Santiago de Compostela, Spain is widely considered to be one of the most significant cities in the Christian world, and it is in the cathedral there that the bones of St James are said to be resting. There are paths and traditional routes from across Europe that historically carried pilgrims to Santiago, and even as far back as the twelfth century, it was a popular pilgrimage, with the Codex Calixtinus being a book from that era which described one route to Santiago.
There were very few pilgrims on the route in the early twentieth century, but a resurgence in the late twentieth century, along with an improvement in the facilities and the Hollywood movie 'The Way', has helped the Camino de Santiago to return better than ever.
There are still several different routes to choose from, each offering its own distinctive walking experience, and whether you are looking for a walking challenge or a religious experience, these options are well worth considering.
This is by far the most popular route to Santiago at the moment, and starts with a challenging climb over the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port in the South of France, to Roncesvalles in Spain. The path traces a route of nearly 800 kilometers across northern Spain, passing through the stunning cities of Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon on the route. This is one of the best options for those looking for reasonable facilities, as there are usually plenty of albergues for those looking for beds, along with restaurants and cafes, with the facilities becoming more frequent, along with the numbers of people you will see, as you approach Santiago.
A route that can either be walked by itself or as a diversion from the Camino Frances, the Primitivo begins in the city of Leon and travels north to Oviedo, where pilgrims visit the historic Church of San Miguel de Lillo. This is a little more challenging and features some physical days passing through the mountains, although equally in many cases those who love mountains will find the views and walking along the Primitivo even more impressive than the Frances.
As the name suggests, this way to Santiago de Compostela travels through much of the wonderful countryside of Portugal, and is quite a rural route, beginning in the city of Lisbon, and traveling up through Coimbra and Porto. A shorter option is to walk from Tui in Galicia, which is just over the 100 kilometers from Santiago to allow pilgrims to be awarded with a compostela, the certificate offered for those completing a pilgrimage to Santiago. This camino is 620 kilometers for those beginning in Lisbon, and a growth in the restaurants, cafes, and albergues along the route has made this a much more attractive option over recent years.
This route is one that has been used by the pilgrims from England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Europe for centuries, as they would traditionally land at the port in La Coruna, and either walk from there or the nearby town of Ferrol. This is another route that is becoming popular among those who were looking for a camino experience without the larger numbers to be found on the Camino Frances, and the attractive scenery of Galicia as you work southwards towards Santiago is very impressive.
While the Camino Frances travels across northern Spain, the Camino Norte hugs the north coast from San Sebastian through Bilbao, Santander, and Gijon before angling inland towards Santiago. This is great for those who enjoy coastal walking and seafood, and it is believed to follow a historic Roman road that once followed the coastline. This route does have a little more walking along country roads than some of the other routes, but it also boasts some stunning towns and villages to stay in along the route.
Camino Le Puy
If the 800 kilometers from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago isn't quite long enough for you, taking the route that begins in the French city of Le Puy adds another 736 kilometers to the overall route, and making it a solid two to three months of walking. The waymarks here are actually marked as the Grande Route 65, and there are certainly some grand vistas along the way, while this section certainly has plenty of up and down, but it also makes for an epic adventure that will even impress those starting from St Jean.