On the road to Villafranca, Spain

Classic Tours - The Camino

Overview

Travelling the Road to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St James are said to be buried, is one of the oldest and most interesting journeys in Europe. Pilgrims on the road to Compostela are as taken with the journey as with the destination.

Our tour is designed to take you on a major section of the Road to Compostela, from the old city of Leon to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. We will experience some of the challenges and rewards that pilgrims throughout the ages have come to know.
These days, pilgrimage is an exciting and challenging opportunity to depart from our usual lifestyles and experience the world beyond the horizon. Walking gives us the opportunity to slow down, to appreciate the world through which we normally race. Pilgrimage also gives us the opportunity to participate in an ancient religious/spiritual tradition.

We visit the Spanish churches with their magnificent multi-storied altars, richly embroidered with gold and silver. Monasteries, stone crosses and wonderful companionship are all part of our tour. It is a journey of personal and group adventure. With all this, we will also enjoy the Spanish Menu del Dia and regional cuisines. If you have ever wanted to walk the Camino, but have been reluctant or unsure about how to do it, this tour provides you with a great opportunity.

Tour Focus

Walking part of the historic Spanish Pilgrimage over 19 days

Leon to Santiago de Compostela
We begin in the old city of Leon where in 68 AD a Roman legion was quartered to halt the advance of the Asturian and Cantabrian fighters. We next journey by foot to the villages of Villadangos del Paramo and Hospital Orbigo visiting the historic church of Santiago and the longest bridge on the Camino.
And on to Astorga with its superb cathedral and museum.
From here the terrain becomes more challenging as we make our way to Rabanal, Foncebadon and the Cruz de ferro, the highest point on the Camino. We descend the hills and visit Ponferrada with its intact Templar castle. We continue on till we arrive at Villafranca del Bierzo at the foot of a range of mountains. Villafranca’s Church of Santiago has its own “door of Forgiveness”. By now we have a sense of what earlier pilgrims had experienced on this historic journey. Up the mountainside to O Cebreiro, in Galicia. From here the landscape is wilder and hillier with plenty of opportunity for personal contemplation. We pass hamlets, fields and forests, visiting churches and an occasional monastery. All the time, enjoying regional Spanish dishes and the unique culture of the Camino. Nearing Santiago, we walk through eucalyptus forests and more medieval bridges.
Finally arriving in Santiago on Easter Saturday. Easter Sunday sees us in the midst of the great Christian celebration in the capital of Galicia – (Sant-Iago) named after St. James. We visit his shrine in the magnificent cathedral and as many of the important sites as time, emotion and energy permit. Yes, we will have arrived at Santiago de Compostela – on foot.

The Leon to Santiago walking Route showing the two mountain ranges we cross
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Full ITINERARY for Camino Tour

This itinerary includes a day and a half in Paris and travel to and from the beginning and end of the walk.

  • Begin at: Madrid, travel to Leon.
  • End at: Santiago de Compostela and return to Madrid by train or plane.
Leon to Santiago de Compostela Itinerary: 19 days
  • Day 1. En route. Our flight departs Sydney for Madrid and arrives the next morning.
  • Day 2. ARRIVE LEON - Arrive in Leon with its glorious light filled Gothic cathedral. Its stained glass windows are considered to be some of the best in the world. The choir stalls with their carved religious images; chapels with gothic tombs. And hopefully visit the superb Real Basilica de San Isidoro and to see the Crypt and Pantheon of Kings. In the provincial capital, the Leónes take pride in their history as a seat of the Christian Reconquest. Their city was founded at the confluence of the Rivers Bernesga and Torio as the Legio VII Gemina Pia Felix by the Romans in 68 AD and charged with overseeing mines in the area. It was occupied briefly by the Visigoths and then the Moors before King Ordoño I made it part of the kingdom of Asturias in the ninth century. León would serve as a base for the southward push of the reconquest and in due time reclaim Salamanca, Valladolid, Palencia and Zamora. The city suffered a devastating blow in the 10th century when the Moorish ruler Almanzor, in a lethal push across the region, burned it down. León was gradually repopulated and slowly rose from the ashes under King Alfonso V. By the 12th century, with the establishment of the Court of the Kingdom of León, the city was home to one of the earliest parliaments in Europe. The great cathedral was built and owed its styling in part to France, linked to the city via the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. With the betrothal of King Fernando of Castilla to Sancha of León a century later, the two kingdoms of Castilla and León were united once and for all. We’ll pass by the Hospital (now parador) of San Marcos, once the headquarters for the Knights of Santiago. We pick up our Pilgrim’s passports individually at the Pilgrim’s hostel.
  • Day 3. VILLADANGOS DEL PARAMO 21km – Today we walk to Villadangos del Paramo, with its historic Church of Santiago. Via La Virgen del Camino. In the 1500s, the Virgin Mary appeared to a local shepherd and requested that he build her a shrine. The bishop of Leon was unconvinced of the shepherd’s vision until the shepherd threw a stone which turned into a boulder on striking the ground. In the mid 1500s a merchant was captured by the Moors and held captive in a large box. The Virgin knowing of the merchant’s desire to visit her shrine, transported him together with his chains and box to her shrine.
  • Day 4. HOSPITAL DEL ORBIGO 14km – A shorter walk today to give us an early rest. Puente del Orbigo is the longest original bridge on the Camino, subject of one of the most romantic legends of the Way. The quest of Don Suero de Quinones. What a structure! It is 204 metres long and supported by no fewer than 20 arches.And of course, since the Romans had built it, it is still in excellent condition. The river that flows beneath it is quite narrow, but there is a wide flood plain. This bridge had been the scene of several clashes, including a battle between the Swabians and the Visigoths in 452 and a great clash between Alphonso III and the Moors around 900. In 1434 it was also the scene of a famous incident from which it gained its nickname,the bridge of the passage of honour - el Paso Honroso. Don Suero de Quinones, his heart imprisoned by the love of a cer- tain lady, decided on a bold plan to win her favor. Issuing a challenge to other knights who dared to cross the bridge, he vowed to break 300 lances in jousting as proof of his devotion. Over a period of 30 days, with help from nine other knights,Don Suero achieved his objective - but the lady still refused his suit. Cured of his infatuation, the Don and his supporters went to Santiago, where he offered the Apostle a golden bracelet in thanksgiving that he was now free of his enslavement to love.
  • Day 5. ASTORGA – Our journey takes us to Astorga, where the Camino Frances meets up with the Via Del Plata. About one hour into the walk, we make a modest ascent and suddenly the plains are over—there are two or three small climbs this morning through remote-feeling countryside—wheat fields ending in shady corners under small oaks—picnic with views down to the cathedral of Astorga—walk into town for stalwarts—bishop’s palace designed by Gaudí and elegant town hall—overnight Astorga.We visit the Cathedral with its Museum of the Way, Gaudi’s Palace, and the Museo Romano. For those with a sweet tooth there is a museum of chocolate. 17km.
  • Day 6. RABANAL – The next few days are a little more challenging - across the mountains to Ponferrada. We walk through the old region of the Maragatos, a mysterious, race of muleteers to Rabanal Del Camino. We visit Santa Maria with its Romanesque Templar origins. 21km Astorga to Rabanal del Camino, total walk 20.6 km—out through Astorga’s old town—an hour and a half brings us to well-preserved Castrillo de Polvazares, former centre of the interesting Maragatos tribe, obscure in its origins but throughout history Northern Spain’s muleteers—a mix of path and lane leads slowly upwards with views opening into the mountains of León—picnic lunch—walk to Rabanal del Camino.
  • Day 7. EL ACEBO – From Rabanal and Foncebadón we climb to the emblematic iron cross called Cruz de Ferro, with an enormous mound of stones placed by pilgrims at its base. We then enjoy a fairly level section through heather and broom before descending quite steeply into the lovely little stone village of El Acebo. 18km.
  • Day 8. PONFERRADA – We enjoy a gradual descent through the hills to the larger town of Ponferrada. Here we visit a fabulous Templar Castle, and if time also the Basilica de la Encina (has Statue of the virgin) and the Museo del Bierzo. 14km Ponferrada, rest day—optional visits in the town include the Templar castle, Nuestra Señora de la Encina and the regional museum—afternoon excursion to Villafranca del Bierzo, to the church of Santiago where sick pilgrims were allowed to stop with full honours and indulgences—overnight Ponferrada.
  • Day 9. VILLAFRANCA DEL BIERZO – A longer walk today brings us to the foot of a mountain range. At Villafranca we visit the Church of Santiago with its Puerta del pardon. The Church of San Francesco was reputedly established by St. Francis when he journeyed to Santiago. 22km.
  • Day 10. O CEBREIRO – Bus to La Portela. The stiff walk up to the ancient village of O’Cebreiro, just on the Galician side of the León-Galicia border is one of the most famous stages of the entire Way. We visit the Church of Santa Maria Real. 21km.
  • Day 11. TRIACASTELA – We climb through the pass at Alto San Roque. The Church of Santiago in Triacastella is another attractive church along the Way. 21km.
  • Day 12. SARRIA – A beautiful stretch of walking today – although it passes through extremely rural areas with very few services. Samos Monastery is historically very important. The Sarria Churches of Santa Marina and El Salvador are worth a visit. 24km (BD) Triacastela to Sarriá, total walk 18.5 km—visit the village of O Cebreiro, first port of call in Galicia for pilgrims, with Celtic buildings and ancient church—drive to Triacastela—the walk starts low and climbs, through Galician-green valley and into country of tiny hamlets where cows chew the cud in dark mediaeval sheds—sunken tracks, ferns, ivy, and later a fine upland feel—picnic lunch—slow descent to Sarriá—overnight Sarriá.
  • Day 13. PORTOMARIN – Portomarin has a great setting and Pilgrim’s atmosphere. A nice place to relax, read, and update your journal. We walk across the Mino Bridge and visit the Church of St. Nicholas. 23km.
  • Day 14. PALAS DE REI – Out in the countryside again. We pass small hamlets and Eucalypt stands to arrive at Palas de Rei. There is a Pilgrims’ monument there. 25km .
  • Day 15. ARZUA – We hike through rolling rural terrain. Much of the walk to Melide (wonderful square and church) is on quiet surfaced country lanes, dirt and cobbled paths and medieval bridges. Then on to the bustling town of Arzua. 29km.
  • Day 16. ARCA – Other northern pilgrim’s routes merge with the Camino Frances in Arzúa – we will notice more pilgrims from here on. Walk through Ste. Irene and another Eucalyptus Forest. 21km
  • Day 17. SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA – EASTER SATURDAY – Our last stretch before arriving in Santiago. 21km. Monte del Gozo to Santiago cathedral, total walk 4.4 km—drive from Sarriá to Monte del Gozo—here pilgrims once fell to their knees at the first view of the cathedral spires of Santiago (harder to see now through eucalyptus)—walk through suburbs into increasingly ancient and lovely city centre, granite gleaming with mica during (frequent) rains—the cathedral: a Romanesque masterpiece with a magnificent carved portal—free afternoon—overnight Santiago.
  • Day 18. SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA – We have a full day to explore Santiago, including the Pilgrims Office to apply for and hopefully to receive our Compostela certificates. We attend a Pilgrims Mass, and visit some of the sites of this remarkable city.
  • Day 19. DEPARTURE – This morning we leave Santiago with a lifetime of great memories. This morning those returning to Sydney will be transferred to the airport for their flight to Australia. Other members can continue their further travels.
Our Take:
This is the final and arguably the most popular section of the historic pilgrim's road to Santiago de Compostela.