Walking the Camino de Santiago is not a conventional walking trip but a pilgrimage through history, art, culture and legend stretching back over 1,000 years. The Camino de Santiago – “The Way of St James” – goes back to the 9th century when the convenient discovery of the remains of St James led to pilgrims journeying across northern Spain to pay reverence to the Saint who quickly became an idol and a rallying point in the struggle against the Moors, then in control of much of the Peninsula. Madrid & Beyond’s in-house Camino expert, Clara is the Holy Grail of trip planners on the Camino. She knows it well, having hiked and biked it over 50 times as a guide specializing in this famous pilgrimage walk.
“Before I joined Madrid & Beyond, I worked as a guide, leading small groups from the USA on biking and hiking tours all over Spain and Portugal. For over five years I had the privilege of leading small groups along the Camino de Santiago, sharing this experience and experiencing it for myself through the eyes of many different people. The trip is indeed a very rewarding experience. In 1993, I joined a company called Camino Tours based in Seattle, which at the time was the only company running active luxury trips in the whole Iberian Peninsula.”
We were "pioneers" in that sense. Although we arranged hiking and biking trips all over Spain and Portugal, the Camino soon became our star trip. People just fell in love with it and gradually the Camino started to be more and more popular in the States.
“The Camino is an experience in itself, it is very hard just to pick just a few highlights, because what makes the Camino so special is your own Camino. On a normal journey, you travel from one point to another to see a wonderful monument or travel to that city that you always wanted to visit. You take a train, a car, a plane from A to B to gain that experience. The Camino is different, not only the destination is going to be a highlight, but the experience, the journey in reaching that destination is a unique experience. But above all, I think it’s the people you encounter along the Camino is what makes it even more special. Stopping in a typical restaurant and having a pilgrim’s lunch, walking through mystical forests, admiring the different landscapes from the mountains in the Pyrenees to the flatlands of Castille… Learning the history and the specific culture of each province. Arriving at the Obradoiro square and seeing the tears of our fellow travelers after days of walking…”
If you are an active traveler, who loves nature, history, gastronomy... if you are seeking a personally rewarding experience (it can be just cultural, religious, spiritual...) and at the same time want to share this experience with your people (husband, wife, friends, children...), then the Camino is for you.
“The Camino is one of the oldest routes you can do in Europe and it captivates everyone who undertakes it. I haven’t met a single person who said they were disappointed by the Camino. It catches your heart and soul very quickly.”
“The route you choose depends on the amount of time you have. Unfortunately, most people have an average of 10-12 days in total, so we don’t have many choices here. The French Route and the Portuguese Way would be my recommendations. If you have more time, let’s say over two weeks, I strongly recommend the Camino Primitivo.”
“The Camino is not for a traveler seeking very high-end luxury properties. But we work with some excellent four and five-star hotels in restored historic buildings in great locations in the pedestrian-only zones of the old cities, just steps from magnificent cathedrals. For the rest of the itinerary, where we stay in rural areas along the Camino, we use mostly three or four-star properties (or equivalent; there is no “star” system for inns in Spain), small family-run hotels and rural inns in stylishly restored historic buildings, all rooms with en-suite facilities and modern fittings. All properties are personally chosen for their comfort, character, location, and overall quality.”
“Palacio de Canedo in Cacabelos, Pazo Berbetoros in Portomarín, the wonderful family-run 1930 Boutique Hotel in Arzúa are just some of the great hotels along the Camino… I also enjoy staying in style at the Hotel La Perla in Pamplona, or the Paradors in León and Santiago, or of course the wonderful Marqués de Riscal in La Rioja. There are some great properties along the Portuguese Camino too: The Yeatman in Porto, the Pousada de Viana do Castelo, the Parador in Baiona, the wonderful rural property of Torre do Río, and the beautiful Quinta da Auga.”
You cannot miss the octopus at Casa Ezequiel in Melide, or a hearty local dinner at Santa Mariña in Portomarín. Try Mesón de Villasirga in Villalcazar de Sirga for the best roasted lamb or O Sendeiro, one of my very favorite restaurants in Santiago.
“As I said earlier, I think it’s the people you meet along the Camino who make it so special. I loved Padre Fructuoso, a Benedictine monk I once several times at the Monastery of Samos. He always offered to show us around even if he was busy at the time we arrived… you could tell that he liked us and we loved the way he explained the history and the art pieces of the monastery, including somewhat surprisingly, a fountain decorated with nude feminine figures – that was a highlight! And then there is Mario, the owner of Santa Mariña in Portomarín. We always like to enjoy a “queimada”, a traditional Galician drink, the making of which is said to keep witches and bad spirits away; Mario is a master of this historic ritual!”
“What Madrid & Beyond really excels at is the quality of guides and collaborators we match with our clients. These hand-picked experts can provide an added depth to your experience, especially one as inspirational as walking the Camino de Santiago. Indeed, they know the Camino and its people inside out and share all this expertise, experience and knowledge with our travelers. That being said, our guides know to be flexible, they won’t “hold your hand” as you walk Camino, but will be there as a resource for you, providing support and transfers as required.”
“The Camino is full of anecdotes, legends, rituals… one of the funniest is the ritual of throwing the stone at the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross). The Iron Cross is one of several mounds of stones found along the Camino known as “humilladeros”. Legend says these mounds were formed by past pilgrims who stored stones along the route to use in the construction of churches and chapels, including the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.”
The legend also says that the stone represents your sins and that you must carry your own stone until you can lay it to rest at the Iron cross. Of course, it's up to you the size of the stone that you are going to carry!