de Santiago / French Way : 27. Ponferrada - Villafranca del Bierzo
the route out of Ponferrada isn’t particularly
nice, probably the worst on the route but you will
soon be walking through the mountains so keep that
in mind as you head out. Walk down the Calle Rañadero
and across the bridge over the Rio Sil and turn
right down Calle Rio Urdiales, through the big square
and towards a junction turning right down the tree
lined Avenida del Sacramento. Keep going straight
on at the roundabout with the fountain and sculptures
on it. At the next junction turn right down Avenida
de la Libertad.
the sign for Compostilla turn left, turn
right at the end and then take an immediate left
underneath an apartment block and into Plaza de
Compostilla and walk past the Iglesia Santa Maria
de Compostilla. At the Iglesia Santa Maria de Compostilla
cross the road, walk down IV Avenida and then through
an unusual residential district. I say unusual because
it is very American in style, the sort of town large
companies would build to house their workers in
the US. Once through the residential district take
a left and then a right into 3a Taversia passing
the tennis courts and the modern Ermita de Nuestra
Señora de Compostilla with its brightly coloured
mural on the end wall. From here you will join a
footpath which becomes a minor road going underneath
the motorway and shortly you will come to the church
at the village of Columbrianos.
Columbrianos you can get something to eat
at the café/bar or the shop. The church is a nice
spot to rest awhile and look out towards the mountains
through the village and keep on towards the main
road. This is very busy so be sensible and use the
pedestrian crossing. Be aware Spanish drivers don’t
really slow down for pedestrians. At the Capilla
de San Blas take a left. If you didn’t manage to
get a drink in Columbrianos there is a small bar
just by the small chapel.
down the Calle San Blas and cross the railway line
and after approximately 2.5 kilometres you come
to the small village of Fuentesnuevas where
you will find a small café/bar and the Ermita Campo
down the Calle Real, past the church and through
fields for about 2 kilometres when you will then
reach another small village called Camponaraya.
you will find a hostal if you wish to stay the night,
some bars, shops and a bank and the Ermita Nuestra
Señora de la Soledad. As you walk through the village
you get the feeling that it’s never going to end
as it is a long narrow village. After passing the
church cross the bridge over the Rio Naraya and
soon you will come across a track through some vines
that belong to the Co-operativa Viñas del Bierzo.
If you fancy some wine the company sells it by the
we have escaped the ugliness of the exit to Ponferrada
and for a little while at least we will be walking
through vineyards and orchards. When you come to
the motorway take the bridge over it and turn left
through some more vines for about 1.5 kilometres,
when you will cross the road towards Cacabelos.
as a village first appeared in the 10th century
but it can trace its origins to way back in the
Bronze Age. Prior to becoming the village of Cacabelos
it had previously been known as Ventosa but this
village had more or less disappeared before the
10th century when the lands were given to the Monasterio
de Carracedo by Bermudo II the King of Galicia and
León. The village wasn’t actually rebuilt until
the early 12th century when the Archbishop of Santiago,
Diego Gelmírez came along and built the Iglesia
de Santa Maria. Unfortunately, he caused a bit of
a quarrel with the Bishop of Astorga under whose
jurisdiction the village came under. The argument
was finally resolved when Alfonso VII, the king
of Galicia and of Castilla y Leon gave the town
to the Archbishop of Santiago.
the height of the Camino’s popularity in the Middle
Ages the town boasted 4 churches and 5 pilgrim hospitals.
Nothing remains of these ancient buildings but the
18th century Santuario de la Quinta Angustia,
where you will find an unusual carving of the child
Jesus playing cards with San Antonio de Padua, has
been built on the site of one of the medieval hospitals.
This is also where you will find the albergue at
the side. There are a couple of museums in the village,
one dedicated to the archaeological findings of
the region and the other to the wine industry of
1809, during the Peninsula war, General Sir John
Moore’s men were trying to retreat across the mountains
to get to back their navy which was based in La
Coruña when they reached Cacabelos. The French army
was forcing them into retreat and as Moore’s men
reached the bridge in Cacabelos one of the General’s
marksmen, Thomas Plunkett, decided to take a pot
shot at the commander of the French army. Thankfully
he was an excellent shot and he hit the French commander
right through the head. This single act saved the
British army from being overrun by the French army
and thus allowing a more civilised retreat into
than the Albergue next to the Santuario de la Quinta
Angustia there are also 3 hostals to stay
in. As it is a reasonably large village there are
a number of shops, banks, restaurants etc.
out of Cacabelos down the main street passing
the Capilla de San Roque and down the Calle de las
Angustias. Cross the bridge over the river and walk
down the main road for about 2 kilometres until
you get to the small hamlet of Pieros.
the road marked Camino Viejo down a track which
will take you through the vineyards and past the
Iglesia de Santiago and its cemetery on the outskirts
of Villafranca del Bierzo.
del Bierzo - Villafranca
B. city map
del Bierzo is believed to have been founded
by French monks of the Cluny order. They built a
monastery here called el Monasterio de Santa Maria
de Cluniaco during the years following the discovery
of Santiago’s body in 813 in order to service the
needs of the many pilgrims who passed this way.
As the monks were French the village became known
as Villafranca or town of the French.
terms of pilgrim architecture Villafranca del Bierzo
once had as many as 8 monasteries and 6 pilgrim
hospitals. This is the last major town along the
Camino de Santiago in León with the Galician village
of O Cebreiro only 30 kilometres away. The town
could be said to owe its existence to the Camino
and both this and the many monuments to be found
here make Villafranca del Bierzo a natural tourist
destination. There is plenty to see but below are
some that may be of particular interest.
as you enter the town you come across the 12th century
Iglesia de Santiago. This church was granted
the privilege of providing absolution to the pilgrims
who were too ill to continue along the Camino to
Santiago. This absolution was received at the Puerta
del Perdón, the door of forgiveness which can be
found at the side of the church.
building is the Convento de la Anunciada.
The church was founded in the early 17th century
by Don Pedro Alvarez de Toledo y Osorio, one of
the Marqueses of Villafranca, for his daughter who
had chosen to become a nun. The church is built
on the remains of one of the many pilgrim hospitals
that had sprung up in the town. Inside are the remains
of San Lorenzo de Brindis brought back from Lisbon,
where the saint died, by the Marqués. Also inside
can be found the Panteon de los Marqueses the crypt
for the family who still inhabit the castle.
impressive building of San Nicolás was founded
by Don Gabriel de Robles in the 17th century as
a religious school run by Jesuits until their expulsion
in 1767. During the early 19th century the building
became the centre for local government until it
was sold by Roble’s heirs in 1899 to the Padres
Paúles who converted it back into a school which
was still in use until 1983. Now it is a museum
of natural sciences.
beautiful building of La Colegiata de Santa Maria
was built on the site of the original monastery
in Villafranca by the 2nd Marqués de Villafranca,
Pedro de Toledo in the 16th century. Inside you
will find a number of lovely paintings and sculptures
and outside the peaceful gardens encourage you to
sit and while away a minute or two.
Calle del Agua has some interesting houses
with many of them emblazoned with the crests of
the noble families who once owned them. Of particular
interest is the Palacio de los Marqueses de Villafranca
and the Palacio de Torquemada.
on a hill above the town is the Castillo de los
Marqueses de Villafranca. The castle was constructed
by the second Marques de Villafranca, Don Pedro
Alvarez de Toledo during the 15th and 16th centuries
over the remains of a previous castle which had
been destroyed in 1507 by one of the illegitimate
sons of the first Marques of Villafranca, Don Pedro
Alvare Osorio. Unfortunately the castle was sacked
and partially dismantled by the British army as
it marched towards Lugo in 1809 during the Peninsula
war and again, but by French troops this time, between
1815 and 1819. Over the intervening centuries the
castle has undergone some restoration and it continues
to be home to the descendants of the Marqueses de
Villafranca. You can visit the gardens for free,
but as it is a private residence if you wish to
visit the interior you will need the permission
of the owners.
Iglesia de San Francisco is also worth a visit.
It is said to have been founded by Saint Francis
of Assisi whilst undertaking a pilgrimage to Santiago.
The building had originally been part of one of
the pilgrim hospitals in town but was moved to its
current location in the late 13th century.
you are staying here for the night you have the
choice of 3 albergues, one of which is called Ave
Fenix (as in the bird the Phoenix) due to it having
burnt down in 1996 and then been rebuilt, or you
can stay at one of the 3 hostals or the Parador.
There are also some reasonable restaurants and café/bars
if you want to eat or drink.
we leave Villafranca del Bierzo I would like to
recount a local legend. It doesn’t have any direct
link to the Camino but I thought it was interesting
none the less.
11 kilometres from Villafranca del Bierzo you will
find el Lago de Carucedo. Many centuries
ago it was rumoured that where the lake is now there
once was a village. This village was close to a
monastery where a young orphan was being raised
by the monks. When this child grew to be a man he
fell in love with a young woman. However, our young
man had a rival, Señor Cornatel, the local squire
and owner of the castle had taken a fancy to this
girl and was determined to make her his come what
may. One day Señor Cornatel was found dead and the
young man was accused of his murder so he fled the
village. Many years passed and our young man returned
to the village hoping to find his lady but he found
that she too had disappeared. Disillusioned
the young man went to the monastery where he had
been raised and became a monk, eventually becoming
the abbot. One day the lady who he had fallen in
love with returned to the village and they began
a relationship, despite the man having taken a vow
of chastity. This angered God and he sent a huge
flood towards the village destroying it completely
and thus creating the lake that can be seen there
today. It is said that during the festival of San
Juan the bells of the submerged monastery can be
heard to toll each night. Another legend says that
the lake is believed to hold the sword that belonged
to Roldán - a bit like the Spanish version of King
Arthur and Excalibur.
à CF description
at wanadoo.fr - 10/01/2014