This Benedictine monastery was founded in the 6th century and by the Middle Ages, it had become one of the wealthiest and powerful monasteries around. It was responsible for providing education to the nobility (boys, anyway) as well as maintaining an important pilgrim’s hospice. The monastery was severely damaged in a fire in 1536 and again in 1951 (which destroyed the library! I almost had a heart attack hearing about that one). Today, the monastery has been rebuilt and includes modern murals along several hallways, a beautiful cloister (apparently the largest in Spain), and some pretty cool religious artifacts. The future of the monastery is a little bit in question, however, as there are only 15 monks and three novices living here, now.
Samos is not exactly off the Camino Frances but it is along a lesser used path to Sarria. Most people are concerned about reaching Sarria in time to get a bed since this is the place where you’ll see a sudden influx of new pilgrims. However, Samos is worth the trip and the extra 6km, in my opinion, and you’ll need to make your decision in Triacastela. Once you pass through the town, the Camino splits into two directions: right takes you straight to Sarria and left takes you to Sarria via Samos.
Start early enough and you’ll pretty much have the walk to yourself. The walk is along a quiet highway and then suddenly, you have to run across it to get to a wooded path. Another reason to walk this in the early morning – avoiding traffic! The wooded path was extremely lovely: still, silent, and lit by early morning sun. You’ll pass through some hamlets making you wonder how people survive out there and where can you get such a place for yourself 🙂 The walk to Samos takes a couple of hours at a fairly steady pace.
The Monastery of San Xulián de Samos is nestled in a valley surrounded by an abundance of green woods – my first view of it in the morning light brought a smile of delight to my face. Once I made my way into the valley, I crossed a bridge with large shell details that took me across the Río Oribio and soon after, I reached the imposing front façade of the monastery.
I arrived at the monastery just after 9am and, as it turned out, just before a tour started. It seems that the 3 euro tour probably run every hour so try to time your arrival for that. A guided tour is the only way you’ll be allowed inside the monastery proper, which is behind imposing doors next to the gift shop. Even if you don’t arrive on time or choose not to take a tour, remember to get the sello in the gift shop. The tour is worth it as it is pretty informative, though the guide will conduct the tour in the language that is chosen by democratic vote within the group. In my case, it was French. You will not get to see most of monastery (the guide keeps you on a very short leash) but you’ll get an idea of the grandeur and a feel for its long history. If you love history, architecture, or religious matters, the tour is worth the 40 or so minutes.
I suggest an early lunch in Samos as it will be quite a while before you come across any food places on the way to Sarria. I had a fantastic burger at a little restaurant across the road from the monastery. 10am may have been a bit early for a hamburger but hey – anything goes along the Camino and you’ll pretty much want to seize any chance you can to have a non-pilgrim menu meal!
The walk to Sarria starts along a major roadway (relatively quiet, though) and then continues onto country paths and roads. It is absolutely beautiful passing through woods, farmlands, and tiny little communities. Goats, cattle, and the odd pilgrim are the only living things you’ll pass. Though, please keep an eye out for the rare car – you don’t want to get run over. This was one of the times I wished I was able to call ahead for a bed in Sarria so I’d be able to take my time strolling through this area. I did not rush but I didn’t linger either, to my regret. Oh and please, remember to trust the arrows! They are far in between in this area but you’ll be fine.