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.
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 four time Spanish Olympian (and local girl) Marta Dominguez, Spanish cyclists Miguel Induráin and Alberto Contador, 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.
Bridge of the Bandits in Larrasoaña
Bridge at Irotz
After leaving Zubiri, the camino continues on its downhill march toward Pamplona, closely following the course of the Rio Arga. Five kilometers after leaving the town, a footpath spanning the river appears on your right, This single arch Romanesque style stone bridge (12th century) leads into the village of Larrasoaña. Legend states that bandits would lie in wait for medieval pilgrims to cross the bridge and then relieve them of their wordly goods. It is little wonder that it is still known today as the Bridge of Bandits – El Puente de los Bandidos. At its peak, Larrasoaña offered a pilgrim’s hospital as well as a lovely church (still standing). A further five kilometers along the camino and the pilgrim once again passes over the river. At the exit to Irotz, another 12th century Romanesque stone bridge makes a graceful crossing. This is the Puente de Iturgaiz with its three arches. Soon you will be descending into your first and largest city of the camino – Pamplona. And there will be more of the river to cross ahead.
No doubt that Spain is a land of great red wines. But there is also a long history of rosés or rosados. These paler versions are produced in all the wine regions that the Camino Francés passes through. The main grape variety is garnacha, but tempranillo can be part of the blend. The rosados of Navarra are darker and more berry red in shade. In La Rioja, Bodegas Muga adds Viura, a white wine grape, to its rosados to balance the earthy tendencies of Garnacha and Tempranillo. The Spanish wine industry has adopted the same techniques used by their French counterparts in Provence to produce a lighter, fresher style of wine. Expect Spanish rosados to have a more bone-dry taste with lively berry flavors and a clean finish. They are versatile and pair excellently with many of the salty, fatty foods of the Spanish table. Their lower alcohol level means they can be enjoyed all day long. Especially when served well-chilled. So when you’re sitting in the sunny plaza mayor of a camino town after a long, hot and dry day on the road – Think Pink!
Episcopal Palace Astorga
Casa de Botines Léon
You don’t need to visit Barcelona to see the works of Spain’s greatest architect, Antoni Gaudí. Along the Camino Francés, there are two examples of Gaudí’s work, once in Léon and then Astorga. After a fire destroyed the original building, Gaudí was commissioned to design a new Episcopal Palace in Astorga by his friend, the Bishop. Work began in 1890, but disagreements between Gaudí and the local council meant the construction (without Gaudí’s assistance) would not be finished until 1915. Built of grey granite from El Bierzo, the palace reflected the neo-medieval style of the adjacent cathedral. The arches and buttresses at the palace entrance do reveal some of the elements that were part of his later famous work in Barcelona. In Léon, Gaudí was asked to design a residence cum warehouse for a friend of his Barcelona patron, Guell. Construction commenced in 1891 and was completed the following year. Gaudí sought to portray Léon’s medieval past by adding neo-Gothic features such as the pitched roof and the four corner towers. It was known as the Casa de los Botines, named after an original business colleague of the owner. In 1929, it was purchased by the local savings bank and re-purposed into its headquarters. These are two of only three buildings that Gaudí executed outside of his native Catalonia. Make time on you camino to visit these fantastic examples of the master’s brilliance.
High August Camino near Hontanas between Burgos and Léon
Autumn has arrived on the camino with its warm days and cooler evenings. What to wear has re-entered the daily conversation when getting ready for your early morning departure. It was only a short six weeks prior that the main concern was sufficient water, sunscreen and the coolest clothing possible. July and August on the Camino Francés will test the pilgrim’s ability to withstand the searing sun and heat that makes the stretch between Burgos and Léon so challenging. Limited shade will be the greatest obstacle facing the walkers. Temperatures can easily soar to mid-30’s (and even 40’s) Celsius. (95°+F.) Staying hydrated is a key focus. Avoiding walking during the peak of the day is prudent. And hope that the evening’s lodgings provides air-conditioning. Many pilgrims begin in the freshness of the camino morning by 6:30 a.m. and end their day before the sun reaches its peak. The best joy of this season will be how the evening stretches out ’till almost 10 o’clock, giving more time to savor the pleasures of your summer Camino.