedral and
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
cathedral at León is no less impressive, completed
in 1280 and still soaring above the streets.
cathedral, though impressive in itself, stands out
for a different reason. The adjacent Archbishop's
Palace burnt down in 1886, and the architect chosen
to rebuild it was none other than modernist Antonio
Gaudi (8), who took six years to build a fantastic
fairytale castle. The contrast of these two buildings
standing opposite is something to behold.
hour's walk west of Pamplona, near the town of Estella,
the pilgrim meets with a very refreshing sight indeed.
The good winemakers of the Bodegas Irache company
have erected a fountain: the left hand tap for cool,
fresh water, and the right one for red wine. The
general consensus is that it's not a bad drop, either.
A plate on the fountain reads, in Spanish:
if you want to reach Santiago with strength and
vitality, take a drink of this great wine and toast
drink without abuse we invite you with pleasure.
take the wine with you it will have to be bought".
young pilgrim was said to have been wrongly hanged
for theft in Santo Domingo in the 15th Century.
His parents, after praying to St James and cutting
his body down from the noose, were astonished to
find him still alive. They went to tell the judge
of the miracle, who was sitting at a table eating
a hen and a cockerel. In disbelief, the judge said,
'Your son is as alive as these birds on my plate,'
at which the birds sprouted feathers and began to
run around the room. This story is still taken so
seriously in Santo Domingo that a cockerel and hen
are given pride of place in the church.
the climb up the Cebreiro Pass in the Leonese Mountains,
there is a small town called Villafranca del Bierzo.
This is most famous for its small, romanesque Church
of Santiago, which has its own 'Puerta del Perdon'
(Door of Pardon). Pilgrims who were too ill, elderly
or injured to cross the mountains could claim spiritual
benefits just as if they had made it all the way
to Santiago by presenting themselves here. This
right was eventually enshrined in a Papal decree.
outside the first suburbs of Santiago de Compostela
itself is a hill called Mount Gozo ('Mount Joy'),
where pilgrims can catch their first glimpse of
the two towers of the cathedral that is their goal.
In modern times it is also home to a holiday camp-style
refugio, which sits rather oddly with the sense
of anticipation most pilgrims feel at this point.
The place doesn't quite fit in with the 'feel' of
the rest of the route, but most pilgrims do stop
here to leave an easy last day.
last few kilometres of the Camino wind through the
streets of Santiago de Compostela, first through
the suburbs and then the old city, the waymarkers
tantalisingly counting down the distance. Eventually
the pilgrim emerges from the dark, narrow streets
onto the great plaza in front of the cathedral,
a moment that has held millions in thrall over hundreds
of years. After being totally destroyed by the Moors
in the 10th Century, it was rebuilt in the 11th,
and the cathedral and parts of the surrounding area
are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For those
hardy enough to have walked from the Pyrenees or
beyond, it is an especially welcome sight.
the pilgrim may be lucky enough to see the great
Botafumeiro - the world largest incense burner
- in use. Swung through the air by means of
a great system of ropes and pulleys, it was designed
to be big enough to mask the odour coming from hundreds
of unwashed pilgrims! Finally, descending a flight
of steep, dark stairs brings the pilgrim to (if
one believes the story) a casket containing the
remains of the Apostle himself, undisturbed for
the best part of two millennia.
Approximately 470 miles. Estimates of distances
vary from source to source, as the Caminos meander
62 and 124 miles respectively.
Whether you need to be a Christian or not to gain
this benefit is, sadly, not recorded.
A hard-shelled plant similar to a pumpkin.
Also creator of much of the Temple Sagrada Familia
in Barcelona, which is listed as one of h2g2's World's
Most Beautiful Buildings.
à Q.Pratique Généralités