Every year, over 300,000 people travel the oldest pilgrimage route in Europe on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, with destination Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, north-west Spain.
The Origins of El Camino
The origin of the Camino starts with the discovery of the tomb of St James the Greater around the year 820 and the creation of a sacred place to venerate his remains: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This spiritual and cultural phenomenon soon turned Santiago into a major pilgrimage site, along with Rome and Jerusalem.
The golden age of the pilgrimages was in the 11th – 13th centuries, when pilgrims from France, Italy, central and eastern Europe, England, Germany and all of Hispania arrived on foot, horseback, ships … Since Middle Ages, receiving the pilgrim has been one of the fundamental aspects of the experience of the Way. It was then than a network of hospitals was founded by kings and nobles of the cities, especially in the districts of the Franks and by the monks of Cluny, who welcomed the pilgrims to their monasteries.
The French Way
The French Way is the Jacobean itinerary with the most historical tradition and also the most recognised internationally. The French Way was first described in the Codex Calixtinus, the most renowned medieval Codex of the Jacobean pilgrimage, dated in the 12th C and kept in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The Codex describes the way from the French territory and provides detailed information on the sanctuaries of the route, the hospitality, the people, the food, the local customs …
Three routes (Paris-Tours, Vézelay-Limoges and Le Puy-Conques) enter Spain through Roncesvalles, in Navarra, while the fourth (Arles-Toulouse) enters by the Somport Pass and continues to Jaca, in Aragón. Both itineraries joins at Puente de la Reina, Navarra. From Puente la Reina, the French Way has a single itinerary, which crosses significant places in the north of Spain as Estella, Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Castrojeriz, Frómista, Carrión de los Condes, Sahagún, León, Astorga, Ponferrada and Villafranca del Bierzo. The French Way enters Galicia through the region of El Bierzo. In the 1993 Holy Year, the French Way was declared to be a World Heritage Site.
Walk the last 100km of the French Way from Sarria
Sarria, located in the province of Lugo and 100km away from Santiago, is one of the most popular places in the St James Way. It is the place that marks the minimum distance to walk to Santiago along the French Way in order to obtain the Compostela that will certificate you have finished the pilgrim route.
If it is your first time in the Camino and you do not want to risk with a longer route, it is the perfect alternative to achieve the mark. It can be done in 5-6 walking days and it becomes a great option for all types of pilgrims, including families with children. If you think about undertaking the Camino on your own be sure you will find good company – along this route, no pilgrim ever walks alone.
A suggested route could be the following:
stage 1: 20,2km - Sarria – Barbadelo – Rente – Brea – Ferreiros – As Rozas – Vilachá
stage 2: 18,6 km - Vilacha – Portomarin – Gonzar – Castromaior – Hospital de La Cruz –Ventas de Naron – Ligonde
stage 3: 23,7km - Ligonde – Airexe – Avenostre – Palas de Rei – Casanova – Leboreiro –Furelos – Melide
stage 4: 24,6km - Melide – Boente – Castañeda – Ribadiso da Baixo – Arzua – Salceda
stage 5: 18,3km - Salceda – Santa Irene – Rua – Pedrouzo – Lavacolla
stage 6: 10,2km - Lavacolla – San Marcos – Monte do Gozo – Santiago de Compostela
It is a unique experience to live the history, the art and culture kept in this monumental route for centuries. On the way, you will pass through beautiful landscapes and villages; you will see fortresses, churches and monasteries; you will enjoy the fantastic Galician gastronomy and you will feel the hospitalaty and kindness of its people.
On the last stage, once arrived to Monte de Gozo, the view towers of the Cathedral of Santiago can be seen for the first time. The Cathedral is reached after wandering through the historic quarter of the city until Plaza del Obradoiro, is there pilgrims feel their goal is accomplished.
Thinking about doing the Camino by bike? Keep in mind this is just a 5-stage route with little more than 100 km and that, if you cycle, you will need 200 km to get the certificate.
And remember, if you have days over to spend, take the chance to discover the beautiful region of Galicia, full of green wooded valleys and amazing beaches. Along its coastline, you’ll find spectacular cliffs and charming villages, monuments and World Heritage sites, a delicious gastronomy – do not miss the high quality shellfish and famous wines! - or just relax the best spas and open-air hot springs.
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