My colleague Martin from the groups department and myself had the opportunity to cycle three days on the French Way Camino trail from Sarria recently. The trip was a great experience and we enjoyed it immensely, regardless of a few challenges along the way. These are a few highlights of our trip cycling the Camino trail that stood out for me:
The day we reached Melide was very cold and wet and despite the wishes of “Buen Camino” we were receiving from fellow pilgrims along the way we could not wait for a break from the rain to lift our spirits. We got that much needed break when we reached the town of Melide about 15km into our cycle. We entered Melide over a small bridge and from there you have a lovely view of the river and the old town which is extremely picturesque.
We stopped in the first café that we saw and we delighted to be greeted by the friendly owner, a delicious coffee and a piping hot fire in the corner. We happily stayed there for a bit of a rest and found it very difficult to pry ourselves away, but as we got back on our bikes and headed through the rest of the town we could see that even though it is small, this town has a lot to offer.
The old town has cobbled streets and lovely stone buildings (also plenty of other little cafes that look just as welcoming as the one we chose). As you continue out of the old town you pass through a much more modern Melide; slightly less picturesque, but lovely all the same. When you reach the main part of the new town the contrast between the two is pretty remarkable. The new town is bustling with lots of modern restaurants and people coming and going as normal, a big contrast to the sleepy place we had just left.
This contrast contributed to Melide being one of the highlights for me on the tour as the mix of old and new is something that you do not see everywhere. Since we were only passing through on our way to Arzua we did not get a chance to stay, but this town has a lot to offer whether you are looking to split the walk or add a rest day along your route, you won’t be disappointed!
From Arzua to Santiago
This was our last day of the tour since we were cycling and the terrain on this day was my favourite. While all of the days had beautiful scenery the day from Arzua to Santiago was mostly on a Camino trail so we passed through a lot of wooded areas which would then open up to large open fields of rolling countryside. There was a steep incline as we left Arzua, but as we reached the top of the hill just as the sun was fully rising there was a spectacular view back down over the countryside and it made the climb worth it! We were delighted to see that these sort of views continued for the rest of the day and we found the kilometres passing quickly as we approached Santiago.
We took a quick stop at the Hotel Amenal situated on the Camino trail for a snack and rest, but we continued on quickly after that as the excitement of reaching Santiago was mounting.
There were some more hills along the way as we reached Monte do Gozo (the last stop before Santiago) and we took a break to admire the monument to pilgrims there and the views down into Santiago before continuing on our way. As we approached Santiago we were surprised at how quickly we were leaving the quiet rolling countryside behind and entering the buzzing city, but as we approached the heart of Santiago our excitement only increased as we turned the last corner into the main square and were greeted with the stunning architecture of Santiago Cathedral and the crowds of other joyful pilgrims who had just arrived!
Churros in the old town
It wouldn’t have been a complete experience in Santiago without stopping in for some churros with chocolate and I am not ashamed to say that this was my favourite “meal” of the trip. We went to a small café just off the main square called “Metate” and we were greeted with a warm welcome from the woman working there, who before we were even seated asked “Churros and Chocolate?” much to our delight.
She then proceeded to bring over two big mugs of piping hot chocolate and informed us that the churros would take a few more minutes because she was making them fresh. When they came over to the table piping hot we quickly devoured them and came I came to the realisation that it was one of the best desserts I had ever eaten.
For me churros had been one of the foods that people who had been to Santiago had constantly told me I had to get while there and I can definitely say I wasn’t disappointed. Sweet tooth or not I think everyone would enjoy these and after a long walk or cycle these are a well deserved treat!
On our tour we had an extra day in Santiago which was great as we got a chance to explore the city. Santiago is a wonderful city with lots of beautiful architecture and pedestrian streets that make it a great place to meander around and explore when you are resting after your Camino experience. We found ourselves wandering a little past the city centre over to the Alameda Park, which is still in the city centre but on the opposite side to the cathedral. The park is a big hit with locals and you will find people out for a stroll and plenty of students taking a break in the park as the University is nearby. However, it does seem to be a bit of a hidden gem with pilgrims.
The park does not take long to walk around but the views of the cathedral from this park are second to none. You get a full, unobstructed view of the cathedral from there. There are plenty of benches around and it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the view. I couldn’t help but be amused by the local people walking around the park taking the view as completely commonplace when it is anything but that. This park is a must see if you have some extra time in Santiago, you won’t be sorry!
Rooftop tour of Santiago Cathedral
Since our flight back to Ireland was not until later in the afternoon we decided to make the most of the morning and head back up to the cathedral to go on the rooftop tour. This is something that I would highly recommend as it is a completely different perspective on the size and scope of the cathedral. The tour brings you up through the old stone stairs of the cathedral to a large open room where you get a stunning picture of how elaborate the architecture actually is. You get a view back down into the main part of the cathedral where the pilgrim mass takes places and you can see all of the stone arches and elaborate artistry that makes this place such a sight to behold. From there you continue on to the roof where you are looking at the front of the cathedral from a different perspective and it really gives you a feel for the majesty of this building.
The guide who is with you will explain all of the architecture and you will see parts of the cathedral that are unobservable when you are on the ground or inside. For me seeing the cathedral from the square, the inside and the roof really gave me the full experience and completed the pilgrim experience for me. It is a great way to get a lot of information and history about the cathedral that you may not get otherwise. I would recommend this for anyone who has a bit of extra time in Santiago as it only takes about 1h15.
* Important things to note about the rooftop tour:
– There are several tours each day, not all are in English so it is important to check this prior to booking tickets
– Space on the tour is limited there are only about 12-14 people at a given time so we would advise that you book online the day before. The tickets are €16 for adults and €12 for students and seniors.
– Be sure to arrive at the cathedral about 15 minutes before as the tour does leave on time.
Get all of the details about the Cathedral rooftop tours and other Cathedral tours you can visit the Museo Cathedral de Santiago.
Jennifer is a travel specialist at CaminoWays.com, more about Jennifer.
For more information about the Camino de Santiago routes, the French Way Camino trail or to book your Camino trip, contact the CaminoWays.com travel specialists