I have always wanted to walk the Camino to Santiago de Compostela but, as a single woman of increasing age and girth – and decreasing time and funds – how would I do it?
I wanted the whole caboodle of the Camino, but with a few home comforts; a kind of “pilgrimage lite” if you will, with a proper bed, hot bath and quality, local cuisine thrown in for good measure.
Dublin-based travel agency Follow the Camino offered me a way to discover the famous walk without having to rough it.
The trip combines boutique hotels, quality restaurants, castles and churches without losing the essence of El Camino – the walking, the solitary contemplation and the ever-changing countryside. Better still, they whisked us through the less interesting sections by minibus and carried our luggage from place to place.
“Camino” usually translates as a “path” or “road”, but it can also mean “a journey”. This particular path leads to the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the disciple were enshrined after his martyrdom in AD44. This pilgrimage way has been walked by thousands for centuries, and eight main routes to Santiago have developed.
We walked and drove along the entire length of the most popular route, the Camino Francés, which starts in France at St. Jean Pied de Port, crosses the Pyrenees, passes along the north of Spain through the Basque country, Navarre, Rioja, Castilla y León and Galicia before reaching Santiago de Compostela. Normally, this route of 790km would take around 32 days to walk, averaging 25km a day. We did it all in one week.
As the Camino is about finding oneself and enjoying the silence and solitude, how would it be on a group trip?
“May is the start of the Camino season and August is very sociable at the refugios. If you want to do it alone, winter is best,” said Alberto Bosque, from the Regional Government of Castilla y León.
“The best way to walk the Camino is alone,” said Carolin our guide. However, the Camino is no longer a solitary, deserted path to enlightenment. Some 300,000 pilgrims walk the Camino each year, usually on foot but also by bike, car and even horse.
The Camino is a time for quiet contemplation (Lucy Mallows)
We flew to Biarritz and then drove to the French town of St Jean Pied de Port, the traditional starting point for the Camino Francés. We collected our Pilgrim Passports, to be stamped at hostels, restaurants and churches along the way….