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6 places you can’t miss in the Northern Camino

Have you decided to make the Camino de Santiago and chosen the Northern one (Camino del Norte)?

Then we’d like to help you so that your experience can be awesome, referring you to 6 places that you can’t miss.

The fact is that, although there are many more landscapes, villages, monuments… that you can’t miss in the Camino del Norte, we want to highlight these 6 places (if not, we would lengthen this too much):

1- Monastery of Samos

If you take our advice, do not just watch it from outside; it’s worth entering and visiting it.

It’s an architectural ensemble from the 16th to 18th centuries that comprises a neoclassical church, two cloisters, etc.

2- Comillas

If you’re traveling the Camino del Norte, you can’t miss taking a walk through the charming streets of this noble and aristocratic town, seated over hills that shelter its lovely beach and its little harbor.

We recommend touring the old square, the church, and some houses in the town center featuring the popular architecture of the 18th century.

3- Enjoy the Cantabrian Sea

It will “wash your feet” in a large stretch of the route, that through the Basque Country and Cantabria lies along the shore, very close to the sea.

It’s a really spectacular stretch that leads to Castro Urdiales.

4- Walking among vineyards

Another landmark in the Camino del Norte, although it should be said that it’s true for every stage of the Camino de Santiago, is having the possibility of walking among vineyards.

In this case, you can travel through the vineyards where the delicious Txakoli wine comes from.

5- Faro de Plata (Silver Lighthouse) in Pasajes

You just can’t miss the views from the Faro de Plata in Pasajes, as they will rest engraved forever in your memory.

A panorama of the Gulf of Biscay that, although being tough to accomplish due to the steepness of the stairs, is really worth it.

6- Playa de las Catedrales (Cathedrals Beach)

The 26th stage of the Camino del Norte stretches from La Caridad to Ribadeo… We recommend a lot that you to take advantage of this stage, or the next one, to lose a little time and go to the Playa de las Catedrales.

We don’t have much to say that haven’t yet been said about this natural marvel.

And we end saying that in future articles we’ll show you other places that you can’t miss in the different Caminos: Francés, Aragonés, Primitivo, Portugués…

Virtual tours to the Camino de Santiago by Baidu

Baidu, the most popular Chinese search engine, has announced new alliances to offer virtual tours to the Camino de Santiago (and El Prado Museum and the route of Don Quixote) to Chinese users.
In this way, after their first digital museum success, dedicated to the architect Antonio Gaudi (with more than 3.5 million visitors), they stand up for the Camino as a tourist attraction for their users, putting at their fingertips the possibility to become a virtual pilgrim.
Thus, Baidu wants to go a step further, and has reached some agreements with the objective of creating additional virtual tours, among them the Camino de Santiago.
How will the Camino de Santiago tour be like?
We understand that, the same way that Chinese Internet users can visit today the digital museum dedicated to the architect Antonio Gaudi, it will be done through an application developed by Baidu Baike, an online encyclopedia owned by the big Chinese search engine.
This way they will be able to travel different routes with 360º panoramas and photos with 20 billion pixel resolution.
A possible addition will be a virtual tour with VR goggles (the same way the Sagrada Familia cathedral can be seen to the smallest feature today).
A different pilgrimage.
It’s true, this way of peregrinating to the Holy Door of Santiago de Compostela has nothing to do with the real thing. First, because it’s always better living it in person than seeing photos. And because, as good as the image quality could be, you will always feel there’s something missing. And second, because it lacks those real world experiences that enrich the Camino so much.
However, in case traveling the Camino and coming close to the magic places that make it up is something inaccessible to you, the best option is a virtual tour featuring the smallest details.
We impatiently look forward to its presentation, and the visitor numbers it could reach…

5 advices for walking the Camino de Santiago

Are you going to walk the Camino? Are you determined to make some stages? Then, this article can help you. We want to offer you some advices that we know will help you in this adventure.

  1. comfortable footwear
    One important maxim for a nice Camino experience is wearing comfortable shoes that you know adapt to your feet and your step. Think: you’ll spend hours and hours with them on.
    A spare pair won’t do harm, just in case…
  2. give importance to breaks
    Sleep at night, take small breaks on every stage, take a nap… Resting will help you recover, and recovering will let you go on the next day.
    Otherwise you’ll get a tiredness buildup and you won’t be able to reach the goal.
  3. set yourself for realistic stages
    That you know you can surmount with your current physical condition and your aptitude… otherwise you will be stifled and feel frustrated. It’s not required for every pilgrim to walk the same distance every day.
  4. beware the meals
    We know. In Galicia, as well as other parts of the Camino, meals are delicious and hearty… but if you have a bellyfull at lunch, you’ll have a hard time walking afterwards.
    So, if you want to proceed after lunch, have light lunches and more generous dinners. Furthermore, it’s better to rise early and get sooner to the lunch, and later spend the afternoon resting.
  5. enjoy the Camino
    Last, but surely not least, enjoy the Camino; it’s a one-off experience… imbibe other cultures, meet people, enjoy places, etc.

And now, at last: Buen Camino for everyone!

San Anton monastery, a mandatory stop on the Camino de Santiago.

For all lovers of the Camino, or those who are thinking of walking it, the Monastery of San Anton is a mandatory stop in the Camino Francés. It’s a group of ruins that are worth a visit and have a lot of history behind, and which you can reach from Hontanas, right before arriving to Castrojeriz.
The Monastery of San Anton is located in the abandoned village of San Antón, a zone which used to belong to the town of Castrojeriz, in the province of Burgos (Castilla y León). It was founded in the XII century (year 1146) by the king Alfonso VII, and it was known as the “Royal Xenodochium of San Antonio Abad” (a xenodochium was an hospital for foreigners or pilgrims). The current ruins, however, belong to the XIV century.
As mentioned before, these ruins have a lot of history behind them. In the XII century the order of the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony was founded, and it opened several hospitals along the Camino de Santiago. They treated some contagious diseases, but specially the so-called “St. Anthony’s fire”, and treated the pilgrims in the way towards Santiago. This monastery was one of them.
The order gained reputation as miracle makers, since pilgrims got better one they reached Compostela…
Nowadays, the only part standing of the monastery is the arch of the tunnel, through which pilgrims passed on their way. Nevertheless, the ruins have become a mandatory stop for all those who walk along the Camino Francés.
Some curiosities about the San Antón Monastery.
Since the monastery was under royal protection for many years, the king’’s coat of arms can be seen in the church portal, as well as in the keystone.
During its heyday, the hospital had great influence, since it was the seat of the General Commendation of the order of St. Anthony in the kingdoms of Castille and Portugal, with more than twenty dependent monasteries and hospices, according to the Wikipedia. Its monks performed several ceremonies to bless objects like the so-called Tau cross, St. Anthony’s bread or the holy wine, which cured the illness. Many faithful attended these ceremonies.
Nowadays, the visitor can see the ruins of the monastery, the head of the church… and walk the road underneath the arch, which is still standing. The following video shows a reconstruction of what the monastery looked like (credits to José Antonio Peñas Artero for the magazine Muy Interesante).

San Juan de Ortega and the miracle of light

San Juan de Ortega 1

There are few places along the Camino the Santiago more significant for the pilgrim than the monastery of San Juan de Ortega, in the Burgos province. Built by the saint of the same name (known in the English speaking world as Saint John the Hermit), the monument has been associated with the pilgrimage to Santiago since its foundation.

Juan de Velázquez was born in the village of Quintanaortuño in 1080, and from his youth he devoted himself to improve the Camino de Santiago, building bridges and paving roads in collaboration with Saint Dominic de la Calzada. The decision of building the monastery came from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. According to the legend, when traveling back to Spain he suffered a shipwreck, and San Juan prayed to Saint Nicholas, promising to build a chapel in his honor if he survived. He did, so back home he started the work in the zone of the Montes de Oca, close to his hometown.

San Juan de Ortega 2

The San Juan de Ortega monument is comprised by the original chapel, a romanesque church built along it (where the saint is buried), the monastery and the pilgrims’ hospice. From the artistic point of view, the church’s main highlight is the capital of the Annunciation, which depicts the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary.

Capitel de la Anunciación

The miracle of light.

Speaking of this capital, one of the most interesting phenomenoms associated with the monastery takes place in it, the so-called “miracle of light”. Every equinox (March 21 and September 22), at five o’clock (solar time), a ray of sunlight enters the church and illuminates the capital, going from left to right, “telling” the story of the Annunciation.

How to protect yourself from lightnings in case of thunderstorms

Foto via Thomas Gatzweiler, Flickr.
Pic via Thomas Gatzweiler, Flickr.

We are getting closer to autumn, one of the most popular seasons for walking the Camino de Santiago. It’s also the season, however, when rain and storms start to become more frequent. For those pilgrims walking the Camino, this presents a small but non-negligible risk: being struck by a lightning during a thunderstorm.

The risk of being hit by a lightning is indeed much higher in the countryside than in the city, since there are no tall buildings with metallic structures that might act as lightning rods. In order to prevent this, the best thing is to plan our route so that a hypothetical storm doesn’t catch us in the middle of the stage. Thus, we should follow these guidelines:

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts.
  • When in the road, observe the sky in case there are dark clouds or lightning flashes. Seek shelter in a safe place immediately if that’s the case.
  • During the summer, thunderstorms tend to take place after four in the afternoon, so try to plan your route so that you reach your destination before that time.

 

If, despite all, we are caught by a storm in the countryside, this is what we should do:

  • Avoid any high places, such as hills, and seek shelter in lower zones. It’s not a good idea to lie down on the floor, though, since electricity can travel along the ground.
  • Get rid of all metallic objects, and leave them at least 30 meters away. This also includes powering down and leaving cellphones.
  • In the same way, we should avoid metallic objects: fences, electric poles… as well as masses of water (rivers, puddles…).
  • Do not run, and much less with wet clothes. Your movement could create turbulences in the air that “attract” lightnings.
  • Avoid open, flat spaces, since we will stick out in the landscape and we could also attract lightnings.
  • In the same way, we should not seek shelter underneath solitary trees, rocks and other features that stick out from their surroundings.

 

Where should we hide then? A good place could be a forest or group of trees, specially if there are other taller trees nearby. However, the best place to hide in the countryside is a closed car, with the engine turned off, radio antenna lowered and windows closed. If lightning strikes it, the car will be electrically charged only on the outside, while the inside will be protected, thanks to the physical phenomenon known as “Faraday cage”. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to touch any metallic parts of the car once we get out.

If we cannot get in the car and have to remain outdoors, the best thing is to squat as low as possible, with hands on the knees and touching the floor only with your shoes.

If a person has been struck by a lightning, these are the first aid measures that we should perform:

  • If the person struck is unconscious, check for breathing and pulse.
  • If there’s no breath, mouth-to-mouth resucitation should be provided. If there’s no pulse, perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). People suffering from cardiac arrest due to a lightning strike have more probabilities of recovery than those due to other causes; therefore, first aid should be performed as soon as possible.
  • Check also for other injuries, such as bone fractures or burns. Do not move the patient if there are vertebral fractures.
  • Keep the patient warm until medical help arrives.

 

(Source: Asociación Profesional de Agentes Forestales de la CC. AA. de Madrid).

The “Codex Calixtinus”

Codex Calixtinus

Besides the remains of Santiago the apostle, one of the most precious treasures that are kept in the Compostela cathedral is the so-called “Codex Calixtinus”, also known as the “first guidebook for the Camino”, written in the XII Century.

The “Codex Calixtinus” is a medieval manuscript dating from year 1140 (approx.), which contains the oldest known copy of the so-called “Liber Sancti Iacobi”, a compilation of sermons, liturgical chants and miracles related to Saint James. There are about twelve copies of this book in Europe, but the oldest one is, as mentioned, the one kept in the cathedral.

The codex, or the “Liber Sancti Iacobi” (if we want to be accurate), begins with a letter supposedly written by Pope Calixtus II (hence the name of the manuscript), and continues with five sections, which contain:

  1. Liturgical texts (sermons, Masses) related to Saint James.
  2. Accounts of miracles attributed to Saint James.
  3. A description of how the saint’s body was carried to Compostela. This book contains the first appearance of sea shells as symbols of the pilgrimage, since it describes how pilgrims collected them at the beach as proof of their arrival to Santiago.
  4. The story of Charlemagne‘s arrival to the Iberian Peninsula and how Saint James appeared to him in a dream (Charlemagne’s iberian military campaign includes his famous defeat in the battle of Roncesvalles,which inspired the “Chanson de Roland”. These events are also described in the book).
  5. A “guide” for the medieval pilgrim, with a list of rivers, towns, hostels, churches… found along the Camino.

This last book is the best known one, and it’s the one that earned the Codex the nickname of “first pilgrim’s guidebook”. For decades, historians have relied on it for insights about the towns in the Camino during the Middle Ages, as well as details about the pilgrimage during those times.

The book’s authorship has traditionally been attributed to french monk Aymeric Picaud, who joined pope Calixtus II during his pilgrimage to Santiago in 1109, and might have taken the chance to compile the information that appears in Book V. However, many modern historians have doubts about this attribution.

Lastly, we can’t help but mention the occasion where this codex, with hundreds of years of history, jumped to the front pages in 2011, when it disappeared from the Santiago cathedral. After several months of investigation, the police managed to recover it and arrest its thief, a electrician who used to work at the cathedral.

 

“The Way”: where was it filmed?

Martin Sheen in "The Way"

There is no doubt that one of the movies that has contributed most to popularize the Camino de Santiago in the last few years around the world has been “The Way”, the U.S. film directed by Emilio Estévez starring Martin Sheen. Since its release in 2010,  “The Way” has spread the word about the pilgrimage to Santiago, and audiences worldwide have been touched by the humanity and warmth of its story.

Among the main appeals of “The Way” are its sceneries. Emilio Estévez and his crew filmed the movie in real locations along the Camino in Spain, and any pilgrim will easily recognize some of its best known landmarks.

It is for this reason that we decided to satisfy the curiosity of moviegoers and would-be-pilgrims, and create an interactive map with the main filming locations of the Camino that appear in the movie. Fly around on the map, click on the designated places, and you’ll learn which scene was shot in each of them. We hope that you’ll find it interesting:

Map