Camino Santiago de Compostela
The Camino de Santiago has become one of the most famous hikes and is certainly one of the most popular pilgrimage experiences in the world.
Irrespective of your age, background, creed or faith these ancient paths that lead to the phenomenal Santiago de Compostela Cathedral - where the remains of St James are said to be buried – have a special yet different meaning for each person who undertakes the journey.
If anything, it's personal.
In 2018 some 300k pilgrims undertook the various routes to Santiago, whether by foot, bike and even wheelchair. The French route is certainly considered the most popular but with many pilgrims returning to experience more of the Camino, the Portugues route is becoming a strong alternative, seeing a 300% growth from 2017.
READ: A comprehensive guide to the Camino Portugues
But why is the Camino so popular?
Local bespoke travel planner Yolandi van der Wath of Tours to Israel & Beyond, confirmed that bookings from South Africa for the Camino have been increasing steadily.
She says, "It is the ultimate travel with a purpose experience. As with any other trip, the journey already starts at home with physical and mental planning. But when doing a Camino there is also the inner journey that awaits you, and for this you cannot plan. You can only go and receive.
Pilgrims walk all through the year but as Spain's climate gets winter rains, the more popular months are between May and September. And so, the best advice is to start planning way in advance, says Yolandi.
"Although there is ample accommodation especially on the more popular routes, not all of these are directly on the route resulting in you walking an extra few kilometres to get to your bed! So to make sure you get a nice clean room close to the route, try to make your bookings at least 6 months prior to your pilgrimage," she says.
Traveller24 recently attended the third edition of Fairway, an annual Forum of the Camino de Santiago, held in the Palacio de Congresos de Santiago last week, between 10 and 12 February.
READ: Spain's preparations well underway for Santiago Camino Holy Year in 2021
As part of the niche trade fair, which had detailed workshops, congress sessions, training programmes and an investment forum, members of the travel industry and media where given a taste of the Camino de Santiago.
While the full Camino can take you anything from 35 days across 750kms to complete, we were given an intro to the lesser-known Camino del Norte. Being winter, the weather was surprisingly pleasant - pretty much like Cape Town on a bad day to be honest.
We walked along the ethereal Playa de las Catedrales or Beaches of Cathedrals, and coming from Cape Town it was a surprise and delight to see beaches even more remarkable than those back home. Lunch in the fishing village Rinlo will make you want to pack your bags and move to Spain permanently, while dining in medieval castle in Ribadeo brings Game of Thrones to life in a remarkable way.
The Northern route took us through the historic quarter of Mondoñedo through to Ponte Sá – Vilalba, where we encountered the Kneeling Cathedral and its Rose Window dating back to the 5th century. We stayed over an exquisite Parador, a select brand of stays across the Camino that combines the past, present and future through wonderful gastronomy and historical relics, such as its bespoke tower stay experience dating back to the 6th century. Yes, Santiago will redefine any preconceived notions of what old really is. Old-world Europe in this form is remarkable.
The wintery walk allowed for a stop-in at the acclaimed cheese factory of Quesería Don Crisanto, voted best cheese in the world for its category in 2015, as we wound our way through the Northern Way’s San Alberto.
But with Camino routes cutting across Asturias, Galicia and Cantabria, there are many, many roads that lead to the Way of St James – interspersed with exceptional landscapes and ancient relics.
Here's a heady dose of inspiration to get you on your way...
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