Camino de Santiago (St James Way)
Guided walk across Northern Spain

May 13 - 28, 2018 (15 nights)
Sept 16 - Oct 1, 2018 (15 nights)

15 night  Itinerary:  

Day 1  - We meet in Bilbao. If you want a chance to see the Guggenheim Museum there we suggest you arrive a day early.  The Guggenheim is devoted to 20th-century American and European art and itself is a spectacular masterpiece of architecture.

Our meeting place is the Barcelo Nervion Hotel in central Bilbao at 2.30 pm and immediately we transfer by private coach to our first hotel at  Roncesvalles, a quiet hamlet in the foothills of the Pyrennees near the French border. This is the Camino's traditional start to the "French Route" where medieval pilgrims arrived  into Spain from France after an arduous walk through the mountains. Roncesvalles is filled with history. Legend says that Charlemagne’s army (led by his nephew Roland) was defeated here in 778 and the battle was immortalized in the medieval epic poem "La Chanson de Roland".  We stay for two nights at a lovely Posada in this tranquil mountain setting. Nearby, we see the "Collegiata", a beautiful old monastery/museum built in the 13th century to provide hospital facilities for pilgrims.  Dinner included. RONCESVALLES

Day 2   - This morning our support bus takes us eastbound across the border to the lively French town of  St Jean-Pied-de-Port. There is a brief stop to see the town, have a quick cafe-au-lait and perhaps to buy a  walking stick before we are taken by mini-bus up into the pass through the Pyrenees to the start of our walk.  From this point high in the pass we trace the medieval route between France and Spain along the mountain trail.  On a clear day views are spectacular with snow-capped peaks in the distance. In medieval times this route was considered safer than the low road where ambushes by robbers were frequent. Although it is high in the mountains, the trail is quite easy walking with only a few short ascents. The walk ends by descending to Roncesvalles in time for a picnic lunch and time to visit the Collegiata. The museum here contains artifacts and paintings associated with legends and historic tales including the tomb of King Sancho the Strong whose broken chains are still a symbol of the Spanish province of Navarre. One of the museum's many treasures is a chess set dating back to 778 AD that is said to have belonged to the Emperor Charlemagne.  Dinner included. RONCESVALLES

Day 3  -   On  today's walk we have a gradual descent through forests, fields and villages of the Navarre Region including the village of Burquete which Hemingway wrote about in his novel "The Sun Also Rises". This is picturesque country and the walking is easy. We walk as far as Viscarret then continue by bus through Pamplona (if time permits we stop for a quick visit to the old city) and on to the medieval village of Olite, just south of Pamplona. Here, we stay at the spectacular Parador of Olite - an amazing hotel which is part of an old castle complete with turrets. Walls are hung with antique tapestries and it is not hard to be transported in one's imagination to medieval times. In spite of being in an old castle, the Parador's rooms are luxurious. The beautiful old town is in the famous La Rioja wine country. The narrow streets are lined with wine-shops and there is time for tasting before dinner.   Dinner at the Parador included.       OLITE

Day 4  -  Today we walk starting from just outside Pamplona. The Camino trail is through rolling countryside dotted with small villages. Each village has a cafe, a bar and friendly locals who wave and wish the walkers "Buon Camino".  At the end of the day we reach the quaint town of Puente la Reina where we stay in a small hotel located on a narrow, cobble-stoned street that has changed little in the past thousand years. At the end of the street we see the Puente La Reina (Queen's Bridge) which was financed by the queen in medieval times for pilgrims use and today is still the way out of town as one walks the Camino.  Dinner is in the inn's dining room which has been converted from an old wine cellar.  Dinner included   PUENTE LA REINA

Day 5  - Our walk is through gentle countryside filled with vineyards and tranquil villages of the La Rioja wine district. La Rioja wine is the most famous in Spain but the region is also known for its white asparagus and its fruit. We stop at the interesting town of Estella which sits astride a craggy bend in a rushing river and from here, our bus takes us to the remote, four-hundred year old Monasterio San Millan. The spectacular monastery is in an exquisite, secluded setting surrounded by wild green hills and inside the old building we find a beautiful, four-star hotel. There are many legends associated with San Millan - it is said that the oldest books written in the Spanish language (Castilian) were found in its library.  The original monastery dates back to the 6th century when a religious hermit founded it and it continued even during the occupation of the Moors. It is fascinating to tour the site.  Dinner included. SAN MILLAN 

Day 6  -  Today our walk starts near the medieval town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and we continue towards Belorado. The trail winds through gentle rolling hills and tiny villages. At the end of our walk we continue by bus into the fairy-tale city of Burgos where the castle, palaces and monasteries reveal the city’s past grandeur. In medieval times Burgos was the most significant stopping place for pilgrims and today it contains a staggering wealth of art. This was the birth place of Spain’s legendary hero El Cid who, in 1094, fought with Christian forces against the Moors. His body lies in the magnificent Burgos Cathedral. We spend the night at the Hotel Meson del Cid, a former convent which faces onto the cathedral plaza in the historic quarter of the city. This immense Cathedral is an amazing masterpiece of French Gothic fantasy that dominates the town center. The Cathedral Plaza is often home to celebrations and festivals.  Dinner included.   BURGOS

Day 7 -  Today is free to explore Burgos. Visit the gothic Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Visit Las Huelgas which, founded in 1187, is one of the most important monuments in Spain. The Royal Convent of Las Huelgas was once one of the most powerful monasteries in all of Spain, founded by Eleanor of England who is buried here. Marvel at the master carvings by Gil de Siloe at Miraflores. Burgos is one of Iberia's most beautiful cities with a lovely tree-lined walkway along its river. Perhaps you would like to shop, sit in a cafe or sample typical Spanish snacks called "Pinchos".  September is street festival time in Burgos and in the evening streets are often filled with musical and dance entertainment - guitar, flamenco, folk music, aerial artists, puppet shows. BURGOS

Day 8  - After a short bus ride we reach the day's starting point on the Camino at Hontanas. From here  we walk through the golden "meseta" of Castile with its great plains and vistas and along the way we picnic at the site of an old monastery. Our walk ends at a small village with a hilltop ruined castle and those who still feel energetic can climb to the castle for a spectacular view of the countryside. At the end of the day there is a reward - we stay at a wonderful hotel within the historic San Zoilo monastery at the town of Carrion de los Condes.  Be sure to explore the beautiful cloister before dinner.  
Dinner included.      CARRION DE LOS CONDES

Day 9  - Again, our walk is across the plains. On a clear day mountains are visible in the distance but this part of Camino de Santiago follows an ancient Roman road with flat, easy walking. The breeze ripples fields of grain as we walk alongside a small river. We end at the town of Villacazar which, in the 1200's, belonged to the Knights Templar who patrolled the Camino protecting pilgrims from bandits and thieves. In Villacazar there is a fascinating Templar church associated with many legends and miracles. From here, late in the day, we go by bus into Leon, a remarkable city of soaring stone.   Dinner included.LEON

Day 10  - Today is free to explore the old quarter of Leon with its magnificent Cathedral. Visit the Basilica de San Isidoro with its Pantheon of Kings and fascinating artifacts from the days of medieval pilgrimage. More than forty Spanish kings, queens, princes, and dukes are interred here and the frescoes covering the walls and arches are considered one of Spain's greatest art treasures.  We also see the 16th century Palace of Los Guzmanes with its balconies and courtyard and the Casa de Botines, a 19th century work by the famous Spanish architect Anton Gaudi. Leon is a great place to experience a typical, long Spanish lunch  which is traditionally the day's main meal in Spain. Of course there are more mundane things for us to do like laundry and shopping. LEON

Day 11   - In the morning we drive from Leon to start our walk at Orbigo. It was here in 1434, on the bridge at Orbigo, that a knight named Suero held what may have been the last great medieval tournament. Suero challenged other knights to a joust because he had been scorned by his lady love. Today if you stand on the bridge and use a little imagination you can almost hear the horses whinny and the clash of steel. Suero won the tournament which released him from his prison of love and one can still see his gold bracelet in the museum at Santiago. At Orbigo the terrain changes from flat plains to gentle foothills. The clouds soon reveal themselves to be chains of mountains ahead. Our goal today is to reach the town of Astorga and it is worth the walk. In Astorga we find a Cathedral built in 1471 and a fairytale Bishop's Palace built by the eccentric architect Anton Gaudi. But there is more than just history in Astorga. The town is famous for its chocolate industry that has flourished since cocoa was first brought from the New World. Chocolate lovers will be delighted by the many shops with their gorgeous displays and enticing aromas. Our hotel faces onto the plaza overlooking the Gaudi palace and the Cathedral.  Dinner included. ASTORGA

Day 12  - Beyond Astorga we begin one of the most historically important parts of the Camino (and the most difficult) over Mount Irago. Our bus takes us up to near the top ( those who feel more energetic can start lower down the mountain ) to the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) under which pilgrims often place a stone which they have been carrying as penance (a tradition that has been continued from the 11th century). The terrain is bleak and rugged but with lovely views and in spring the mountains are covered with wildflowers. From the top we descend into the lush "Bierzo" valley region to a tiny village of El Aceibo which appears to be lost in a medieval time-warp. After lunch here we continue our descent to the beautiful town of Molinaseca with its Roman bridge and where walkers may stop and dabble their feet in the lovely stream, reward themselves with a beer in a quaint cafe and browse through the narrow streets.  At the end of the day we continue by bus to our hotel at nearby Villafranca del Bierzo.  In medieval times it was at Villafranca that sick pilgrims were allowed to quit their pilgrimage and still receive the church's indulgence. Today, Villafranca still has a medieval atmosphere dominated by a massive feudal fortress.  We stay at the newly renovated Parador with its pool and spa - perfect for relaxing after a hard day's walk.    Dinner included.     VILLAFRANCA  
Day 13  - From Villafranca we have a short bus ride up the Cebreiro pass. At remote and mysterious O Cebreiro a legend claims that the Holy Grail ( the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper) is hidden. Low, oval stone houses called "pallozas" are remnants of Celtic times. This is one of the most scenic stretches of the Camino (although the weather can be unpredictable). Terrain is wild and rugged but we start our walk near the top and make a gradual descent. (The more energetic walkers start sooner with an ascent).  As we descend, the countryside becomes less rugged and we enter the province of Galicia. Here we see villages and primitive farms strung along the Camino - sometimes the villages are just a few houses surrounding a stone church. Fields are fenced with stone and brambles and one sees ruins of castles that once protected pilgrims. Some of the enterprising farmer's wives set up tables to sell their wares - fresh berries, sugar-coated pancakes, home-made lace.   At the end of the day we are transferred to the village of Portomarin  where our hotel is the lovely Pousada de Portomarin with its beautiful views of a lake and green hills. The town is known for its "queimadas" (a flaming liqueur mixed with sugar, lemon and coffee beans) and we hear the strange witch stories associated with the drink. Dinner included. PORTOMARIN

Day 14   - Today our walk starts at Samos with its majestic monastery founded in the 6th century and filled with art treasures. There is a large cloister with interesting carved keystones. Most depict religious themes related to the Benedictines but one has an amusing hieroglyphic which says (in Latin), "What are you looking at, stupid?" (Monks walking the cloister were not supposed to be gazing at the ceiling.) Part of the monastery was destroyed by fire in 1951 when the still that was being used to make liqueur exploded! 
We continue on a tranquil, hamlet-laden trail through gently rolling countryside. The trail winds alongside jewel-like green fields and between stone fences covered with blackberries and wild-flowers. Occasionally walkers must pause as a farmer uses the trail to herd his cows into a field. The family farm is still in existence here and many do not have tractors or modern equipment. Perhaps that is why the region is noted for its wonderful cheese. Late in the day our bus takes us to the interesting town of Lugo (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) where we spend the night. It is worth making an effort to see the Roman Walls here. Dinner included.     LUGO

Day 15
-  In the morning our walk continues through Galicia and in the afternoon we
 go by bus towards Santiago. Those who want to walk the last historic bit into Santiago can do this although we warn you that it goes through some modern sections and is not as pretty as rural Galicia. This final stage of the Camino starts at "Mount of Joy" where the medieval wayfarers first caught a glimpse of Santiago Cathedral’s bell towers. Tradition says that the first one of a group to arrive at the top was nicknamed Leroy (The King). The pilgrims also stopped to wash at Lavacolla (probably for the first time in months). It is a tradition that on reaching Santiago one heads for the Cathedral and hugs the statue of St James. Our hotel is an 18th century former Jesuit residence located in the old quarter near the Cathedral and with a lovely garden courtyard. In the evening we have a farewell dinner.  Dinner included.     SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Day 16  - Our journey ends after breakfast. If you would like to stay for another day or two to explore Santiago's historic sites, extra hotel nights can be arranged. There is a local bus you can take to Finisterre or it is fascinating just to wander Santiago's narrow medieval streets filled with shops and cafes. The region is known for its great seafood and local cheeses.  If you cant spare extra time for an extended stay then it is just a twenty-minute ride to Santiago Airport.

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