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The “Canal de Castilla”

Every pilgrim walking the Camino de Santiago between Burgos and León knows Frómista, a small town famous for the romanesque church of St. Martin de Tours. They are also familiar with the canal along which the path runs before arriving to the town. Said canal, known as the “Canal de Castilla”, has a long and storied past that reflects the history of Spain during the last three centuries.

The Canal de Castilla was first planned in the XVIII century, during the Enlightment. The Marquess of Ensenada, one of king Ferdinand VI’s ministers in charge of modernizing the country, had the idea as a way to improve communications between the central regions of the Spain and the coast. (Let’s remember that before railroads, land transport of cargo was extremely difficult, and even more so in a mountainous country as Spain). His project, which started construction in 1753, had initiall four canals, which would link Segovia with Reinosa, near Santander. This way, Castilla’s wheat production (specially in the region of Tierra de Campos in Palencia) would be exported abroad through the Santander harbour.

As we can see, it was an incredibly ambitious project for its time, and it’s not surprising that the construction was interrupted several times. Neverthless, in 1791 a part of the Northern Branch was finished, connecting Alar del Rey and Calahorra de Ribas. This branch is the one we can see when passing through Frómista.

The War of Independence in 1808 interrupted the construction again, and afterwards, the state of the country’s finances forced king Ferdinand VII to grant the work to a private company. The Carlist Wars in the 1830s hampered the construction again, and the canal wasn’t finished until 1849, almost a century after its start. By then, railroads had already made it obsolete, and parts of the initial project (the Southern Branch to Segovia and the parts of the Northern Branch that reached Santander) were never built.

Despite all that, the canal was en economic boon to the regions that it crossed, thanks to the irrigation it provided as well as the infraestructure (mills, paper factories…) built taking advantage of hydraulic power.

The Canal today

Nowadays, the Canal de Castilla still provides water to nearby cities and irrigation to farmers, but it has also been turned into a recreation and tourism destination. Its facilities (locks, mills, docks…) are of great historic value, and the canal as a whole was declared “Bien de Interés Cultural” (spanish heritage site) in 1991. Besides, the surroundings of the waterways have turned into wetlands of great ecological value, with birds such as the bittern or the  aquatic warbler finding habitats in them.

Some sections of the canal are open to navigation, and we can take organized boat trips on them, as well as practice kayaking and canoeing.

The Canal de Castilla and the Camino

The best known meeting point between the canal and the Camino de Santiago is, as mentioned above, on the Camino Francés, in the stage between Boadilla del Camino and Frómista. (There is also another point in Herrera de Pisuerga, a town through which the Camino del Norte passes).

Our first sight of the Canal will take place shortly after leaving Boadilla, after walking for around 1.7 km. From there we’ll have the canal to our right all the way until reaching Frómista. Shortly before arriving to this town, we will find the old lock operator’s house, turned now into the tourism office. In order to reach Frómista itself we have to cross a small iron bridge, and from it we can enjoy the unique sight of the famous four-level lock located there, the biggest level change in the entire canal. We are sure that pretty much every pilgrim has taken at least a picture from this place.

Boat trips along the Canal

Another attraction that we can enjoy in the canal are the touristic boat trips. Close to the tourism office mentioned above, we can embark on the “Juan de Hómar” boat, which makes round trips from Frómista and Boadilla del Camino. This initiative was started in the autumn of 2018, and it kept operating right until the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

Regarding the current 2021-2022 Jacobean year, we have been in touch with the boat operators, and they say that they plan to start operating as soon as the Camino season starts, although with the expected health-related capacity restrictions. Its planned scheduled is:

  • From march to summer: departures from Frómista every day except Tuesday, at 11:00, 12:30, 16:30 and 18:00.
  • During the summer: same as above, except that the afternoon trips start at 17:00 and 18:30.

For further information, we advise following the Palencia Turismo Facebook page, or calling the phone number (34) 673 368 486.

 

The Camino Primitivo

Catedral de Oviedo

When we talk about the Camino Primitivo, we are talking about what is probably one of the lesser known routes of the Camino de Santiago, and yet, it was the first one to be established (hence its name), and it holds in store many surprises that are worth discovering.

The Camino Primitivo was the route of the first recorded pilgrimages to Santiago recorded in history, and it is the one taken by king Alfonso II of Asturias (nicknamed “the Chaste”) to visit the tomb of Santiago, recently discovered back then.

If we decide to take this pilgrimage, we’ll find a well marked course, where it will be difficult to get lost, with walkable and not too difficult stages. A route where paths are clean thanks to abundant maintenance efforts and to the daily transit of cattle. A zone of green landscapes which, despite the occasional muddiness in winter, is very well worth visiting.

The Camino Primitivo, which follows along the trail of the first pilgrims, passes through spectacular zones of Asturias and León, entering Galicia through other equally beautiful ones. It’s a less travelled road, full of leafy and green vistas.

Starting the Camino Inglés in Ferrol: what to see

Photo via OurUtopy in Flickr.

The Camino Inglés is becoming increasingly popular. More and more pilgrims every year take this hitherto less known route, as the statistics compiled by the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago prove; according to them, last year (2018) Ferrol was the fifth most popular starting point for those who reached the compostela, beating even classic places of the Camino such as Leon and O Cebreiro. And of course, we at Caminofácil have started our luggage transfer service along the Camino Inglés.

Because of all this, we wanted today to offer a brief guide to the pilgrim who start her way in Ferrol and wishes to spend a couple of days before exploring the city.

Ferrol Vello

Photo via charlotteinaustralia in Flickr.

This neighbourhood is the original nucleus of the city. The pilgrims who disembarked in Ferrol during the Middle Ages in order to reach Santiago did so here, in the Curuxeiras dock. Walking through the neighbourhood today, one can still get the feel of that original town, a typical galician fishing village.

From here we can also take a ferry for a touristic tour of the estuary.

A Magdalena

Photo via Trevor Huxham in Flickr.

This neighbourhood, which comprises Ferrol’s urban center today, was declared “Conjunto Histórico Artístico” by the spanish government in 1983. Its beautiful art nouveau buildings, built at the beginning of the XX century for the city’s bourgeoisie, give it an unique character.

San Felipe Castle

Photo via amainamos in Flickr.

Built in the XVI century, this castle constituted the main defense of the city, along with the castles of Palma and San Martiño (no longer existing). Their location allowed the defenders of the city to close the estuary off by laying a chain between this castle and the Palma castle, so that no ship could enter.

Beaches

Photo via OurUtopy in Flickr.

Ferrol is surrounded by long beaches of incomparable beauty, ideal for the practice of surf or any other nautical sport. Several of them have the blue flag distinction, which rewards their cleanliness and safety. Some of them are the beaches of Doñinos, Esmelle or Santa Comba.

Cape Prior

Photo via Jesús Perez in Flickr.

The lighthouse at Cape Prior, 14 km. away from the city, is the perfect place to observe the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. The galician coast, full of cliffs, offers us here a place of incomparable beauty.

Caminofácil: now on the Camino Inglés!

Puerto del Ferrol

We have some great news to share: starting today, Caminofácil provides luggae transfer services on the Camino Inglés, starting from Ferrol. Pilgrims who wish to experience the Camino in a (up to now) less known route will enjoy now the comfort of having their luggage waiting for them at the lodgings at the end of the stage, thanks to our service.

What is the Camino Inglés?

The Camino Inglés has its origins in the Middle Ages, when it was the route used by english and irish pilgrims who arrive by boat to Galicia. Their boats desembarked them at Coruña o Ferrol, and from there they walked to Santiago. Despite its name, it wasn’t used solely by english people; there is a case of an icelandic pilgrim who arrived in 1154.

The modern Camino Inglés, which Caminofácil starts to cover now, has its origin in Ferrol, and it has a length of 112 km., enough to get the compostela at the pilgrim’s arrival at Santiago. Along the route, the pilgrim crosses towns like Pontedeume or Betanzos, and can enjoy the beautiful galician scenery and coasts.

The battle of Atapuerca

Foto gentileza de www.batalladeatapuerca.com

Atapuerca is one of the best known villages through which the Camino de Santiago passes. Known today mostly thanks to its archeological site, it is also relevant though for the yearly reenactment of the historical battle that took place in the town in the Middle Ages.

The battle

The battle of Atapuerca took place on September 1st of 1054, between kings Fernando I of León and Count of Castile, and García Sánchez III of Pamplona. Both of them were sons of king Sancho III of Navarre, who divided his kingdom at death between them.

A series of personal conflicts among both brothers, that had roots in part in king Bermudo III of León’s attempt to wage war against Fernando and García’s help to the latter, provoked the battle between both kings on the plain in the valley of Atapuerca.

The battle concluded with the death of García Sanchez, but Navarre’s army managed to keep calm and recover the king’s body in order to bring it back to the pantheon in Nájera. García’s son, Sancho Garcés IV, was named king on the battlefield itself.

The event

(Pictures courtesy of www.batalladeatapuerca.com).

The current reenactment began in 1996, as an initiative of a group of neighbours organised in the association “Amigos de Atapuerca”. It has now been declared an Event of Touristic Interest by the Castilla-León regional government, and it has a medieval market that takes place during the day. All the elements used in the reenactment (shields, tents, historical clothing…) are made by the village’s inhabitants.

This year (2019) the reenactment will take place on August 24 and 25. If you are interested, you can get more information at www.batalladeatapuerca.com.

Eight wonders of El Bierzo

Camino de Santiago en El Bierzo

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

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

Iglesia de 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.

Ponferrada

Castillo de Ponferrada

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)

Lombillo

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.

Cacabelos

Santuario de las Angustias

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.

Gastronomy

Gastronomía del Bierzo

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.

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.

“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

The monastery of San Martín Pinario

Once the pilgrim has reached Santiago, (s)he has a series of mandatory rituals and places to visit: the cathedral, hugging the statue of the Saint, taking the proverbial picture in the plaza de Obradoiro… But Santiago is a city with lots of hidden treasures that are worthy of discovery, and today we will talk about one of them.

The monastery of San Martín Pinario, located close to the cathedral, is the second biggest one in Spain, and it was founded in the X Century by the benedictine order. The current building is from the XVI century, and is therefore of renaissance /baroque style.

San Martín Pinario
Photo by Raúl A.: https://www.flickr.com/photos/torrelodones/

One of the most spectacular elements is the church’s vault, with fake coffers. Another item of interest is the main altarpiece, designed in the XVIII century by Casas y Novoa (the same architect that created the Obradoiro facade of the cathedral), which shows Saint Martin (sharing his cape with a poor) and St. Millán de la Cogolla and Santiago fighting infidels.

Church's vault
Photo by Diego Delso, License CC-BY-SA

An interesting anecdote is that the church’s towers rise only to the same height than the facade, due to the intervention of the cathedral chapter, which didn’t want towers higher than those of the cathedral itself.

Today the monastery hosts a museum of religious art, with an important collection of jewelery, sculptures and manuscripts.