Follow in the footsteps of countless pilgrims, walking the legendary Camino Frances (French Way) from Leon to Santiago de Compostela. Walk through beautiful scenery and historic towns along the best parts of the route to claim a pilgrim's certificate. Cruz de Ferro - The famous Iron Cross at the highest point of the Camino O Cebreiro - Charming mountain village with cobbled streets, round stone thatched houses and picturesque valley views Santiago De Compostela - Lively historic town, mix with other pilgrims and feel a real sense of comradery Holy year - As All Saints Day falls on 25th July, 2021 is a considered a celebratory year and an extra special time to complete this iconic walk
Arrive in Madrid, the Capital of Spain home to elegant boulevards, manicured parks, cultural museums and fantastic markets. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Madrid at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive at Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (MAD) which is around 20 minutes' drive from the hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the city, wandering the back streets in search of tucked away tapas bars. There vast 19th century El Retiro Park is good place for a leisurely walk, past rose gardens and statues to the boating lake.
We will travel together as a group to Leon, a three-and-a-half hour drive. Leon is a great city with a wonderful sense of history reflected in it architecture. It is also an important waypoint on the famous Camino de Santiago. After settling into our hotel we'll have a walking tour of this interesting city. The city's main attractions are its beautiful Gothic cathedral with its unique stained glass windows and the Romanesque San Isidoro church. However there is lots more to discover, including the picturesque old quarter and the brass scallop shells set in the pavement that mark the route of the Camino de Santiago through the city.
Today, after ensuring we have our Pilgrim Passports we drive to Hospital de Orbigo, famous for its 13th century bridge. We commence our trek from here, with a walk on the Meseta (the Castilian high plateau) to Astorga, home to the magnificent Bishop's Palace designed by Antoni Gaudi. Our first walk covers 16 kilometres over approximately four hours. The terrain is gently undulating with a total ascent and descent of 200 metres.
We leave the high plateau of the Meseta behind us as we drive a short distance into the mountains to the near- abandoned village of Foncebadon. From here we walk, following the scallop shell markings, up to the famous Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), the highest point of the Camino at 1,482m. This is one of the most significant points on the route, for centuries pilgrims have left a stone brought from home, an offering they hope will give them protection for the rest of the pilgrimage. From here we can see the mountains of Galicia in the distance. The rest of our day is spent descending (steep in places) and we finally arrive in the small village of Molinaseca with its impressive Roman bridge. Here we meet our bus and transfer the short distance to our hotel in Villafranca del Bierzo. Villafranca del Bierzo was once an important medieval town and is home to some spectacular churches, including the Romanesque Church of Santiago. Today's 19 kilometre walk is expected to take around five hours with 100 metres of ascent and 930 metres of descent. We ascend to 1,482 metres then gently descend along mountain trails.
After a short drive to the start of today's walk we continue along the Camino, following the course of the Valcarce River through the valley. This has been the route between Galicia and Castile since ancient times, passing through the small hamlets of Las Herrerias and Ruitelan to the border between Galicia and Leon. Here we come to one of the highlights of our walk, the unusual village of O Cebreiro, a tiny wind battered settlement of stone houses set high above a patchwork quilt of green valleys. The village is famous for its 'pallozas' - traditional circular, thatch-roofed houses. Once in O Cebreiro we have time to relax and explore the village before meeting our bus for the drive to Sarria. En route there is the option to visit Samos Monastery, still an active retreat, and a landmark of the Camino. Today's nine kilometre walk is expected to take around three hours with 750 metres of ascent and descent. Walking on unmade mountain path gradually uphill for most of the day and far from road access.
From Sarria we continue on foot through Galicia, traversing a terrain of undulating hills in the most verdant of Spain's regions. Passing the hamlet of Ferreiros we reach the famous 100km landmark, for so long a magical moment for weary pilgrims. It is here that they can re-gather their strength, knowing that it was now only another three or four days to go to Santiago. Nowadays this waypoint marks the limit from where one has to walk continuously to Santiago in order to get the 'Compostela', the official pilgrim's certificate. This afternoon we reach Portomarin, once a splendid medieval village, which was relocated by Franco to make way for a reservoir. Remnants of the town's more prosperous days can still be seen amongst its narrow streets, such as the attractive Romanesque San Pedro church. Today's 22 kilometre walk is expected to take around five-and-a-half hours with 64o metres of ascent and 300 metres of descent. The terrain is mainly unmade paths through hilly countryside.
Today we start by crossing part of the reservoir on a disused railway bridge. Then the trail continues gradually uphill, passing the 80km mark near Castromaior village. In the vicinity is Casa Carneiro, in medieval times a night stop for 'VIP' pilgrims such as Charles V the emperor who stayed here in 1520 on his way to his coronation, and King Philipp II a few years later on his way to marry Mary Tudor in England. We reach our last high pass (722m) just before Ligonde, and continue on through undulating hills, Eucalyptus trees and Cruceiros (the stone crosses typical of Galicia), to gently descend to our night stop at Palas de Rei, an important pilgrim town. Today's 22 kilometre walk is expected to take around six hours with 410 metres of ascent and 300 metres of descent. We ascend up to the pass (722 m) and then continuing on unmade paths through gently undulating hills.
Leaving the town behind, the Camino now takes us through idyllic rural Galicia, passing farmland and beautiful countryside. We walk through an oak grove to A Coruna, and cross a medieval bridge with four arches to reach Melide. Today is a good day for trying some traditional Galician dishes, specifically the famous 'pulpo a la Gallega octopus' for which the village of Melide is renowned, and maybe some of the excellent local white wine from the Riberas Baixas region near Pontevedra.Tonight we stay in a typical Galician farmhouse, where dinner can be taken. Today's 22.5 kilometre walk is expected to take around six hours with 350 metres of ascent and 450 metres of descent. The terrain is rural paths through farmland and gently undulating hillsides.
Santiago is getting closer! Today you will pass many 'horreos', typical barns of the region that dot this beautiful countryside. We will also start to see more signs that we are nearing Santiago, including many pilgrim villages. Crossing the River Iso we arrive to Arzua where the Camino Frances (French Way) that we have been following, and Camino del Norte (North Way or Camino Primitivo) meet - Arzua is also known in the region for its local soft cheese. Today we pass many pilgrim sites including pilgrim Guillermo Watt's memorial; he died here whilst on the pilgrimage and his shoes can be found in the stone wall. We can also stop at Santa Irene chapel to see statues of Saint James. We arrive to the small village of El Amenal and our hotel for the night. Today's 27.5 kilometre walk is expected to take around seven-and-a-half hours with 400 metres of ascent and 480 metres of descent.The terrain is rural paths and local village roads.
Today we complete our pilgrimage. We pass through the village of Lavacolla, where traditionally pilgrims would wash and change into their best clothes for the final stretch of the walk. From here we ascend the final hill to Monte Gozo, from where we finally see Santiago Cathedral in the distance. We are now just five kilometres from Santiago's historic centre and the end of our pilgrimage. As we walk the last hour of the trail we share the emotions and sense of achievement of thousands of pilgrims, ancient and modern from all over the world, as we complete the trail and claim our 'Compostela', our pilgrim's certificate. Our last walk covers 17.5 kilometres and is expected to take around five hours with 180 metres of ascent and 230 metres of descent. The terrain is unmade paths and roads.
This morning we take a guided walking tour of Santiago including a visit to the magnificent cathedral, a stunning architectural landmark with Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque features. We also visit the important local squares, churches and buildings around the cathedral. Please note that the Cathedral in Santiago is currently undergoing a major renovation until at least 2021. We will still visit the interior of the Cathedral, the museum, cloister and the tomb of the Apostle however it is not possible to take a tour of the rooftops. The mass have been moved to the nearby San Francisco church. The Portal of Glory has recently been re-opened and can be visited, paying a separate entrance fee (please discuss with your Explore leader if you would like to book this in advance). The afternoon is free to wander the city's narrow streets discovering some of the city's other architectural treasures, and enjoy the local food and wine. It is also possible to take an optional excursion to Cape Finisterre, however this is a full day excursion so you would have to miss the city tour.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Santiago de Compostela. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Santiago at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Santiago de Compostela Airport (SCQ) which is around 15 minutes' drive from the hotel.
11 Break Fast(s)
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