They say all roads lead to Rome. But for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, all routes lead to Santiago. And surprising to many pilgrims, there is more than one way to reach the end destination and not all routes start in Spain.
While the Camino de Santiago is traditionally a religious pilgrimage, it’s not uncommon to find others venturing along the trail for their own personal or spiritual reasons. It’s also a popular destination for walking holidays.
France and Portugal are popular starting points, however there are shorter routes that pass through the Basque country in the north and Andalusia in the south. When determining a route, consider the length of the trail, stops, points of interest along the way, and the distance required to complete the each day’s trek. Remember that some days will require more hiking than others.
Trails range from 100 kilometres (the Muxia Way) to 1000 kilometres (the Silver Way) without even leaving Spain. Making your way from France will require 780 kilometres while from Lisbon, Portugal expect to travel 600 kilometres.
The French Way The most popular route, the French Way route begins in the French Pyrenees of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which means there will be mountainous terrain along the way, and includes stops in Pamplona and Leon in northern Spain.
The Portuguese Way
This section of the trail starts in Lisbon and winds its way through the Portuguese cities of Porto and Pontevedra. Along the way, travellers take in views of the coastline before turning inland to reach Santiago.
The Northern Way
This section of the Camino de Santiago starts in San Sebastian and joins the Original Way trail in Oveido, Asturias to connect travellers on to Santiago. The Northern Way takes in the Basque region, known for its rugged coastline and passes through Bilbao and Santander and Asturias. The Basque country is known for its cuisine with a host of Michelin star chefs and unique dishes.
The Original Way This route starts in Oveido in the province of Asturias, and as the name suggests, is the original route to Santiago. While very scenic, this route is more challenging with its hillside climbs, although trekkers will pass through villages, farmland and forests along the way.
The Silver Way This route runs south to north, starting in Seville, wandering through Andalusia and up to Salamanca before heading northwest to Santiago. At 1000 kilometres, this is the longest, but also the least frequented route. The stops along the way make this an attractive option even if some hiking days are longer than others.
The Muxia Way The shortest route at 100 kilometres, the Muxia Way starts on the Atlantic Coast and makes its way west toward Santiago. Pilgrims pass through medieval villages and picturesque natural landscapes along the way.
The English Way As the name suggests, the English Way is the path the English and pilgrims from other British Isles and even Scandinavia historically travelled to reach Santiago. As such, this trail starts in the port town of Ferral, providing scenic sea views as well as churches lying in ruins and lush landscapes as it makes its way south.
Things to consider
When planning, it’s important to consider your accommodation style. Hostel/auberge, shared hotel room or private hotel rooms are available along the route and prices vary depending on the preferred option. Caping is not always legal and is therefore not a reliable way to plan to rest. It is highly frowned upon by the locals and in some areas, you can be fined. It is best to plan your in advance and pre-book your accommodation, especially during the busy season.
Equally important when planning this trek, is the time of year. July and August are the most popular months and the trail will be busier than normal. It’s also the hottest time of the year as well, so be prepared for scorched vegetation and to sweat (a lot). May-June and September are the best time to trek the Camino de Santiago because the weather is beautiful, rain is less likely, and it’s less busy on the rails, although you’ll still have plenty of company (if you want it). Easter can also be especially busy as many will plan to experience this as part of a spiritual journey and undertaking. The cooler months of Autumn and Winter will find cooler and wetter days and possibly even ice and snow depending on when you go.
Travel planning shouldn’t feel stressful or overwhelming, it should be relaxing and fun.
For more information about pilgrimages as part of a small group or planning an individual spiritual experience, please contact Krista Tovell at Tovell Travel.