One of the most distinctive regions that the Camino Francés passes through is El Bierzo. Located right before Galicia, between mountains and valleys, El Bierzo is a region with a distinctive identity that deserves special attention from the traveler. We are going to highlight here some of its wonders, so that the pilgrim can check them out in his next Camino and stop for a few minutes (or even hours) to experience the unique features that this region can offer.
Riego de Ambrós
Riego de Ambrós was a mandatory stop for pilgrims during the trip to Compostela. Being a town dependant directly from the king (“realengo”), it had a pilgrim’s hospital called San Juan de Irago, that was destroyed by a fire in the XVIII century. It has excellent samples of popular architecture, like the parish church of Santa María Magdalena with its Baroque altarpiece, the fountains of San Sebastian, Santa María Magdalena and the town square one. Close to it we also find the bridges of Malpaso, in a detour of the Camino towards Los Barrios.
Church of Santa María de Vizbayo
Probably the most ancient romanesque temple in the region, the church of Santa María de Vizbayo is in Otero, a small town close to the Mount Pajariel. Built in late XI century, it features horseshoe arches and a singular window on the front.
The capital of El Bierzo is the biggest town we’ll find in the way until reaching Santiago, and it has plenty of attractions to visit. The most famous one is obviously the templar castle from the XII century, but we can also have a look at the “Fábrica de la Luz”, a technological museum located in an old power station.
Another important symbol of the region is the basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Encina, where we find an image of the Virgin Mary that was brought to Spain, according to legend, by Saint Turibius from the Holy Land.
Los Barrios (Ponferrada)
The parish of Lombillo, which belongs to Ponferrada, forms the region of Los Barrios along with other parishes such as Las Salas and Villar. Declared as Good of Cultural Interest by the spanish government, Lombillo preserves beautiful examples of popular architecture and magnificent examples of emblazoned houses. We can also visit the ermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación and one of the most beautiful lookouts of the region, from which we can see Ponferrada, the Aquilane Mountains, Salas and Villar and the church of San Martín de Salas.
On the outskirts of the town of Cacabelos, the pilgrim can find the Sanctuary of Angustias, built in the XVIII century in the same place where there used to be an ermitage devoted to the Virgin Mary. In it, we can admire the image of the Virgin Mary and have a look at its seven altarpieces, among them the biggest one, made by Miguel Núñez and Juan de Solorzano, as well as a painting of the Nursing Madonna, a relief of Jesus as a child playing cards with St. Anthony of Padua and the organ, brought here from the monastery of Santa María de Carracedeo.
Church of San Miguel at Corullón
The romanesque church of San Miguel in Corullón was declared “Good of Cultural Interest” in 1931. Built in the XII century, it’s remarkable for its decoration full of real and fantastic animals and obscene motifs, as well as the southern door with its archivolt and blind arcade over columns.
Villafranca del Bierzo
One of the most important towns of the region, Villafranca is known among pilgrims mostly for the church of Santiago, where we can find the “Puerta del Perdón” (Forgiveness Gate), which opens only during Holy Years. Pope Calixtus III gave to sick or disabled pilgrims the privilege of getting the same indulgences when reaching this gate than if they had walked all the way to Santiago.
We can also visit the Santa María Collegiate Church, built on the old site of the Santa María de Cluniaco monastery, which belonged to the Order of Cluny. Other highlights are the church of San Francisco, with its mudejar decoration, and the “barrio de los Tejedores” (weavers’ neighbourhood), with its typical wooden galleries.
We can’t finish this text without talking about the food in El Bierzo. With two designations of origin -DO Bierzo and Reineta Apple-, three Guaranteed Brands -Conference Pear, Chestnuts y Cherries- and two european PGIs -Roaster Pepper of El Bierzo and Botillo-, this region offers a huge variety of products that can satisfy the most demanding consumers.
All pictures courtesy of Cardinalia Comunicación.