My name is Clara, and I’m the Madrid & Beyond “expert” on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). Before arriving to Madrid & Beyond more than 12 years ago(!) I worked as a guide, leading small groups from the USA on biking and hiking tours all over Spain & Portugal and many of these were along the Camino de Santiago. I hope you enjoy this post on this legendary route, based on its long history and my personal experience…
The Camino de Santiago is a journey through the History, Art, Culture and tradition over 1000 years. I’m sure it will ring a bell for most of you as it has become one of the most popular outdoor experiences in Europe.
Although it was conceived as a religious pilgrimage, nowadays more and more people are attracted to it as the best way to combine great walks along different regions of northern Spain and a superb spiritual and cultural experience.
There are different “Caminos” (Ways) that lead to Santiago de Compostela but the most popular is the “French Way” that begins in the Pyrenees and crosses the north of Spain through Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla, León and Galicia.
My first contact with the Camino was around 1994 and I immediately fell in love with it. I discovered a path of History and legend that was an unforgettable personal experience.
For over 5 years I had the privilege of leading small groups along the Camino de Santiago, sharing this experience and experiencing it for myself through the eyes of many different people. The trip is indeed a very rewarding experience.
The most popular way of doing the Camino is on foot or by bike and although I’m an active cyclist, I must say the Camino is best done on foot in order to interact fully with this experience, it is also more relaxing this way.
Cycling the Camino is also an option, but I personally think it could be sometimes a rather annoying experience especially in high season. We must bear in mind that you will be sharing the path with hundreds of walkers (who have priority) and you may end up getting out of the original way in order to avoid them and have a more comfortable ride.
So, if you are thinking of doing the Camino I strongly recommend walking it.
When and where should I start my Camino?
The best months will be May, June and September. Summer will be nice in terms of weather, but it gets busier as most Europeans travel during the months of July and August.
The initial starting point depends on how many days you have for the journey. If you plan to walk the Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port, you may have to prepare for at least a month.
Unfortunately nowadays, not many people have this amount of time available to spend on one trip, so you can either start from the beginning and do the whole Camino by shorter stages or begin closer to Santiago to finish in Compostela.
So if you have 10-12 days, you could start in the province of León and walk all the way to Santiago.
Qualifying pilgrims can receive an official “Compostela” (a certificate confirming you have made the trip) bearing their name upon arriving in Santiago.
To qualify for the Compostela, you must walk the last 100km or bicycle the last 200km of one of the recognized Caminos.
To prove that you met the requirements, you must have a Pilgrim’s Credential, which must have been stamped along the way at churches, pilgrim’s refuges, or other way stations, which are sometimes bars or stores in smaller villages.
For those who are tempted to discover this fantastic path, I recommend to see “The Way”, a film by Emilio Estevez starring his father Martin Sheen. A wonderful tribute to the Camino de Santiago.