Burgos to Astorga

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago
The Meseta


(499.5km, 860m, pop 170,000)
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Burgos comes as a bit of a culture shock after the mellow, timeless feel of the camino so far. It’s a sizeable city with traffic jams, nightlife and noise, and so chock full of monuments that it’s worth staying an extra day or two to see them all. Despite this, the rest of Spain sees Burgos as less than cosmopolitan.

Thanks to famous sons such as El Cid and Fernando III, reconquerer of southern Spain, Burgos had a reputation as a centre of staid military might before the civil war. The city’s Nationalist ties during the war and throughout the Franco era simply reinforced the city’s image as a bastion of conservative Catholicism. In democratic Spain, the city is trying to cast aside its tarnished reputation: literally so, in the case of Burgos’ talismanic cathedral, as its blackened exterior has been polished to gleaming white.

The massive Gothic cathedral sits right in the middle of Burgos and is a natural place to begin a tour of the city. Begun by Fernando III at the beginning of the thirteenth century, it was completed in just 22 years, and although there were additions over the next few centuries, the cathedral retains its Gothic style. It’s almost impossible to get a complete picture of the cathedral: there’s simply no vantage point in Burgos from which you can take in the delicate, air-filled spires, the monumental doorways and arches and the tall, solid towers. The cathedral was made a unesco World Heritage site in 1984.

Inside, there’s an overwhelming array of stunning sculpture and artwork. The octagonal walls of the late-fifteenth-century Capilla del Condestable rise up towards an elegant, star-vaulted dome, whose geometrical carvings show a Muslim influence. The Gothic-Renaissance chapel contains stunning fourteenth-century retablos and a beautifully carved marble tomb, replete with realistic details. The Capilla de Santa Tecla contains Burgos’ famous Papamoscas, a fifteenth-century mechanical clock that springs into action on the quarter hour.

Back in the main body of the cathedral, you can peer into the caged choir to see a gilded Mudéjar lantern vault. You’ll also be dazzled by the staggeringly shiny Plateresque Escalera Dorada, which rises from the ground floor of the cathedral to meet the Puerta Alta, some 30m above. El Cid is buried beneath the choir, in a simple tomb brought to Burgos in the 1920s.

The Capilla del Santo Cristo contains a frankly disturbing statue of its namesake. The statue’s hair and fingernails were said to be real and in need of regular trimming, and although the skin was also said to be human, it’s now been identified as buffalo hide.

Of Burgos’ smaller churches, the Iglesia de San Nicolás de Barí, on Calle Fernán Gonzalez near the cathedral, is worth visiting for its stunning, massive alabaster retablo.

Across the Río Arlanzón in the Casa de Miranda, the Museo de Burgos has a good prehistoric archaeology section, boosted considerably by finds from Atapuerca. Above the town, there’s not much left of Burgos’ castle, destroyed by successive invaders, including Napoleon who blew it up in 1813, shattering the cathedral’s stained-glass windows in the process.

The twelfth-century Monasterio de las Huelgas Reales, on the western outskirts of Burgos, was made famous and powerful by Fernando III, who was knighted into the Order of Santiago here. The statue of Santiago Matamoros used in these ceremonies has a jointed arm so that the saintly sword can be moved up and down. The convent is the final resting place of a good proportion of Castilian royalty, and although the tombs were damaged by plunderers, they contained some beautiful textiles inspired by Islamic designs, which are now displayed in Las Huelgas’ Museo de Ricas Telas. Nearby, little remains of the Hospital del Rey, which provided food and lodgings for pilgrims from the twelfth century onwards, but it’s worth taking in the sixteenth-century gateway.

At the other end of the city, the Cartuja de Miraflores stands serenely in beautiful parkland. The fifteenth-century church — the only part of the monastery open to the public — is stamped with the artistic skills of Gil de Siloé and the patronage of Isabel la Católica. The alabaster tombs of Isabel’s parents, Juan II and Isabel de Portugal, took four years to complete and are among the most detailed and intricate ever carved; the wall tomb of Alfonso, Isabel’s brother, is crafted in similar style. Gil de Siloé’s magnificent, overpowering wooden retablo is gilded with gold brought back from America by Columbus in the 1490s.

Burgos casts aside its pious image at the end of June during the two-week Fiestas de San Pedro y San Pablo, with bullfighting, feasts, music and street parades with gigantillos and gigantones, larger-than-life plaster figures.

Accommodation & Information
  • Casa del CuboCalle Fernán Gonzalez 28 (76 beds open all year)
  • Santiago y Santa Catalina Calle Lain Calvo 10 (18 beds open all year)
  • Emaús Calle San Pedro Cadeña 32 (20 beds easter-oct)
  • There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the Burgos Tourist Website

From the centre of Burgos, follow the yellow arrows to the Río Arlanzón. Cross the river over a small bridge, then turn right to walk through a park. Turn left at the Hotel Puerta Romeros. In 300m, just after a roundabout, turn right on to a narrow paved road. Walk through a housing development, looking to your right at the jail that held political prisoners during Franco’s time. At a small roundabout keep straight on for Villalbilla de Burgos ( ), where you can stay at the basic albergue ( 12 a open all year key from polideportivo) or the Posada del Duque on Calle Villalbilla ( $$ ). Turn right at the roundabout to continue on the camino. Cross a bridge, then turn left, pass under a train track, over an overpass and finally under the A231.

Walk into Tardajos ( ) along the N120, passing an eighteenth-century stone cross that marks the site of an old pilgrim hospital. The albergue is on Calle Asunción ( 22 a open all year) in the village and rooms are also available at Bar Ruiz ( $ ). Follow the camino as it winds through a pretty stretch of older terraced houses, small squares and fountains. In a little over a kilometre, cross the Río Urbel, where there’s good fishing, and veer left on a minor tarmac road, keeping an eye out for larks and magpies near the ground, and kestrels and vultures overhead. Walk through Rabé de las Calzadas ( Santa Marina y Santiago 8 beds apr–sep ).

The camino from Rabé passes through fields and pasture, and alongside streams lined with black poplars and willows. In a couple of kilometres, pass the Fuente de Prao Torre, then climb uphill. At the top of the rise, the scenery is jaw-droppingly, never-endingly flat. Welcome to the meseta, treeless, stunningly beautiful, and loud with wind, birdsong and crickets. Calandra larks are difficult to see, except in early spring, when males perform a melodious song flight, wings held stiffly and showing distinctive black wing undersides and a pale belly.

After a few kilometres of flatness, the camino arrives at Hornillos del Camino, approached by way of a steep downhill track. Hornillos del Camino ( ), is a friendly village of pale, local stone. The albergue in the Plaza de la Iglesias ( 32 a open all year 6) is on the right, next to a Gothic church built on the site of an Iron Age castro, and the Fuente del Gallo, a cockerel-topped fountain. Overflow beds are available in the ayuntamiento and the polideportivo. You can also stay at the Casa Rural De Sol a Sol ( $$ ).

At the next valley, about 5km after Hornillos, is the Arroyo San Bol ( ), a natural spring just off the camino. Pilgrims who wash their feet in the spring are said to have no foot problems from here to Santiago. The spring marks the site of San Baudillo, a village mysteriously abandoned in 1503, perhaps due to disease or after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The albergue ( 6 beds open all year 6).

From San Bol onwards, it’s a long, flat stretch through fields, a wonderful area for watching birds of prey and listening to noisy choruses of songbirds hidden in wheat fields. Seventeenth-century pilgrims were more concerned about bigger animals: Laffi was warned only to cross the meseta in the middle of the day, when shepherds and their dogs provided some protection against marauding packs of wolves. After a few kilometres of meseta walking, the first glimpse of Hontanas, tucked into a valley and named after the large number of local springs, is astonishing. The camino heads steeply downhill past dovecotes as Hontanas’ timeless mediaeval rooftops come into focus.


(470km, 870m, pop 70)
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Hontanas is a one-street village, dominated by the beautiful, looming fourteenth-century Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción.

Accommodation & Information
  • El Nuevo (20 beds open all year), located in the beautifully restored Mesón de los Franceses, a former pilgrim hospice. Overflow at El Viejo (14 beds) and La Escuela (21 beds)
  • El Puntido Calle La Iglesia (34 beds mar–sep)

From Hontanas, follow a path that leads along a hillside just above the valley floor, where poplars line the river’s edge and the fields are full of sunflowers in summer. Laffi, the seventeenth-century pilgrim chronicler, bemoaned the locusts along this part of the camino: “It moves one to pity to see how people are dying of hunger, and the beasts too, as their pastures are devoured by these insects.”

Turn right at a road in 4km, following it for 2km towards the ruins of the Gothic Convento de San Antón ( 12 a may–sep sleep within the convent’s ruined walls), where a dramatic arch spans the camino. The Orden de los Antonianos rose out of a miraculous cure for San Antón’s fire, a burning disease similar to leprosy that was rampant in the Middle Ages.

Hospices like this one were set up all along the camino, treating diseased pilgrims with exercise and red wine as well as the divine hand of San Antón. Locked-out latecomers could sleep in the porch and eat food that the monks left in niches. The niches, visible on the right-hand side of the road, now contain messages scribbled by pilgrims on scraps of paper and held in place by small stones.

Soon after San Antón, the ruined fortress perched above Castrojeriz comes into view. In a couple of kilometres, at a sign describing the town’s attractions, turn right, walk past the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Manzano, then follow the camino signs along the long approach into the centre of Castrojeriz.


(460km, 810m, pop 970)
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Castrojeriz is a beautiful town with surprisingly stylish bars and restaurants. The town has been inhabited since Celtiberian times, if not earlier, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see this spot as an ideal place for a settlement, near a river and ably defended by a hill with views for miles around. The Romans used its glorious vantage point to guard the route to their valuable gold mines near Astorga and, by the Middle Ages, the town’s long main street was packed with hospices and churches. Unusually, the town’s tenth-century fuero (charter) gave Christians and Jews equal rights, and a murderer of a Jewish resident was to be treated identically to one who killed a Christian.

At the entrance into town, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Manzano marks a camino miracle. Santiago was so excited to see an image of the Virgin in an apple tree that he leapt heavily on to his horse, leaving behind hoofprints that are embedded in a rock outside the church. The Gothic church, remodelled in the eighteenth century, includes a fine retablo, and the thirteenth-century Virgen del Manzano, made famous by miracles ascribed to her in Cántigas, the Galega poems written by Alfonso X.

The Iglesia de Santo Domingo is decorated on the outside with gruesome carved skulls and inside with seventeenth-century tapestries based on Rubens cartoons. The Iglesia de San Juan de los Caballeros has lovely Mudéjar ceilings, particularly in the semi-ruined cloister.

For the best views in Castrojeriz, climb the hill to the ruined castle. Although legend claims that it was founded by either Caesar or Pompey, archaeology dates the castle to much earlier. The castle changed hands frequently over the centuries from Visigoths to Muslims to Christians, finally ending up as a private residence a few centuries later. The hill beneath is honeycombed with bodegas, built to keep locally produced wine cool and linked to each other by tunnels.

Accommodation & Information
  • San Estebannear the Plaza Mayor (29 beds open all year)
  • Refugio de Castrojeriz Calle Cordón 16 (25 beds open all year), strict rules
  • Casa Nostra Calle Real 54 (20 beds open all year)
  • Camping Camino de Santiagoat town entrance (40 beds easter–nov)
  • There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the Castrojerez Tourist Website

Follow the main street to the end of Castrojeriz, then cross a road at a fountain to walk along a gravel track. The route up the Alto de Mostelares is clearly visible straight ahead. About 1km outside town, you come to a wonderfully restored section of raised Roman road, built as a solid route across the boggy Odrilla valley floor. The river is usually fairly dry, although the marshy ground is ideal for bulrushes and reeds, used by craftspeople to make baskets and chairs. For a better look at the Roman road, follow the farm track alongside it and rejoin the camino at the wooden pedestrian bridge.

At the start of the climb to Alto de Mostelares, look to the right to see the remains of old Roman mines; higher up, you’ll see the seams of mica more clearly. Below you, the Río Odrilla has slowly carved out the valley from the meseta. From this angle it’s easy to see how a change in the river’s direction thousands of years ago left a pillar of the meseta uneroded, providing Castrojeriz with enviable defensive attributes.

From the flat, windy top of the Alto de Mostelares you can see the camino stretching off into the western horizon towards Puente de Itero, Itero de la Vega and Boadilla del Camino. The massive, open sky is staggering, competing for attention with the spiky church steeples of nearby villages.

Keep to the road to detour to Itero del Castillo ( ), about 700m off the camino, where the albergue is in the ayuntamiento ( 8 beds open all year, key in bar) and the tower of the old castle is still standing. Otherwise, turn left as the camino takes you past the thirteenth-century Hospital de San Nicolás ( ), which is now a delightful albergue ( 12 beds jun–sep) run by an Italian confraternity. There’s no electricity, and meals are provided under lamp light.

Cross the Puente de Itero, a lovely, eleven-arch bridge built on the orders of Alfonso VI. The Río Pisuerga is a tranquil, wide river, a great spot for fishing, birdwatching and paddling. Look out for goldfinches and greenfinches amongst the poplars.

On the far side of the bridge, a stone marker indicates the border between the provinces of Burgos and Palencia. Just after this marker, turn right along a dirt road that initially follows the river before it curves around into the village of Itero de la Vega ( ). The thirteenth-century Ermita de la Piedad contains a statue of Santiago Peregrino. You can stay at the albergue on Plaza de la Iglesia ( 20 beds open all year ), the Posada de Itero on Calle Santa Ana ( 18 beds open all year) or the Puente Fitero on Calle Santa María ( $$ ).

Climb slowly out of the village towards the bumpy ridge ahead. On reaching the top some 4km later, the views are fantastic in all directions. Along this stretch of the camino, ornate palomares (dovecotes) of all shapes and sizes are a distinctive feature of the landscape. Pigeons are now mainly kept for their droppings, used for fertilizer, though doves and pigeons are also a useful supplement to the local diet.

In another 4km, the camino arrives at Boadilla del Camino ( ), where there’s a rest area with benches and a fountain. The Iglesia de Santa María de la Asuncíon dates from the sixteenth century and is close to a fifteenth-century village cross decorated with scallop shells, where local criminals were once tried and executed. There are three accommodation options: the albergue municipal on Calle Escuelas ( 12 beds open all year), En el Camino, on Plaza del Royo ( 56 beds mar–nov ), and Putzo, at the entrance to town ( 16 beds easter–oct ).

The barley fields you’ll walk beside as you leave Boadilla are home to finches, skylarks and woodlarks, all inviting prey for the Montagu’s harrier. The route soon runs parallel to the Canal de Castilla, a feat of eighteenth-century engineering. Although the canal was originally designed to move goods, it was quickly overtaken by the newfangled railways, and now the canal mainly provides irrigation and electricity for the region’s many wheat fields and factories.

In a few kilometres, walk over a canal lock at the entrance to Frómista, then follow a modern street to a crossroads. Veer left to continue on the camino, or veer right at the turismo for the Iglesa San Martín and the albergue.


(434km, 790m, pop 950)
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Frómista sits proudly in the middle of a rich agricultural region. So dominated by farming, the town was known as the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. Its name may come from frumentum, Latin for cereal.

The eleventh-century glesia de San MartínI was once part of the Benedictine monastery built as the town flourished after the defeat of the Muslim armies. Nothing remains of the monastery, and the now-deconsecrated church stands solidly alone in the centre of Frómista. The church was heavily restored around 1900 to much criticism, but although the painted frescoes are gone, the gorgeous Romanesque capitals remain, carved with religious and agricultural motifs.

In the same square, pop in to the Museo de Queso to look at antique cheese presses and stop to sample the cheese over a glass of wine in the adjoining upscale bar. There’s a market every Friday in Plaza de Tuy.

Accommodation & Information

Leave Frómista on a purpose-built gravel pilgrim track that runs alongside the P980 to Carrión de los Condes. (Note that construction of the A67 may alter the route.) In 3km, the route joins the road and passes the thirteenth-century Ermita de San Miguel on the left, just before the village of Población de Campos (). Turn right down a side road, following the signs to the albergue on Paseo del Cementerio (

  • 18 beds open all year), which you’ll soon reach. The village street curves around to rejoin the main road. Just before it does, you’ll pass the exquisite Ermita de la Virgen de la Socorro, a tiny church reached via a set of stone steps. Look for Gothic arches, grooves and tombs in the floor, and a stone sarcophagus.

    From here, there’s a choice of routes to Villalcázar de Sirga. The gravel pilgrim highway shadows the main road all the way to Carrión de los Condes, a dull, exhaust-filled route to follow. It’s far nicer to veer away from the road towards the village of Villovieco, which most pilgrims get to via a farm track. Instead of following this track, we describe a pretty, unmarked route alongside the river.

    From Ermita de la Virgen de la Socorro, follow the camino arrows and just before you cross the Río Ucieza on the main road, take the raised grassy track to the right of the river, where there is a truck weighscale, and walk towards a large clump of trees. Follow the track as it heads through the trees, broadens then curves right, still shadowing the river. Shortly after the bend, ignore the bridge to the left, which leads to Revenga de Campos and the road route, and keep walking along the riverbank. In a few hundred metres, turn left at a gravel track to head into Villovieco.

    Skirt Villovieco passing a park with a modern pilgrim statue. Cross the river and turn right immediately, walking on a riverside path. Ignore a bollard with a shell directing you left down the road to Villarmentero de Campos and follow the tree-lined river along a tranquil path that feels authentically mediaeval, particularly when you get your first glimpse of the Ermita de la Virgen del Río through the trees ahead. The ermita contains an alabaster image of Santiago Peregrino as well as a statue of its namesake, which is said to have swum up the Río Ucieza during a flood and stopped at this site. Follow the road into Villalcázar de Sirga, then turn right just before the main road, following the yellow arrows to the albergue and the Iglesia de Santa María la Blanca.

    The various routes from Frómista converge at Villalcázar de Sirga ( ) . The camino was re-routed via Villasirga, as it’s commonly known, mainly due to Alfonso X’s persistent mention of the Virgen Blanca’s miracles in his thirteenth-century Cántigas. Her achievements include restoring the sight of a blind pilgrim, helping a nobleman recover his favourite hunting falcon, and saving a crew of Italian pilgrims from a storm at sea after their frantic prayers had been ignored by a succession of saints, including Santiago. The chalice they were taking to Santiago is now in Villasirga’s church treasury.

    The Romanesque-Gothic Iglesia de Santa María la Blanca is thought to have been built by the Knights Templar. The enormous church was once even bigger: the west end was damaged in the 1755 earthquake that flattened Lisbon, and finished off by Napoleon’s troops half a century later. The huge, high porch remains, modelled on the Monasterio de Las Huelgas in Burgos. Inside, the Capilla de Santiago’s retablo shows detailed scenes from the saint’s life and holds the statue of the Virgen Blanca in squat Romanesque style with a headless Jesus.

    Also in the Capilla are the tombs of Don Felipe, Alfonso X’s brother, Doña Leonor, Felipe’s wife, and a Templar tomb, which is unusual as the knights were generally buried simply, face-down in the earth. Felipe and Alfonso didn’t exactly get on: Felipe’s first wife was a Norwegian princess promised to and then discarded by Alfonso. Their rivalry eventually spiralled into all-out war, which continued until Felipe died in 1274, possibly murdered by Alfonso’s hand.

    Villasirga’s albergue is in the Plaza del Peregrino ( 20 beds open all year 6), and the bar opposite the church makes excellent tortillas.

    It’s a dull walk along a roadside gravel track to Carrión de los Condes. After 5km, turn left at a church decorated with a mosaic of Jesus. Follow the main street into town, turning right at the Iglesia de Santa María del Camino for the albergue parroquial.

    Carrión de los Condes

    (415.5km, 840m, pop 2500)
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    Carrión de los Condes was an important mediaeval town, home to 10,000 people and described by Aymeric Picaud in the tenth century as “an industrious and prosperous town, rich in bread and wine and meat and all fruitfulness.” It was also the centre of disputes between Castilla and León, particularly after Alfonso VI of León murdered his brother, Sancho II of Castilla, much to the annoyance of El Cid.

    The pro-Castilian epic poem, El Cantar de mío Cid recounts the tale of Castilian nobles from Carrión who married El Cid’s daughters, took their fortune and then tied them to oak trees and beat them. El Cid murdered the counts, who gave the town the name de los Condes and who are buried in the Monasterio de San Zoilo. This lovely monastery, on the far side of town, contains a beautiful Renaissance cloister with a splendidly carved ceiling.

    The Iglesia de Santa María del Camino celebrates victory over the Moors in a legendary battle on this site. The local Christian Spanish were understandably annoyed at the annual tribute of 100 virgins demanded by their Moorish rulers and prayed for deliverance. Santa María obliged, sending a herd of bulls to attack the Moors and drive them away, and her Romanesque statue is a highlight of the church’s interior.

    Although the lovely frieze over the Iglesia de Santiago’s twelfth-century façade remains, the church’s recent restoration is unsympathetic and critics claim that the renovation did as much damage as Napoleon’s troops, who blew up the church in the nineteenth century. The Monasterio de Santa Clara, at the entrance into Carrión de los Condes, sheltered St Francis of Assisi on his pilgrimage to Santiago. It now houses an albergue and a small museum.

    Accommodation & Information
    • Iglesia de Santa María(52 beds open all year)
    • Monasterio de Santa Clara Calle Santa Clara (30 beds mar–nov)
    • Espíritu Santo Calle San Juan 4 (100 beds open all year)
    • There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the Carrión de los Condes Tourist Website

    It’s a shadeless treadmill of a route from Carrión to Calzadilla de la Cueza, with the single, glorious distraction of the Cordillera Cantábrica far away to the right.

    To leave town, cross the Río Carrión over a sixteenth-century bridge, soon passing the Monasterio de San Zoilo on your left. Keep straight on across a couple of main roads to follow a minor, quiet road through farmland, its unswerving straightness a clue to its Roman origins as the camino once more follows the route of the Via Traiana. After about 4km, pass the Abadía de Abajo, behind which are the ruins of the Abadía de Santa María de Benevívere.

    Along the long route into Calzadilla de la Cueza there are fabulous, endless views, particularly of the Cordillera Cantábrica to the right. There are also some wonderful chances to see birds of prey in these skies: look for hen harriers and buzzards in particular. The occasional marshy sections and artificial ponds on either side of the track are home to herons, mallards and coots. And if you’re lucky, you may see the great bustard, once common in continental Europe but now restricted to the Iberian meseta. From May to October, a mobile bar-café parks about 9km outside Carrión, just before a minor road.

    You spot Calzadilla’s church tower long before you reach the village, about 16km from Carrión. Calzadilla de la Cueza ( ) is a tiny, one-street village tucked into a depression in the meseta; there’s a fountain at the entrance. You can stay at Albergue Camino Real ( 100 beds open all year, swimming pool) or Camino Real ( $$ ), also the only place to eat.

    Leave the village on the unnecessarily named Calle Mayor. Turn right at the main road and take the gravel track to the left of the road. The route shadows this road all the way to Sahagún, with detours into the many villages along the way. An alternative, marked route mostly keeps to fields south of the main road, and passes through the same villages.

    Whichever route you choose, you’ll arrive at Lédigos ( ), where you can stay at El Palomar ( 52 beds mar–nov).

    About 3km later, pass through the hamlet of Terradillos de los Templarios ( ), where there are two albergues: Jacques de Molay ( 55 beds open all year) and Los Templarios, on the main road just before the village ( 56 beds open all year, also $ ). The distinctive church, built from brick because of the lack of local stone, is worth a look.

    Over the next few kilometres, the camino passes through a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them hamlets along the side of the main road. Moratinos, which you’ll reach in 3km, has wonderful underground bodegas (cellars) and a welcome fountain and rest area.San Nicolás del Real Camino ( ), 2km farther on, is a former Templar village with a reconstructed eighteenth-century brick church. You can stay at Laganares ( 20 beds mar–oct ).

    Leaving the village you can either follow the Senda de Peregrinos next to the main road or a quieter route through fields. The two routes join together just before the detour to the Ermita de la Virgen del Puente, which is characteristic of the local Mudéjar style and sits next to a Roman bridge over the Río Valderaduey. To the south you can just make out the fifteenth-century fort at Grajal de Campos. If you don’t want to visit the Ermita, you can just keep to the main road.

    The approach into Sahagún is a disheartening slog through the town’s industrial zone. Once on the outskirts of Sahagún proper, take the first left past the big white grain silo that’s dominated the skyline for a while now. Pass the train station and the bullring, then turn left soon afterwards to cross a bridge over the railway tracks. The albergue municipal is on the right as you enter town.


    (375.5km, 810m, pop 3000)
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    A busy, no-nonsense town, much more attractive than the grimy approach suggests, Sahagún is at its best during the hustle and bustle of the Saturday morning market.

    The town was an important religious and economic centre in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, famous for its plentiful wheat fields, three-week-long markets and the Vat of Sahagún, a huge trough of wine. Much of the credit for the town’s prosperity must go to Alfonso VI, who showered money and prestige on the town in gratitude for the help he received from the Monasterio de San Benito during the war with his brother, Sancho III. It became the most powerful Benedictine monastery in Spain, at its peak controlling almost 100 other monasteries, and home to a prestigious university. But the glory wasn’t to last, and both the town and the monastery were in steep decline by the time a couple of eighteenth-century fires razed much of Sahagún. Today, all that remains of the monastery is a crumbling nineteenth-century tower and the twelfth-century Romanesque Capilla de San Mancio. The arch of San Benito, which formed part of the monastery façade, is now a city gate, straddling a street at the far end of town.

    Near the arch is the twelfth-century Iglesia de San Tirso, a splendid example of the brick Mudéjar architecture of the meseta. Look out for the closed, horseshoe-shaped arches and the simple, unornamented design, possibly influenced by Islam’s prohibition of human and animal representation.

    It’s also worth looking at the decorative brickwork and the Muslim influences found in Sahagún’s other main churches, the Romanesque-Gothic Iglesia de San Lorenzo, next to the Semana Santa museum, and the Santuario de la Peregrina, a twelfth-century Gothic-Mudéjar church that was once part of a Franciscan monastery.

    Accommodation & Information
    • Cluny on the right after the railway bridge (85 beds open all year)
    • Hospedería Benedictinas on the way out of town near Arco de San Benito (12 beds apr–oct)
    • There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the SahagúnTourist Website

    Leave Sahagún via the narrow streets of the tiny old town, then cross the stone, arched Puente de Canto, originally built by Alfonso VI in 1085.

    The grove of poplars next to the campsite on your right is the site of the eighth-century Legend of the Flowering Lances. Charlemagne’s troops, preparing for battle with Aigolando, stuck their lances into the ground. When they awoke the next day, some of the lances had grown bark and were covered in leafy branches, a sign of martyrdom. Although the lances were cut down, the omens proved true as the battle, along with some 40,000 of Charlemagne’s men, was lost. The lances again took root, and a large forest grew where they had been planted.

    In a couple of kilometres, you’ll see the village of Calzada del Coto ahead, and the track ends at a maze of roads, excessive and underused even by Spanish roadbuilding standards. Here, the route splits.

    Keep straight on for the original camino francés, which for the most part follows a minor road to Mansilla de las Mulas, passing through Bercianos del Real Camino ( ) in 5km, where you can stay at the parroquial albergue ( 50 beds mar–oct) or at the Hostal Rivero on Calle Mayor 12 ( $$ ). In another 6km, you’ll reach El Burgo Ranero ( ), where you can stay at Domenico Laffi ( 26 beds open all year 6), El Nogal ( 25 beds open all year), La Laguna ( 20 beds apr–sep, also $$ ) or El Peregrino ( $ ). From here, it’s 13km to Reliegos ( ) and the Albergue de las Matas on Calle Escuela ( 70 beds open all year), and another 6km to Mansilla de las Mulas.

    More pleasant, though with fewer facilities, is the Calzada de los Peregrinos, a route that heads along dry, thyme-scented tracks across the meseta. Turn right and cross a road bridge over the highway to follow this route. In a couple of hundred metres, you’ll arrive at Calzada del Coto ( ), a small village with a fountain and a tiny albergue ( 24 beds open all year) next to the football field. Follow a wide dirt road across a flat landscape of close-cropped grass and scrubland, crossing a railway bridge in a couple of kilometres and reaching Calzadilla 9km later on a mostly obscured Roman road. Sheep have been the region’s agricultural staple since the Middle Ages, when flocks of up to 40,000 were commonplace. Just 1km before the village there’s a pleasant, shady rest area with swings for the young-at-heart.

    Calzadilla de los Hermanillos ( ) has a small albergue ( 16 beds open all year). You can also stay at Casa el Cura ( $$ ). There’s a tiny village shop and a wonderful bar-café at the entrance to the village. Calzadilla is one of the friendliest villages on the camino, and it’s a fascinating place to explore, checking out the adobe architecture and getting lost amongst the maze-like streets.

    The route out of Calzadilla is so straightforward that all you have to do is keep straight ahead for more than 20km. There are no villages along the stony track, and nothing to distract you on the flat, endless expanse apart from whiffs of lavender and wild thyme and a variety of birds: look out for hoopoes, with their dramatic crests, whoop-whoop call and loping flight.

    At the end of this quiet stretch, keep straight on at a narrow tarmac road to continue the camino, or turn left for Reliegos. Turn left on reaching the N625 about 1km later. In another 1km, you’ll pass through the Puerta de Santiago into the old walled centre of Mansilla de las Mulas. The albergue is on the main street, just past the square.

    Mansilla de las Mulas

    (337km, 800m, pop 1800)
    Latitude: , Longitude:

    An elegant town of pleasant plazas, Mansilla de las Mulas is circled by mediaeval walls. The fancy pastelerías that line the main square might seem ostentatious after the simple adobe houses of Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, but their sweet, gooey offerings are sublime. Mansilla may derive from the Spanish for “hand” and “saddle,” and the town’s crest depicts a hand resting on a saddle; Mulas refers to the town’s mule market.

    The walls, in some places an impressive three metres thick, were successively built, destroyed and rebuilt in the Middle Ages. Highlights include the stretch of wall alongside the Río Esla, and the Arco de la Concepción, the only surviving gate.

    Accommodation & Information

    The long approach into León from Mansilla de las Mulas is an uninspiring one, mostly following the busy N120. To leave Mansilla, walk past the albergue and keep straight on across the stone bridge over the Río Esla, looking behind you for fabulous views of the city walls. There are hills ahead and mountains in the distance, a welcome break for the eyes after the flat meseta. The hill on your right was the site of Lancia, the last holdout of the Celtic Asturians before the city was captured by the Romans in 26bc.

    In 4km you pass through Villamoros de Mansilla, then 2km later cross the Río Porma over the rickety, much-restored 20-arch bridge that leads into Puente de Vilarente. Puente de Vilarente ( ) has shops, restaurants and upmarket cafés, although the donkey taxi that once took sick pilgrims from the old hospice at the end of the bridge into León no longer exists. If you want to stay, try San Pelayo on Calle El Romero 9 ( 64 beds open all year ), El Delfín Verde on Carretera Adanero-Gijon ( $ ), Casablanca on Carretera Adanero-Gijon ( $ ) or La Montaña on Calle Camino de Santiago 17 ( $$ ).

    From Puente de Vilarente, walk uphill to Arcahueja ( ) passing a playground and Albergue La Torre ( 20 beds open all year 6  987 205896, also $ ). Ignore the track to the left about 1km later that detours to the village of Valdelafuente ( ). Climb uphill past factories, then turn left in another 1km on reaching a minor road, ignoring the arrow that keeps heading uphill. If you want to stay at León’s campsite, keep on the N120 for a few hundred metres and turn right off the N120, following the signs. Otherwise, cross the N120 bedst a traffic circle, ignoring the yellow arrows that take you to a less safe way to cross this busy highway. Once you’re safely across, walk on the left-hand side of the N120.

    At the top of the hill there are fabulous views of León spreading out into the meseta, with the glorious backdrop of the often snow-tipped Montes de León and the Cordillera Cantábrica. Despite the views, this is one of the nastiest stretches of the camino, following an exhaust-choked major road.

    In another few hundred metres, just as you get your first view of León’s cathedral, veer left down a track to cross a footbridge and head downhill along a wide street. You’ll soon find yourself in Puente Castro ( ), now merged into suburban León, where there are plenty of café-bars and the dilapidated Iglesia de San Pedro. The bridge that gives Puente Castro its name is originally Roman but was rebuilt in the eighteenth century; cross the Río Torío over a pedestrianized bridge 50m farther on.

    At a roundabout soon afterwards, turn left on Avenida Fernandez Ladreda for León’s municipal albergue, or keep straight on for the camino, the parroquial albergue and the city centre.


    (319km, 840m, 132,000)
    Latitude: , Longitude:

    León is a delightful city of open squares, wide pedestrianized boulevards and narrow, café-crammed winding streets. By day, office workers stride meaningfully about town, but in the evening the city noticeably relaxes as families, couples and friends slowly promenade in their stylish finery, window-shopping and tapas bar–crawling until the early hours.

    Founded by the Romans in the first century to guard the gold mines farther west, León was used as a base to subdue the pesky, dogged inhabitants of what are now Galicia and Asturias. León’s heyday came about a millennium later, beginning when Ordoño II transferred the Christian capital from Oviedo to León in the tenth century, building monuments and settling on a site for the cathedral. Just 80 years later, the city was destroyed by al-Mansur’s Muslim troops, but León’s momentum was unstoppable, and the city that grew from the ruins became bigger and more important than ever.

    As León’s kingdom became unwieldy and difficult to govern, the kingdom of Castilla was created, with a capital in Burgos. The two kingdoms officially united under Fernando III in 1252, but León was quickly subsumed into her younger, bigger offspring. This still rankles with Leóneses, and although separatism isn’t as strong a movement as in the Basque Lands or in Galicia, you’ll see León sin Castilla (León without Castilla) and León solo (León alone) graffiti scrawled on road signs.

    León’s glorious, light-filled cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, its stunning walls of glass stretching upwards in a riot of colour. Serene in cloudy weather and dazzling in the afternoon sun, the cathedral’s open, French design allows beams of light to play across the nave, leading the eye upwards to a sumptuous feast of blues and reds and greens. You’ll get a crick in your neck from wandering around and around the cathedral to take in the gorgeous, luminous whole, so it’s worth bringing binoculars to get a better look at the windows’ fine detail. Stained glass was popular with patrons; guild-funded windows depict craftsmen and workers, and other windows place noble benefactors next to saints and religious figures.

    Back at ground level, almost every surface of the wooden fifteenth-century choir-stalls is carved with religious imagery and personification of the vices. Look for gluttony heaving his belly in a wheelbarrow, a lusty priest spanking a naked boy, and an avaricious noble being led into hell for his gambling sins. The cathedral’s chapels are lovely and contain some beautiful Gothic tombs, including those of Ordoño II and Bishop Martín Rodríguez el Zamorano, one of the driving forces behind the cathedral’s construction.

    The most interesting exhibits in the Museo Diocesano, reached through the Gothic cloister, are the intricate black-and-white prints of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, a fascinating testament to the artisanship of the glassmakers and beautiful in their own right.

    At midnight, the cathedral acts as a technicolour beacon when it’s lit from the inside.

    Once you’ve had your fill of the cathedral’s Gothic glory, saunter down Calle Ancha, turn right at Gaudí’s Casa Botines, a fairytale palace that’s tame by the architect’s flamboyant standards, and arrive at the Basílica de San Isidoro, home to the best-preserved and most splendid Romanesque frescoes in Spain. The church, built on the site of a Roman temple to Mercury, was commissioned by Fernando I and constructed in the eleventh century to house the bones of San Isidoro, a Visigothic archbishop, scholar and author of the world’s first encyclopaedia.

    It’s not exactly clear why the remains of San Isidoro, who was from Seville, came to be in León, although the romantic view is that the saint’s bones could not rest once he heard of the reconquista, and demanded to be moved from Muslim southern Spain to the Christian north. Another version has Fernando accepting saintly relics from the Moors as a price of surrender; the bishops of León and Astorga made the trek down south to collect the bones of Santa Justa, but somehow ended up with San Isidoro instead. The church itself is worth visiting for its carved capitals and the Puerta del Perdón, the first Door of Pardon on the camino, through which sick pilgrims could pass and be granted the same absolution as pilgrims who reached Santiago.

    Next door is the Panteón de los Reyes, the magnificent resting place of a string of monarchs from Fernando onwards until Napoleon’s troops desecrated the tombs. Although the bodies are gone, the Romanesque frescoes remain, thick with intense colour and vivid imagery.

    The frescoes date from the beginning of the thirteenth century and are unrestored — it’s staggering to think that these paintings have been in place for almost 800 years. Most of the ceiling and arches are taken up with various scenes from the life of Jesus, from the flight into Egypt to Christ in heaven. One of the frescoes shows a month-by-month representation of the farming year: in October, a man harvests acorns, a couple of pigs standing happily at his feet, but by November, one of the pigs is done for, slaughtered for food.

    The capitals at the far end, flanking the original entrance to the church, depict Lazarus’ resurrection and the curing of a leper; this is probably the earliest example of figurative sculpture in Spain. Above the Panteón, the museum displays valuable treasures from the church, including the silver reliquary of San Isidoro, and the small library holds a collection of massive, illuminated books from as early as the tenth century.

    The Hospital de San Marcos, along the camino on the way out of town, was a hospice from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries and served as a monastery and headquarters of the Knights of Santiago for even longer. The current building, fronted by a magnificent Renaissance façade and topped by a Baroque Santiago Matamoros, is now a luxury parador with a sumptuous, antiques-filled interior. The chapterhouse contains an archaeological museum that includes Roman weapons from León and Maragato artefacts from around Astorga, and there are also mediaeval treasures in the church sacristy.

    Accommodation & Information
    • Calle Campos Góticos (64 beds open all year)
    • Monasterio de las Benedictinas Plaza Santa María del Camino (125 beds open all year)
    • There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the León’s Tourist Website

    A bus tour–style trip past León’s famous sights leads you out of town. From the cathedral, follow the scallop shells to San Isidoro and on to Hospital de San Marcos. Cross the old Puente de San Marcos that spans the shallow Río Bernesga. Follow the main road then, in a little under a kilometre, take a modern footbridge up and over the train tracks.

    At the other side of the bridge, the camino rejoins the main road at Trobajo del Camino (€$ ), passing the Ermita de Santiago. If you want to stay, try La Gárgola ($,  987 806180) or El Abuelo ($$,  987 801044).

    Pass some quirky bodegas on the outskirts of Trobajo, turning around for great views of León as you head uphill and into an ugly industrial zone. In about 2km, turn right on meeting the N120 bedsgain and put your life into the hands of the speeding drivers who make this short 100m section into La Virgen del Camino nerve-racking.

    La Virgen del Camino

    (312km, 910m, pop 3200)
    Latitude: , Longitude:

    In the early sixteenth century, the Virgin Mary appeared to a local shepherd and demanded that he build her a shrine. The bishop of León was unconvinced by the vision until the shepherd used his slingshot to hurl a pebble that turned into a boulder on striking the ground. The cult of the Virgin took off rapidly. In 1522, a merchant was held captive by the Moors in North Africa, chained inside a strongbox. The Virgin, knowing of the merchant’s desire to visit her shrine, transported him, chains, box and all, to La Virgen del Camino.

    The façade of the modern 1961 church is dominated by a massive, modernist sculpture of the Virgin and the Apostles, with Santiago pointing towards Compostela. Inside, the merchant’s box and chains are held in the sacristy. The Virgen del Camino’s feast days are on September 15 and October 10.

    Accommodation & Information
    • cross the N120 from the church, just behind the monastery (40 beds apr–oct)

    At the church, cross the N120 bedsnd take the small paved road downhill, parallel to the main road. Pass a small park with a modern Santiago statue and a fountain. In 100m, the camino to Hospital de Órbigo splits.

    The authentic camino francés shadows the main road for some 28km, as cars whistle by at 100kph. Along the way, you’ll pass through Valverde de la Virgén ( ) in 4km, where you can stay at Casa Floristeria ( 20 beds open all year) then follow the road for a nasty stretch to San Miguel del Camino ( ), less than 2km away. At the edge of the village, a local man leaves sweets, nuts and other treats for pilgrims. Pass through a long, industrial stretch lined with factories and soulless salesperson’s hotels. In Villadangos del Páramo ( ), you can stay at the Camino de Santiago ( 85 beds open all year) or at Libertad on Calle Padre Angel Martínes 25 ( $$, ), a far better option than the hotels on the way into town.

    In another 4km, you reach San Martín del Camino ( ). There are three albergues here, all on the Carretera León-Astorga: the albergue municipal ( 60 beds open all year 6), Santa Ana ( 12 beds apr–oct) and Vieira Carmina ( 60 beds mar–oct). Follow a roadside track for a further 6km, then turn right to follow a dirt track and arrive at the foot of the fabulous mediaeval bridge into Hospital de Órbigo.

    The more peaceful route heads along minor country roads and farm tracks towards Hospital de Órbigo. Arrows can be difficult to see at times. To follow this route, turn left at the junction in La Virgén del Camino after the park. Stay on the track that takes you up the top of a rise, heading towards some power lines. Arrive at a road and turn left to walk parallel to it. Cross the A66 via a bridge, then immediately turn right on to a minor road. Stay on this road through Fresno del Camino, where there’s a fountain, and into Oncina de la Valdoncina, where there’s also a fountain, some 2km later. Climb slightly to the flat-as-a-pancake meseta, where the scrubland is punctuated by occasional vineyards and fields, and pilgrims are keenly watched by swallows and black kites.

    In 6km, you’ll pass through Chozas de Abajo ( ), which has an unusual modern church. Follow a flat minor road all the way to Villar de Mazarife ( ), another 4km away. On the way into Villar de Mazarife there’s a splendid mediaeval-style mosaic on the right, showing pilgrims on their way to Santiago. There are three albergues here: San Antonio de Pádua on Calle León 33 ( 40 beds open all year), El De Jesús on Calle Corujo 11 ( 40 beds open all year, pool) and Tio Pepe on Calle El Teso de la Iglesia 2 ( 26 a open all year). The highlight of the village is a quirky art museum.

    It’s a long, shade-free 10km stretch from Villar de Mazarife to Villavante ( ). Just past the village, cross some train tracks, stopping to wave at eastbound trains, as they’ll likely be carrying pilgrims on their way home from Santiago. In less than 2km, cross the AP71 via a road bridge. It’s easiest from here to follow the camino bicycle arrows, keeping straight on to cross the N120 in 500m, where you join the roadside route. In 300m, you arrive at the bridge into Hospital de Órbigo.

    Hospital de Órbigo

    (283km, 825m, pop 1100)
    Latitude: , Longitude:

    Hospital de Órbigo is a strategic town, located on a bank of the Río Órbigo. The river crossing was the scene of a vicious battle between the Suevi and the Visigoths in 452, and Alfonso III defeated the Moors here in the late ninth century. Puente de Órbigo, the multi-arched Gothic bridge that’s one of the most important of the camino, was built in the thirteenth century, and though it has been destroyed by floods many times since, its appearance remains resolutely mediaeval.

    The most famous episode in the bridge’s history is the quest of the lovelorn Don Suero de Quiñones. In 1434, rejected by his lady love, Suero put an iron collar around his neck as a sign that he was still shackled to her. He vowed to keep the collar on until he had broken 300 lances in fights on the bridge with the best knights in Europe.

    Many knights rose to the challenge, and Suero and his friends were kept busy fighting them off. The tournament took place during a Holy Year and began a couple of weeks before the Día de Santiago on July 25, the peak time of year for pilgrim traffic. Suero successfully defended the bridge against all-comers and eventually reached his 300-lance target. Taking off his iron collar, Suero journeyed to Santiago with his lady’s jewelled bracelet; it now encircles the neck of the statue of Santiago in the cathedral. It’s said that Suero’s story may have inspired Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

    The jousting tournament is recreated next to the bridge at the beginning of June each year.

    Accommodation & Information
    • Hospital de Órbigo has three albergues which alternately remain open in winter.
    • near river, turn right at end of bridge (20 beds open all year)
    • Karl Leisner Calle Álvarez Vega 32 (70 beds open all year)
    • San Miguel Calle Álvarez Vega 35 (40 beds open all year)
    • There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the XXXX Tourist Website

    To continue along the camino, walk down Calle Álvarez Vega. At the end of the village, the camino to San Justo de la Vega splits.

    Keep straight on to follow the road route, walking mostly on a gravel track alongside the N120. The mountains up ahead are getting much closer, signalling the imminent end of flat meseta walking. In spring, look out for nesting birds in the red cliffs to your right. At the Cruceiro de Santo Toribio, just outside San Justo de la Vega, the two routes meet.

    The walkers’ route to San Justo is a far more pleasant option. Turn right when the route splits, heading to Villares de Órbigo ( ), 2km away, on a broad dirt road. In 2km, you’ll reach Santibáñez de Valdeiglesias ( ), where there’s an albergue ( 60 beds open all year .). It’s a lovely walk from here to San Justo. Look out for birds of prey overhead, circling the plentiful rabbits in the fields. Meet up with the road route at the Cruceiro de Santo Toribio just outside San Justo.

    From the cross, walk downhill into San Justo de la Vega ( ) , where you can stay at Hostal Juli on Calle Real 26 ( $, also ). It hardly seems worth it, though, as you’ll reach Astorga in a few kilometres. Follow a stone track that winds through factories and gardens, a low key and non-industrial approach into town. Cross the train tracks and turn left 200m later to follow a side road to a roundabout. Take the left-hand road uphill and enter the city proper through the Puerta Sol. The albergue municipal is on the left in Plaza San Francisco.

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