As the path winds its way westward through the suburbs of Burgos, the last small town of Villalbilla de Burgos lies sandwiched between the industrial zone Los Brezos and the Madrid-Irun railway corridor. The name seems to be a corruption of its ancient name of Villa Alba (White Palace). Historically, it has always formed part of the camino’s passage through the lands of Burgos. In medieval times, the town hosted a pilgrim hospital and lodgings. However, the construction of the rail line in the 19th century as well as other building projects moved the camino route closer to the river Arlanzón and its irrigation ditches. The town council allowed the municipal albergue to close and the camino played a less crucial role in the village. Not wishing to completely let go of their historic position, the town (without official permission) erected a giant bronze statue of a pilgrim striding forward. They placed it in a roundabout on the N-120 as it heads toward Tardajos. Now it is the swirl of traffic that keeps this pilgrim company on the way to his goal.
As autumn extends its grip along the camino, the presence of pilgrims begin to fade like the colors in the landscape. The numbers arriving in Santiago de Compostela drop dramatically in November. But there is still plenty of life in the villages, towns and cities that line the way. The magosto is a typical celebration in many places in northern Spain, so it is very likely that you’ll discover one if late fall finds you walking along the route. It is celebrated close to All Souls’ Day (early November) in most places. The festival’s origin is the harvest celebration and the chestnut is the star along with new wines and cured meats such as chorizo. Rituals may include blackening one’s face with soot, jumping the bonfires to insure good luck, playing traditional games, telling stories and singing popular songs. But no matter where you attend magosto, chestnuts and bonfires will always be at the heart of the fiesta.
Bridge at Trinidad de Arre
Molino de San Andrés
As the Pyrenees fall behind you, you come to the hard streetscape of your first major city on the camino – Pamplona. Continuing along the main walking route from Zabaldika, you enter the barrio of Villava. Here the Río Ulzama wends its way towards an eventual meeting with the Río Arga. But the camino presents two choices. When you reach the medieval bridge at Trinidad de Arre, you can cross and pass the Basilica de la Sanctissima Trinidada, the site of a small pilgrim hospital in the old days. From here the route follows the busy streets into the heart of the city through the suburb of Burlada. Or you can pass the bridge, keeping the river on your right. The city of Pamplona has a beautiful linear park system that traces the Río Arga’s path. Your next signpost is the Molino de San Andrés, a restored 16th century mill. At this point the two rivers join together and are spanned by another ancient bridge. Now it is just a leisurely stroll along the riverbanks, free from traffic, until the ancient city begins to fill your vision.
Spain is very proud of its indigenous tempranillo grape because they have been making it into wine for over 2,000 years. Unlike other countries who have adopted grapes that were originally indigenous to France or Italy, tempranillo was born and cultivated in Spain, and there is no region for which they are more proud, and taken more seriously, than La Rioja. As the camino winds its way to the west of the capital of La Rioja, Logroño, it passes through places like Navarette and Ventosa. These villages are located in the Rioja Alta, a wine making district on the western edge of the La Rioja and at higher elevations than the other areas. This equates to a shorter growing season, which in turn produces brighter fruit flavors and a wine that is lighter on the palate. Tasty white and pink wines are also produced here, but are less well known internationally. If you are planning a night’s stay in Ventosa, you can take the opportunity to visit the Bodegas Alvia and sample their carefully crafted products. Drink your fill of these fabulous vintages. Tasting that Riojan wine you purchased at home after your return will fill you with memories of your time on the camino.
Top Right -Bodegas Alvia Ventosa
They can appear everywhere along the camino, in big cities or small towns and villages. Covered walkways giving protection from the noon day sun, the rain or the cold wind. The soportale or porch is a reflection of its origin in the monastic cloisters (who themselves took inspiration from the courtyards of the Moorish mosques). These church porticos served a civic as well as religious purpose, acting as a gathering spot before mass or for public meetings. As the towns and cities of the Spanish Middle Ages grew, these covered porches evolved to form a part of the fabric of rural Spanish architecture. They became part of the main commercial street (Calle Mayor) and helped to protect goods from the weather as well as conduct the flow of pedestrians (Calle Portales Logroño). Sometimes, in the large public areas (Plaza Mayor) of cities, these covered arcades were built around the square in an consistent style (Burgos). But, not everything was the result of planning. Often, the soportales were a spontaneous response to a need and grew organically over the generations without unity in their size or appearance, mixing columns, pillars and arch designs. Look for the grand porches in Santiago de Compostela in the Palacio de Rajoy on the Praza de Obradoiro or Rúa do Villar. Wherever they appear, you will be grateful to be sheltered while you make your way along the camino.
The mornings are now cool. Sweaters, maybe even gloves are needed to start the day. Coffee not only energizes the mind, but warms the body. Mid autumn on the meseta. As the sun climbs into impossibly blue skies, the heat begins to build slowly. By midday, the desire to be warm has dissolved into a need to stay cool and refreshed. The dry landscape is a dun colored palette of browns and golds. There is little to delight the eye. No shade. No birds in the fields. The only sound is the crunch of your boots as they push you forward along the earthen camino. Medieval pilgrims saw visions or torments on the meseta. The lone pilgrim late in the year can either see this part of the Camino as necessary drudgery or an opportunity to meditate on the essence of their journey. And as night falls, the fortunate pilgrim may find themselves in front of a fire reflecting on the self awareness a day on the meseta can bring.
Not all the albergues on the Camino de Santiago are utilitarian dormitory lodgings. Many share a unique history and sense of place in their community. To spend the night at Albergue San Juan Bautista in Grañon is to experience one of the more original highlights of any pilgrim’s camino. Housed in the 16th century church of San Juan Bautista, this is a “donativo” where no set tariff is in place, but the pilgrim offers up whatever they can afford. Boots and poles are left strictly at the front door. The sleeping facilities are on different levels, but no beds… just floor mats. The evening meal is communitarian, prepared by the pilgrims themselves with the funds collected. Cooking is offsite at the local bakery across the street, but comes with a hidden price. You must sing for your supper! After pitching in to clean up after dinner, there is a pilgrim mass held in the ancient church. An inspiring moment that is followed by a evening reflection held in the candlelit upper church choir. Here is a chance to get to know your walking comrades on a deeper level. All are requested to participate and put voice to their camino experience. The evening ends with an embrace of your fellow travellers and a retreat to your mat. As special as it gets along the way.
Spanish footballer David de Gea
Belorado made a decision in 2010 to celebrate the Jacobean year by creating a Promenade of the Driven (Paseo del Ánimo) along the camino as it passed through the town. It was meant to recognize both local and international people who, through their efforts, had made a contribution to the greater good. They would come from all walks of life…cultural, athletic, science, political. The town also wanted to recognize that people without renown, specifically those pilgrims who made Belorado part of their journey. The town fathers achieved this goal by having the selected honorees place a hand and footprint into a tile to be laid along the camino path. The tiles were then alternated to give the appearance of someone walking a path through Belorado. People included were the Spanish 4X Olympian (and local girl) Marta Dominguez, Ethiopian marathoner Gebre Gebremariam, American director Emilio Estevez and Canadian actress Deborah Kara Unger. But probably most famous of all was Martin Sheen, who stayed in Belorado while filming the movie “The Way”. So, look down as you cross through Belorado on your camino and see how Martin left his mark on the Way.
Food is ever-present in the camino walker’s mind. When to eat, what to eat, where to eat can be questions posed daily. Should the day end in Logroño, consider it your good gastronomic fortune. It is here, in the provincial capital of La Rioja, that the pilgrim can sample all the wonders of the tapas/pintxos universe on one narrow street in the casco antiguo. Head to Calle Laurel, where you will discover bars and restaurants lining the pavement, tempting the hungry visitor with great displays of small, but delectable morsels. Some offer a wide variety of tapas/pintxos, while others specialize in just one finely tuned savory bite. And to accompany all those tasty treats, the wines of La Rioja offer a rainbow of colors and flavours. When the weekend clock strikes 10:00 p.m., it will be standing room only on Laurel, only adding to the excitement in the barrio. But, don’t go looking for pachyderms here. The locals refer to Calle Laurel as “la senda de los elefantes” or pathway of the elephants. The city inhabitants say a small drink at all the sixty bars could leave you walking out with a trunk and on all four legs, just like the elephant.
Not every representation of the pilgrim’s passage is formed in the round. Sometimes, that which we remove makes what is left more visible. On the camino path, as you leave Frómista heading towards Carrion de los Condes, this iconic rendition of the pilgrim silhouette stands out clearly against the blue Spanish sky. It stands guard over the rush of traffic on the Autovia Meseta below. All the elements of your camino are here – the staff for walking, the gourd for water, the flowing cloak, the stars and the scallop shell. An elegant exhortation to continue your journey forward.