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Camino de Santiago Frances, Spain

Camino de Santiago

Walking & Cycling The Camino de Santiago Trail

The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, once offered plenary indulgences to medieval wayfarers. These days, a new kind of pilgrimage walk in Spain is tackling the trail. Undulating a magnificent 780km, the full length of the Camino trail is a beast, born from the days when the only way to travel was on foot. It was a punishing undertaking: a means of earning your place in heaven by making both a spiritual journey and a worldlier one to the Santiago de Compostela, believed to be the final resting place of the apostle St James. 

Today’s pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago trail vary. Some are seeking a digital detox, away from the pressures of life; some want the challenge and the accomplishment of taking on one of the world’s ancient, iconic routes; for some, the lure of Gothic cathedrals, medieval monasteries and gently rolling countryside is simply too strong to resist. All agree that arriving beneath the imposing Portico de la Gloria at the entrance to Santiago de Compostela’s UNESCO cathedral is momentous. 

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How To Discover the Camino de Santiago

While traditionally tackled with no more than a decent pair of shoes and a sense of purpose, new-generation Pilgrimage walk in Spain have more options. Take on the trail on foot, and you’ll saunter through rich forests, golden oat and barley fields, rubbing shoulders with every type of pilgrim along the way. Those who prefer two wheels to two feet will be delighted to know that The Way is open to cyclists. Who knows what the medieval pilgrims would have made of lightweight, silvery bike frames flashing in the Spanish sunlight as they pedalled past on their way to the next night’s accommodation, but it is an ideal way to cover more distance along the route. 

The camaraderie of the trail is world-renowned, and whether you want to go self-guided walking and meet the flow of people along the way or join a small group to make a merry band of travellers is up to you. Every pilgrimage is personal. If you want to share the experience with your own group, as a fundraiser or just a close-knit friendship group, but with the benefit of an experienced leader, you could even organise a private tailormade adventure

For all pilgrims, there’s the chance to complete your compostela – the pilgrim’s passport, stamped at every place you wind up at the end of the day to lay your head. For premium departures, the standard of sleeping arrangements is high – self-guided walkers stop off at a converted 13th-century monastery, an exquisitely restored Galician stately home and a former Spanish parsonage, set in its own breathtaking landscaped gardens.

Premium departures of Cycle the Camino de Santiago stay in what is hailed as the oldest hotel in the world, the Parador de Santiago. Starting life as a Royal Hospital in 1499, this is a far cry from the faceless luxury of ordinary five-star hotels. The four cloisters hide a stately courtyard bordered by pillared walkways; inside, the vaulted stone ceilings and oil paintings convey an ancient grace and character. While many other hotels can compete for luxurious surrounds, few can hold a candle to its heritage.

This was my first group cycling holiday and it was just brilliant. The cycling was challenging...

Kirsty Deans, 2019 Cycle the Camino de Santiago

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Fiona Hodge, 2019 Camino de Santiago Trek

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