Chilling in the Pyrenees while looking out at rolling mountains worn down by age and at horses doing their lawnmower duties. It was a brilliant way to start off my Camino! I huffed and puffed my way through these mountains but ultimately, the views were well worth the effort.
Pamplona, reputedly founded in the first century B.C, is the first major city along the Camino Frances. I loved this city, with its colourful historic architecture and its vibrant atmosphere.
My visit to the 12th-century Eunate Church was the first detour I took along the Camino. It was also the first time I had ever clambered over a wall with a locked gate! This unique church with its octagonal shape has links to the Knights Templar so the history nerd in me could not resist a closer look. My only regret was that the church itself was also locked so I was only able to explore the outside pillars and carvings.
This beautiful bridge in Puente de la Reina was purposely built in the 11th-century to ensure the safe passage of pilgrims. The idea that we modern day pilgrims walk the same route as millions of other pilgrims throughout history is really evident all along the Camino.
I loved walking the Camino late April into May. Spring was in full bloom and there were colourful flowers everywhere! A couple times I did have to break out the allergy medicines, though…
As an adventurous introvert, I can’t deny that views like this one were my favourite. A path leading me to new places and no one else in sight. Don’t get me wrong – I met some amazing people along the Way, some of whom I’m still in contact with four years on. But moments like this one were what fed my soul.
Confession time – I never did wake up in time to see a sunrise along the Camino. But I did revel in the golden glow of the early morning sun as it gilded the green grasses of the Spanish countryside. Views like this always brought a smile to my face!
It was a good thing I absolutely love the countryside because the Camino passes through a lot of it. Sometimes I felt I was walking through a museum painting, with historic towns in the distance framed by old olive groves.
The Camino took me through cities, small towns, and villages. Some were siesta quiet and others were bustling. It was nice to come across ones, like Naverette, that were in the middle – not busy but still active enough to give me a glimpse into people’s lives. In this case, kids will be kids and they do like to play soccer!
The rumours about the abundance vino tinto (red wine) along the Camino are absolutely true: it is wine, wine, and more wine! One region in particular is famous for it – La Rioja: plentiful vineyards and striking red earth as far as the eye could see.
This, by far, was my favourite snack along the Camino – a hot drink with a giant wedge of tortilla (thick egg omelet with potato). I must admit, I loved it so much that it remains to this day the only food about which I wrote a poem!
Okay, granted the worst stretch of walk along the Camino is into the city of Burgos. But Burgos itself is a fantastic place; it has great architecture and its 13th-century cathedral took me over two hours to explore!
One of the fun things on the Camino is to see the wide variety of things people bring with them. Their bags are a good indicator of their personalities and their priorities. I saw people lugging wine bottles, heard of others with curling irons, and witnessed a wide variety of talismans – like this teddy bear.
Considering the Camino is historically a Roman Catholic pilgrimage, it should come as no surprise that there are a million and one churches along the Way. Some are beautifully simple and others are horrific with their excesses. I lost count of how many churches I wandered through but I never tired of photographing them.
There were not as many castles as I had hoped along the route but there were a few. This ruined 9th-century one I especially loved, sitting high up on its hill, surrounded at the base by the sleepy town of Castrojeriz. It was easy to imagine what life would have been like centuries ago. I had grand plans of writing in my journal on the grounds outside the castle but I was quickly deterred by the sheer number of ants!
Many of the places to stay along the Camino are purpose built structures but some are held in historic buildings, like this one. It dates to the 13th-century and still has no electricity. I didn’t stay here but I did poke my head inside – for my troubles, I got a case of “I wish I were staying here” as well as a chocolate from one of the guys running the place. Consolation prize, I guess…
Again, I admit – walking the Camino was not about meeting people, for me. Instead, I wanted to explore as much as my exhausted feet would allow, experiencing history and looking for unique photographic opportunities. This particular one was from a church bell tower; the grill was in place, I guess, to stop people from falling to the streets below. But after I got over my annoyance at the restricted view, I realized it was a cool photograph just waiting to be taken!
The Romans occupied Spain from about 200 B.C. to the 5th-century and in some places, their roads remain in evidence. And yes, I was a big enough nerd to put the Gladiator soundtrack on my iPod for precisely the moment I came across one! But walking the Roman road wasn’t all fun and games – those stones hurt after a while. Not sure how the ancient Romans did it in leather sandals!
I met some phenomenal people along the Camino; every day was an amazing reminder of the strength and commitment it takes to walk day after day with a laden backpack. The indomitable human spirit on display!
You know how sometimes you see something and despite your best intentions, are jealous because it doesn’t belong to you? Well, this was my moment of that feeling.
The region of Galicia is famous for its rain and thick fog but sometimes that just gave me great photo opportunities. This 9th-century church in O’Cebreiro was wonderfully obscured by mist, making me feel the weight of history in this area.
It wasn’t always beautiful views or historic architecture along the Camino; sometimes there were funny things as well. Not sure why this bathtub was here – a modern day trough for animals, perhaps? Or a bath with a view?
Spring time in Spain was a beautiful thing. It was incredibly green and especially beautiful when contrasted with historic stone. It surprised me how few people take this alternative route to Sarria, especially since one of the western world’s oldest monasteries was along the way!
This Cathedral in Santiago is the end goal, the reason why this pilgrimage exists – the purported bones of Saint James are on display here in a casket. Reaching it was fairly anti-climactic for me; it made me realize the Camino was truly about the journey, not the destination. Sometimes clichés are true. This is why I encourage anyone thinking to do it, to start as far back as possible, not just do the minimum (i.e. starting in Sarria). Start in St. Jean Pied du Port if you can. Or if you’re really adventurous, start from home. I met a man who did that; he was from Holland!
So are you intrigued or enticed to learn more about the Camino Frances? Do you want to know what it was like to walk it every day? If so, check out my daily journal for more ideas and my top standout moments in 35 days of walking! Or check out this article, a good reminder what to expect of the Camino Frances. If you’re ready to go, here are some packing ideas!