For some hikers the Camino de Santiago route, which crosses Northern Spain, is the walk of a lifetime. And pilgrims have been making this trek since the 9th century.
Last year over 200,000 people embarked on the 750km walk over the Pyrenees to the picturesque town of Santiago de Compostela, said to be the resting place of St James the Apostle. But if you’re not that fit or you can’t find a free month in your diary there are less demanding options available.
Maria Golpe works with specialist tour organisers Camino Ways. Although her office is in Dublin, Maria is from Galicia and she knows this route well. In fact, there is more than one path, although 65% of walkers take the most popular crossing, from France. “What comes to mind for most people is the French way,” says Maria. “It starts in the Pyrenees by the French border and cuts across the north of Spain to Santiago. That route became more popular in mediaeval times and it has been most featured in books, movies and documentaries.”
Maria says the French route covers a mix of terrain and trails and passes through a number of towns and hamlets. That makes it the classic long distance trail, although the first section is all uphill and quite challenging. “You do need a bit of stamina and fitness to tackle it,” she advises. “The Camino is manageable but you need to pace yourself and prepare for the challenge.”
The good news for less experienced walkers is that it gets easier towards the end. “As you approach Santiago the terrain is more undulating with rolling hills and farmland. The last week, is around a hundred kilometres and that is manageable for everyone. There are also plenty of services along the way making it easier to split the days. It also means that you have a shorter walking day than the more remote sections.
Camino Ways can organise accommodation around every 10 to 15km so you don’t need the stamina required to walk 20km in one day. The company can carry and transfer your luggage to pre-booked accommodation. Maria says that means that you don’t have to rush along the walk to get to hotels and hostels before the crowds each day. You can relax in the knowledge that you will have a bed waiting for you.
The company can also arrange bike rental as some people like to cycle the route. If you would rather walk with a guide, they can arrange that too. And if you can’t complete the entire route, Maria suggests that you might want to take on the final 100km. “That’s the minimum required in order to obtain your Pilgrim Certificate when you get to Santiago,” she says.
After days of walking, the good news is that you should be pleasantly surprised by Santiago at the end of your journey. “It is a unique city,” says Maria. “Locals view it as a big village. It has a university dating back to the 16th century, but it feels no bigger than a small town. It has a lovely mix of cultural activities as the young and old mix together. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site with cobbled streets, arches and alleys. It’s truly spectacular in a cute way without being a chocolate box view,” she adds.
If you’re considering the walk, you can find out more about the routes at caminoways.com. Maria’s company also shares tips, advice and additional information about culture, things to do and where to eat on their blog. You’ll find that on their website.