Towns Along The Way – “N-P”
It’s been a while since I wrote about the various towns that line the Camino Frances. In my last update, I talked about the towns of Maneru, Melide, Molinaseca, Manjarin, and Mansilla de las Mulas. Molinaseca is a favourite of mine. In this post, I’ll talk about some more towns. Again, if you have stayed in any of the below towns, please let me know how you got on in the comment box below!
Najera is a small town in the region of La Rioja. It is nearly 27km from the city of Logrono and has a population of over 7,000 people. The Najerilla river splits the town in two and on a sunny day, relaxing by the river after a long walk is a great idea! I passed through Najera myself in 2013, 2015 and again in 2018, and it looked like the town had been built right out of the hills. It is visually stunning. The main sight in Najera is the church of Santa María la Real which was founded by García Sánchez III of Pamplona in 1052.
There are many different options for accommodation in Najera. I have stayed once (in 2013). If you are walking from Logrono and feel up to walking more than 25km, stopping in Najera is a good choice. Many people prefer to stop in Ventosa, the town prior.
Navarrete is also situated in the La Rioja region, 12km from Logrono. I remember seeing it first in 2013. Picture postcard stuff. It was my first day walking and it was pretty warm. I was thinking of calling it a day but I knew I had a few more kilometres left to walk that day. I stopped for a moment and saw the town at the top of a hill ahead of vineyards and that gave me the energy to keep going. After an Aquarius, of course!
Over 2,000 people live in this small town, which is based at the bottom of a hill. The streets are small and winding but it is a lively town. There is a castle at the top of the hill and there is one theory that the castle was used for defensive reasons. Nafarrate in Basque means “Door of Navarre”. Anyway, Navarrete is a welcoming place nowadays and treat peregrinos like their neighbour. There are many different places to stay here, both municipal and private. I have stayed in Albergue La Casa del Peregrino and I’d recommend it.
Ok, so even seasoned veterans will find it hard to remember this town. It is that small. We move from La Rioja to Navarra where Obanos is situated. It has a population of around 700 people. It is the final town before Puente la Reina and many choose to stay here during busy times. The Camino de Aragones from Somport and the Frances meet here and continue to Santiago. Obanos holds the Gothic church of San Juan Bautista which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. I found it amusing on passing the town in 2014 to find the same banner hanging from the church.
There are a number of places to stay in Obanos however the majority of people prefer to walk an extra few kilometres to Puente la Reina. Keep an eye out for the town’s fiesta however, as the people who live there put on a play every second year for the pilgrims who pass through.
We start with possibly the largest town on the Camino, other than Santiago herself. When someone mentions San Fermin, “the running of the bulls”, Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”, you automatically think of Pamplona (or Iruña in it’s favoured Basque). Situated in Navarre, it is home to close to 200,000 people. The city is also famous for its “pinchos” and it’s always worthwhile to spend some time in the historic quarter where you can sample them (www.spain.info). As you make your way into Pamplona, you will pass a number of suburbs – Villava and Burlada – and finally see the town’s fortress walls. You are now entering the old town. There are many albergues, hostels, and hotels to choose from here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in the municipal albergue. Pamplona is well worth a visit if you are not walking the Camino.
Puente la Reina (map)
Staying in Navarre and only a further 25 km westward, we find Puente la Reina. The town was named as such as the bridge was built by Queen Doña Mayor, the wife of King Sancho III, to facilitate passage of pilgrims over the river Arga. It is a town heavily influenced by the Way to Santiago, with the remains of walls and several religious buildings in place. El Iglesia de Santiago was founded by the Knights Templars, who settled in there. Also worth mentioning are its large medieval bridge of five arches, and the church of San Pedro, from the 14th century. There are a number of places for the weary pilgrim to rest their head in Puente la Reina (Gronze); Albergue Jakue being one of the better ones.
Población de Campos (map)
Close to 300km further on down the Camino Frances, we reach Población de Campos. Calling Población de Campos a town would be a push, however, as nearly 200 people live here. A hamlet would be the appropriate word! It is situated in Castilla y Leon and is the next town to Fromista. In the village, you will find Church of the Magdalena; and the chapels of Socorro and San Miguel. I do remember stopping here for a cafe con leche in 2015, but I haven’t considered it as a stop-off point. There are a number of albergues here, however (Gronze). The following video shows you scenes of the town.
Puente Villarente (map)
A further 100 km along the way, we arrive at Puente Villarente, a suburb of Leon. Named after it’s large Romanesque bridge, it has a population of approximately 150 people. I have passed through here on two occasions and wish I had stayed here as it is a long slog into the city of Leon. A footbridge was built recently for pilgrims to avoid any accidents on the busy main road. There are a number of albergues here also (Gronze); San Pelayo is getting good reviews.
Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo region and is one of the major points of the Camino Frances. The historic quarter of this town sits below an imposing castle built by the Knights Templar. The Castle rises above the river Sil, dominating the city’s historic quarter. Construction began on this medieval fortress towards the end of the 12th century. It is also worth visiting the Museum of El Bierzo, located in Calle del Reloj, in the building which was the former prison. Its facilities provide an introduction to the history of Ponferrada. As with every large town, there are many places to stay (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, preferring to stop in the town prior, Molinaseca.
Another small village located just outside a larger town. Pieros has a population of fewer than 50 people and is dependant on the Camino. Five kilometres along the way is the much larger Villafranca del Bierzo, in the Bierzo valley. Pieros is home to the fantastic Albergue El Serbal y Luna and don’t forget to take a pit stop at the Café Bar Arroyo (on the left-hand side of the road) before moving on.
Pereje is the first town you arrive at on leaving Villafranca del Bierzo; 5 km to be precise. However, it is worth noting that you will only see this town if you walk along the roadside. There are two alternative routes (via Dragonte and via Pradela) which skip a number of towns, but that’s for another day. Pereje is built just off the busy N6 motorway and also lies on the River Valcarce. I walked through Pereje on my way to O Cebreiro in 2012 and even though it was a tough day, Pereje is one of those towns that make you want to come back to Spain, open an albergue and give back. There is a great albergue and a pension to choose from here (Gronze). Leaving Pereje, you return to the N6 with Santiago on your mind.
The first thing you will notice as you approach Portomarin is the large bridge over the Mino river, following the climb of a number of steep steps into the village. But if you look close enough, you may see another bridge underneath. The reason for this is in the 1960s the Miño River was dammed to create the Belesar reservoir, putting the old village of Portomarín under water. The most historic buildings of the town were moved brick by brick and reconstructed in a new town, including its church – La Iglesia de San Juan in the main plaza. In the seasons when the dam is at a low level, the remains of ancient buildings, the waterfront, and the old bridge are still visible. Also, if you look close enough at the church, you will see numbers placed on the bricks, to ensure each brick is put back together! I walked through this town in 2011 and was fascinated by the history. There is no shortage of accommodation in Portomarin (Gronze).
Palas de Rei (map)
Some 25 km after Portomarin and 70 km from Santiago, we arrive at Palas de Rei. It is a major stop-off point for pilgrims with plenty of facilities, albergues, and hotels (Gronze). The town is of pre-Roman origins and it was important in assisting pilgrims during the Middle Ages. At this point, you are only three days from Santiago.
O Pedrouzo (map)
20 km from Santiago, we arrive at O Pedrouzo. The Caminos del Norte, Primitivo and Frances all pass through this large town, so it can be a little busy during the summer months. Never-the-less, there is no shortage of accommodation (Gronze) and pilgrims usually use this town to get some rest before their arrival in Santiago. O Pedrouzo is the capital of the municipality of O Pino and has close to 600 people living there. This is unofficially the penultimate stop on the Camino Frances but it is possible to stay beyond here should you want to make your final day that little bit shorter.