Curiously, it’s not just the devout who set out on foot to complete the journey that ultimately ends at the tomb of St James in the Spanish World Heritage City of Santiago de Compostela – it also appeals to students on gap years, baby boomers taking some time out for reflection, Generation X career-breakers and many more people from all walks of life.
It’s arguably the oldest ‘holiday’ route in Europe. Well-trodden since the Middle Ages, the Camino has provided world-weary minds with time for reflection and rejuvenation amid fresh air and spectacular scenery for nearly a thousand years.
Credited with having provided the impetus for the creation of a lot of key infrastructure in Northern Spain, the Camino de Santiago is the reason why the roads and hospitals of this area are located where they are.
Several key stopping points on the route, such as Pamplona, are still home to some of the best medical facilities in Spain, and the hospital for pilgrims adjoining the cathedral of St James became what is widely accepted as being the world’s oldest continuously operating hotel, the fabulous Parador known as the Hostal dos Reis Católicos.
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Experience the Camino de Santiago on a Saga walking tour
The stretch of the Camino that we are recommending to our customers is the final 120km from Sarria into Santiago through some of the most spectacular scenery of the entire ‘French Camino’.
In order to qualify for the Compostela certificate (a document you can request at the end of your journey if you have the necessary stamps in your pilgrim passport, congratulating you on completing your pilgrimage – it was once thought that showing your Compostela to St Peter at the Pearly Gates could secure you preferential treatment in heaven!) pilgrims must prove they’ve walked at least 100km – so 120km means you’ll receive your certificate with 20km to spare!
Saga’s walking tour of the Camino is a walking holiday with a difference, in that our pilgrims walk the entire length of their holiday with no vehicle transportation save the transfer in on Day 1 and back to the airport on Day 8 – giving a sense of accomplishment that can’t be beaten.
We book previously inspected small hotels of great character along the route and provide an expert local guide to bring the experience and history of the trail to life - but otherwise that’s the only support we automatically provide. It’s up to each individual walker to work out which ancient church or inn they would like to visit in order to get their pilgrims passport stamped as proof that they have walked the route.
It’s their decision where to stop for lunch and chat with fellow pilgrims who come from the four corners of the globe – although nearly 60% of pilgrims are Spanish, many are not and lunchtime conversations over a sandwich might be with a young student from Brazil, a retired couple from Indiana, or an Australian banker - the Camino is truly a worldwide affair.
The surprising thing, given that roughly 250,000 people walk the route each year, is that because everyone is heading in the same direction it very rarely feels busy. Simply choose a quiet moment to start in the morning, or if you decide to set off later in the day you may end up with the Camino all to yourself, as most pilgrims tend to leave early and finish early each day.
Of course, Saga’s pilgrims will be somewhat footloose and fancy free, as their bags will be taken by road to await their owner’s arrival at the next hotel at the end of the day – and there will always be someone on hand in case of emergencies, but other than that, each experience will be as individual as the individual experiencing it.
This historic pilgrimage's popularity shows no signs of waning, so perhaps now is the time to go and soak up the transcendental beauty and peace of the Camino de Santiago.
Find out how you can take your own journey on this walking holiday to the Camino de Santiago with Saga...
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