Once you’re in Galicia, it’s a winding, up-and-down route through tiny farms and one-house hamlets and alongside rain-drenched fields and rivers. The volume of pilgrims reaches a crescendo at Santiago, where you give thanks to St James in a series of historic rituals. But don’t stop there: if you follow the old Celtic route to the sea at Finisterre, you’ll reach the end of the known world via the solitude of quiet lanes and ancient ways.
Soggy storms clip this corner of Iberia as they fly along the Gulf Stream, dumping bucketsful of water almost all year round. In an average year, Galicia gets rain on one day in three.
The foggy Costa da Morte is a jagged mix of cliffs and long estuaries that penetrate deep inland, and the coast is a legendary wrecker of countless ships. This maritime carnage may explain the name Costa da Morte (coast of death), but the coast may also be named for the nightly death of the sun as it sets on Spain’s westernmost shore.
The inland landscape is one of rolling hills and steep river valleys eroded by aeons of rainfall. Lush vegetation and mild winters make Galicia stand out from other, more arid parts of Spain, but for those who know the wilder parts of Ireland, the scenery will be very familiar.
The Galician government has made a huge effort to promote the camino. Concrete bollards line the route every half a kilometre and are engraved with both the distance to Santiago and local place names, although some rural folk say that a lot of these names are made up, and many bollards have been vandalized. The government invested heavily in the camino for the 1993 Holy Year and introduced Pelerín, a cartoon mascot for the camino through Galicia.
The camino is much less crowded after Santiago, and the route is well marked and wonderfully scenic.
When to go
The old saying, “Be prepared for rain and pray for sunshine” rings true in Galicia. The winter brings almost constant rainstorms and the sun may not shine for weeks, although it’s unlikely to snow as the temperature rarely dips below freezing. In spring and autumn the weather is unpredictable and mists are frequent. Summer brings the most settled good weather but is also the most popular time of year; albergues will be stuffed to the gills and the camino can seem like a well-attended sponsored walk.
Flora & Fauna
The oak forest of Galicia is a national treasure. Its sturdy wood was used to build Spain’s mighty naval armada, and by the early sixteenth century, in an attempt to preserve the forest for state use, a royal decree forbade anyone from felling the huge trees without a licence.
Then, in the nineteenth century, eucalyptus was brought to Spain under the mistaken belief that it would be good for construction. Eucalyptus can grow by as much as 13m in three years, much faster than the local oak, making it popular as a source of both pulp and firewood. In 1941, Franco introduced the misnamed State Forest Heritage Act, under which oak was widely chopped down and eucalyptus was planted in its place to feed the fledgling pulp industry. The non-native species now accounts for almost a third of the forest in Galicia.
When you’re out walking, take a look at the undergrowth of oak and eucalyptus woods. In eucalyptus forests, there’s limited plant life and very few animals; birds find little food to eat here and the tree’s sticky gum can clog up a bird’s throat and kill it. In stark contrast, an old oak wood is a multi-layered canopy of green. Oak forests develop slowly, the soil growing rich with decaying leaves and acorns. Ferns, foxgloves, and other small shrubs provide shelter and food for a variety of animals, and the trees themselves are covered in moss and lichen — a miniature ecosystem in their own right. Black woodpeckers nest in the hollows of old trees, while thrushes, wrens and bullfinches hunt for beetles and grubs.
Galician farming practices are less intensive and pesticide-reliant than those in the more productive meseta. As a result, meadows burst with wildflowers in spring and early summer, and the local cows use the lush grasses to produce a rich, creamy milk that’s turned into a wide variety of cheeses.
Without the region’s persistent rain, Galicia would be devoid of damp-loving plants like the purple large-flowered butterwort and the pink bog pimpernel. In the hours after a heavy rainstorm, it’s common to see green Iberian wall lizards drying themselves on slabs of rock or on walls. Fire salamanders are most easily spotted during heavy rain when they crawl out of damp crevices: look out for them in wet mountain regions.
People & Culture
Picaud was uncharacteristically complimentary about the Galicians, who
“are more like our French people in their customs than any other of the uncultivated races of Spain, but they have the reputation of being violent-tempered and quarrelsome.”
Such quarrelsome behaviour would be understandable today, as locals cope with the tide of pilgrims that washes through their province. Galicians can be more reserved than other Spaniards, but the people are some of the friendliest and kindest you’ll meet along the camino.
In the 1991 census, a massive 91% of inhabitants said they were able to speak Galega, the region’s Portuguese-like language. Galega tends to be heard more in rural areas and it’s still thought of as an old person’s language. After Galicia was granted autonomous government in 1981, the study of the language took off, and modern writers like Manolo Rivas have led to a new interest in Galega.
The region has always been poor. The last feudal holding was only abolished in 1973, and the average worker earns about half that of workers in Germany. Since the 1950s, there’s been a massive exodus of people from the countryside, initially to South America but nowadays to industrialized cities like A Coruña.
The historic poverty of the region may go some way to explaining why traditional farming methods remain popular. As you walk through tiny hamlets it’s common to see palleiros (haylofts), pallozas (straw-covered huts), bronas (outdoor ovens for cooking corn bread) and beautiful hórreos that dry and store the corn. Hórreo designs and materials change from village to village, from simple, sturdy concrete blocks to intricate wood-and-slate designs that belie their practical function.
Galician music is firmly Celtic, and perhaps nothing shows the links between northern Celtic nations and Galicia better than the gaita (Galician bagpipe). There seems to be a type of music for every occasion. The most widespread and well-known are the danzas de espadas and danzas de Arcos, which are linked to local celebrations, but more specific music includes alboradas, which celebrate the sunrise, pasacorredoiras (parade tunes) and pasarruas (marching music). If you’re lucky, you might hear workers singing traditional jotas (work songs) in the fields.
Food & Drink
Galician cooking is simple and hearty. Almost every meal begins with caldo gallego, a thick soup made from meat, potatoes, greens and beans. Empanadas are a square, pie-like dish made with meat, fish or seafood.
Eat seafood every chance you get. When in Melide, try pulpo a la gallega: steamed octopus is sliced up, sprinkled with paprika, then served on wooden platters to diners eating communally at long wooden tables. Celebrate your arrival in Santiago with a big seafood dinner: much more expensive than a pilgrim menú, but well worth the splurge. Another delight is vieiras de Santiago, scallops with onions and cured ham.
Those with a sweet tooth will love tarta de Santiago, a type of almond cake dusted with sugar outlining the shape of the cross of Santiago. In Compostela itself, restaurateurs tempt customers into their shops and cafés by offering a free sample.
Galicia’s trademark downpours make for happy cows, and their milk is often turned into a soft and creamy teat-shaped cheese named tetilla (nipple).
Unlike the red wine–producing rest of Spain, Galicia’s climate is better suited to whites. Albariño is a straw-coloured wine with a distinctive peach flavour that’s slowly becoming respected outside Spain. Ribeiro, its lesser-known cousin, is young, fresh, cloudy and perfect with seafood. In more traditional bars it’s poured straight out of the barrel into wide, shallow clay cups. Ribeiro rarely makes it outside Galicia, and EU bureaucrats insist that the bottled version is clarified, so drink your fill while you’re here.
Made from grape skins, orujo is a clear firewater that’ll put hairs on your chest. Orujo blanco comes straight up, orujo con hierbas is flavoured with herbs and orujo tostada’s skins have been toasted for an earthier flavour. If you’re feeling brave, ask for orujo casero (homemade orujo): in true moonshine style, you’ll find under-the-counter orujo casero in unmarked bottles in bakeries and shops, as well as in bars and cafés.
Local buses link larger towns such as Sarria, Melide and Arzúa, but services can be sporadic. It’s easy to catch a train from Santiago to almost any large centre in Spain. For more information on getting home from Santiago, see Getting There & Back on page 26. Between three and seven buses a day connect Santiago and Finisterre, in a journey that takes between two and three hours.
The infrastructure of the camino in Galicia is centralized by the Xunta de Galicia, and supremely organized. Huge government investment in the 1993 Holy Year led to a flurry of new albergues and extensive upgrading of existing ones. So much so that you’ll rarely travel more than 10km without bumping into an albergue.
Most have kitchens, and there’s always a payphone outside. The albergues are run by paid wardens rather than volunteer hospitaleros, and they can be sparsely staffed and some are a bit run-down. Government albergues are low-cost, and pilgrims are provided with disposable sheets and pillowcases.
Events & Festivals
On July 25, the Día de Santiago and Galicia’s national day, Santiago’s Plaza do Obradoiro erupts in a sound-and-light display that dates back to the seventeenth century. Galicia parties for twelve months during Holy Years, when July 25 falls on a Sunday (2010 and 2021). Holy Year festivities begin with the opening of the Puerta del Perdón on the east side of the cathedral and end when it’s firmly shut at midnight on December 31. Sandwiched in between are thousands of concerts, dances, exhibitions and fireworks.
Galicia’s other festivals seem to revolve around food. Arzúa’s cheese festival takes place in March, Ribeiro wine festivals happen all over the province in late April and early May, there’s a barnacle festival in Finisterre at the beginning of August, and other seaside towns hold seasonal shellfish festivals.
Rest Days & Detours
Some 20km north of Portomarín, the city of Lugo, on the camino primitivo, is well worth a visit. You can walk around its huge, Roman-built slate walls, some of the best preserved in Spain, and four of the city’s ancient gates remain. Lugo’s monuments include the twelfth-century cathedral, the seventeenth-century Bishop’s palace, and the Gothic churches in the Praza de Santo Domingo. Bored with churches? Relax in Lugo’s tranquil riverside parks or take the waters at the town’s Roman baths.
About 15km northeast of Palas de Rei is the underground chapel of Santa Eulalia de Bóveda. Built on the site of a Celtic temple and used for a time as a Roman nymphaeum, the splendid fourth-century Visigothic chapel contains a shallow pool that may have been used to baptise the faithful.
From Melide, it’s a 6km walk to San Antolín de Toques, a lovely site with an ancient mill and the overgrown remains of an eleventh-century monastery and earlier church. You can turn the detour into a day trip by heading to the well-preserved castro of A Graña, about 2km away.
If you’re not planning on continuing the camino to Finisterre, it’s well worth visiting this small fishing town on a day trip, if only to dip your toes into the ocean. A tour of the wild Galician coast can also take in important places in Santiago’s life. Many pilgrims visit Padrón, the landing place of Santiago’s stone boat some 20km southwest of Compostela, where the stone pillar to which Santiago’s boat was moored is kept beneath the altar in the Iglesia de Santiago. Time your visit to take in lunch and try a plate of pimientos de Padrón, deliciously salty, oil-roasted green peppers.
Just up the coast from Finisterre, the Virgin Mary is said to have visited Muxía to hear Santiago preach, sailing there in a stone boat, which was clearly the transport of choice in the early first century. At the sanctuary of Nostra Señora de la Barca, you can see various bits of her boat. The hull moves whenever a person free of sin stands underneath it, while the keel is said to cure digestive problems.
Triacastela was founded in the ninth century by Count Gatón of El Bierzo after the area’s reconquest from the Moors. Today, the only evidence of the three castles for which Triacastela is named is on the town’s coat of arms. The Romanesque Iglesia de Santiago retains some original features, although it was rebuilt in the eighteenth century.
Triacastela has a long camino history: the area once had many pilgrim hospices, and the town marked the end of stage eleven of the Codex Calixtinus. When the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was being built, twelfth-century pilgrims carried local stone from here to the ovens near Castañeda, almost 100km away. The town also had a prison for pilgrim impostors.
Walk through Triacastela until you reach a T-junction at the end of town. From here, there are two routes to Sarria.
To Sarria via Samos
The route to Samos is an enchanting one, along walled lanes and through gorgeous hamlets. First, though, you have to turn left at the end of town to walk for 4km along the LU633: if it wasn’t for the trucks that whistle past your ears it would be a wonderful downhill stroll through a heather-clad gorge.
Turn off the road to walk into San Cristobal do Real ( ), a tranquil stone-and-slate village where water seems to rush down every street and under every house. Leave the village on a walled track lined with chestnuts and oaks. In Galicia, slate is so plentiful that fields are often divided by huge slate slabs rather than by hedges. Between here and Samos, the route is dotted with tiny villages and hamlets: pass through Vigo do Real ( ), then at San Martiño do Real, 4km from San Cristobal, there’s a beautifully restored whitewashed church with wonderful frescoes inside.
You’ll soon reach Samos ( ) via a pretty, high-walled lane. The Monasterio de Samos was founded in the sixth century and still preserves some Visigothic stones from its original construction. The influence of the monastery was so great that at its height it controlled some 200 towns, 105 churches and 300 other monasteries. As a seat of learning, the famous library was perhaps without equal until it was tragically destroyed by fire in 1951. The Latin motto on the door reads, “A cloister without a library is like a fort without an armoury.” The library’s most famous patron was Padre Benito Feijóo, a luminary of the Spanish Enlightenment who wrote on such varied subjects as astronomy, medicine and religion. The monastery is open for tours.
There’s an albergue in Samos’ monastery ( 90 beds open all year), which can be damp and gloomy year-round. You can also stay at Liceiro on Calle Generalisimo 44 ( $ $ ), A Veiga on Estrada Sarria-Pedrafita ( $ $, ) or Victoria on Calle Salvador 4 ( $ $ ).
Leave Samos on the main road, passing through Foxos and Teiguin, where there’s a recreational area with a fountain and trout fishing in the river. A couple of kilometres outside Samos, turn right along a narrow tarmac road uphill.
From here, the route alternates between narrow roads and tracks, passing through tiny hamlets and farms. Although corn and potatoes are grown in this region, dairy farming is the main occupation of local farmers; look for rubia gallega, a smooth, russet-coloured cow native to Galicia. At Aguiada ( ), meet up with the route via San Xil.
To Sarria via San Xil
The route via San Xil is less interesting but also considerably shorter than the Samos version.
Turn right at the junction at the end of Triacastela then, after 1.5km, you arrive at the beautiful hamlet of A Balsa, which boasts stunning farmhouses and gorgeous verandas that overhang the road. Pass an ermita and climb up along the small valley of the Río Valdeoscuro. As its name, dark valley, suggests, this lovely stretch of the camino is shaded by mature oaks and chestnut trees. Keep your eyes peeled along the forest edge for a glimpse of a pine marten as it hunts voles, rabbits and birds. Join a small road at a large shell with a fountain and rest area.
The last part of the climb to the village of San Xil is steep, but at the top you’ll see wave upon wave of rolling Galician hills as you finally leave the Cordillera Cantábrica behind. Within a couple of kilometres, you’ll get your first glimpse of Sarria in the Río Celeiro valley up ahead.
The camino slowly descends along a well-worn lane, enclosed by the dry stone walls that are a common sight along the route through Galicia. Notice the grooves in the stone made from the centuries of cart wheels rolling by. Pass through Montán with its Iglesia de Santa María, then through Furela ( ), Pintín ( ), where you can stay at Casa Cines ( $$ ) and Calvor ( ), where there’s a small albergue ( 22 beds open all year). A few hundred metres after Calvor, reach Aguiada ( ) and meet up with the route via Samos.
Follow the roadside track to Sarria, passing Paloma y Leña ( 20 beds open all year, also $ ) in 500m and Camping Vila de Sarria 2km later. Follow the road through the outskirts of town, passing the turismo, and arrive at the Ponterribeira, a bridge, decorated with a modern art sculpture, that spans the Río Ouribio. Turn right at the end of the bridge, then take the first left to climb up the Escalinata Mayor steps to the albergues on and near Rúa Maior.
(118km, 450m, pop 13,000)
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The layout of Sarria’s old town is based on its mediaeval plan, although the Celtic castle that once dominated the town’s skyline was dismantled in 1860 under the banner of civic progress so that its stone could be used to pave the town’s streets. The Renaissance sculptor Gregorio Hernández, whose work graces many of the churches along the camino, was born in Sarria, while Alfonso IX, the last king of León, died here in 1230.
The camino passes the modern, undistinguished Iglesia de Santa Marina, from which there are fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. Farther along, the Iglesia de San Salvador retains some beautiful Romanesque decorations. The Convento de la Magdalena is home to the Order of Mercedarians (Order of Mercy), who were less violent than contemporaries such as the Templars and Knights of St James and simply sought to free captive Christians from the Moors. Pilgrims leaving Sarria in the early morning may be met by the ghostly figure of a monk standing in a distinctive white wool habit and offering a guided tour of the church and cloister.
The newer, lower modern town has little soul and no real centre, but there are some interesting antique shops on its western outskirts, and a lively market at the top of town on the 6th, 20th and 27th of each month.
Accommodation & Information
Calle Mayor 31 (40 beds open all year) is just off Rúa Maior. There are also four private albergues on Rúa Maior itself:
Follow Rúa Maior across the top of Sarria, then turn left just before the Convento de la Magdalena. Cross Ponte Áspera over the Río Celeiro, then cross the Madrid–A Coruña railway and walk under the highway. You’ll soon begin to climb out of the valley through a mossy oak wood, a wonderful place to spot black woodpeckers as they drill into trees looking for insects. The slope begins to flatten as you walk between fields, and the camino eventually joins the road at Vilei. Turn left at the road and head towards Barbadelo.
Barbadelo ( ) was originally part of a large monastery that housed both nuns and monks, a co-habitation arrangement that didn’t sit well with the powers at Samos, who staged an ecclesiastical coup in 1009. The church you see today was built soon afterwards and is the only monastery building that remains; it’s dominated by a fortified tower, which has strange and fantastical animals carved into the stone blocks.
The slate-roofed stone farmhouses that dot the surrounding patchwork fields look like they should be on the western fringes of Ireland rather than in Spain. More distinctly Iberian are Barbadelos’ hórreos, rectangular granaries built on stilts that are used to dry corn and keep it out of the reach of rodents. They usually have a cross on top for divine crop protection. Barbadelo’s albergue municipal ( 18 beds open all year) is on the right about 500m after the village. Around the corner is the Casa de Carmen ( 12 beds open all year, also $$ ).
From Barbadelo, walk through Rente ( ), passing the Casa Nova de Rente ( $ ) in about 1km. In Mercado ( $ ), turn right off the camino for the village’s two bars; the second has a small shop. In another 1km, reach Peruscallo ( ), where there’s a restaurant.
Moss-covered dry stone walls line the route to Morgade ( ), a one-house hamlet where there’s a lovely old wooden hórreo in front of a dairy shed and an excellent café that sells mouth-watering homemade cakes. You can stay at the Casa Morgade ( 6 beds easter–oct, also $ ). Just past the hamlet, the tiny ermita on the right has been built into the natural surroundings, using the uneven rock as its floor. Shortly afterwards, pass the 100km-to-Santiago marker.
Walk through Ferreiros ( ), where there’s an albergue ( 22 beds open all year) and the first vines since El Bierzo. Turn right at a sign for the Igrexia Romana at Mirallos ( ), which you’ll soon reach. The church has a lovely Romanesque doorway and the adjacent cemetery is home to large, ornate tombs. There’s a restaurant next door.
The camino passes through a series of tiny hamlets: Rozas, Moimentos, Mercadoiro ( ), Parrocha and Cotarelo. Barns and farms in these places are fascinating, ad hoc ethnographic museums of antique ploughs, wooden racks and ox-carts gathering dust.
Finally, cross the dammed Río Miño into Portomarín. As you walk over the bridge, lean over the rails to look into the gloomy waters below at walled lanes leading out from the submerged old town. Lots of birds call this artificial lake home, and it’s common to see kingfishers, cormorants, egrets and herons.
Walk straight up the stairs at the end of bridge. Veer right to follow the cobbled street past a fountain and the main road into town. The albergue municipal is just past the church. To bypass the town, turn left at the foot of the stairs and follow the road.
(95km, 420m, pop 2000)
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In 1956, it must have seemed to the people of Portomarín that their lucky charm had let them down. For centuries, locals believed that La Virgen de las Nieves protected them from drowning, and they built a shrine to her in the Middle Ages at the centre of the bridge over the Río Miño. Her statue and the town itself were threatened by Franco’s plans to construct the Embalse de Belesar, a hydro-electric dam 40km downriver, creating a large lake and condemning the town to a watery grave. Maybe it was the Virgin herself who bent the dictator’s ear, for a decision was eventually made to move Portomarín away from the grasp of the rising waters, although it took until 1962 to move the town’s monuments to the new site above the west bank of the dammed river. A single span of the old bridge sits at the end of the new bridge, and the Iglesia de Santa María was placed on top to house the talismanic La Virgen de las Nieves.
The modern town somehow retains a lingering atmosphere of displacement and impermanence and is perched uncomfortably and unnaturally high above the Miño.
In Portomarín, all roads lead to the chunky, fortified Iglesia de San Juan, built in the thirteenth century by the Knights of St John. The church, which is also known as San Nicolás, has four towers and battlements on top, and it looks more like a castle keep than a place of worship, although its militaristic outline is softened by a magnificent rose window and carved doorway.
From Portomarín, walk down the main street, turn left at the main road and then turn right almost immediately, doubling back on yourself to cross a rickety metal footbridge. Turn right at the end of the bridge to head up a dirt track through oak trees. According to Aymeric Picaud’s twelfth-century guide, this part of the camino was famous as an open-air brothel. The track shadows the C535 to Gonzar, which you’ll reach in about 7km.
A few years ago, there was little more to Gonzar ( ) than the local dairy farm, and although the village is now something of a pilgrim hub, the smell from the cowshed can be an overpowering reminder of Gonzar’s agricultural roots. Pilgrims can stay at the albergue municipal ( 30 beds open all year 6) or Casa Garcia ( 26 beds easter–oct, also $ ).
In about 1km, enter Castromaior ( ), named after the large prehistoric castro that once stood north of here across the river. The ruins of a Roman camp have also been discovered on the edge of the village. Pass the small Iglesia de Santa María and the Pensión Casa Maruja ( $ ). An ancient local legend tells of a pig herder girl who left pig snouts at Castromaior for the traditional annual sacrifice. Next day, she returned to find that the snouts had turned into lumps of coal, which she threw away. At the last moment she decided to keep a single lump. Next morning, she awoke to discover that the lump of coal had turned into a gold nugget. The girl rushed back for the rest of the coal, but by the time she arrived the lumps had vanished.
You’ll reach Hospital Alta da Cruz ( ) in another 2km, where you can stay at the Albergue Ventas de Narón ( 30 beds open all year). Just after crossing a busy road 1km later, arrive at Ventas de Narón ( ). In 820, a few short years after the discovery of the tomb of Santiago, the Christians gained a bloody victory over the troops of the Emir of Córdoba here. You can stay at one of two private albergues: O Cruceiro ( 25 beds open all year also $$ ) or Casa Molar ( 18 a open all year, also $$ ); there’s a fountain as you leave Ventas.
From here to Palas de Rei, the road has been narrowed to make way for a gravel camino track. Climb out of the village and over the Serra de Ligonde, the watershed of the Río Miño and the Río Ulla, from where there are great views. Several Celtic settlements dot the route, and a number of nearby hamlets retain Celtic names: Castro de Ligonde, Castro de Lardeiros, Castro de Gimonde and Castro de San Símon all of which have significant archaeological remains.
Walk through Previsa, Lameiros, where there’s a lovely cruceiro, then enter Ligonde ( ), a hamlet stretching out along the camino for several hundred metres, where there was an pilgrim hostel and a pilgrim cemetery during medieaval times. You can stay at the Escuela de Ligonde ( 20 beds open all year) or Fuente del Peregrino ( 10 beds jun–aug ) or wait another 1km until Airexe ( ), where there’s also another cruceiro. At Airexe, you can stay at the confusingly named Albergue de Ligonde ( 18 beds open all year), Pensión Eirexe ( $ ) or Pensión La Cantina ( $ ). The albergues are coming thick and fast now, and it’s just 2km to Portos ( ) and A Calzada ( 10 beds open all year). From here, a lane on the right detours 2.2km to the Monasterio de San Salvador at Vilar de Donas. The monastery was the official burial place of the Caballeros de Santiago (Knights of Santiago), and its fantastic frescoes show the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
Veer right at a fountain into Lestedo ( ), where you can stay and eat at the gorgeous Casa Rectoral de Lestedo ($$$ ), which has a spa. Pass through the hamlet of Valos, then just before the track joins the N547 main road, keep left in Brea along a dirt track next to a picnic area.
Climb to the top of Alto Rosario, the name of both a hill and the hamlet that you’ll soon pass through, picking up a cobbled track at the end of the hamlet. Soon afterwards, turn left onto a dirt lane, arriving at a picnic area and sports field with fantastic views of the valley below; on a clear day, it’s possible to see Monte Pico Sacro near Santiago de Compostela from here. Pass a pilgrims’ office and the Os Chacotes ( 112 beds open all year). You’re almost at Palas de Rei now, but there are rooms and food at La Cabaña ( $ $$ ).
Wind down into Palas de Rei, passing the modern church, where there’s a fountain and a cruceiro, then head down some steps into town.
Palas de Rei
(71km, 575m, pop 4200)
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Palas de Rei’s origins are murky. No one really knows where the name comes from and it doesn’t appear in historical documents until the ninth century, although there’s probably been a settlement here for much longer as the surrounding area is jammed with Roman and Celtic remains. What isn’t in doubt is that Palas de Rei has always been an important stop on the camino and it marked the end of the twelfth stage in Aymeric Picaud’s famous guide. Predictably, Picaud didn’t like the town much, thinking it full of harlots who deserved, “not only be excommunicated, but stripped of everything and exposed to public ridicule, after having their noses cut off.”
There’s not much left from Palas de Rei’s twelfth-century heyday, and the Iglesia de San Tirso’s Romanesque origins have been mostly obscured by later restorations.
The walk from Palas de Rei is a lovely, winding route on woodland tracks. You’re quickly out of town and walking alongside the main road. Pass through Carballal, then cross the main road to follow a dirt track through trees. Don’t be surprised if you’re met by a chorus of frogs, as this section can be damp and swampy.
Soon the camino heads into San Julián ( ). The twelfth-century Romanesque Iglesia de San Julián is worth a short visit, and the local architecture is very different here, with roofs made from tile rather than slate.
The legend of San Julián, the patron saint of ferrymen, innkeepers and circus performers, reads more like a Greek tragedy than the life of a saint. One day, Julián was out hunting when a deer he killed warned him that he would murder his own parents. To avoid this fate, Julián went into self-imposed exile, but a few years later, Julián’s parents discovered his whereabouts and decided to visit. Julián was out at the time, and the parents were tired, so Julián’s wife offered them her own bed to rest in. On his return, Julián thought that the people in his bed were his wife and a lover, and flew into a rage, murdering his parents with his sword. Horrified by what had happened, Julián and his wife made the pilgrimage to Rome to repent and set up a hospice for poor travellers and pilgrims. After many years, an angel appeared and granted the couple divine pardon.
Julián’s albergue has long since disappeared, but you can stay at O Abrigadoiro ( 17 beds easter–oct).
In Outeiro da Ponte, 1km later, rejoin the paved road and cross a bridge over the Río Pambre. Climb up the other side of the valley through the tiny hamlet of Pontecampaña ( ) where you can stay at Casa Domingo ( 14 a may–oct). It’s a lovely section through oak trees, along a stone trail grooved with many years of cart tracks. Rejoin the road and turn left into Casanova ( ). There’s an albergue municipal ( 20 beds open all year ) in the village. A Bolboreta ( 8 beds open all year, also $$ ) is 1.5km off the camino in Mato.
At O Coto ( ), a bar and restaurant straddle the camino, and you can stay at Los Dos Alemanes ( $ $ ). You’ll reach Leboreiro ( ) in less than a kilometre. The village declined sharply after its heyday in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, when the Iglesia de Santa María was built to house a statue of the Virgin. Villagers following a lovely smell and a glowing light discovered the statue at a local fountain. They placed the Virgin in their church altar but she miraculously returned to her fountain. For a few days, the villagers returned the statue to the altar, but by the following morning she had always reappeared at the fountain. Eventually, the villagers decided to honour the Virgin by carving a tympanum and dedicating the church to her. Her ego satisfied, the Virgin stayed put, although some say that she returns to the fountain each night to comb her hair.
The Casa de la Enfermería, an old pilgrim hospice, is just opposite the church. Modern pilgrims can stay at the albergue ( 20 beds open all year).
Head downhill to Disecabo and cross a humpbacked bridge dedicated to María Magdalena. The countryside is now much drier, with fewer trees and more thorn, broom and heather. Skirt some industrial land, then pass a picnic area with fountains paid for by the modern Knights of Santiago, who have marked the area with a giant cross. In just over 1km, cross the four-arched mediaeval Ponte Velha into the village of Furelos, now merged with the larger town of Melide. The Iglesia de San Juan on the other side of the bridge offers guided tours, sometimes in English.
Walk up towards Melide on a side street parallel to the main road, then veer right to join Melide’s main street. Turn right at the roundabout, then take the first road to the left. At the edge of town, turn right for the albergue, or keep straight on to continue on the camino.
(55.5km, 450m, pop 7800)
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Archaeological evidence shows that people have lived in this area, slap bang in the middle of Galicia, since megalithic builders erected their dolmens almost 4000 years ago. The Museo da Terra de Melide is a wonderful place to learn more about the region’s history and about traditional life, customs and craftsmanship.
Melide’s religious monuments, like those of many towns along the camino, are spread out along the pilgrim road. The Iglesia de San Pedro contains some fourteenth-century tombs, but they’re overshadowed by the magnificently carved Cruceiro de Melide outside its doors. If it’s open, the Iglesia de Sancti Spiritus, built with stones from the old castle and once part of a fourteenth-century Franciscan monastery, is worth visiting. Towards the western edge of town, the Iglesia del Carmen sits at the foot of a hill that was once the site of a castle and an ancient hill fort.
Don’t pass through Melide without visiting a pulpería. At Pulpería Ezequiel on Melide’s main street, sit at long wooden benches and sample the house speciality: pulpo (octopus). The pulpo is sprinkled with Spanish paprika and drizzled with olive oil, then picked up from a rustic wooden platter with toothpicks. Mop up the tasty, spicy juice with hunks of bread, and wash the lot down with characteristically cloudy Ribeiro wine served in ceramic cups. On Sundays all over Galicia, street sellers serve pulpo fresh from big copper cauldrons.
From Melide to Arzúa, there’s a lot of up-and-down climbing as you traverse this part of Galicia’s many small valleys. Less than 1km outside town, pass the twelfth-century Romanesque Iglesia de Santa María de Melide, which has some beautiful frescoes inside. A little farther on, pass through Carballos. You’re soon walking through eucalyptus trees, interspersed with the odd section of pine or oak. As in much of the rest of Galicia, local farmers are chopping down the native oak forest and planting fast-growing eucalyptus in its stead.
Walk through Raído and A Peroxa, then turn left to walk along a road through Boente ( ), known for its local fountain, the Fonte da Saleta, and where you can stay at Os Albergue’s Mesón ( 15 beds mar–nov). Leave Boente at the church as the route changes to a dirt road once more, a pleasant stroll through rolling countryside.
At Castañeda ( ) you can stay at Casa Milia ( $$ ) or 1km later at the Albergue Santiago ( 6 beds open all year, also $$ ), but there’s no trace of the ovens where the stone blocks for Santiago’s cathedral were finished. Pity the mediaeval pilgrims who carried the limestone from Triacastela to here! Pass through Pedrido, then you’ll soon see Arzúa on the hill opposite. At the bottom of yet another valley and just after passing a café, cross the Río Isa as you enter the tiny hamlet of Ribadiso do Baixo ( ). Also known as Puente Paradiso, it’s a beautiful location with an excellent albergue ( 62 beds open all yea) in the restored hospice of San Antón, which dates from the fourteenth century.
Walk uphill to follow a long approach through Arzúa’s ugly outskirts into town. The albergue municipal is just past the main square.
(40.5km, 390m, pop 6800)
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Arzúa is a bustling town, renowned throughout Spain for its smooth, creamy cheese. This local gastronomic delight is celebrated with a statue of a cheesemaker in the main square, and if you’re lucky enough to be here in March, you can celebrate alongside the locals at the town’s annual cheese festival. Traditionally, Arzúa was the last stop before Santiago, although many pilgrims now opt to stop closer to their final destination.
The Iglesia de Santiago dates from the 1950s; inside, the saint adopts his warlike Matamoros pose on top of the nineteenth-century retablo.
Accommodation & Information
Cimo do Lugar 6 (46 beds open all year)
Via Lactea Calle José Antonio 26 (60 beds open all year)
Don Quijote Calle Lugo 130 (50 beds open all year)
Ultreia Calle Lugo 126 (36 beds open all year)
Santiago Apostol Calle Lugo (84 beds open all year)
The valleys are gentler from Arzúa onwards, making the final approach into Santiago a lovely walk. Camino legend tells of a local woman baking bread, who was asked to provide food for a pilgrim. The woman denied that she had any food, and the pilgrim cursed, “I hope that your bread turns to stone!” Sure enough, when the woman returned to her oven, she found a loaf of stone.
The camino passes through the tiny hamlets of Preguntoño, Cortobe, Tabernavella and Calzada. At Calle ( ), some 7km from Arzúa, walk past a fountain and down a wide stone slab path, then walk under an hórreo that attractively straddles the camino. There are two cafés in this tiny village, and great competition between the two for passing pilgrim trade.
After Boavista, which you’ll reach in 1.5km, the camino heads through farmland, criss-crossing the N547 and passing Alto and Salceda ( ), where there’s a bar. Walk through Xenand Ras, then carry on into Brea ( ), where you can stay at O Meson ( 10 beds open all year, also $$ ).
There’s a fountain and picnic area at the Alto de Santa Irene ( ). At the top of a nearby hill is the the Roda do Castro, a Celtic hill fort, with circular defensive walls that are three metres thick in places. Leave Alto de Santa Irene by crossing the highway to walk on a track. Follow the track through woods until you reach a tunnel under the highway. At Santa Irene ( ), you can stay at one of two albergues. To reach Albergue de Santa Irene ( 15 beds open all year) walk through the tunnel to the left side of the road, or keep straight on to continue the camino and for the Albergue Santa Irene ( 36 bedsopen all year ). The eighteenth-century chapel is dedicated to the town’s namesake, a beautiful young Portuguese nun who died in 653 defending her vow of chastity in the ancient town of Scalabris.
The camino soon approaches Rúa ( ), a row of houses prettified with flowerpots; turn right just before the houses for the Hotel O Pino ( $ $ ),or keep straight on the camino for the Casa O Acivro ( $ $ ) and the Casa Calvo ( $$ ).
In another 1.5km, you’ll reach Arca (Pedrouzo) ( ). Turn left for the albergues or cross the road to continue the camino. The albergue municipal ( 120 beds open all year) is next door to a supermarket. There are also beds at the Albergue Porta de Santiago ( 75 beds open all year) and at the Restaurante Compás ( $ $ ). If you need any equipment for the run into Santiago, try Desportes Remanso on Rua Concella 15.
The route from Arca heads through forest and farmland, although brash new houses spring up as you near Santiago.
Pass through San Antón and Amenal, then climb uphill beside a large industrial park. After about 2km you come to the main road at a large roundabout; turn left and follow the road past the airport. There’s a large stone here, indicating that you’ve arrived in the district of Santiago, proof that you’ve just about made it. Head downhill past the end of the airport runway, which can be quite dramatic when planes land or take off.
Walk into San Palo ( ), where there’s a restored church and Casa Porta de Santiago ( $ $ ). Stay on the minor road, passing under the highway in 1km into A Esquipa, then 1km later arrive in Lavacolla.
(10.5km, 300m, pop 200)
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In the Middle Ages, Lavacolla was a ceremonial stop for pilgrims who would clean themselves up here before heading into Santiago. Although today’s pilgrims may seem smelly, in the Middle Ages the whiff was much worse, as Christians hardly ever washed, and it was common to mock Jews and Muslims who were more concerned with personal hygiene and bathed regularly. Revoltingly, this may have been the pilgrims’ first wash since they began the camino. Pilgrims would wash themselves in the small river at Lavacolla, called Lavamentula in the Codex Calixtinus, paying particular attention to their private parts: mentula means phallus and colla means scrotum. Should you wish to avail yourself of Lavacolla’s facilities, the river is on the other side of the village.
If you’re in a group and hung up on pilgrim traditions, start running. The first one to reach Monte do Gozo and the view of Santiago cathedral, more than 5km away, will be declared king, a custom that seems to undo all the good work of the hosedown at Lavacolla.
The camino skirts Lavacolla’s bars and passes close to the Iglesia de Benaval. The church, together with the Cruz de Benaval that stands in front of it, is named after the plaintive cry of a local rebel. Juán Pourón, who led an early fourteenth-century uprising, cried out to the Virgen de Belén, Ven e valme (come and save me), as he was sentenced to be hung for his crimes. The Virgin catapulted him to heaven instantly, denying local officials the pleasure of a hanging.
Once past the church and fountain, cross the main road and head down to the river, stopping to bathe if you need a wash. Climb uphill to Vilamaior ( ), where you can stay at Pazo Xan Xordo ( $ $$ ) or the Casa de Amancio ( $ $$ ). Follow the road out of the hamlet past a nursery, then turn left past a lumberyard, and walk past the Television de Galicia TV station. Climb a short rise, from where you can make out the crazy hilltop sculpture at the top of Monte do Gozo. Turn right and then left to walk up through the hamlet of San Marcos ( $ ) and reach the Monte do Gozo in less than a kilometre.
The Monte do Gozo ( ) is the Mount of Joy of camino tradition, from which pilgrims got their first, rapturous view of Santiago’s cathedral spires. Today, trees and suburbs block the view, and your eyes are drawn instead to the sculpture erected to celebrate Pope John Paul II’s 1993 Holy Year visit. A few hundred metres later, the albergue ( 400 beds open all year , also $$$, d), also part of 1993’s building frenzy, does much to relieve the pressure on accommodation in Santiago during peak times. It’s also soul-crushingly awful, and looks as if it was designed by a Butlins architect going through a bad bout of depression.
It’s about 5km from Monte do Gozo to the centre of Santiago, but the route is well marked with signposts high above the sidewalk. Cross the bridge over the highway and keep straight on to Rúa de San Lázaro. The Albergue San Lazaro ( 80 beds open all year ) is on the right after a roundabout, behind the Museo Pedagógico. Pass the Capilla de San Lázaro, then at a third roundabout veer left down Rúa do Valiño. The Albergue Acuario on Calle Estocolmo 2 ( 50 beds mar–nov) is off to the left.
The road changes its name to Rúa Das Fontinas then to Fonte dos Concheiros. At the next large roundabout continue on Rua dos Concheiros. In medieaval times, merchants sold scallop shells to pilgrims as a memento of their pilgrimage. At the next intersection turn right on to Rúa de San Pedro from where you will soon see the top of the cathedral signalling your final approach.
Cross the road and enter Santiago proper through the Porta do Camino, the historic entry point into the old city, and one of seven gates through the former city walls. Walk down Rúa das Casas Reais and the Rúa das Animas to the small Plaza de Cervantes, then head right up Rúa da Azabachería and cross over the Plaza de la Inmaculada. Pass under the Arco del Obispo and arrive at the Plaza de Obradoiro and your destination, the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago de Compostela
(0km, 260m, pop 91,000)
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It’s worth planning to spend at least two days in Santiago de Compostela. The city, a unesco World Heritage site, is one of the most beautiful in Europe, and the mostly pedestrianized old centre is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and plazas.
The first thing most pilgrims do on arrival in Santiago is visit the cathedral, give Santiago a hug and get their compostela. Mediaeval pilgrims would spend their first night in vigil at the cathedral and, if it was open, they would gather in front of the high altar, jostling for the best spot. This could get nasty, and in 1207 the cathedral had to be cleansed and reconsecrated because things had got so violently out of hand. The original church was built by Alfonso II to house Santiago’s tomb. Alfonso III the Greater built an even bigger church on the same spot in 899, but this was destroyed by Almanzor’s Moorish army in 997. Starting from scratch, construction of the present building began in 1075 and was completed in 1211. Skilled craftsmen came to Galicia from all over Europe, and hunks of limestone were hauled from Triacastela to Castañeda, where they were formed into the cathedral’s stone blocks.
The cathedral is so massive and so dominates Santiago that its doors open out on to three separate city squares. The most dramatic entrance leads from the huge Plaza de Obradoiro, up the imposing double staircase to the Baroque Obradoiro Façade. Before you climb the stairs, walk backwards to the far side of the square so that you can take in the whole, glorious façade. For an even better view, come to the square on a clear night, then lie down on the square’s cobbles and look up at the cathedral.
As you enter from this side, you’ll suddenly reach the jaw-dropping Pórtico de la Gloria, built in 1168 by the Maestro Mateo and used as the main entrance into the cathedral before the outer façade was built. Art historians suggest that this doorway inspired the movement from Romanesque to Gothic architecture across Europe. The pórtico is jammed with Christian symbolism and, like most things in the cathedral, it’s worth visiting more than once. The middle pillar of the Pórtico de la Gloria depicts the Tree of Jesse, Santiago and the Virgin.
Over the years, a ritual for arriving pilgrims developed. First, a pilgrim would touch their right hand in the middle of the central column of the Tree of Jesse to give thanks for their safe arrival. Centuries of devoted hands have worn five finger grooves deep into the marble pillar, so much so that in 2007, the pillar was cordoned off. Around the back of the pillar is a small bust of Maestro Mateo, the architect of the Pórtico de la Gloria. Butting his head three times is said to impart some of his considerable intelligence to the pilgrim: this bust too is now sadly inaccessible.
Proceed up to the high altar. On top of it sits Santiago Matamoros shouldered by massive gold angels. On the right-hand side as you look at the altar you’ll find a narrow set of stairs that lead behind the figure of Santiago Peregrino. Climb up into the shrine and embrace the thirteenth-century, jewelled statue of St James from behind. The gold crown that pilgrims could place on their heads has long since disappeared, along with the pilgrim tradition of placing their own hats on Santiago’s head.
Next, head down into the crypt to see the casket that’s said to contain the bones of the saint and two of his disciples, Theodore and Athanasius. The tomb of Santiago was first discovered in the ninth century, enclosed in a stone mausoleum on this ancient necropolis. Santiago’s bones were hidden several times over the centuries to keep them away from thieves and kings who wanted the relics for themselves. The bones were so well hidden that their exact location was forgotten, but pilgrims continued to venerate an urn on the altar that was believed to hold the saint’s bones. Excavations in the late nineteenth century unearthed some bones, said to be those of Santiago when the discoverer went temporarily blind. Pope Leo XIII verified their validity a few years later, and the remains now rest in a silver coffin below the altar.
Every day at noon, there’s a pilgrims’ Mass. The ceremony sometimes culminates in the swinging of the botafumeiro (smoke belcher), a massive silver incense burner said to be the largest in the Catholic world. It takes up to eight men in a team called a tiraboleiros to tie the knots and get the massive silver apparatus swinging across the cathedral. This botafumeiro dates from 1851, after the original was stolen by Napoleon’s troops when they looted the cathedral. During Mass, the best place to sit is on either side of the main altar, so that the botafumeiro seems to skim the top of your head before it swings back to the roof of the cathedral.
If you’re lucky enough to arrive in Santiago during a Holy Year, when the Día de Santiago, July 25, falls on a Sunday (2021), you can enter the cathedral through the Puerta del Perdón. The door is opened on the eve of a Holy Year and firmly closed on December 31.
To receive your compostela, final proof that you’ve completed the pilgrimage, present your stamped pilgrim’s passport at the Oficina del Peregrino on the second floor of the Casa del Deán, just off Plaza de las Platerías on the south side of the cathedral. The staff will record your nationality and your place of departure, to be read out at the next day’s pilgrims’ Mass. If your motivations for the pilgrimage aren’t religious or spiritual, you’ll get a colourful alternative certificate instead of the traditional compostela. The staff also acts as a quasi-tourist office, pointing pilgrims in the direction of accommodation and transport.
Dominating the northern side of the Plaza de Obradoiro and now a grand five-star hotel, the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos was originally built on the orders of Fernando and Isabel to house pilgrims and provide them with medical treatment. As part of its continuing obligation to pilgrims, the parador provides free meals to the first ten pilgrims to arrive at 9am, 12pm and 7pm. You’ll eat what the restaurant staff eat, washed down with a bottle or two of wine. Arrive early as there’s almost always a crowd of hungry pilgrims wanting to eat for free. To line up for your free meal, face the parador and turn left to walk along the side of the building to the underground parking garage and present the doorman with a photocopy of your compostela.
There’s much more to see in Santiago. At the market, you can pick up picnic supplies or ogle strange fish. There are trinket shops near the cathedral, and you can buy anything from tacky key chains decorated with a flecha amarilla (yellow arrow) to a life-size replica of the botafumeiro. From Parque Alameda, a great place to relax, there’s a wonderful view of the cathedral, particularly at night.
Accommodation & Information
Seminario MenorRúa de Belvis, just outside town (170 beds easter–oct)
Although most pilgrims end their journey at Santiago, it’s well worth lacing up your boots and continuing to the ocean.
The camino de Fisterra is much quieter than the camino francés before Santiago, and the route to Finisterre predates the mediaeval pilgrimage by at least a millennium. Celts and other ancient peoples travelled to the solar temple of Ara Solis, on the tip of Cabo Finisterre, to worship the sun, or simply walked as far west as they could without getting their feet wet.
Romans thought that the westernmost tip of Spain, Finis Terrae, was the end of the world and would watch with concern as the sea engulfed the sun each night, hoping that it would rise again the next morning.
Even mediaeval pilgrims often continued to the sea. Many visited Padrón and Muxía, places connected with Santiago’s miraculous arrival in Spain, but churches dedicated to the saint and pilgrim hospices also lined the route to Finisterre.
Stand in the Plaza do Obradoiro facing the parador and turn left to walk down Rúa das Hortas. In about 200m, cross a road to walk along Rúa do Cruceiro do Gaio, which changes its name, first to Rúa do Pozo de Bar and then to Rúa de San Lorenzo. Occasional faded yellow arrows are painted on the road but, apart from these, there are no signs until you reach a park in a few hundred metres. Turn right at a concrete bollard here, the first of many on a mostly well-marked trail, to head through the small park, then turn left at the end of park and walk down Costa do Cano. Cross a stone bridge at Ponte Sarela, turn left to walk down a dirt track, then at a fork in 50m, take the left-hand (lower) track, which soon narrows to a path.
You’re soon in the countryside, and the rapid exit from Santiago is a stark contrast to your arrival in the city. Walk uphill on a trail lined with foxgloves, ferns and blackberries, turning around for great views of Santiago behind you. In little more than 1km, you’ll reach Piñeiro, where the traditional architecture is overwhelmed by big, modern houses as Santiago’s commuter belt stretches westwards.
Leave Piñeiro on a narrow tarmac road. It’s a lovely pastoral scene, with great views back towards the village of meadows, stone houses and hórreos. You’ll reach Vilariñas in about 2km, then enter Roxos ( ) in another 2km, where there’s a restaurant/bar called Meson Alto do Vento.
Turn right at the restaurant, then walk downhill on the road through Ventosa, arriving at Aguapesada ( $ ), a village of pretty stone houses with small square windows, 1km later. At the bottom of the valley, turn left down a paved stone street next to a lovely, single-arched mediaeval bridge that’s been recently restored. Catch your breath here, as it’s a very steep climb to Carballo, scenically set amongst fields and trees and dotted with the region’s traditional red-roofed stone houses. There are lots of songbirds here, too, and gorgeous views across another beautiful valley of red-topped houses. Soon after reaching the top, you’ll come to Trasmonte ( ), which boasts a tiny bar.
Walk downhill through Reino and Burgueiros, both wealthy hamlets with lots of big new houses, and arrive at Ponte Maceira ( ) in less than 2km. The gorgeous village is idyllically set in a brilliant green valley next to the wide Río Tambre. The bridge after which Ponte Maceira is named elegantly spans the river; from its centre you may see a heron calmly standing at the edge of the river, or a kingfisher darting just above the water. Construction of the bridge began at the end of the fourteenth century, though much of what you see today dates from a sympathetic eighteenth-century restoration. You can stay and eat at Puente Maceira ( $$ ).
Turn right to cross the river, then turn left at the end of the bridge. On the other side of the river you’ll see the Capilla de San Blas and a mediaeval pazo, a grand Galician country house, surrounded by stately gardens. Walk past a cruceiro on your left, gruesomely decorated with a carved skull and crossbones at its base. Follow the lovely valley for a kilometre or so, passing under a road bridge and the “new” nineteenth-century bridge that leads to Ponte Maceira Nova.
Walk through Barca, then turn left at the main road. After 300m leave the main road to take the old road, cross the main road and walk up a lovely treed road to enter Chancela, then turn left at main road to enter Negreira. Pass some apartment buildings and a statue of a pilgrim on the the main road into town.
The albergue is just outside town; to reach it, turn left a few hundred metres after the statue down the Rúa de San Mauro. In a few hundred metres, pass under the stone arch that links Pazo de Cotón with Capela de San Mauro. Cross a bridge over the Río Barcala, and turn left 100m later up a narrow tarmac road. You’ll reach the albergue in 300m.
(68km, 185m, pop 6500)
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Negreira is a modern town with decadent pastry shops and good seafood restaurants. The town’s notable monument is the fortified, mediaeval Pazo del Cotón. Its solid grey exterior was restored in the seventeenth century and it’s joined to the Capilla de San Mauro by an enclosed, arched walkway.
The route from Negreira to Olveiroa passes through a mix of forest and farms. There’s almost nowhere to buy supplies, so make sure you stock up on lunch and dinner provisions before leaving Negreira.
The route begins at Negreira Iglesia. The turnoff is 100m before the albergue. The beginning is especially lovely, heading along an old trail, with fantastic views across multiple valleys. In 1km pass through Zas and skirt Rapote, then follow a lovely stretch of oak forest with ferns, ivy and big black slugs to Peña ( ). You’ll need to pop up to the main road to visit the village bar; otherwise carry on through the village past a church and a cruceiro. Join a road and keep straight on through Porto Camiño, then turn right to walk along tracks and roads to Vilaserio ( ). The village bar, which also has limited supplies, is the last refreshment for 8km. You can sleep on mattresses at the old village school, which acts as Vilaserio’s albergue ( 20 beds open all year).
Keep on the road to Cornado, then follow farm tracks and minor roads to Maroñas. Notice the different style of hórreos in the village: Maroñas’ granaries are made entirely of stone boulders, as the rain-drenched Galician climate rots wood quickly, and stone is plentiful locally. Walk through the village, then turn left at a T-junction 1km later to head into Santa Mariña ( ).
Turn left at the main road, passing two bars on the right, the second of which is also an albergue ( 10 beds open all year).
Keep straight on the road for about 500m, then turn right up a paved road into the hamlets of Bon Xesús and Vilar de Xastro, skirting Monte Aro along the road, where there are no yellow arrows but some remains of an ancient castro. On the other side of the hill, there are fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and the Embalse de Fervenza, and there are many rubias gallega, Galicia’s typical rust-red cows, in the fields. Walk downhill into Lago, then turn right next to a bus shelter at Abeleiroas. There are fabulous views of modern windmills up ahead. From here, you can detour to A Picota ( ), almost 4km away, where there are good shops and the Casa Jurjo ( $ $$ ).
Otherwise, continue along the paved road lined with gorse and pine trees. After a couple of kilometres, you arrive at the unusual Iglesia de San Cristovo de Corzón in Corzón. The church is completely detached from its belltower and the arched cemetery looks like a gallery of graves around the church; the graveyard itself contains some splendid-looking crosses. Turn left just after the church, then turn right at the main road to cross the much-restored sixteenth-century bridge over the Río Xallas, where locals fought Napoleon’s troops during the Peninsula War. In 2km, you’ll reach Olveiroa; turn left, then right for the albergue.
Olveiroa ( ) is a tiny village with stunning examples of rural architecture. Its houses are made of thick stone walls, village hórreos are made of stone and are precariously balanced on mushroom-shaped legs, the village’s cruceiro is a lovely one. The albergue ( 28 beds open all year) has separate, beautifully restored stone buildings for sleeping, eating and relaxing, with farm animals right next door. You can also stay at the Pensión As Pias, which has a bar ( $ $ ).
To leave Olveiroa, turn left next to the village lavadero (wash house) to walk over a concrete bridge just before the main road. Head uphill, looking out for a hill fort on your left. There are great views of the river in the gorge below, and of the hills and windmills that surround you. Descend to the river and cross it via a concrete bridge. Follow a dirt track into Logoso, turn left at a junction on the edge of the village along a track, then turn left again and in just over 1km, reach Hospital ( ), which is dominated by a massive carbide factory. The bar on the road serves great bocadillos, the last food for 14km.
A few hundred metres later at a roundabout, the camino splits. The right-hand turn takes you to Muxía, a popular pilgrim destination just north of Finisterre. Turn left to continue on your way to Finisterre, walking past the carbide factory. Soon after you leave its belching fumes behind, turn right down a dirt track. Follow the track through moorland, which is easy on the feet after yesterday’s paved roads. If the skies are clear, you can see Cabo Finisterre and if the wind is in the right direction, you’ll be able to smell the salt air.
In 3km, cross a road at a stone cross, then reach the Santuario de Nosa Señora das Neves in another 2km. Each September 8, local people arrive here for a romería (pilgrimage). There’s a cruceiro in the field below.
From here, it’s mostly uphill through an area destroyed by fire in 2006 to the Santuario de San Pedro Mártir, whose fonte santa is thought to heal verrucas, rheumatism and, happily for tired pilgrims, sore feet. Keep straight on, heading steadily downhill, just bypassing the Cruceiro do Armado. The track gets steeper as you descend into Cée, and even on a cloudy day you should be able to see the sea by now.
Walk into Cée ( ), turning right onto the main road. To stay in Cée try the Vitoria on Avenida Fernando Blanco 10 ( $ ), Larry on Calle Magadalena 8 ($$ or La Marina on Avenida Fernando Blanco 26 ( $ $ ). Turn left down a side street 500m later, then walk down a flight of steps and turn right to follow a street to the main square. Yellow arrows can be hard to see on this stretch. Turn left to follow the waterfront road, then walk past the hospital and into Corcubión, now merged into Cée. Yellow arrows direct you right almost immediately; ignore these if you want to buy provisions in Corcubión.
Corcubión ( ) has some lovely manor houses, emblazoned with maritime-motif crests. There’s a range of accommodation, including Las Hortensias ( $ $$ ) and Praia de Quenxe ( $ $$$ ), both on Praia de Quenxe. The albergue is about 1km out of town. Follow the promenade through the Plaza de Castelao towards the Iglesia de San Marcos, a thirteenth-century church with neo-Gothic towers and a fifteenth-century sculpture of the church’s patron saint. At the church door, take a sharp right up some steps, and follow the street to a small square called Campo de Rollo. Cross straight over to a tiny, high-walled lane with a huge yellow arrow, and follow its overgrown route uphill.
Turn left once you meet another lane at the top of the hill, which is the camino branch that bypassed Corcubión, then turn right soon afterwards. Cross the main road and reach the Albergue San Roque ( 14 beds easter–oct), which doesn’t open until 4pm. From here, follow a track, and in about 500m you’ll arrive at Amarela. Turn left to rejoin the main road, then turn right at a bend about 300m later, leave the road to the right on the lower road, turning right soon afterwards onto a track. In 300m, turn right on rejoining the main road and follow it into the village of Estorde ( ), where you can stay at the Playa de Estorde ( $ $$ ). Keep on the busy main road to Sardiñeiro ( ), where the Restaurante Nicola ( $ $ ) has rooms.
Walk through Sardiñeiro, then turn right at the end of town to follow the old Rúa da Finisterra. The camino heads through a beautiful pine forest, then crosses the road to head down a gully towards a tiny, dramatic cove, before climbing up the other side to meet the main road once more. Take the next left along a paved road down to the beach at Finisterre.
To get to Finisterre, either stroll along the beach or walk along a broad boardwalk into town. Look out for a marker with a downward-pointing scallop shell here, showing that your journey is almost at an end. Finisterre’s albergue is just past the port.
((3km, 0m, pop 3000)
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Finisterre is a working port with all the services of a small town. A fifteenth-century cruceiro stands in front of the twelfth-century Romanesque-Gothic Iglesia de Santa María de Areas. Domenico Laffi, the Italian camino chronicler, visited the church in the seventeenth century; the chapel next door was once a pilgrim hospice.
Finisterre shows few other signs of its camino past. Its character comes more from the sea, and it’s fascinating to wander around the port, watching the primary-coloured fishing boats in the bay or chatting with fishermen as they mend gnarled nets. The town has a couple of great fish restaurants if you fancy a night on the town, and a cluster of down-at-heel bars if you hanker after something earthier. Market days are Tuesday and Friday.
Pilgrims who walk or cycle from Santiago to Finisterre are entitled to a fisterrana, a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage; you can get yours from the hospitalera at the albergue.
Accommodation & Information
Calle Real 2 (24 beds open all year)
De Poz near Castillo de San Carlos(28 beds open all year)
From Finisterre, it’s a short walk to the end of the world. To continue to the faro (lighthouse), walk past the albergue, turn right in a couple of hundred metres at Plaza de Ara Solis, then turn left 50m later past the Capella do Bo Suceso. Turn left when you reach the main road and follow it all the way to Cabo Finisterre, just over 2km away. There are great views out to sea when the sun’s out, but the walk is also murkily marvellous in bad weather.
You’ll soon reach Cabo Finisterre ( ), the end of the world perched on a rocky headland. If you wish to stay here try the Hotel O Semáforo ( $$ ).
The Celts believed that the surrounding ocean was the Sea of Tenesbrosum, home to monsters and the gateway to paradise. The Romans were convinced that Finis Terrae was the end of the world, where the sun was engulfed by the sea each night. There are great views from the Vista Monte do Facho, high above the lighthouse. The menhir that once stood here was the scene of Celtic fertility rites, and couples copulated against the rock to increase their chances of conception before prudish church officials tore down the menhir in the eighteenth century.
There’s no trace of Ara Solis, the temple that drew sun-worshipping Iron Age pilgrims: you’ll have to make do with the solid, whitewashed faro and a couple of pilgrim highlights. Below the lighthouse there’s a small sculpture of a pair of walking boots, where profligate pilgrims traditionally burn their shoes to celebrate their arrival at the cape. Nearby, a concrete post with a downward pointing scallop shell marks the end of the camino, a familiar and fittingly poignant symbol of your journey’s end.
The walk to Muxía is actually part of a signed circular route from Oliveira to Finisterre to Muxía to Oliveira. This is the route from Finisterre to Muxía.
From the Municipal albergue in Finisterre, retrace your route backwards on the camino up through town. Join the C-552 highway and walk alongside it to the high point where there is a cross and lookout with a view of Playa de Langosteira. Veer left staying on the C-522, pass the Hotel Arenal and take the next road left and up. It is marked by a mojon (cement bollard) with the blue shell motif (pointing skyward!) and Muxía-Finisterre written on it. If you look closely you will see a tiny yellow arrow indicating the direction to Muxía. You will follow this signage all the way to Muxía, sometimes with the little yellow arrow pointing to Finisterre as this route is signed both from Muxía to Finisterre and from Finisterre to Muxía.
Follow this road as it goes alongside the hill. You are walking parallel to the Playa de Langosteira which you see off in the distance. At a Y in the road stay right, passing through San Martiño de Duío and its cemetery and church. You will need to diligently look for mojones and faded yellow arrows along this route.
In about 2 km reach a T-junction in the hamlet of As Escaselas. Turn left and 300m later turn left again to walk alongside the highway. (Ignore the huge arrow directing you across the road as this is a different route via Vigo.) Walk along the highway passing through Hermedesuxo de Abaixo and O Bispo. At the bottom of the hill after O Bispo, at a 5 street intersection, veer right to take the road signed San Salvador. Pass an old stone cross and the hotel Rustico Dugium (tel. 981 740 780 www.finisterrae.com/dugium). After the last house in San Salavador (a one street hamlet), leave on a track that heads up into the woods. After about 1km keep left at a Y intersection, and 1km or so later walk into Rial. Walk through the few houses at Rial and cross the road to continue on a trail, staying at the same elevation and walking through woods once again. This trail soon joins the road and the houses of Buxan. Take the first left and walk on the road between 3 horreos. At the bus stop go right and up the road then shortly right again (shell on the side wall of the house) to walk down a paved road with woods on either side, passing a timber mill on the left. At this point you can hear the roar of the ocean and you leave the woods with a view of Playa de Rostro ahead and below.
When you reach the first houses of Suarriba turn left and go down the long hill to walk through Castrexe. (You will notice that written on the road is a 3 sided yellow arrow with 2 arrows labeled M (Muxía) and one labeled F (Finisterre). This suggests that you could also walk around the head of this valley to Padris rather than heading down to Castrexe, across the valley and then back up to Padris. Note that neither option gets you anywhere near Playa de Rostro though!).
Walk through Castrexe and turn right at the T-junction at the west end of the hamlet. 300m later turn left on to a track that takes you across the fields of the valley floor for about 1km. At the second paved road that you come to, turn right and walk up this road to Padris. Turn left at the T-junction at Padris and 150m later head left on to a track just before the two yellow houses. This track takes you back into the woods and after 1km shrinks down to a trail through the woods. At the Y keep right and climb gradually up. At the T-junction go right to follow a stone-lined track and open fields to your left and right. At the large Y intersection there is a mojon with a shell that points right to A Canosa and a yellow arrow that points left. Both routes lead to Lires:
Following the yellow arrow that points left directs you to glorious beach views, the beach itself, a bar, and a winding road route to Lires along the river estuary. This route is about 2km longer.
Following the mojon option go right and start walking gradually down. In 300m join a wide logging road to the right and head down to A Canosa. At the first house, turn right at the T-junction on to a paved road then soon after, go left down a steep narrow road to walk down and through the village. At the end of the village, before the lone white house, take the lane to the left and head in to the trees. At the Y intersection in 300m take the left trail. 400m later at another Y intersection go right and walk down towards a stream and towards the road. Don’t cross the stream but turn left and up a trail. 50m later go right to walk on a footpath between fields. The path curves right and down to the road and now you cross the stream. Turn left to walk on the road to the church. At the church turn right and walk up into Lires. (At the top of this road reach a 4 way intersection. To the right are 2 bars, the hotel, and more Casa Rurales (and the route if the river is too high). To the left is the continuation of the camino.
Lires ( bar, restaurant, Casa Rurales, hotels) Café-Bar As Eiras has rooms 981 74 81 80 www.ruralaseiras.com Casa Raul 981 74 81 56 Casa Lourido 981 74 83 48 Casa Divina 981 748 202 PR Casa Luz 981 74 89 24 Casa Jesus 981 74 81 58
Turn left at the 4-way intersection and walk up to the end of the road where the camino becomes a trail through the woods and down to the Rio do Castro. You will need to cross the river on giant stepping stones but depending on the water height and flow you may not be able to cross safely. Ask in Lires if the river is passable or walk the 200m to the river to take a look yourself. Note that the river is often impassable in spring. If you do cross by the giant stepping stones, do so wearing sturdy footwear, use a pole for stability, and undo the waist belt of your backpack so that if you should fall you aren’t carried down by its weight. If the river is not passable, follow route #2 below, that takes you via the Ponte Nova.
If the river is passable, carefully cross over the large stepping stones and then veer left passing the single house of Vaosilveiro. At the Y intersections always go left and finally turn left on to a minor road. Follow it first through the trees and then into a valley and up to the houses of Frixe. At the top of the rise as you reach the first houses of Frixe at a T intersection, turn left. (bar/store and church if you go right and walk through town 500m down to the highway) At the last houses take the lane up and to the right and follow it until you arrive at the CP-5301 highway. Cross the highway at a mojon that says Muxía 12km.
Route if river is impassable:
At the 4 way intersection at the top of Lires turn right heading to the 2 bars in town. Facing the As Eiras bar/hostal take the road to the left side heading east to Porcar. At Porcar (T intersection) turn left and north walking through the village. Follow the paved lane down and out of town. After 1 km at a T intersection turn right (even though you are turning away from the river!) to get to the CP-5201 highway. At the highway turn left to walk over the Ponte Nova and continue alongside the highway to the village of Frixe. (bar with small store inside) Past the bar reach the Iglesia de Santa Locaia de Frixe (12th Century).
You again have 2 options:
Keep straight on along the highway 1 km or so until you see a mojon on your right that says Muxía 12km. Turn right to continue the camino.
Or you can turn left at the church to leave the highway and weave your way through the village to rejoin the camino coming from the river crossing. If you choose this option, turn left at the church and follow the road down into a valley and up to more houses and a fountain. Pass the fountain and take the next right and walk up along the top end of another small valley. From the left a road enters which is the camino route via the river crossing. Walk up to the last houses in Frixe and take the lane to the right. Follow it until you reach the highway. Cross the highway at the mojon that says Muxía 12km.
Whether you cross the river or detour by the bridge:
Leave highway CP-5301 at the mojon that says Muxía 12km and walk 1 km to arrive in Guisamonde. At the first building in the village leave the road to walk down a trail to the left and in 200m reach another road in the village. Turn right to walk on this road. At the intersection keep straight on and follow this minor road for 2km, initially up and through a forest and then alongside a hill with views of the valley below. Note that there are not any arrows or mojones in this stretch. After 2km pass an horreo and a house then pass a cross and a fountain on your right at the entrance to Morquintián. At the next 2 Y intersections go right and up. In 1km reach a T intersection at a larger highway.
There are two options to Muxía from here though the more obvious of the 2 mojones directs you to the right.
ROUTE TO THE RIGHT to Muxía:
Turn right at the T intersection. After 500m turn left onto a minor sandy road and head up towards Mt Facho de Lourido. Once the road starts decending, keep straight on rather than going right, and continuing on the road that hugs the side of the mountain. At a sharp bend in the road go right then almost immediately left and walk down to Xurantes. Head into the village and at a T intersection turn left. Turn right at the next T intersection by the last houses in town and head down the paved road. Reach a larger road at a T intersection and either cross it and go down the trail heading to Playa de Lourido (Not well marked but a nice walk. Once at the beach you will have to get yourself back up to the highway into Muxía.) Or the better marked option is to turn right onto this paved road and then turn left onto the road which leads in to Muxía.
** It is still at least 2km alongside this highway before you reach the first houses in Muxía. You will pass the Playa de Lourido below on the left, and then the Sports Field for the town. From this point there is a sidewalk into town on the right hand side. Take the first street to the right once in town to go up to the Municipal Albergue of Muxía or continue straight on to reach town, the shops, bus stop, and church.
ROUTE TO THE LEFT to Muxía: (this route is longer and mostly on paved road.)
At the T intersection turn left. In 60m turn right up a gravel road (marked by a camino shell on a mojon). Follow the gravel road up and then down to a paved road. Turn left to Martineto then shortly turn right to walk right through a house patio to reach the road on the other side of the house. Follow CP-5201, this paved road, down for 8 km or so passing through Martineto, Cuño, and Lourido. From Lourido you can see the ocean and Muxía out on the point. Once you pass through Lourido continue downhill on the road. At the bottom of the hill turn left along the road that heads 2 km in to Muxía. (or weave your way down the tracks in the hillside to Playa de Lourido then up to the road to walk in to Muxía. See ** above to continue in to Muxía.
Albergue de Peregrinos, Rúa Enfesto, 22 (Municipal /Xunta 32 beds, kitchen)
Hotel Lorena 981 74 24 41 Pensión Plaza 981 75 04 52 Hostal la Cruz 981 74 20 84 Pensión Tira da Barca 981 74 23 23
Buses to Santiago, Coruña and Cee leave from Café Noche y Dia bar on the port waterfront side of town near the pier. (Muxía – Santiago leaves at 7:30 and 14:30)
The Oficina de Turismo/Cultura on calle de la Barca issues a Muxíana (like a compostela) to those pilgrims who walk to Muxía.
Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora da Barca
From the town centre, the Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora da Barca is 2km away on the Punta da Barca. Take the calle de la Barca to reach it. There are three huge rocks on the point, said to be remains of the Virgin Mary’s ship. Legend has it that one of the apostles (possibly Santiago) was trying to Christianize the local inhabitants and was having no luck and was discouraged. The Virgin Mary appeared to the apostle to comfort him. The Celtic stones near the church are now said to be remains of the Virgin Mary's stone boat.
Pedra Dos Cadris (in the shape of a kidney): Those with complaints of lumbago, sciatica y other rheumatic pains are said to find relief if they can squeeze through the space between the two Cadris stones.
Pedra do Timón: Named for its resemblance to a rudder or steering wheel of a boat and thus also relates to the legend of the Virgin and her boat. Some say that to touch or tap the Timón produces happiness.
Pedra d’Abalar (the moving or rocking rock): It is said that if you can make the stone move, your wishes will come true but tradition says that the secret to moving the stone isn’t strength but rather innocence. It is also said that the stone moves only to advise of strong storms and dangers.
This is one of Galicia's most famous pilgrimages. It has been held since the 14th century in this fishing village on the Costa de la Muerte coast, and unites fishermen’s devotion to the Virgin Mary and other pre-Christian traditions such as the worship of stones. The procession to the Virgen de la Barca Shrine and its mythical rocks attracts crowds of people every first Sunday after 8 September. On this day, as well as sampling the caldereta (fish stew), typical of the region, participants pretend to “dance” with the Abalar Stone — this means they try and move it to make their wishes come true. According to tradition, only the innocent and those free from sin can manage this. Another custom is that of passing underneath the Cadrís Stone, which is supposed to have curative powers.