After more than eleven centuries, the Camino de Santiago continues to be one of the most important cultural routes in the world. In medieval times, it was Europe’s largest trade route and an important place for cultural exchange. It ends in Compostela, the Galician city where, according to legend, the remains of St. James are found. Today, the route joins pilgrims motivated by their Christian faith with others looking for a sporting challenge, a spiritual break or a chance to enjoy the scenery and architecture of the Spanish towns and cities along the way.
On foot, horseback or bicycle, this year more than 100,000 people have already made the pilgrimage. According to the Pilgrim Office, nearly 70 percent choose the French Route of 775 miles and 31 stages that starts in the town of Saint Jean Pied de Port (in the French Pyrenees) and ends in Santiago, crossing cities like Navarre, Logroño, Burgos and León. In this journey, you can visit the Roncesvalles Mountains, the monumental complex of Santo Domingo de la Calzada or Gaudí’s Episcopal Palace in Astorga, in addition to the cathedrals and monasteries that different religious orders built throughout the years.
But there are other equally interesting routes to achieve the Bula Jubilar or Jubilee, the document certifying that the goal has been reached crossing the Obradoiro Square, where we find the monumental Cathedral of Santiago is located. Other ways to reach Santiago include the Via de la Plata, which begins in Seville and runs through Extremadura, Salamanca and Zamora. The Camino Del Norte, or North Road, bordering the Bay of Biscay in the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias will also lead you to Santiago.
For many travelers this is the most attractive route, since it offers the possibility of visiting La Concha beach in San Sebastian, the university and other jewels of the civil architecture of the town of Comillas in Cantabria, or the green mountainous landscapes of Asturias.
Legend has it that all human beings are equal on the Camino de Santiago as they are stripped of superficial things. Maybe that’s why many celebrities have been encouraged to reflection, or to keep a promise traveling through parts of the pilgrimage route. Among them, actors Martin Sheen and Shirley MacLaine— who made a film titled The Way in which she describes her experience—Jenna Bush, daughter of former President of the United States George W. Bush, and the scientist Stephen Hawking, who covered one of the sections in a wheelchair, showing that true will has no barriers.
When it comes to accommodations, the best options are the inns or “paradores”, historic buildings transformed into luxury lodges. They keep the essence of their time, but are adapted to please a demanding pilgrim who wants to fully enjoy the comfort and cuisine of the area. Some are highly valued for their environment, services or restaurants, such as the Parador de Vielha in Lleida, the Cáceres in Extremadura or the Baiona in Pontevedra.
Visits to vineyards, trains like the Transcantábrico, extended stays in luxury hotels, hiking and moments of relaxation and pleasure do not take away from the austere spirit of a route that transmits knowledge, peace and inner balance. ■