While I am mid-Camino Portugués, I just want to switch back to the Camino Francés for the purpose of this series. This was the first Camino I walked and I’m sure it was the first most of you walked too. It will always hold a special place in my heart.
Did you know that there are 158 towns along the Camino de Santiago? Probably not. Anyway, the aim of this series is to talk briefly about these towns you will pass through while making your way along the Camino Frances. Many are so small you will not think twice about their history but some are significant. I am going to talk about them alphabetically rather than geographically, so if you are only interested in Zubiri you may wish to check back in a few weeks 🙂
El Acebo (map)
El Acebo (or to give it it’s full name, El Acebo de San Miguel) is a small mountain village in the province of Leon. It has a population of roughly 40, and depends solely on the Camino. You will encounter it after reaching the Cruz de Ferro and is a blessing in disguise as the descent from the Leon hills can be tough. Its English translation is “The Holly”. In terms of the Camino de Santiago, the previous town is Manjarin (with a population of just 1) and the next is Riego de Ambros, some 3.5km further down the hills. A lot of pilgrims choose to stay here and there is a wealth of accommodation (www.gronze.com). However, in 2012 and 2015, I chose to keep walking, preferring to stay in Molinaseca at the foothills of the mountain. It serves as a great pit-stop for weary pilgrims and the sun chairs at “La Casa del Peregrino” are amazing!
From the foothills of the Leon mountains, we travel to the outskirts of Burgos metropolis, in fact, 22km from Burgos. Agés is a small town in the province of Burgos. With a population of approximately 60, it is also dependent on the Camino. Like El Acebo, there are plenty of restaurants, casa rurales and albergues (www.gronze.com). I have always chosen to walk the 3km extra to the next town of Atapuerca, which leaves me with a short day’s walk into Burgos the following day. Agés is a popular town, however, and it is not unusual to find it’s albergues booked up in advance.
I have yet to meet anyone or read any blogs by people who have stayed in this little town. The reason could be that it is so close to the major Camino towns of Villafranca el Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Ambasmestas is a village in the Valcarce region and in the Leon province. It has a population of roughly 60 people and you pass through it as you make your way to O Cebreiro. My only memory of this town is from 2012. I took the low road route from Villafranca el Bierzo and Ambasmestas offers a nice reprieve from the noise of the busy N6 motorway. On leaving the town, you make your way to Vega del Valcarce and begin to climb in Ruitelan. Ambasmestas does offer albergues and casa rurales for pilgrims also (www.gronze.com).
Another town you may not have heard about. It lies 8km from the hustle and bustle of Leon. Most pilgrims, including myself, would not think twice about stopping to look at this town, instead of pushing on to Leon. Funnily enough, Arcahueja has an albergue and a casa rural (www.gronze.com) and a playground which gave me a little bit of light relief during my 2015 Camino 🙂 The town, with a population of 200 people, lives beside the main road into Leon and is the last little bit of civilization until you reach Leon (you will also pass through a tiny village called Valdelafuente). On my 2017 Camino from Burgos, I decided to stop by the albergue and stayed the night. I loved it there, leaving the walk into Leon next to nothing the following morning.
You know your Camino is coming to an end when you reach the municipal of Arzúa. It is around 40km from Santiago which is a day or so walk. I have come across people who have walked the 40km in one day, while others have split it into two. Arzúa is in the province of La Coruna and has a population of over 6,000 people. It is a major Camino town and has a wealth of albergues, hotels, and pensions (www.gronze.com). I passed through this large town in 2011 and stayed in Pension O Retiro. Should you wish to avoid the hustle and bustle of this particular town, you could finish your day in Ribadixo da Baixo some 3km beforehand, or in Salceda 5km ahead. There are plenty of pulperias in Arzúa (well, you are in Galicia) and should you wish to drink some Queimada, here is the perfect place to taste some. Your time in Arzúa will be spent reminiscing over your last few weeks and trying to stretch out the little time left. Although to be honest, there will be lots of plans hatched to return!
Moving eastward some 250km and the next town in the A category, we come to the large university town of Astorga. Personally, I love Astorga as it is vibrant and comes to life after the siesta. Restaurants and cafes line up in the main plaza and there is a great buzz about the place. It lies in the province of Leon and holds a population of over 12,000. It is most well known for the Catedral de Santa María de Astorga, the Palacio Episcopal, designed by Antoni Gaudí, the Town Hall and it’s bells, it’s Roman archaeological remains, and last but not least, the Chocolate museum!! :). Unfortunately, I have not seen the chocolate museum yet as it was closed when I arrived in the town after a long day’s walking. As with all large towns, there are plenty of options for accommodation (www.gronze.com). I have stayed in both albergues but prefer the Albergue de peregrinos Siervas de María at the entrance of the town, even though it is a little bit out of main plaza. Also, if you are starting your Camino here, you can’t go wrong with Hotel Gaudi.
Moving further eastward by another 200km, we arrive back to the province of Burgos and Atapuerca. This part of Spain is steeped in history. Not far from this town is the Sierra de Atapuerca, an archaeological site. It contains several caves where fossils and stone tools of the earliest known humans in western Europe have been found. Naturally, it’s visitor centre is very busy. All of this is away from the Camino however. The town of Atapuerca is quiet and has a population of just over 150. It doesn’t seem to have reaped the rewards of the excavation site as visitors come to and from Burgos. Atapuerca is only 19km from Burgos itself and I have stayed here twice before. I have never had a problem with accommodation myself as most people choose on staying in either San Juan de Ortega or Ages. There are two albergues and two casa rurales (www.gronze.com). Also, I would recommend that you eat in Restaurante Como Sapiens (see what they did with the name!!), it is fab!!.
Ayegui is a town in Navarra and is deeply rooted in the Basque tradition, It is some 45km to the west of Pamplona. You may not have heard of the town itself as it is so close to Estella. Some people actually mistake it for being part of Estella. It has a population of roughly 2,000 people and this is increasing as it is a suburb of Estella. I have stayed here in 2014 staying in its only albergue (Albergue de peregrinos San Cipriano). The town is very close to the Bodegas Irache..the fountain of wine. If you are looking to eat out, you may as well walk back into Estella as there is very little to offer here. Oh..on a side note, the footballer Javi Martinez was born here. He plays for Bayern Munich. I suppose that’s the town’s claim to fame!
Azofra has all the hallmarks of a Camino town. I wonder what effect a diversion of the route would have on this town of 200 people. Azofra is based 8km from Najera and the Camino passes straight through the town. It has a number of shops, cafes, and bars. The municipal albergue, which was built recently, is outstanding. It is highly recommended but there are also two pensions in the town (www.gronze.com). I passed through the town in 2013 while it was raining torrentially and again in 2018 when it was extremely hot. So my memories have been mixed. I did stay in the municipal albergue in 2014. The sun shone and the owner of the town’s shop opened up for me during siesta. I had no food otherwise. The town is also situated in La Rioja, wine country..so there is no shortage of wine!
The next instalment will feature towns beginning with B including favourites of mine Belorado and Boadilla de Real Camino. If you have stayed in or have any comments about the above towns, please comment below.