Day 1 - Bilbao
Hola! Welcome to Spain and Bilbao, an industrial city that has become a haven for architecture and design enthusiasts, revitalised since the arrival of the Guggenheim. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm tonight. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. Start this active adventure with a casual night-time stroll around the beautiful streets of Bilbao. Get acquainted with your leader and fellow group members as you soak in the sights of this bustling, vibrant city.
Day 2 - Burgos
Hop straight into the saddle and onto a bike this morning for a leisurely cycle tour of Bilbao. Spend some time admiring Frank Gehry’s iconic sweeping metal building of Guggenheim Museum (please note there will not be much time to visit the museum itself, so please arrive early if you would like to discover this amazing place). Afterwards, continue along the river towards the ‘Ria de Bilbao’. There are numerous other pieces of architectural art dotted along this once important shipping channel, including the Iberdrola Tower and the celebrated Puente Vizcaya, a suspension bridge declared a World Heritage Site. The bike tour will finish off (as all good bike tours should) with a sampling of pintxos in the Old Quarter for lunch. A pintxo is a small snack (the Basque answer to tapas). The difference is that portions of pintxos are skewered with a small toothpick, from which they get their name. The Caso Viejo is your typically wonderful Spanish Old Quarter, with charming streets dating from the 15th century, hidden churches, old family-run shops, and a bustling market. Later, travel onwards to Burgos, the former capital of Castile, and famed for its medieval architecture (approximately 1.5 hours). Tonight, perhaps seek out some delicious local fare in a city voted the gastronomic capital of Spain in 2013.
Day 3 - Burgos
Start early for a first experience of the Camino de Santiago. Make sure your walking boots are laced when you limber up and begin your walking with a 15-kilometre stretch from the town. This is a warm up walk, where you can focus on getting into the rhythm and getting to know your fellow travellers better. Much of the area around Burgos is known as the Meseta, the high northern plains of Castilla y León, full of wide-open skies and sweeping landscapes. You may walk through tree-lined roads, farm tracks, fields and tree plantations, and pass through tiny villages that consist of little more than a single shop and a couple of albergues. You might also pass some small village churches along the way. At the end of the walk, you’ll transfer back to Burgos for a free afternoon and a well-deserved coffee in the beautiful old town. Take an orientation walk around the city to check out the local sights – including the gothic World Heritage Catedral de Burgos. The cathedral in one of the most wonderful in all of Spain and has numerous interesting features, including the tomb of the famous 11th century soldier of fortune El Cid. Tonight perhaps try some local morcilla (blood sausages), said to be the best in Spain.
Day 4 - Leon
Wave goodbye to Burgos and its churches and head onwards to Hornillos del Camino (approximately 30 minutes). From Hornillos, set out on the first part of the famous pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago. This section takes in a 16-kilometre stretch to Castrojeriz, with a stop for a picnic lunch along the way. The walk today might take the path down the valley from Hornillos to the hamlet of Arroyo San Bol, the location of a natural spring that was once like an oasis in the desert of the Meseta for pilgrims. Pilgrims who wash their feet in the spring are said to have no foot problems from here to Santiago. While walking in wheat fields, look up to see birds of prey hovering on thermals and, if the path takes you, see the church and medieval roofs of Hontanas appear, tucked into a valley. You might continue past the town along a tree-lined road, eventually coming to the ruins of the gothic Monasterio de San Antón and a hospital set up to treat the disease San Antón’s fire. After walking this holy route there’s sure to be a hunger for some excellent food; good thing the next stop is Leon, where tapas are abundant (approximately 2 hours). Perhaps spend a leisurely evening wandering past ancient houses and through marvellous arcaded squares, through the húmedo quarter, sampling the different kinds of tapas on a self-guided roving dinner.
Day 5 - Bierzo Valley
Belly still full from last night’s tapas indulgence? Never fear – work it off by jumping back onto the pilgrim’s trail to walk another ten kilometres of the Camino; the countryside here is nothing short of spectacular. The kilometres that you walk today are in the area where the Camino climbs from the flat Meseta to the hills of the Cantabrian Mountains, which rise after the city of Astorga. In this region the climbs to the Cruz Ferro (Iron Cross) near Foncebaddon, and to the hamlet of O’Cebreiro, are the biggest on the Camino after the Pyrenees section. Astorga’s interesting Cathedral and Episcopalian Place were designed by Antonio Gaudi, while the Cruz Ferro is one of the most iconic places on the Camino Frances. For centuries, here pilgrims have unburdened themselves of any stones they carried, symbolising a casting off of any burdens or bad habits that may have been weighing them down. Afterwards they can continue their journey lighter and stronger. Further along this route is the grand castle of the Knight’s Templar in Ponferrada, a triple-ramparted, fairy-tale fortification built by those protecting pilgrims from bandits. Today you’ll be rewarded after your walk with a transfer to the Bierzo Valley, where you’ll visit a local wine cellar for some tasting. El Bierzo is a protected wine-producing region, with the best drops made from Mencía grapes. You’ll spend the night just a ten minute walk from the Templar castle.
Day 6 - Sarria
Hit the pilgrim trail for an easy 12 kilometres, with the walk taking in a visit to the town of O Cebreiro, an integral part of the development of the Camino route. Wander the streets of this quaint hamlet, where there are some incredible structures, including a ninth-century mountaintop church. The town is an interesting mix of contrasting architectural and cultural styles, and it marks the beginning of Galician land, Celtic Spain, where some might feel like they’re in a small Irish village. There are striking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The Camino wanders along walled lanes and lovely little hamlets, and you’ll ramble on to Samos, with a stop at the wonderful Monastery of San Xulián de Samos. Now the property of the order of the Benedictines, the monastery was first founded in the sixth century by the School of Theology and Philosophy, and was an incredibly powerful seat of learning in its time. This big day winds up in the town of Sarria, which has a lovely old city with views into the valley. At the Malecón (river promenade) there are many cafés and tapas bars. Sarria is also very popular for antique-lovers, with several good shops in the street Rúa do Lázaro. The convent of La Magdalena, the tower of Batallón, and the church of San Lázaro are the most important monuments in this village. Maybe spend your time here drinking wine and snacking on local ‘polpo a feira’.
Day 7 - Palas De Rei
Start early again to walk another part of the Camino. Short but outstanding in its nature, this 10 to 12 kilometres stroll will start in Sarria. Walk along rural roads or corredoiras (tracks) through oak groves, Galician woods and dales, towards small hamlets like Lavandeira and Ferreiros, no more than a crossroads with a small bar and rest house. The landscape is that of rolling hills and verdant countryside, passing through shaded woodland paths and fields. Those pilgrims who want to get their Compostela (Certificate or Pilgrims Passport) of the Camino must have walked at least last 100 kilometres to Santiago, and so Sarria is a popular joining point for those pilgrims who can’t do the longer walk. Please note, that on this trip you will not be able to acquire the Pilgrims Passport as you will not walk the required last 100 km of the pilgrimage, however, there may be a possibility for you to receive a Certificate of Distance. Please check with your tour leader for more details. You will then be transferred to a rural hamlet called Pidre, 6 kilometres from the Camino route. Here in the late afternoon you’ll enjoy a cooking class, and discover the flavours and secrets of Galician cuisine. The region’s cooking style is a wonderful example of less-is-more, hearty and simple. It’s home to some of the best seafood in the region, like pulpo a la gallega: sliced steamed octopus sprinkled with paprika. You’ll fill and fuel up with a group dinner to end the day, setting you up for the last stretch of pilgrimage tomorrow.
Day 8 - Santiago de Compostela
Transfer to Lavacolla (approximately 1 hour), which puts you in prime position to finish on a high note, walking the last ten kilometres of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In Lavacolla medieval pilgrims traditionally bathed in the river to purify themselves before arriving in the holy city of Santiago. Climb to the Monte do Gozo (‘Mount of Joy’), named after the feeling pilgrims would get when first seeing the towers of Compostela Cathedral – some may have trekked over 800 kilometres to be here! Finish this voyage as any good pilgrim should, with a walk through the beautiful streets of the old town to the Cathedral, which stands majestically on the Plaza del Obradoiro, towers soaring above the town. Enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure, exploring this historic city and celebrating alongside pilgrims. Perhaps join them in one of the cafes, sitting back with a cooling sangria, listening to many of the street artists performing on the streets of the old town.
Day 9 - Santiago de Compostela
Take an orientation walk around the old town. Santiago de Compostela is a World Heritage site, an open-air museum that holds many delights within its walls – the lively squares, the market and the University buildings are must sees. In free time, walk through the arcaded stone streets, the spacious Praza del Obradoiro and past the Archbishop’s imposing palace, down the streets of Rúa do Franco and Rúa da Raíña to try tapas. Santiago is home to more than just pilgrims, with the large population of students from the university giving the city a real vibrancy. Tonight enjoy a farewell dinner – perhaps Galician specialties like peppers of Padrón and empanadas (Galician pies, filled with meat or seafood) – enjoyed against a backdrop of traditional Galician music.
Day 10 - Santiago de Compostela
After breakfast it’s time to say farewell to this active adventure on the Camino. There are no activities planned and you are free to depart at any time.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
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