20 Highlights on the Camino Francés
The way of Saint James, here the Camino Francés in particular, has got many memorable highlights. Starting in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France and ending in Santiago de Compostela in the very north-west of Spain, the way takes the pilgrim to various landscapes, different regions in North Spain with their typical culture, food and folks. On this plus 800 kilometer way, a pilgrim gets a close up of the Spanish and their country. He walks through astonishing cities, towns and villages with antique architecture, enjoys the regional and typical cuisine and meets plenty of other adventurers.
I present 20 Highlights with photos, which you will explore on your way or which you have explored already so that you can sink into camino-nostalgia.
The Pyrenees are a mountain chain which forms the border between France and Spain. It marks the very beginning of the way and is already one big highlight when it comes to landscapes and nature! You can march different ways to cross the mountains in more than 1000 meters. In these historical important mountains you will step into the foot prints of Napoleon and Charlemagne.
My experiences in this historical ambiente were historical accurate very foggy and it seemed to be medieval mist everywhere. Nevertheless I was able to take a nice shot of the fresh green before I disappeared into the mist above.
Estella, nicknamed „Star of the North“, is the first urban light on the Camino Francés. Founded in 11th century, this cosy village has got interesting architecture to offer. It used to be an important trading town and thus played an immense role in the evolution of the Camino Francés. Walking through the brick stone alleys with all the churches and the Río Ega, a pilgrim feels sent back to the Middle Ages.
Leaving Estella you will find another spectacular attraction, that you shoud not miss: a free wine fountain for every thirsty pilgrim. Enjoy the red wine and make some new friends!
Puente la Reina
This little town, founded at the same time like Estella, impresses with some unique medieval buildings, like a cloister and churches. Name giving construction for this town is obviously the bridge, „puente“, which used to be the only possibility for pilgrims to cross the river Arga. This bridge was originally founded by the queen Doña Mayor. This is why the town has got the name „Puente la Reina“, bridge of the queen. All the poor workers, who actually have built this bridge are not to be found in the towns name. A pity for them, thanks to the queen that we can cross this river so easily!
Pamplona is at most recently well known through Hemmingways „Fiesta“, especially for the „Encierros“, the bullfights. They take place every year from 6th to 14th July during the festival „Sanfermin“ and start right in front of the town hall, which you can see on the photo.
Apart from this well known festival the Basque City has a lot to offer, like a historical old town, a vivid bar culture, museums and the Basque people, who are worth to meet.
Logroño and the Rioja
Logroño is one of my favourite cites on the way. It is the capital of the Rioja, which is one of the biggest wine regions in the world. I recommend to walk around Logroños places and streets, which are filled with gorgeous bars, where you should enjoy some glasses of the delicious red wine. This vivid city invites you to make your first rest on the camino and recharge your body with some tasty tapas in the bars.
The most obvious landmark of Burgos is the dominating Gothic cathedral. This architectural masterpiece is world famous for its unique beauty. You may already be impressed by the exterior but in the inside you might get overwhelmed by the sun light, shining through the rose window on the ceiling.
The Meseta is a big contrast to the rest of the landscapes with their forests and mountains of the Camino. The Meseta (sp. mesa – table) is a high plateau (up to 900m) between Burgos and León, where a pilgrim only finds fields and a straight flat way which seems to lead nowhere. After the first physical part in the mountains in the beginning of the way, a pilgrim is challenged mentally here. The landscape does not offer much diversion, so your thoughts are going into your inside. Explore yourself and keep walking!
„It is just a place in the universe. Everything is possible!“, once the guy, Davíd, living there, a few kilometers before Astorga, explained to me this unique spot. Davíd is living there since seven years, walking around barefoot and speaking of himself in the third person. He serves organic snacks and drinks for the pilgrims – only for donation. You can hang out there, enjoy the spirit and make some new friends.
There are some impressive architectural works to be found in Astorga, for example the massive cathedral. But the most inimitable is the Bishop’s Palace, a work by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí. The visitor might feel like walking around in a Disney palace. And indeed the works of Gaudí have been inspirations for Disney.
León is a special city on the Camino where there is a lot of different stuff to do. You should not miss to take a look into the inside of the cathedral. The big windows turn the interiour into a festival of light. Also the world famous frescos in the Basílica de San Isidoro are a must see for lovers of classical art. So you have a lot of important classical culture on the one hand and on the other hand you can enjoy the night culture in León. There is no other place on the camino like León where you get a big free tapa (snack) with your beer or wine. And those snacks are devilish tasty! All this and more make León to a Lust-4-life Favourite Place!
Not everybody likes pulpo, a kind of squid that is served a bit spicy. The dish is very common in Galica, namely Melide is the place where you are supposed to get the best pulpo. Bon appetit!
Mystical forest in Galicia
Galicia is definitely the greenest part of the whole Camino and here the final part of every pilgrim’s journey takes place. Be prepared for the masses of pilgrims and tourists in this region. So don’t let this hustle and bustle disturb the enjoyment of your last kilometers in the magical forest in Galicia.
Santiago de Compostela
In the beginning Santiago is hard to digest. It is very touristy and commercial. Some tourists will take pictures of you, “the pilgrim”. But after the emotional arrival at the Plaza del Obradoiro and some hours of acclimatisation you can explore the many good sides of Santiago. Find yourself walking without a backpack in the huge historic center, where all the buildings and walls are made out of the same stone. Or visit Saint James and the huge thurible „Botafumeiro“. Do some stuff and then reflect your passed journey or keep on walking to Fisterra.
After a few days in Santiago you will feel your feet wanting to move again. So let them do so and reach your next stage Fisterra, after 100 kilometers more, which was considered the “end of the world” (lat. finis terrae – end of the earth) in the Middle Ages. Big cliffs and the wild Atlantic Ocean give this place a dramatical touch and make „the end of the world“ concrete.
Apart from this wild setting at the one coast there is also a calm beach with flat water. The ambiente in the whole town is very relaxed and laid back.