Hi folks, just a quick post about something that has been on my mind of late. The Camino has been very busy so far this year (Jubilee Year) and I’ve been asking myself the above question. When people mention the Camino, they are talking about the Way that takes you from the foothills of the Pyrenees in St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. The French Way or the Camino Frances is the route with the most deep-rooted historical tradition and it is the most popular one. A certain film has made it popular also. Over 60% of pilgrims choose the Camino Frances because it is the route where you can get the most of the “pilgrim experience”. There are many pilgrims that you will meet on your journey and there are many facilities that cater to pilgrims. It is also the best waymarked route of all. These 790kms will leave an imprint on you, whether you choose to walk over a number of years, or in one year.
However, May 2016 has seen over 32,000 compestelas (or certificates) being issued in Santiago de Compostela, with the figures set to rise over the summer. The numbers of pilgrims have been increasing gradually year on year and many see the next Holy Year as a year of new records. Will there be sufficient albergues or accommodation for these peregrinos? Will supply match demand? I won’t answer those questions now but it is food for thought. Some people may choose to have their Camino booked through a travel agency to remove the stress, while others will sleep under the stars with a mat and a sleeping bag and leave it all up to chance. I prefer to take that option myself!
But…..let’s just park the Camino Frances to one side…, just for the sake of this post. Let’s leave it and discuss the other options available to pilgrims who want to get a “pilgrim experience” and yet have some solidarity. Because, you can!
Here are just a few options available to you:
- The Camino Finistere is the extension of the Camino Frances from Santiago de Compostela to Cape Finistere. It was mistakenly believed to be the western-most point of the Iberian Peninsula. It is about 110km in length and can take 4-5 days.
- The Camino Norte runs from Irun in north-eastern Spain. It runs along the Cantabrian coast to Ribadeo, at the entrance of Galicia, where the route turns southwest towards Compostela. It is just over 800km in length and can be tougher than the Camino Frances in parts. After the Frances, it is one of the more popular routes, passing through major cities like Bilbao, Santander and Gijon.
- The Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo and makes it’s way to Santiago. It goes through Asturias and Galicia. This road has in recent years gained a lot of fans, thanks to its landscapes. This is one for the future for me. Many people take the Camino del Salvador from Leon to Oviedo and then the Primitivo to Santiago. It is a great way to have time to yourself. The Camino Primitivo is 314km in length and can take about 2 weeks to walk.
- As mentioned above, The Camino del Salvador links Leon with Oviedo, across the Cantabrian Mountains. It is about 130km in length.
- Next, we have the Camino Ingles which originates in Ferrol in the North of Spain. The route would be taken by many medieval Irish or English pilgrims, who would sail to the northern Spanish coast and walk to Santiago. Today it’s popularity is rising as you can reach Santiago within a week; 119km.
- The Camino de Baztan is a very solitary route but is very well waymarked. It started in the French town of Bayonne and ends in Pamplona, where you can continue on the Camino Frances if you wish. The route can be used instead of walking over the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port. It is approximately 100km in length and while it is solitary, it’s popularity is rising.
- The Camino de Invierno or the Winter Way joins Ponferrada with Santiago through the valley of the river Sil. This way runs underneath the Camino Frances and avoids the climb to O Cebreiro. It is still a very lonely road, but well signposted and maintained.
- The Via de la Plata (or Silver Way) is the most important route in Southern Spain. It is also the longest. It starts in Seville and is characterized by the enormous distances between towns and extreme temperatures in summer. Not one for light walkers!
- The Camino Portuguese is another important and popular route. It starts in Lisbon to the south. Today its two main starting points are Porto and Tui, the last town in the Spanish-Portuguese border. It is the second busiest road after the Camino Frances. It should be noted that there are other Portuguese roads, such as the interior route and the the coastal route.
I’ve only listed a few of the many routes in Spain, but there are many more pilgrim routes further afield and where there are pilgrim routes, there will be pilgrims. A busy Camino Frances during the Summer months may be something we have to live with, as there is no sign of the numbers decreasing. But looking at the other options are interesting for possible Caminos over the next few years.
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Don’t forget the Camino walks though France…I walked the Chemin du Puy in 2015, from Le Puy to SJPP. Well marked, absolutely beautiful, not crowded (a few dozen pilgrims a day in April/May, rather than hundreds), and French food!