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The Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St James, is the name given to any number of pilgrimage routes which lead to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Many hundreds of people follow the Camino de Santiago every year for both spiritual reasons and just as a great way to see the beautiful scenery of northern Spain.
Traditionally you’d walk, following the blue and yellow scallop shell signs that are dotted across Spain (and parts of France too). You have to walk at least 100km, or cycle 200km, to get your certificate once you reach Santiago de Compostela, although many people walk further.
But, whether you walk, cycle or drive the Camino de Santiago should be high on your list for these reasons.
The beautiful landscapes
Northern Spain is often overlooked in favour of the hotter climate down south. However, when you travel the Camino de Santiago you’ll realise that the landscapes of northern Spain are incredibly beautiful and varied.
From the mountains Picos mountains, to the beaches of Isla and Nerja, and the more dry and arid landscapes in between, the scenery is stunning.
Improve your Spanish
Very little English is spoken on the Camino which means it’s the perfect opportunity to improve your Spanish! Take a phrase book, or try out Duolingo before you go and get practising. Nothing can beat that sense of achievement when you’re understood by a Spaniard.
The food in northern Spain is delicious. Each route of the Camino de Santiago has it own flavours and specialities. If you’re near the coast, eat the seafood. Up in the mountains? Indulge in more hearty stews and meats. Just don’t miss out on the cheese and wine, okay?
See a part of spain not many people see
Most travellers to Spain tend to head to the South of Spain and enjoy the beaches and good weather. Or they stick to the cities of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. Whilst more people seem to have been heading to San Sebastian in recent years, the rest of Northern Spain is relatively unknown to foreigners. Going somewhere your friends haven’t heard of always feels a bit adventurous!
To watch the botafumerio
The end of the pilgrimage is the town of Santiago de Compostela. Around the cathedral you’ll see pilgrims taking a moment’s silence as they contemplate their journey that’ll also leave you silent.
Make sure you’re in the town on a Friday and then join the queue to get into the cathedral for Friday mass at 7.30pm. During this time you’ll get to see the magnificent botafumerio in action.
The botafumerio is a large thurible that hangs from the cathedral roof and swings through it, spreading the scent of incense throughout. It takes eight men to move it as it weighs 53 kg and measures 1.50 metres! Watching this is truly a highlight of travelling the Camino de Santiago.
For the adventure
Walking, cycling or driving, travelling the Camino de Santiago feels like an adventure. You’ll come away with great stories whichever way you travel it.
The towns are exceptionally pretty
There are tonnes of tiny towns along the routes of the Camino de Santiago. Each one is steeped in history with beautiful architecture and you’ll be in awe of the churches and cathedrals and the cobbled, narrow streets of each one.
Burgos, Pamplona and Santiago de Compostela are just a few highlights, but it’s the smaller ones you’ve never heard of that’ll surprise you.
The hostels and hotels are affordable
Along the way you’ll notice that the hostels and hotels are more affordable than in other parts of Spain.
For the connections
During the summer especially you can’t help but spot other people travelling the Camino de Santiago. Say hi to people at cafes and restaurants, and make an effort to talk to people in the hostels you’re at. You could meet your new best friend!
To have time to think
Whether you’re religious or not, you’ll find yourself thinking back to the original pilgrims and their journeys across a much different looking Spain.
Having the time to think without being worried about work or other things you should be doing is a rare pleasure and you’ll get the chance to enjoy it whilst travelling the Camino de Santiago!