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Camino de Santiago
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Camino de Santiago - The French Way

The Camino de Santiago, also known by as the Way of St. James, St. James' Way, and Santiago de Compostela, is the name of pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain.  Tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried at Compostela.  Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts as well as organized tours.

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Whenever St. James's Day (25 July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Depending on leap years, Holy Years occur in 5, 6, and 11 year intervals. The most recent were 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, and 2010. The next will be 2021, 2027, and 2032.

St Jean Pied de Port

St Jean Pied de Port (SJPP), France

St Jean has traditionally been an important point on the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, as it stands at the base of the Roncevaux Pass across the Pyrenees. Pied-de-Port means 'foot of the pass' in Pyrenean French. The routes from Paris, Vézelay and Le Puy-en-Velay meet at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and it was the pilgrims' last stop before the grueling mountain crossing.

In 1998, the Porte St-Jacques (city gate) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the sites along the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.

St Jean creates a natural border between France and Spain and is the traditional starting point for the Camino Frances, the most popular of all the Camino routes. This, however, makes the route very busy during the peak summer months of July and August.

Important Advice: If you start at this point, make sure to make your room reservations far in advance. We started our pilgrimage from SJPP at the end of April and it was extremely windy the morning we set out. We had to turn back to SJPP from the Camino due to people getting injured and getting pushed over from the wind. I suggest you go to the Pilgrim's Office in SJPP before heading out to check conditions and to pick up your Camino passport (CREDENTIALS) and your shell. The pilgrims office is located at 39 Rue de la Citadelle in SJPP. They also have a list of towns and the mileage in between.

Make sure you get a bite to eat here because this small town closes up its restaurants early. We found it difficult to find something to eat here at 8 pm. Spain is a different story. This is France.

Suggested hotel: We decided for our first night after flying, taking a train, which all took over 24 hours, that we would stay in a hotel our first night to get a good nights rest before starting our Camino. We stayed at Résidence Pierre & Vacances Le Parc d'Arrado and paid for it through our Visa points. It was a very nice hotel with a kitchen and a patio. I would like to someday return to SJPP just to vacay there for a week.

A friend of mine stayed at the Hotel des Pyrenees and said it was very nice and inexpensive.


Roncesvallas, Spain

Our first stop on the Camino. Going over the Pyrenees is brutal. This stop was well deserved and it rained the entire afternoon, then snowed, then hailed, then the wind! We were surely glad to get a great pilgrims meal for only 10 Euro at Hotel Roncesvalles that included wine. You must prepay for the meal if you are a hotel guest when you check in or in the morning. The pub is nice and sells sandwiches. You are now in Spain and the sandwiches are called "bocadillos" and they are inexpensive.

Important Advice: Remember to get your passport stamped on your camino. The bar at the Hotel Roncesvalles will stamp it and most places will have a stamp, stores, bars, restaurants, etc. There is a small church that gives pilgrim blessings. Don't forget to visit the Chapel of St James or the Royal Collegiate Church of Saint Mary.

Next stop is Larrasoana, which is only 27.4 km away (17 + miles)


Larrasoana, Spain

The trail to Larrasoana has two mountain passes: Alto de Mezquiriz and Alto de Erro before descending to the village of Zubiri and from there walk four more kilometers to Larrasoaña.

Many pilgrims decide to stop in the village of Zubiri which is 5.5 km before Larrasoana. If you don't plan on staying in Pamplona an extra day then I would stop in Zubiri. Otherwise, I would recommend on continuing to Larrasoana.

There is not a lot to do in Larrasoana and the long hike over Alto de Erro will definitely make you want to get a good nights rest. Enjoy your evening and get ready for some sightseeing in Pamplona.

We stayed at the Casa Tau and it was very inexpensive, clean, and the food was good. They have a great chill out patio. Some rooms have a private bath and others you have to share. The hostess is awesome and she will get you anything you need. We paid around 55 euro for one night and had our own shower. Summer prices may be more. Don't forget to get your passport stamped!

Make sure you take lots of water and snacks from Larrasoana before heading to Pamplona.

If you plan on staying in a hotel in Pamplona, make sure you book your room in advance!

Next stop is only 19.5 km (12.11 miles)


Pamplona, Spain

The hike to Pamplona is an easy one and you'll be seeing the River Arga along the way, passing through small villages, some with food and bars, and others without.

Brian and I stamped our passport at the Basilica de la Trinidad de Arre after going over the bridge into Pamplona. We found our hotel, Hotel Villava nearby, took our backpacks off, took showers and immediately headed out to town. We took the bus to get into the city center of Pamplona and explored and spent an extra night. It was fabulous!

What to see in Pamplona: Pamplona Cathedral, Plaza del Castillo, The Citadel, Running of the Bulls Monument, Jardines de la Taconera, Portal de Francia, Pamplona Parque, Iglesia de San Santurino, Plaza de Toros de Pamplona and Museo de Navarra. Pamplona is knows for it's annual "Running of the Bulls" fiesta, which is actually called "Las Fiestas de San Fermin" which goes on for about 9 days in July.

We stayed an extra day in Pamplona before getting back on the Camino and glad we did it.

Next stop is only 24.2 km (15.03 miles)

Puente La Reina

Puente La Reina, Spain

When leaving Pamplona, you will be walking beside the University. The campus looks gorgeous and it's quite large. Enjoy the level walk because you will be climbing up Alto de Perdon (Mount of Forgiveness) shortly. Make sure you bring a bocadillo from Pamplona and lots of water since there are not many places to eat along the way. When you reach the peak of the Alto de Perdon, you will see sculptures of pilgrims that have walked the Camino in the past. There are also energy turbines and a food vendor that sells water, snacks, and first aid supplies.

What to see: Puente La Reina (Puente Romanico), Church of Santiago, Iglesia del Crucifijo, Church of Saint Mary, Bodega de Sarría. Just a tip: in case you didn't know, BODEGA means wine shop or cellar.

Brian surprised me here in Puente La Reina by booking a tree house room at the Hotel Jakue! They had an amazing buffet dinner with all the food and wine you could handle and the room was literally in a tree. It was spectacular.

Next stop is only 21.7 km (13.48 miles)


Estella, Spain

I'm not going to lie to you, but the hike to Estella is steep from Reina to Estella. You will be walking through farmland. You'll be passing a cemetery after leaving Maneru.

What to see in Estella: Monasterio De Santa Maria La Real De Irache and The Church of Santo Sepulcro (built in 1123).

Alternate mode of transportation: We saw many pilgrims taking the bus to Los Arcos from here. We were told that the hike to Los Arcos was not a pretty one, but we decided to see that for ourselves and glad we did. We still felt good at this point so we headed out of Estella early, but not without or "Cafe con Leche" (Spanish coffee) that is made with hot milk - super tasty and our chocolate filled croissant with a tortilla (Spanish Omelet) for only 2-3 Euros.

Next stop is only 22.5 km (13.98 miles)

Los Arcos

Los Arcos, Spain

The most interesting route yet on the Camino takes you to Bodegas Irache, an outdoor wine fountain. The "Fuente de Vino" is at the end of Ayegul, 2.5 km from Estella and is part of the monastery, Nuestra Senora la Real de Irache. There are two fountains; one with fresh water and the other dispenses wine! Open 8 am to 8pm, seven days a week. The monastery was founded in the 10th century.

Be sure to fill up on water before heading out on the trail because water becomes less available on this route.

What to see in Los Arcos:
The Church of Santa Maria is the main focus of things to see in this small town of approximately 1500 people. The Church of Santa María stands in the square of the same name, The Pilgrim's Way to Santiago was partly responsible for its construction, which began at the end of the 12th century, an era when the pilgrimage route was very popular. There are heads of cherubims, a Virgin Mary seated with her Child, crowned by angels, and sculptures of San Pedro and San Pablo (Saints Peter and Paul). If you visit on April 23rd or August 16th and the day is clear, you can see the setting sun light up the face of the image of the Virgin Mary.

Between 14th and 20th August the town's festivities are held in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption and San Roque. Encierros (bull runs), capeas (amateur bullfights) with steers, music and fireworks liven up the town during that week, so plan your trip to either miss the bull run or run from the bulls.

Hotel: We stayed at the Hotel Monaco Apartment Suites and had a kitchen, double bed, balcony with a view, washer, large shower and very modern apartment. I don't know how we found this place, but we made a reservation the day before and had to meet the owner, who is a pharmacist nearby to get the key. We were able to wash our clothes and dry them on the balcony. Of course, it got a little breezy in the evening and my undergarments went flying off. Brian was so sweet to take the elevator down several floors and get them off the street! Our price for this luxury apartment was about 65 Euro.

Next stop is only 18.5 km (11.49 miles)


Viana, Spain

When you head out of Los Arcos to Viana, you will see a sign near the cemetery that reads, "Yo que fui lo que tu eres, tu seras lo que yo soy", which is ironic because it's what my mom always says to me. It means, "I was once what you are, and you will be what I am". This made me reflect on my mother.

When you get to Torres del Rio you will come upon the Romanesque Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The foundations are 12th century and the shape is octagonal, which make historians think it was build by the Knights Templar. It cost us 1 Euro to go inside, and although I head some pilgrims dissing the cost and not going in, we paid the 1 Euro and did not regret it.

Many people continue to Logrono instead of staying the night in Viana. We stayed in Viana and although it was a small quaint town, there was really not a lot to see, but it was more the strange vibe that I didn't like. I couldn't figure out if it was me or the town, but when we got to Logrono the next day, I shed that negative feeling and loved Logrono.

What do see or do in Viana:
Plaza de los Fueros and Plaza del Coso, the Gothic Church of Santa Maria de la Asunción, which was started in 1250 and completed in 1329, and the ruins of the Church of San Pedro.  San Pedro is the oldest church in Viana dating from early 13th century of pure Gothic construction.

Next stop is only 9.5 km (5.9 miles)


Logrono, Spain

What to see or do in Logrono:
Santa Maria de la Redonda is a gorgeous cathedral. Built over an ancient Romanesque temple from the 12th century, the building dates from the 16th century. The Church-Cathedral of Santa María de la Redonda is located on one of the city's main streets, Calle Portales, built on the site of a 12th-century oratory. The towers, known as "las gemelas", (The Twins), an example of the Baroque style in La Rioja, are related with others in La Rioja due to their designer, Martín de Beratúa. The tomb of General Espartero and his wife, Dña. Jacinta Martínez de Sicilia; the exceptional wrought iron railings closing the side chapels; and the Santo Sepulcro (Holy Sepulchre) in the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, with splendid details in tortoiseshell, filigree silver and wood.

Another great place to visit if you have the time is the Marqués de Murrieta´s winery. A gorgeous winery established in 1852 and famous for it's red wines. Make reservations for your visit.

Food: If you are hungry then find your way to Calle del Laurel where you will find some incredible tapas and wine!


Burgos, Spain

Burgos is my favorite largest city in Northern Spain. It is the historic capital of Castile. It is situated near the  Arlanzón river at the edge of the Iberian central plateau. It is the capital of the province of Burgos, in the autonomous community of Castile and León. Burgos was once the capital of the Crown of Castile, and the Burgos Laws or Leyes de Burgos which first governed the behavior of Spaniards towards the natives of the Americas were promulgated here in 1512.  Today there are approximately 200,000 people living here.

Castilian nobleman, military leader and diplomat El Cid Campeador is a significant historical figure in the city, as he was born a couple of kilometers north of Burgos and was raised and educated here.

The city forms the principal crossroad of northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, which runs parallel to the River Arlanzón.
It has a well-developed transportation system, forming the main communication node in northern Spain. In 2008, the international Burgos Airport started to offer commercial flights. Furthermore, AVE high speed trains are planned to start service in the near future, stopping at the newly-built Rosa de Lima train station.

What to see in Burgos:
Many pilgrims may not have the time to spend an extra day in Burgos, but if you do, a must see is the Cathedral of Burgos. It's spectacular and one of my favorite European cathedrals. The Cathedral of Burgos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the seat of the Metropolitan Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Burgos. A large number of churches, palaces and other buildings from the medieval age remain. The city is surrounded by the Fuentes Blancas and the Paseo de la Isla parks.

The Museum of Human Evolution was opened in 2010, unique in its kind across the world and projected to become one of the top 10 most-visited museums in Spain. The museum features the first Europeans, which lived in this area 800,000 years ago.

Next stop is Barcelona then back to the USA.