I was fortunate to spend eleven wonderful days walking on the Camino in Spain in September for a Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast Camino special.
I did a shortened Camino highlights trip. The full Camino is over 800kms from the Spanish border in the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It typically takes a walker between 30 and 35 days, walking around 25 kms a day, to do the full Camino.
I walked the French Camino Way from Roncesvalles, at the foothills of the Pyrenees on the border with France, but most people start at St Jean Pied de Port in France and walk over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. I would recommend starting from St Jean in France. I flew into Bilbao with Aer Lingus, which is about two and a half hour car transfer to Roncesvalles. Aer Lingus also fly to Biarritz which is only an hour’s drive to St Jean Pied de Port, where most Irish people start their Camino.
The Camino is a truly magical experience that I would recommend to everyone but especially walking and history enthusiasts. The walk takes from the northeast of Spain all the way to the Atlantic on the far west coast. The Camino brings you through four very different regions of Spain with four very distinct landscapes, culture, architecture, people, cuisine, weather and even language.
Pilgrims, as walkers are called whether religious or not, start in the mountains of the Pyrenees, then pass through stunning medieval hill towns and cities like Pamplona of Navarra, then the picturesque vineyards of Rioja, followed by the vast, endless flat plains of the Meseta of Castile and Leon. This finally give way to the mountains into Galicia which is known as the Green Spain with its small green fields surrounded by stone walls and a celtic heritage that make Irish people feel at home.
The Camino is one of Christianity’s most venerated and ancient pilgrimage walks and goes to the tomb of St James at the magnificent world heritage listed cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, which is the third most holy site in Christianity after Rome and Jerusalem. People have been doing the Camino since the 9th century when the remains of St James where rediscovered in Santiago.
I will go into detail next week on what I think the Camino so magical and what makes it so special when compared to other walking holidays I have done. I’ll share my favourite towns to stay in and offer helpful tips when planning your own Camino.
The Camino is very much an experience where the mobile phone is switched off and home life is quickly forgotten. My guide in Navarra was a Camino legend called Fran Contreras who summed up the magic of walking when he told me “The only thing you hear on the Camino is your heart beating and the crunch of your shoes on the ground”.
I would add to that the openness and camaraderie of fellow walkers who share a passing “Buen Camino” greeting with a welcoming smile and a willingness to chat with strangers and exchange stories.
Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of the Travel Podcast Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast which has a special episode all about the Camino out now on www.traveltaleswithfergal.ie