17 DAYS - EL CAMINO WALKING PILGRIMAGE - FRANCES ROUTE
OCTOBER 21 – NOVEMBER 06, 2018
DAY 1- (OCT. 21-Sun) – DEPART NORTH AMERICA.
Pilgrims will meet at the airport three hours prior to our flight. Dinner and entertainment on board our flight.
DAY 2 – (OCT. 22) MADRID – LEON.
Upon our arrival in Madrid, we will drive about 3h30 through the Meseta, which is a vast plateau in the heart of peninsular Spain with elevations around 700m, very flat, into the City of Leon. The bus will arrive in León where you will have the remainder of the day free to discover the city’s historic sites, including its remarkable cathedral, filled with more than 100 stained glass windows. A 2hr guided tour can be scheduled around 5pm (if time allows) to understand the importance of the Kingdom of Leon on the formation of Spain especially during the time of the Reconquista. Dinner and overnight at our hotel in Leon.
DAY 3 - (OCT. 23) 10 KM - ROMAN TOWNS, TEMPLAR AND GAUDI - NIGHT IN PONFERRADA
We have another busy day awaiting us today, so we will wake up early to drive to Astorga, a fascinating town with a Gothic Cathedral and a palace designed by Antoni Gaudí, mostly known for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. After free time to discover the city, we will drive a bit further towards Rabanal del Camino to attempt to cross one of the highest mountain peaks of the French Way and arrive at the Cruz de Hierro, the Iron Cross. Here, it is common for pilgrims to leave a souvenir of their passage, a rock, piece of paper or even shoes. So, don’t forget to bring along a symbolic token. Our 1st day on the Camino will be on one of the toughest climbs there is but the views will be stunning. We will walk from Rabanal to the Templar Albergue in Manjarin or a bit further if we can before driving down to Ponferrada for the night. Ponferrada, a Roman fort entrusted to the Knights of the Order of the Templars in the 12th century. The Templars built their castle on the fortress from which they protected the pilgrims. They occupied it until their dissolution in 1312. This edifice is one of the last castles of the Order of the Templars. It is here that Paolo Coelho places one of the most memorable scenes of his novel “The Pilgrimage”.
DAY 4 - (OCT. 24) 14 KM - WALK FROM CAMPONARAYA TO VILLAFRANCA DO BIERZO
After a short drive out of Ponferrada, we will start the walk in Camponaraya just 16 km outside. We will be walking today in the sumptuous vineyards of the Bierzo Valley. Our first stop will be Cacabelos, where you can visit the church of Santa Maria (Romanesque apse) and the archaeological museum (free entrance). 8 km later we will reach our destination for the night, a 3* hotel in the heart of Villafranca del Bierzo, the "city of the Franks", a charming medieval town, nestled at the foot of the mountain, with strong Jacobean traditions. In 1186, the bishop of Astorga obtained a papal bull, allowing the pilgrims too ill to continue their journey on Santiago, to receive the Jubilee Blessing if they crossed the Puerta del Perdón (remember in the "The Pilgrimage" By Paolo Coelho).
DAY 5 - (OCT. 25) 21 KM – WALK FROM VILLAFRANCA DO BIERZO TO HERRERIAS
Once you cross the bridge over the Rio Burbia, you have the choice of two well marked routes. Either you stay in the valley, on the main road, (since a motorway has been opened nearby the road is not very busy) or choose the second path, “Variante de Pradela”. The second option is certainly more scenic, but is much more dif1icult as it involves 400 meters climb and descent (avoid it when it’s raining or foggy, take water and food). Both meet in the village of Trabadelo. Up on the hill above Vega de Valcarce, you can see the ruins of a 9th century castle, Castillo del Sarracin. You still have a little more than 3 km to arrive at your hotel in Las Herrerías (the forge).
DAY 6 - (OCT. 26) 9 KM – WALK FROM HERRERIAS TO O CEBREIRO
Today, you are 1inally going to enter Galicia through its emblematic door, O’Cebreiro. The climb to the Galician village (1300 meters high) although not the highest is certainly one of the steepest of the French Way (675m elevation gain in 10 km). The beauty of this stage will make you forget its hardness. With its panoramic views onto the valleys, its stone, circular, thatched houses (called "pallozas", one of the oldest forms of settlement in Galicia), its pre-Romanesque church of the ninth century (rebuilt in 1962) – Place of a Eucharistic miracle in the 14th century -, few places on the Way of Santiago are as enchanting as O Cebreiro. After a long climb up, we will spend the night in a traditional house on top of the village and enjoy a relaxing evening overlooking the valleys below.
DAY 7 -(OCT. 27) 21 KM - WALK FROM O CEBREIRO TO TRIACASTELA
After breakfast, we will initiate a steady descent towards the valleys of Galicia. After Linares, a hamlet, 3 km further, with a small 12th century Church La Igrexa de Santo Estevo, the path goes up to the Alto de San Roque and its well-known large bronze statue of a pilgrim straining against the wind. In Hospital de la Condesa, the 12th church Igrexa de San Xoan had been rebuilt in the 1960’s. Then, your last climb for the day, a steep slope to Alto de Poio at 1335 meters. After Fonfria, the Camino will lead you down towards the valleys of Galicia, it drops over the length of 9 km by 600 meters. So, take care of your knees and walk slowly. Your destination for the night is the village of Triacastela where we will spend the night.
DAY 8 - (OCT. 28) 25 KM - WALK FROM TRIACASTELA TO SARRIA VIA SAMOS
Just as you exit Triacastela, you’ll have the option of making a detour to the Benedictine monastery of Samos, one of the wealthiest and most powerful monasteries of the peninsula in Medieval Times which will add about 7 km to your journey and you will need at least 1h30 to visit. Your destination is Sarria, the starting point of most pilgrims along the French Way, where you will spend the night at a hotel along the Camino.
DAY 9 - (OCT. 29) 22 KM - WALK FROM SARRIA TO PORTOMARIN
Once you leave Sarria, the Camino transforms into a paved trail going up and down through beautiful countryside, meadows and oak woods, charming villages with slate roofs. Don’t forget to take a picture of yourself in front of the 100-km marker and witness those who have walked hundreds of kilometers get emotional. Tonight, you will stay in one of the two hotels in the heart of the village of Portomarin booked for your group and stroll through the impressive archway village with its memorable church. This town is very unique as great battles that took place in the valley below and the town you visit is only a replica of the Medieval town relocated in the 60s rock by rock to avoid floods.
DAY 10 - (OCT. 30) 20 KM - WALK FROM PORTOMARIN TO LESTEDO
Leave the village of Portomarin on a bridge over the artificial lake of Belesar. The next kilometers will then be uphill through woodlands into the hamlet Gonzar. Near Castromaior, the path borders the ruins of a 2200 years old Celtic Castro, and in Ligonde, you will 1ind a hospital which received the emperor Charles V and his son Philip II, the most famous pilgrims of the sixteenth century. Dinner and overnight at our hotel along the Camino.
DAY 11 - (OCT. 31) 18 KM - WALK FROM LESTEDO TO MELIDE
After a short drive back to Lestedo, continue your way to the hamlet of Portos, where if you wish you should leave the Camino Francés and take the Via Ferradal Novo (2,5 km detour) to the Romanesque church of Vilar de Donas, one of the most striking examples of Galician Romanesque Architecture and the burrial place of several knights of the Order of Santiago, the protectors of the road since 1184. Walk the remaining kilometers into Palas de Rei, where you should stop to visit the town church and maybe enjoy a coffee in one of the many bars. You then have about 4h left to walk before reaching Melide. Make sure to arrive in time for lunch (2pm in Spain) as Melide is renowned for having the oldest surviving cruceiro (calvary) in the world and or the best "Pulpo a la Gallega" (Octopus) in Galicia. You will be spending the night in a traditional 3* spa hotel just 15min drive away with stunning views onto the countryside and you will be treated to a 30-min thermal bath.
DAY 12 - (Nov. 01) 20 KM - WALK FROM MELIDE TO A CALZADA
After a transfer back to Melide, continue your journey through the peaceful Galician countryside. You will find by now, the way you live the Camino is changing. As your body and feet are getting used to the activity, the path becomes gentler. Take it in and enjoy this time-off from your busy life to think, relax and interact with fellow pilgrims. After 14 km, you will reach Arzua, which is famous for its peculiarly shaped cheese. After lunch, we will then continue another 6 km until we reach a bar named A Calzada where we will stop the walk for the day. We will then transfer to a beautiful guesthouse nearby where we will spend the night.
DAY 13 - (Nov. 02) 23 KM - WALK FROM A CALZADA TO LAVACOLLA
With only 30 km left before Santiago, you will notice the atmosphere along the Way is changing as people plan to celebrate their arrival and start realizing it will soon be time to part with people they might have been walking with for a month. The countryside itself changes as you enter forest with totally symmetric rows that produce curious visual effects. The villages you pass virtually have no name and seem stuck in time. On our journey today, we will pass the village of O Pedrouzo and walk near Santiago Airport before arriving in Lavacolla where we will spend our last night on the Camino before Santiago. Lavacolla's name come from the small river that crosses the village, where, if weather permits, you should stop, take off your shoes and let your feet rest in the cold waters. It was traditional to clean your clothes - and hence purifying your soul - in that same river before stepping into the Cathedral.
DAY 14 - (Nov. 03) 10 KM - WALK FROM LAVACOLLA TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
This is it! Only ten kilometers separate you from your goal. Leave early to reach Santiago before twelve to attend the pilgrim mass (also at 7:30 pm). After only 5 km walk, you will then climb up to Monte do Gozo (Mount of joy) which offers stunning views on the City before walking into the Medieval Town, which you will enter via the “Camino Door”. A few minutes later, you will 1inally pass the Azabachería Door, the of1icial entrance to the Cathedral on a non-Holy Year (in 2016 and 2021 you will be able to enter through the Holy Door on the Quintana Square), and continue down to the Plaza del Obradoiro. You have initially finished the Camino de Santiago! Enter now if you wish, we recommend continuing down to the Plaza del Obradoiro and simply stopping there. Breath in and truly live this moment, do whatever feels right. After your check-in at your hotel in Santiago de Compostela, get your pilgrim certificate, attend Pilgrim Mass & marvel at the architecture of our beloved City before enjoying a gourmet congratulations dinner in your hotel.
DAY 15: (NOV. 04) FREE DAY SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA.
Visit and celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of St. James, one of the finest examples of architecture in all of Europe. Hug the statue of St. James, pray at his relics and participate in the sacrament of confession. We will have a 2-hr guided tour around the Cathedral. Free day at your leisure for the rest of the day. Overnight in Santiago de Compostela.
DAY 16: (NOV. 05) SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA – FINISTERRE.
A day tour (8 hrs.) in Finisterre, which translates as ‘the end of the world’ and is the spiritual and historic end to all of the pilgrimages to Santiago. Finisterre is situated on the west coast of Spain, looking out over the Atlantic and many pilgrims choose to end their Camino here to complete their physical and spiritual journey. Our Finisterre day trip will take you from Santiago de Compostela to the fishing village and Cape, stopping along stunning parts of the Costa da Morte, such as the fishing village of Muros, Carnota (home to the biggest granary in Galicia and the largest sandy beach), the Ézaro waterfall (the only river in Europe reaching the sea as a waterfall), Vimianzo’s medieval castle and the village of Muxía, famous for its charming sanctuary by the Atlantic. Return to Santiago de Compostela for Overnight.
DAY 17 - (NOV. 06) START OF YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE - RETURN TO USA
A wise pilgrim once told us “the real Camino starts where the Camino de Santiago finishes but I will not be afraid because the Camino will always be there for me.” As we drive you to Santiago de Compostela Airport, we will share our thoughts about this wonderful pilgrimage we just took together! We will arrive back in the United States today to conclude a memorable pilgrimage.
We will take the Camino Frances route (the most popular route) at Stage 4 & 5, walking the final 300 km of the French Way from the Cathedral of Leon to the Cathedral of Santiago, walking through the villages, towns and mountains of Galicia; This is graded easy to moderate walk with an average of 12-15 miles per day. Pilgrims are strongly advised to prepare and train walking from 6 months to a year ahead.