Spain: Camino de Santiago

Region: Northern Spain
Length: 500 miles (plus or minus)

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela ("Way of Saint James") refers to the pilgrimage routes that extend from points in western Europe to the city of Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain.  Some say that the path was paved nearly 2,000 years ago by pilgrims heading to pay their respects at what is called Finisterre ("end of the world"), the cliffs-by-the-sea fishing village at the westernmost point in Spain. (Foodie note: Finisterre is also home of some of the freshest sardines I've ever imagined).  Around 800 AD, St James the Apostle's bones were discovered beneath what is now the Santiago de Compostela cathedral, and the Catholic church oversaw what became one of the three most popular medieval pilgrimage routes, next to Rome and Jerusalem.

The popular Camino Frances route goes from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago (470 miles / 760 km).  I walked from Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees on the French border, to Finisterre (500 miles / 800 km).

It is a stupendous walk, and although upon completion in 1997 I received a certificate from the Church for half-off my time in purgatory, it's a beneficial and rich experience for cultural, nature, and historical reasons as well.  In the past decades the walk has become increasingly crowded (especially during summer months nearer to Santiago), but there are plenty of infrastructure options for feeding and sheltering pilgrims.  I most enjoyed the diversity of lodgings-- such as cornfields, abandoned schoolhouses, monasteries and inns.

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