Advice: Typical mountain clothing is recommended on the walk along El Camino
SPAIN: In my mind I had a picture of forest-free mountains and valleys. But if you want mountain hiking, you will have to start your trek in the Pyrenees a bit further away from the final goal. With three moderate stages to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the goal of the pilgrimage, you mostly walk in terrain that alternates between oak and eucalyptus forests, cultivated fields and lush meadows.
In the 55 kilometers we had the pleasure of walking we had to put up with a bit of asphalt road and heavy traffic, but not enough to ruin the experience. There are probably more attractive parts of “El Camino”, but there is something special about getting to the finish of a pilgrimage – no matter how far you have travelled.
Never boring.If not very exotic, the landscape is beautiful. At regular intervals we walk into small villages, past tired farms built in stone, and sometimes an inn with local temptations on the menu. Whether you walk alone or not on the trail depends on the season, and if you want peaceful moments the best idea is to hike in March or April, as we did, and not in high season around July and August. In summer, the challenge will not only be walking in a queue, but also finding accommodation along the route. As we moved along we experienced small villages, charming farms and inns with local temptations.
Dress up.The only pilgrims we encounter are schoolchildren joyfully and loadly walking towards the final goal further west. Apart from this it is quiet and relaxing, and the environment encourages both reflection and conversations about the realities of life. I learned a lot about total strangers – and better acquainted with myself – along the path to Santiago de Compostela.
“Everything under the sun” has been the motto of the tourist nation of Spain for many years, but in the northwestern corner of the country we are told that “it rains 11 of 12 months in this region”. This means choosing clothes carefully – shorts do not work all the times.
I was wearing Nordic clothing in the form of membrane jacket and pants, as well as solid hiking boots – all with Gore-Tex in the textiles. It turned out to be a suitable choice in both cool mornings and warm afternoons.Typical mountain clothing is therefore recommended on the walk along “El Camino”.
1000 Years of Pilgrimage. The first and most famous pilgrim on El Camino was Bishop Gottskalk, who took the long walk around year 950 a.d. In the following ceturies, hundreds of thousands followed his example, many walking along the marked trails all the way from Paris or Le Puy outside Lyon in France – a distance of 1600km in total. The goal was the impressive cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which was said to keep the relics of the Apostle Jacob. Whatever this magnificent cathedral hides, the one who sold the idea of this pilgrimage – consciously or not – has provided good and steady income for the 166 towns and villages along the pilgrimage in northern Spain.
End of journey.Imagine how they felt, the pilgrims who after months of struggle finally reached the stairs outside the huge cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Both relief and happiness, but maybe also a feeling of sorrow at the end of the journey. For many, the walk is often the goal in itself, and for us it is now over. Tears of joy are cried at the square in front of the cathedral, as pilgrims hug each other after weeks of walking. Now it is time to rest our sore feet before we enjoy the magnificent building from the inside.
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Make it Happen!
Touch Down: Fastest way getting there is flying to Madrid, then by bus or train. The final stages to Santiago de Compostela is not necessarily the most interesting part of El Camino. Examine what you want to see and experience before choosing the area you want to walk.
Stay: There are all types of standards along the route, from campsites to luxury hotels. Set up according to budget and needs, prices vary by season. We recommend to end your stay with an overnight at the majestic Hotel Parador de Santiago, just a stone's throw from the Cathedral.
Mini Guide: The best time to walk El Camino is fraom March to May and September to October. At this time of year the temperature is good for hiking and several hotels and guesthouses have low season. Remember proper clothing, waterproof for varying conditions, as well as proper footwear for hard surfaces. The stages should be arranged in relation to physical condition, but remember that soar feet can ruin an otherwise great experience. Hence, we do not recommend day trips over 25 km. We walked from Melide (488 moh) to Arzua (446 moh) to O Pedrouzo (293 moh) before arriving at Santiago de Compostela on day three. In total, we walked about 55 km, a suitable march with daily trips 3 to 5 hours.