I had arrived in Santiago in May 2018 after walking the Portuguese Coastal Route. I was delighted with achieving my Compostela but I wanted to return.
Another few days on the French Way before the end of the year? Yes please! So I booked my flights for a September start.
Puente la Reina to Estella, 22km
It was early morning on the Camino Frances. I could hear the clacking of poles belonging to pilgrims passing the hostel as I woke up so I decided it was as good a time to make a move. It was dark and still, save for the odd van passing through the town. I was ready to go! I had a good sleep. I was hoping to make it to Estella where I would meet my friends who would start their own Camino the following day.
Underneath the arch, over the bridge and out of the town – Goodbye Puente la Reina. Such a fascinating town, rich in history. Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III was the queen (Reina) who gave her name to the town and the bridge, also known as the Puente Románico. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge over the River Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago along the Camino de Santiago. And I was one of them.
Leaving town, I struck up a conversation with Doug from Canada. We got on straight away.
The road out of Puente la Reina is a tricky one and needs concentration. This was my ‘St. Jean Pied de Port’ moment and needed a few more minutes than Doug to get to the top.
I caught up eventually, and we passed through Maneru. Cirauqui is just another few kilometres in the distance. Towns in Navarra have a habit of placing themselves on hills. I’m not sure if it is to make it difficult for pilgrims to walk through them. Joking aside, I have always liked Navarra. Its rolling hills seem to go on forever and the people living there are the best. A cafe con leche y una tostada later in Cirauqui, myself and Doug left this little town and marched on.
After Cirauqui, we arrived at the famed and fabled Roman bridge that have been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. Some work was undertaken on it since I was here last but you really need to watch your step while crossing it. Lorca (or Lorka) would be our next town. The trail is made of loose stone and it is very easy to lose your step and fall if you are not paying attention.
It wasn’t long before I was in Estella. It was before noon but the sun was out. I stopped at the excellent Agora Hostel for the night. I cannot stay enough about Adrianna and Alfonso and the service they provide. I would later meet my friends for drinks and tapas in the Plaza Mayor until it was time to prepare for the next day. All three of us agreed to meet in Los Arcos the following day.
Estella to Los Arcos, 21km
Another crisp dark morning without a cloud in the sky as I left the Agora Hostal in Estella. Leaving the hostel, I started talking with Guillermo from Burgos, who was choosing to walk part of the Camino for his 60th birthday. He was much faster than me, but then again, he is nearly 7 foot tall. He hoped to walk to Sansol today, slightly further than me. You pass the church of San Pedro de la Rua on your way out of Estella. The many lights illuminate the stairs. Guillermo was always ahead of me and he was happy to be alone. We arrive at the much talked about Monasterio de Santa Maria de Irache which has a wine fountain. I took a sip, it proved to be too sweet and I moved on. I’m sure some pilgrims will love it, just not this pilgrim.
Somehow, I let the darkness take me for a walk and bring me on a wrong turn. I was off the Camino. But panic not as I turned a corner and I saw another yellow arrow, And shortly after that, I see Doug from Canada again. All smiles. The sun was rising over Navarra as we made our way to Villamayor de Monjardin.
After a gradual climb, we both arrived at Villamayor. There was a chap with a flying drone recording, He had a pilgrim audience watching as he went about his work. The main site visited is the Romanesque church of San Andrés, from the XII century. We stopped off here for a bit and had a snack from the Markiola tienda.
After leaving the town, there is a 12km stretch to Los Arcos so I was sure to have enough water and some fruit with me for the morning. Off we went.
The weather was great, and once the sun came up, it started to get warm. And by warm I mean 15c in the shade and 20-25c in the sun. We arrived at Los Arcos, which would be my stop for the day. Doug had decided to walk some more. At the entrance to the town, there was a great tienda and we bought some fruits, and drinks. All while waiting for the albergue to open. Looking at my watch, I had quite a while yet. The fabulous Casa de la Abuela in Los Arcos is much revered so I thought I would check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. I said goodbye to Doug, knowing that we would meet again.
I met my friends again later on in the evening in the main plaza for a pilgrim menu. The plaza was full that night, and all three restaurants were busy with pilgrims. The albergue was full too. I met a lady from Queens in New York. I also met 2 French Canadians with very little English but we communicated through the basic Spanish I had. Which was fun. Tomorrow, I hope to walk to Viana.
Los Arcos to Viana, 18km
Dark thirty. I wake to pilgrims gathering their belongings. I reach for my phone and see the time. 4.30am. Sigh. I then see that my phone had not charged during the night. Well, I will have no photos today. I decided to turn my phone off until later that evening. With those two pieces of unwelcome news, I turned over and tried to sleep for another hour.
At 6am, I awake again and gather my pack and leave. The Quebecois duo had left, the American lady had departed. However, I would hope to see all in Viana. I doubt I would see Doug today. So today would be a solo walk! Let’s go! Breakfast was served at 7am in Los Arcos main plaza which I looked forward to. There are not many stops for water and food along the route today, so it is worth filling up when you can. The Camino takes you past the Iglesia de Santa Maria and over the River Odron. It isn’t long before you are back in traditional Camino territory. But of course, it is still dark as we are expecting a hot day this day. I noticed the whirr of an electricity station on the outskirts of the town. Ok, now for music. I hadn’t had a chance to listen to any music since I started walking. Not that this is a bad thing. I’m in the zone when I walk alone and having some music helps me think, I suppose.
More and more vineyards crop up as I walk westwards. Reaching out to grab a few grapes are so tempting, but a voice inside tells me otherwise. The sun rises as I spot Sansol and Torres del Rio in front of me. Both towns might as well be joint to the hip for they are so close. Torres is bigger and is established on a hill. It takes great energy to get to a cafe and have a 2nd breakfast. I’m sad to learn that Albergue Casa Mari is no longer open. I stayed here in 2014 and really enjoyed it. The Templar church looks magnificent as always.
Although the day starts at about 450 metres, the high point of the day is nearly 600 metres. It is a very hilly day with many rolling ups and downs, it is not as easy as it may seem. I passed a few pilgrims who were having difficulty and I always said “take a rest, you deserve it, the hardest is behind you. It gets easier”. While others, and more agile than me, walked past me like I wasn’t there. So you get all sort of pilgrims. I enjoyed today, particularly watching the sunrise over the vineyards. Stopping where you are, turning around and watching the sunrise is just essential on the Camino.
I was aiming for Albergue Izar in Viana and I arrived just before midday. The albergue didn’t open until 1pm so I had some time for a drink and some lunch. I walked past the bullring, and down Calle Rua Santa Maria where the Church of Santa Maria stands tall. I took a moment or two just to take it in and then ordered a cafe con leche. I immediately saw some pilgrims who I had met before from Finland and Germany respectively so I joined them for a bit. They wanted to walk on to Logrono, another 10km. But the day is young. The wine festival of San Matteo was happening over that weekend so most pilgrims wanted to be there for the festivities. I, on the other hand, was aiming for Ventosa the following day. I saw the Quebecois duo also, who were staying in the same albergue as myself. They were fun to be around.
Albergue Izar is a good clean modern albergue with communal meal and breakfast. It has small rooms upstairs for just 6 or larger dorms on the ground floor. I met my buddies for the last time on this Camino for a final pilgrim meal and some drinks. The restaurant was on a side street, away from the crowds of Calle Rua Santa Maria.
Viana to Ventosa, 28km
Today I said goodbye to Navarra and hello to La Rioja as I ventured westward. It was due to be a hot day so I decided on an early start.
I set off alone after 6am. The hospitaleros had provided us breakfast which I took. The next few kilometres to Logrono is far from attractive so I suppose early morning is the ideal time to walk it. I left with a full battery on the phone and with a full tank’s worth of coffee. The next town would top me up! I said goodbye to Viana and walked under its archway leading back on to the Camino.
There was Instant darkness when I left the town. I was urging the sun to rear her head over the horizon. I would have to wait another hour for that, however. After the Camino brings you through some back roads, you are lead on to a main road. Here you can see the large “Communidad de La Rioja” sign. I knew where I was now. But there is a good bit of industrial area to walk through before arriving at Logrono proper.
The sun rises in the background. I stop for a moment or two. I say goodbye to Navarra and silently thank everyone whom I have met. It’s this time of the day I cherish the most.
I arrive in the city close to an hour later. The party from the night before was just ending, the Fiesta de San Matteo. I spotted an Irish bar – Dublin Bar on Avenida Zaragoza. I know for next time. After the long walk up Calle Marqués de Murrieta, the Camino leads you to a number of parks and to the La Granjera where swans and other small animals are known to dwell.
Leaving the La Granjera, you will pass Marcellino who will offer you a sello. Be sure to take one, he is quite a famous peregrino! It was close to midday at this stage and the sun was out. I could feel the heat on my neck already. But I had another 10 kilometres to go.
Navarrete was in the distance. Placed on a hill with many vineyards surrounding it, this town is a favourite for pilgrims. I stopped for a little while to soak up the atmosphere. All the cafes were full however so I declined a cafe con leche and had some fruit that I bought the day before, taking advantage of what little shade there was.
Walking to Ventosa, it wasn’t hard to spot the pilgrims taking rests under trees and haystacks just to avoid the worst of the heat. I eventually arrived at Ventosa at 2pm. The albergue San Saturnino had just opened. I met Patricia from Logrono who had just walked her first day on her Camino and had decided to finish here for the day. She had good English but she was looking forward to her siesta!
After washing clothes, I checked out the local restaurant and had the pilgrim meal. Not bad for €11. I met Madalina from Canada, the French part. She had walked from Logrono so I bought her a glass of wine for her efforts. We spent the evening chatting away talking about anything and everything. She said that she was aiming for Santo Domingo tomorrow, but there was no guarantee. After a few hours talking, we walked back to the albergue and prepared for the next day.
I met German pilgrim Carsten that evening so myself, Patricia and Carsten arranged to walk the following day. Adelante!
Ventosa to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 32km
A long day, but a super day!
Patricia, Carsten and myself left Albergue San Saturnino in Ventosa after 6am after some breakfast. We had 11 kilometres to walk before reaching the River Najerilla and it’s many cafes and albergues. Not that we had planned to stay there. My two companions had open minds, while I had my heart set on Santo Domingo and her two hens! Patricia had taken some time off from work to walk part of the Camino and hoped to walk to Burgos. So she was in no rush. We talked about her summer spent in Ireland while studying English, which seems to be the place to be if you are a Spanish student during the summer months. She had fun, but she did tell me that not a lot of English was learned! Little did I know that he had something in common with me and it was great to chat with him about it.
Najera, our first stop, is situated along a cliff face and there was an eerie silence about the place when we crossed the Najerilla. There is a great cafe to the left of the river and we stopped there for 2nd breakfast. We met Jan, from Denmark and Andrew, from Scotland. They were both aiming for Santo Domingo. They were part of the 40k club. They could do big distances each day with no sweat. After our coffees had been finished and our tostadas had been eaten, we sauntered on. Azofra, 6km ahead, would be our next stop.
The distance ahead was pretty straightforward but now the sun was front and centre. The trail rambled over hills with rocks to one side and vineyards to the other. This is a winemakers heaven here! Plenty of arrows sprayed on the rocks, just in case we don’t take a wrong turn. Azofra is a one street town but it is pretty great. There are a number of cafes and we decided to stop for a bit because Patricia was struggling. I offered some bandage for a new blister. I told her about the municipal albergue here in Azofra, which has a swimming pool. She decided to hang back in Azofra. Our pack now became 2.
A number of hours later, and following one tricky descent we checked into the albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I also saw Doug.
The municipal albergue hadn’t changed since I was in it first in 2013 – well, maybe the price! My bed was in “Azofra” on the 2nd floor. While Carsten checked out the Catedral, I grabbed a mini siesta. Later on, I met Jan and Andrew whom we met in Najera, and they were with other folk. So I joined them. There were pilgrims from Australia, Sweden, Canada, Spain and another from Ireland. We had a fabulous pilgrim meal later on in the evening.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado, 24km
I was looking forward to this day. Belorado is a place I have been to many a time and one I will hope to return to again. The albergue Cuatro Cantones is a special place run by Jana and her family. Do stay if you get the chance. I decided to stay this year.
I gathered my backpack and slowly walked to the kitchen in the Cofradia. There were a few pilgrims asleep on the sofas nearby – tired of the snoring maybe? The forecast for the day was good with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon, but there was much talk of the swimming pool in Cuatro Cantones over the pilgrim meal the evening before. I have not yet seen the swimming pool in action so there is a first for everything.
We were on the road by 6.30am. Leaving Santo Domingo is routine. You walk along the main road however Granon always peaks my interest. We stop for another breakfast at the cafe “My Way Frances”. It has a very active presence on Instagram so it was nice to say hello and thank them for doing what they do. A short while later, we walk on.
It was also the day we left La Rioja and entered Castilla y Leon. Just after Granon, you arrive at a large sign which sets out your path for the next week or more. It was nice to see that again. We bumped into Andrew again and just enjoyed naming off some of the towns he will be walking through soon. I sat back and took a photo.
The scenery was gradually changing too. The vineyards of La Rioja were no more, only to be replaced by sunflowers, We speculated how the price of wine will be affected!
Onwards. Conversation makes time and kilometres shorter until we arrive at Belorado. Albergue A Santiago is all bells and whistles and opens at midday, however, Cuatro Cantones is situated in the centre of the town. We have another 30 minutes to wait. A queue is beginning to form already, and I expected that too. It is a popular albergue. We walk to the main plaza where it is market day. We buy some fruit for tomorrow morning.
After checking in, I grab a shower. The swimming pool is open with the temp being in the mid-20s. The sun doesn’t look like leaving us. There is a yoga session planned for before dinner so I decided to join that. First time for everything. Until then, we are relaxing in the back garden. I get called from another Irish pilgrim “David, come on in, the water is perfect”. The thing is I can’t swim, so that’s my excuse. I can paddle though!
I take off my zip offs and paddle like the best 5-year-old child. An hour passes and the rain that was promised arrives. I quickly jump from the pool and run for the washing line to gather my clothes.
My zip offs from my trousers remain in Belorado.
Belorado to Atapuerca, 30km
It was a super morning, the skies were clear but it was extra cold. We reached Tosantos in no time and we hoped that 2nd coffee could be found. Unfortunately, everything was closed. We reached at Espinosa de la Camino with a little success. Some cafe con leche and tostada later and we had some energy. Now we were rocking. We met Guilhermo, my Spanish friend, again walking in his casual way. He had stayed in the donativo albergue in Tosantos and was aiming for Ages and then finally Burgos the following day to end his Camino this year. I wished him well.
It was all fun and games and good conversation until we reached Villafranca Montes de Oca – a small town based on the foot of an incline into the Oca Hills. We stopped for refreshments and chatted to 2 young German (or so I was told) pilgrims, before making a start on the climb. It wasn’t too steep but it went on for a while. So this morning, we had 12 kilometres of ascent and descent before arriving at the next town San Juan de Ortega. And I was glad.
San Juan de Ortega holds nothing little more than a monastery, an albergue, a hotel, and a cafe. Most stop here after the long nothingness. The cafe is buzzing with cafe con leches flying out the door. Carsten buys me a coke and I sit down. I spot two very young pilgrims buzzing around with more energy than us all. I ask their father if they are his children. He says yes and says they are 4 and 6 and have walked from St. Jean. This is their 16th day. I’m stunned and ask for a photo. It’s a great story to tell and what a great experience it will be for them when they complete it.
Carsten and I decide to walk on. We have another 4km to Ages and another 2 kilometres to Atapuerca after that. Our feet were fine but I had a bad case of the farmers’ tan now that the lower part of the trousers was missing. But this is a minor complaint. I needed the sun to move back under the clouds. Back into the woods we go for a few kilometres before we arrive at Ages. Atapuerca is just 2km or 30 minutes away.
We arrived just after midday. The albergue wasn’t due to open until 1pm. I left my back with Carsten and paid the tienda a visit. I knew Atapuerca well at this rate having been here in 2013 and 2015. But the people make the place you stay and I was waiting for the right people to show up. I had Carsten, he was good fun. While waiting, Jim from the USA and Ben from Israel appeared. We would get to know both well over the next few days. And then was Bruno and Blanka.
After a few light refreshments we went for dinner in El Palomar. It was smashing and I was filled with energy for the walk to Burgos in the morning. I wasn’t looking forward to my last walking day but I was walking so fast I now had a rest day. So I could take it easy for a day before traveling to Bilbao and home to Dublin. A short day to Burgos in the morning. Everyone is talking about a river route. I have walked it in 2015 so I’ve been giving tips on how to avoid the mundanity of the industrial centre of Burgos.
Atapuerca to Burgos, 18km
Another early morning. Most of the albergue was awake having their breakfast in some shape or form. Bruno, Jim, Carsten, Ben, and Blanka were all eager to reach Burgos. But it was quite a cold morning. Fog had descended during the night and there was danger it would still be in the hills if we left too early. We had the stars to guide us so.
Leaving Atapauerca, we had a short climb ahead of us to get to the Matagrande. Onwards I went passing Villafria. The road was quiet and there was almost an eerie sense with the low fog and the stars out. We stopped for a bit when we reached the Sierra de Atapuerca and looked back at the climb we achieved. The sun was peeking over the horizon but it wasn’t ready to make an appearance just yet.
There was plenty of chat among us and I was happy to learn that a friend of Bruno’s family had entered and contested the Rose of Tralee. So he is Irish in my books. We stopped at Cardenuela Riopico for some breakfast, I witnessed my final sunrise on this Camino – it was magical while having a croissant and cafe con leche. After a while, the 3 amigos, Bruno, Carsten and myself walked on to Burgos. The sun was up but there was still a chill in the air.
We still had a good few hours yet before we reached the albergue. There was much talk about an alternative route, to avoid the slog through the industrial area into Burgos. The alternative meant following the River Pico into the city – it is somewhat more scenic. This diversion is laid out on a sign at the side of the road and it gives pilgrims directions into Burgos. Most guidebooks would have this alternative listed. The trick is to find Castanares (see the map above).
We were in Burgos by midday and at the albergue shortly after. The albergue is close by the superb gothic cathedral standing tall in the main square. There is already a queue as we arrive and we sit in the cafe opposite to wait. There is no hurry. This albergue has many beds! Soon, I see Jim and Ben and Blanka and I meet new faces. I decide to visit the Cathedral the following day as I have a day spare. All I have to do now is check-in and find somewhere to eat!
I’ve enjoyed this little jaunt from Navarra to La Rioja. It is always a social experience walking the Camino Frances at any time. It’s always a good time to think about future Caminos also.