Trekking and pilgrimage holidays have always been a favourite way for people to escape the norm, and explore some roads less travelled. While The Camino de Santiago may not be a road less travelled, millions walk the route every year, it is one of those things for everyone to tick off the bucket list.
Many people choose to do it for some time-out from the world. It is a way to reassess where you are at in life, take a step back from stressful life circumstances and uncomfortable situations and completely re-evaluate where you are at. Taking a week, fortnight or a month out to explore pastures new, away from the confines of technology, and social pressures is a sure way to elevate yourself to a higher plain. By the end of the trip, you will be enlightened and see things from a completely fresh perspective.
Embarking on a walk such as this will require a lot of stamina and endurance. While it is no assault course and can be completed quite easily, it is no stroll in the park. Along the way, there are great lessons to learn, interesting people to meet as you navigate on a voyage of discovery, both in the physical and metaphorical sense.
Totalling of 500 miles, there are many ways to walk the Camino de Santiago; from France or Spain and from one week to one month, you choose your own journey. Here I will outline the most popular route, the last 100km of the Camino where you will earn the Compostela.
What is the Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago, or way of St. James in English, is an established network of routes across Europe which begin at different points. These trails have been used for centuries as a pilgrimage walk to the tomb of St. James, located in Santiago de Compostela.
This walk means a variety of things to different people. One thing everyone has in common is that they want to not only experience the beauty, but also earn the Compostela; a certificate of completion when you have walked more than 100km. This cert is like a badge of honour issued by the Santiago cathedral authorities and is only available to bona fide Pilgrims; there are conditions to meet, no cheating.
There are different ways to do the Camino; by foot, bicycle or by horse. If you choose a method other than walking, you need to cover a longer distance to earn the Compostela. There are also many routes to take. The French Way begins at the French side of the Pyrenees, through northern Spain as far as Santiago de Compostela. The Northern Way starts at Basque Country and follows the northern coast of Spain and the mountains of Asturias until Santiago. The beginning of The Silver Way is in Seville in southern Spain and follows an ancient Roman route which merges with El Camino Frances in its final section. The Primitive Way or Original Way involves crossing the high mountains of Asturias. The Portuguese Way is from the city of Porto.
The final part of the The French Way is the most popular. Only taking a week to complete, it is easily manageable and affordable making it the perfect experience for many explorers.
Walking the final 100km of the Camino
Arriving in Sarria, you will begin the first leg of your journey. While you’re here, explore the town centre which is full of beautiful churches, chapels and monasteries. Relax a little before embarking on this epic adventure.
The first day you set off on foot to Portomarin where you will experience a calm walk through some pretty villages and quiet countryside, reaching Portomarin in 22km. The next leg of your journey is another 22km to Palas de Rei, crossing the river Mino with an uphill stretch to Serria de Ligonde. You will pass many beautiful sites and sculptures along the way.
Next you will set off to Arzua, with a nice downhill walk where you will come to the village of Melide which is famous for its octopus dishes. You will reach the town of Aruza after a 28km walk, the longest distance of the journey. Follow the next 23km through enchanted woods and pretty villages to Amenal.
The final leg of your journey is time for you to prepare to enter Santiago de Compostela. It is a 14km walk at the end of which you can tour the beautiful city, claim your Compostela certificate and have a well earned rest.
The most important thing along this trek is to remember, to earn your certificate you need to buy a pilgrim passport at the beginning of your route. You carry it every step with you and get it stamped at specific locations in each town along the way. It is only with a full passport you can earn your Compostela.
Where to stay along the Camino
There are loads of hotels along the route, so here I have chosen one from each town you will go through, from there you can make your own decision about what best suits you.
Accommodation in Sarria– Albergue Monasterio de La Magdalena
Accomodation in Portomarin– Casa Santa Marina
Accomodation in Palas de Rei– Casa Leopoldo
Accommodation in Arzua– Casa da Igrexa
Accomodation in Amenal– Hotel Restaurante Amenal
Accomodation in Santiago de Compostela– Hospederia San Martin Pinario
These are just a selection of some of the places to stay along the Camino. You could always just wing it and try find somewhere as you go along. However, I would not recommend that as there are thousands of people along this route every year, making accommodation scarce. Book ahead and be sure to have the best possible experience you can imagine.