It’s been 14 days since isolation kicked in and 2 days since lock-in. With so much negativity, it is unhealthy for the mind. I have been scouring YouTube for Camino-related videos and with the recommendation of Linda at Somewhereslowly, I have signed up to Babbel at a specially reduced rate. These days indoors are the perfect time to learn a new language, and dust down a new one (I’m looking at you, Spanish!). It also has podcasts to tune your ear, so it’s all good.
Ok, back to the subject matter of the post. I can’t believe it’s nearly 6 years since I last walked from St Jean Pied de Port. I had been planning to walk from there ever since I arrived home from Leon in June 2013. I had done quite a bit of research and I actually had planned to meet a few Camino forum members in St Jean when I arrived. For someone who has not walked a Camino, it might seem a bit daunting but if you do the right research, it is quite easy. Once you know the days you are free and you have booked your flights, that is half the battle. You just arrive and then walk! I booked a flight with Ryanair to Biarritz. The next step was to find somewhere to stay in St Jean Pied de Port. Generally, accommodation fills up quick during peak season. I found a great place after looking on Gronze.com, Gite Ultreia. It offered B&B for €15 – practically nothing at today’s prices. I met Jason from South Korea there and we bumped into each other on and off until I finished in Belorado.
September arrived with much anticipation. The weather looked good in the North East of Spain. I got on the flight and before I knew it I had arrived. I met a pilgrim friend, Andrea in Biarritz. We had met on a forum and we were going to walk from the off. After a quick shuttle to Bayonne and a bus to St Jean, we had arrived.
One thing I remember however is how busy the town was. It was full of pilgrims and we arrived in the middle of rush hour. People are dining, viewing the sites and basically wandering around. Oh, do you remember the book “I’m Off Then” by Hape Kerkeling? Well, I am probably the only pilgrim to have not read it yet. BUT…it was made into a film in 2014, and many of the scenes were shot on the Camino. As I was going to my B&B, I was asked to stay put by part of the film crew while a scene was being shot.
The next day proved to be one of the toughest but most rewarding days on the Camino. I was in no hurry. There was no prize. It took nearly 8 hours to reach the monastery in the woods in Roncesvalles but I was glad to see a bunk bed on arrival.
I didn’t have any wine until I had my meal later that evening but it didn’t matter. I was already drunk with the scenery from the day. I was lucky enough to receive a blessing in the chapel beside the monastery after the meal before thinking about the next day.
I keep thinking if I will be walking from St Jean any time soon. I would certainly love to as my love for that part of the world has not gone away. Let’s see when all this madness goes away first.
Today, I’d like to make a start and talk to you about the towns along the Way starting with R. And there are a lot of them. The first of these towns is the first you will meet after leaving St. Jean Pied de Port. Again, if you have stopped in any of these towns, leave a comment and let me know what you thought!
Roncesvalles (or Orreaga in Basque) is a small village in Navarre. It has a population of 50 people and is situated about 21 kms from the French border. This town is the start of the Camino Frances in Spain. The first day is probably the toughest day, after an ascent of over 1400 metres over the Pyrenees, but the descent to Roncesvalles can be equally challenging. On arriving at your end point, pilgrims are rewarded by their stay at possibly one of the best albergues on the Camino Frances. The albergue here is a renovated monastery with over 180 beds. There are other accommodation here to choose from. Ensure you visit its Gothic “Iglesia de Santiago” for pilgrim mass before having your first pilgrim meal in either of the town’s restaurants.
Some 190 kms westward and 8 to 9 days later, we arrive at our next destination, Redecilla del Camino. It wouldn’t surprise me if you know little about this town as the majority of guidebooks gloss over it. That said, I have stayed here in 2014 and have enjoyed my time here, regardless of the size. Redecilla is located in the province of Burgos and has a population of 140 people. Those who have already walked the Camino will remember Redecilla as being the first town after the large sign saying you are now in Castille y Leon. There isn’t a whole lot to do here but I did enjoy my stay in Albergue San Lazaro. There is also a hotel here that serves fine food drinks and in 2016, a new albergue opened.
A further 70 km to the west, we arrive in Rabé de las Calzadas. Again, this town is in Burgos and has a population of 150 people. Rabé marks the start of a new “phase” of the Camino, however. Now, pilgrims enter the meseta which is the the central plateau of Spain from Burgos to Astorga. While Rabé is roughly 10 kms from Burgos and most pilgrims tend to walk to either Hornillos or Hontanas, there are a number of albergues here. The town is sleepy with a main plaza and fountain and would attract pilgrims who prefer not to stay in Burgos. On leaving the town, you will pass the Ermita de Rabe de Calzadas.
Between the towns of El Burgo Ranero and Mansilla de la Mulas, we arrive at Reliegos. Here we have a sleepy village with a population of 300 people. The journey to Reliegos is relatively uneventful with a long paved road to walk on and a long line of trees to your left hand side. The trees seem to go on for hours. You reach Reliegos eventually to be greeted by a number of huts on hills which are used as bodegas. Further on there is a Bar Elvis (right) owned by an eccentric but delightful character. You need to stop by there. There is plenty of accommodation in Reliegos. I have stayed in Albergue La Parada to the rear of the town in 2015. After walking 32 kms from Sahagun, we were glad to stay there. On leaving this town, you have 25 kms to Leon and the terrain will change from then on from the flat meseta you are currently on.
21 kms from Astorga, you will arrive at Rabanal del Camino, the last stop before the up and over of the Leon hills. Many choose to stay here for the night as a result (thanks Brierley!) In the Middle Ages, the knights templar built several hospitals and churches here for passing pilgrims before the journey over the hills. For such a small town, it has a real relaxed vibe about it and I have stayed here myself a number of times. Albergue Gaucelmo is run by the CSJ and the Albergue NS de Pilar is also popular. Today, all economic activity of the village revolves around services for pilgrims, with up to four good albergues and hotels. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Benedictine Monastery, “San Salvador del Monte Irago“, set up in 2001, which is popular among pilgrims. Sleep well, as the next day can be tough on the legs as you climb to the Cruz de Ferro and descend to Molinaseca.
Less than 4 kms after El Acebo, you will arrive at another small village – Riego de Ambrós. I have passed this town on 2 occasions and because my mind was so fixed on where my feet were, I didn’t take in where I was. Here the village lies on a curvy and steep descent, between El Acebo and Molinaseca. You have two albergues to choose from also, but if you are interested in breaking up the descent into 2 days, my advice is to stay in El Acebo beforehand as there are more facilities and more albergues. You may also prefer to finish the descent entirely and walk to Molinaseca (my favourite) or Ponferrada (where all the history is!)
Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village, Ruitelán is situated in the El Bierzo valley between Villafranca del Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Many choose to walk from Villafranca to O Cebreiro over a day which is close to 30 kms. That’s pretty tough going. However, some like to stop just before the ascent kicks in (Ruitelán, Las Herrarias or La Faba) and leave it until the next day to move on. Could be a wise choice! Ruitelán has a recommended albergue that offers a communal meal – Albergue Pequeño Potala. I might try it out!
You have climbed O Cebreiro, you have entered Galicia, passed Sarria and are on the home stretch. On your 3rd or 4th last day before Santiago, you will pass Ribadiso (or Rivadiso to the Galicians). It is not so much a town but rather a hamlet, and is home to the Rio Iso, a medieval bridge built over it and 2 albergues. All invite pilgrims to take a break. The old Xunta albergue, just past the bridge, used to be an old hospital restored from the fifteenth century. Ribadiso is 3 kms from Arzua and many a pilgrim has been tempted by the river to stay at these albergues rhan move on into the larger town.
Clearskies Camino was born on returning from my second Camino de Santiago in June 2012. I had been writing a journal and had taken the odd photo while on the Camino Frances that it just made sense to write my thoughts online. 2012 became 2013 and my hobby became something more. Writing had never been part of my life but I guess the Camino gave me the inspiration to put finger to keyboard. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage but in my eyes, it is also a challenge. It is a great way of meeting people and a great way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life. There are many Caminos to Santiago from all across Europe, but my experiences have mainly been on Camino Frances; an ancient trail covering 800 kilometres across Spain starting in St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of France and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Clearskies Camino is everything Camino – I love writing and talking about the various Caminos to Santiago and if you are one of the many people who have walked these routes, you may well feel the same. I hope my talking about my times on the Camino helps you as you plan for yours. Feel free to browse and “like” any of my posts and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment.