Along the Camino Frances, you never go too far without seeing some sort of community be it villages or cities. The former was by far my favorite as I find it fascinating how people can just live in the middle of nowhere. I am also rather jealous… Most hamlets and villages I just walked through as I was conscious of how far I needed to walk each day and of the fact that I was probably the only pilgrim walking without a functioning phone to book ahead. Two things I will do differently on a future Camino is have a working phone and have no end date – this would allow me to explore all the nooks and crannies to my nosy heart’s content. I did manage, however, to get to know some of the villages. Three of my favorite ones actually were pretty close to each other, in the latter half of the Camino Frances.
My criteria for selecting a “favorite village” is as follows: smaller the better, must be photogenic, atmospheric, and the surrounding countryside is away from towns/cities.
The day’s walk to La Faba was littered with villages I wished I could have explored but something was pushing me towards this particular village. I wasn’t sure what it was but even when I saw others stopping for the day or telling me I probably won’t get a bed further on, I kept going. After a long walk on a quiet mountain road, there was a fork – continue up the mountain along the road or take the way that gives you one of the few chances of actual mild hiking. And a beautiful but exhausting mild hike it was: there was a doozy of a steep hill just before you reach La Faba itself.
La Faba is tiny, quiet, and quaint. Yet it does have two albergues, probably because they get many pilgrims who just can’t make that final climb into Galicia. I managed to score one of the last beds in the German-run albergue. Even with two albergue-worth of pilgrims, the village was still quiet when I explored it. It made me wonder if I was the only person who actually explored the places in which I stopped for the day! And it was worth exploring, in my mind – animals, people, views, and restored homes all fell victim my camera. The albergue itself was also worth the stop. The grounds are lovely with leafy trees offering shade, a 12th century church, and lots of scattered seating tempting you to just soak in the restful ancient vibe. The whole village almost felt like you got sucked into a time warp and I didn’t particularly want to leave.
Another quiet charming village strategically located before a steep climb. History suggests the possibility that the Knights Templars were present here as early as the 12th century – and the village does have the air of a place that has seen a long complex history, impacting all sorts of people throughout the ages.
The village today has a small German order of monks who offer a church service every night for pilgrims – they even ask five pilgrims to take part by doing a reading in different languages. I was asked to do the French reading – taking part probably is one of the reasons why this village had such an impact on me despite the inclement weather putting a bit of a damper on my exploration – cold and damp didn’t really inspire me to stay outside for long. The monks also have a little shop selling religious items and postcards. There are also two little tiendas in the village so stock up before the long walk that awaits you the next day!
This village screams Middle Ages – I’m not sure exactly when this village was founded but its recorded history goes at least as far back as the 10th century. It provided hospitality to pilgrims until the 19th century but wars and other historical events gradually drove pilgrim numbers down. Slowly, the village crumbled away. But there has always been at least one person living there, apparently. Today, Foncebadon looks like it hosts a ghost or two, along with the few living souls who make their home there. The village is one of those places where the weather dictates what kind of atmosphere it will have. The day I passed through, it was pretty chilly, misty, and snowy – it made for an incredible feeling and I almost wished that the stones could share their stories. The ghosts, the ruins, and the weight of history – it was all almost tangible. The downside to the atmospheric weather was that it didn’t really allow for a proper exploration of the village – some would say that there was nothing to explore but me, I love ruins. I could have spent a good while wandering around soaking in the peacefulness and capturing some interesting images with my camera.
In general, what makes a village ‘awesome’ for you? If you walked the Camino Frances, what were your favorite villages?