CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
GO: Each year about 200,000 people embark on a journey along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James. The most popular route is the Camino Frances from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (790km). Whatever section you choose, be sure to visit the tiny village of O Cebreiro, high in the mountains of Galicia; it has fewer than 50 residents and is dotted with pre-Roman round stone huts with thatched roofs; santiago-compostela.net.
BUY: The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, adorning shops, trees, guide posts and pilgrims’ backpacks. Legend links the shell to St James and how his body came to rest in this corner of Spain. Buy one to show you are on The Way and as a great memento.
TASTE: Sample the cuisine of northern Spain, including tapas or pintxos in the Basque region and morcilla (blood sausage) in Burgos. Try the tarta de Santiago (cake of St James), an almond delight marked with a cross that is made only in Galicia.
DRINK: The Camino Frances passes through La Rioja region, which produces some of the best red wines in Spain. A vino tinto is a very acceptable house red; order crianza and be served a wine aged at least two years; ask for reserve and enjoy a drop aged three years with time on oak. En route to La Rioja, stop at the wine fountain at Bodegas Irache where pilgrims serve themselves a free glass of red.
EXPERIENCE: Reflect on your journey at the Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross marking the highest point on the Camino Frances, near the village of Foncebadon. Many pilgrims bring a rock or other item from home to place at the foot of the cross as a symbol of leaving their burdens behind.
VISIT: The grand Santiago Cathedral is the pilgrimage end point. There is a special atmosphere in the plaza outside as people from across the world take their final steps to the tomb of St James. A pilgrim mass is held daily at noon, but arrive by 11am.
EXPLORE: The path officially continues beyond Santiago a further 86km to Cape Finisterre. A day or two at the seaside to relax out of your walking boots and enjoy fine seafood is a fitting finale.
Jaclyn Lofts is tour operator UTracks’s Camino expert and has been walking and cycling throughout Europe for more than a decade. UTracks offers walking and cycling trips, guided and self-guided, along the Spanish Camino, French Way of St James and the Portuguese Camino. More: utracks.com.
Graham Erbacher Graham.Erbacher@news.com.au