Camino Tips: How to get the most out of "The Way"
Camino Tip No. 2:
Choose your Camino
There is no 'right' way. Follow your heart–and your dreams.
~ Jane V. Blanchard
Now that you've decided to hike the Camino, you may be wondering how
to go about planning your pilgrimage. First, you must decide which Camino
you will walk. The movie The Way takes place on the Camino Francés (The
French Way), the most popular of all the Caminos and the one with the best
infrastructure for pilgrims.
For many European pilgrims, the route to Santiago starts at their door,
walking from all over the continent to arrive at Santiago de Compostela, a city
in the northwestern part of Spain. Others start the pilgrimage in St-Jean-Piedde-Port (hereafter referred to as St. Jean), a small town in France. From there,
they climb over the Pyrenees or take the less difficult route through the
Valcarlos Valley to Roncesvalles.
Besides having a myriad of routes within Spain, there are variant
Caminos in Portugal and France. For those coming to Spain from outside of
Europe, getting to Santiago requires international travel as well as travel from
the airport or port to the starting location.
Major Caminos leading to Santiago
Caminos in Spain
Within Spain, the most famous route is the Camino Francés, which starts
in Roncesvalles and heads west for 790 km (490 mi). The Camino Francés
takes a little over four weeks to walk. If you have limited time, consider
starting at points closer to Santiago.
The following routes connect with the Camino Francés. Note: The
distances listed below are from the point of original to the Camino Francés.
Don't forget to factor in walking time from where the route connects to the
Camino Francés to Santiago.
Camino del Norte. Irún, France, to Arzúa 825 km (512 mi). This
Northern Route travels along the coast. The rough terrain and continuous
climbs and descents make this a challenging walk. The signage is sketchy and
there are few pilgrim hostels.
Camino Aragonés. Somport to Puente la Reina (160 km). Starting in the
Pyrenees, this route is well-marked and has a developed pilgrim infrastructure.
Camino Mozárabe. Granada to Mérida 406 km (252 mi). Yellow arrows
indicate the way, but there is little pilgrim support. Most towns along the
Mozarab Way have hotels and hostales (rooms rented in a family house).
Ruta de la Lana. Alicante to Burgos (380 km). The waymarking along the
Moon Path is scanty and there is no pilgrim infrastructure, though there are
hotels, hostales, pensiones (similar to hostales, but not as elegant), and casas
rurales (country houses similar to a B&B) all along the way.
Camino Catalán/Camí St. Jaume. Follow the Cami St. Jaume from Llançà
to Montserrat (270km) and then the Camino Catalán from Montserrat through
Huesca (330 km).
Ruta del Ebro. Tortosa though Zaragoza to Logroño (350 km). This route
along the Ebro River is supposedly that used by St. James when leaving Spain.
The waymarking is complete and there are several albergues (hostels). When
there are no albergues, there are commercial lodgings.
Camino de Madrid. Madrid to León (321 km). This modern route is
well-waymarked and has adequate accommodations.
Via de la Plata. Seville to Astorga 1000 km (620 mi). This Silver Route
runs south to north and follows an old roman road. It takes about six or seven
weeks to walk to Astorga. The following routes connect to Via de la Plata:
Camino de Levante. Valencia to Zamora (900 km).
Camino Del Sureste. Alicante to Medina del Campo (1050 km).
Camino del Sur. Huelva to Zafra (176 km).
Camino Primitivo. Oviedo to Melide (approximately 320 km). In this
sense, "primitivo" means original, not primitive. First used in the 9th century,
the Original Way is also known as La Ruta del Interior. It is said to be the
Camino Vasco del Interior. Camino from Irún to Santo Domingo de la
Calzada. The Basque Interior Road was the gateway to the center of the
peninsula during roman times.
Camino Baztan. Bayonne, France, to Pamplona (103 km). This route
through the Bastan Valley and lower mountain passes is another way of
crossing the Pyrenees.
Camino Vadiniense. Potes via Riaño and Cistierna to Mansilla de las
Mulas (135 km). The Camino of the Peaks is a demanding hike that passes
through some of Spain's favorite tourist areas. For this reason and because
there are only a few albergues, the route can be pricey.
Camino del Cid. Alicante to Burgos (a meandering 2,000 km). This route
is based on the literature and historical figure represented in the "Song of my
Cid." The route crosses eight provinces and four regions. It can be traversed
on foot or by car.
Camino de Invierno. This is an alternate route on Camino Francés from
Ponferrada to Santiago (261 km). The Winter Way is often used to bypass the
climbing to O Cebreiro and the crowding that occurs starting at Sarria. There
are long stretches without albergues or accommodations.
Viejo Camino de Santiago. Bilbao to Villafranca del Bierzo (450 km).
Information about the Old Road is mostly in Spanish.
From my experience on the Camino Francés, there are many alternate
routes offering choices for a more scenic view, a side trip to a point of interest,
or a shorter, more direct—but noisier—near-the-road experience.
Caminos in Portugal
In Portugal, the Camino Portugués (Caminho Português) starts at the
cathedral in Lisbon and follows the Atlantic Coast in Portugal to Spain, and
then to Santiago. It is 625 km (388 mi). There is a side trip to Fatima. There
are also other routes for the coast, the north of Portugal, etc. Many pilgrims
start in Porto. From Porto to Santiago it is 237 km (147 mi).
The Caminho da Senda Litoral is the Portuguese Coastal Way. It starts in
Porto and follows the coast before crossing by ferry to A Guardia, in Galicia.
The Caminho da Costa also starts in Porto but heads inland. It is better
signposted than the Caminho da Senda Litoral and also ends up in A Guardia.
Caminos in France
In France, the Camino is called the voie or chemin. There are four major
routes in France, and three converge in St. Jean.
The Voie de Tours starts at the tower of Saint-Jacques in Paris and is
about 960 km to St. Jean. Many pilgrims walking from more northern countries
use the Voie de Tours.
The Voie de Vézelay starts near Vézelay, Burgundy, and is about 1087 km
to St. Jean.
The Voie de Le Puy-en-Velay continues paths from Cluny, Burgundy, and
Geneva, and is about 720 to St. Jean.
The Voie d’Arles starts near Marseilles and meets up with the Camino
Francés in Puente La Reina 860 km later. This route is traditionally used by
pilgrims coming from Italy and the south of France.
As you can see, there are many ways to get to Santiago. For more
information on the individual routes, visit the Camino de Santiago, The
Confraternity of Saint James, American Pilgrims on the Camino, or the Camino
de Santiago Forum. For books on the Camino, visit Camino Books.
Whichever ever path you choose, let in the spirit of the Camino—be
kind, be aware, and be open to the possibilities.