For quite a while now, I’ve been getting really itchy feet to head out and walk another Camino. Having moved to Portugal recently, it makes sense to try the Camino Portuguese while we are here, but which route? – Coastal or central or maybe a combination of the two. Where should we start? Lisbon? Santarém or Oporto? Should we pre-book accommodation or leave it to chance? So many options.
I can’t believe it’s been almost two years since my partner Jonathan and I first walked the Camino de Santiago. Just two days after completing the London Marathon ( had been on my bucket list for ages, never again though!), we set off on our journey from the charming French town of St Jean Pied de Port, (where I had been celebrating a rather major birthday milestone).
We traversed the Pyrenees and marched through Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. When we told our friends about how for a month, we woke up early every day, carried all our belongings on our back, and walked between 20-30 kilometres a day, they laughed thinking we were crazy. They may be right. But many of them have since followed in our footsteps and now understand the pull of the Camino. Many of them continued walking on from Santiago to Finisterre.
If we had had more time, I believe we would have probably done the same! Some even went straight into doing another Camino.
I can still remember setting off on our first morning, concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find the right path and would get lost. We needn’t have worried, the Camino Frances is well signposted, plus all we would have had to do was follow the other pilgrims starting their journey here, they were so easily identifiable by their shell dangling from their backpacks.
We spent our first night at the Orisson Refuge, located in the Pyrenees. At the communal pilgrim dinner that night, everyone took turns to introduce themselves. It felt a little uncomfortable and cheesy at first, but it did get everybody talking, and we would be bumping into many of these people again and again over the next few weeks. In fact, we are still in touch with a few of the pilgrims we met that first night.
The weather for our month-long walk was almost perfect; we walked in May, not too hot and mostly dry. Actually, whenever it did start to rain, there always seemed to be a coffee shop just waiting for us offering delicious cafe con leche with pastries and shelter from the weather.
The Camino always provides!
The first few nights we stayed in dorms. But after listening to loud snores, bodily emissions and being woken by 5 am alarm calls; we decided we preferred to stay in private rooms, as everyone says ‘it’s your Camino!’ We soon settled into a routine, up early but not too early. We would walk for a few miles, stop for breakfast, walk some more, have some lunch, find a room for the night, relax, often join with other pilgrims for dinner, early night and repeat. On an average day, we covered around 25 kilometres.
The most we walked on one day was around 35 kilometres. Oh and we did a little bit of laundry now and then! It is a good idea to bring quick dry clothes; weather can be unpredictable and bring lightweight gear if you are planning on carrying your own bags, but if you do decide one day, that you don’t want to carry your bag anymore, it is not a problem. It is very easy to forward your bags on to the next town, remember ‘it’s your Camino!’
We spent a couple of extra days in Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon: supposedly relaxing but according to our Fitbits, still putting in the mileage as we explored the cities sights and sampled the local tapas. The gothic cathedral in Burgos is stunning, and the city has some fabulous streets filled with tapas bars. Jonathan, being a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway, loved Pamplona.
It was almost an anticlimax when we finally reached Santiago de Compostela. What were we going to do with our days now we had collected our compostelas, and there was no longer a need to get up and walk. However, the city is a beautiful place to end your Camino.
Whether or not you’re religious, spiritual, agnostic, you really should attend the pilgrim’s mass at Santiago Cathedral, it’s quite moving, and you’ll be surprised by how many people you know or recognise in the congregation. Allow yourself a few days to enjoy the city, it’s lovely, and after all, you’ve spent a long time getting here. There are some great bars and restaurants in the area, and they have some of the best street musicians, we have ever heard.
Jonathan and I are fortunate that we get to travel a lot, but the Camino will always hold a special place in our heart.
The camaraderie on the Camino is incredible; it’s so easy to meet new people, hear their stories but it’s also easy to find solitude and time to reflect. In fact, we can’t believe it’s been so long since our Camino, and yes it’s time for us to do it again. Can’t wait.
Thank you to Sarah and Jonathan for sharing their Camino adventure with us. We can’t wait to hear about their future travel plans.
For more information about the route that Sarah and Jonathan traveled, the Camino Frances, you can ask any of our travel specialists and be sure to check out all of their adventures at LifePart2.com