We’re now going to make a rather special stop on our journey, to do something different, for which you’ll need outdoor sports clothing, a rucksack and some comfortable shoes; you can’t leave Galicia without having walked at least part of the Way of St James.A route with its own secrets, just waiting for you to discover them.
The pilgrims’ route to Santiago played a fundamental role in the exchange of cultures between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages. For this reason, the Way of St James was nominated as the First European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. The so-called French Route, which has the longest tradition and is the best-known outside Spain, has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Starting in Roncesvalles (Navarre), it finally reaches Santiago de Compostela some 750 kilometres later. A route, therefore, which links Europe with northern Spain, passing secluded churches, bridges, cathedrals, monasteries and other such places of interest, accompanied by a permanent backcloth of greenery.
If you want to obtain the pilgrim’s credential, known as a Compostela, you have to cover at least the last 100 kilometres of the way on foot or on horseback, a distance that rises to 200 kilometres if you are travelling by bicycle; and don’t forget to get your credential stamped at least twice every day. The ideal starting point, therefore, is the town of Sarria, some 113 kilometres from Santiago de Compostela.
Making your way from Sarria, you’ll come into contact with the rural heartland of Galicia, crossing the provinces of Lugo and A Coruña. During your journey you’ll walk through oak groves, chestnut groves and meadows where you can see Galician Blonde or Friesian cows grazing calmly. Without a doubt this is your best opportunity to see country life at close quarters and to breathe your fill of fresh air amongst these green fields and hillsides.
As you pass through the market town of Arzúa, don’t forget to try some of the delicious local cheeses, which enjoy Denomination of Origin status: a perfect halt on your way to rest and restore your energies.
Back on the trail again, with nature as your constant companion, you gradually draw nearer to Santiago. A final effort brings you to the village of San Marcos, the last way stage before reaching Monte do Gozo (Mount of Joy), so called because it afforded pilgrims their first sight of the city of Santiago de Compostela: the Cathedral spires are the best incentive to carry on, despite the accumulated weariness. And you’ll probably meet up with other groups of fellow travellers, thus heightening the emotion of the moment. From there, it’s downhill all the way to San Lázaro and then on, at a steady and unhurried pace, to your final destination, passing through the lively San Pedro neighbourhood and crossing the Porta do Camiño and the Praza de Cervantes. When you finally reach the magnificent Praza do Obradoiro, you’ll be overcome with emotion: bagpipe music in the background, the Cathedral in the foreground, weary muscles and bones, and the feeling of having fulfilled a goal, a wish.