This is a five-day adventure that links the splendour of Galicia’s thermal springs with the beauty of the Way of St James. After finishing a daylong stretch on the French Way, our exhaustion will be compensated with relaxing spa treatments.
Each day we’ll combine a stretch of the pilgrimage route through Galicia with some rest and relaxation in spas that bring back the golden age of hot spring therapy with their modern wellness facilities adapted to the twenty-first century demands.
This proposal ties together the Way of St James easide wealth so that body and spirit can make the best of both. The French way is the best-known pilgrimage route to Santiago, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe and has received the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord. Each day we’ll combine a stretch of the pilgrimage route through Galicia with some rest and relaxation in spas that bring back the golden age of hot spring therapy with their modern wellness facilities adapted to the twenty-first century demands.
Our starting point will be the town of Palas de Rei, in the district of A Ulloa, right in the geographic centre of Galicia. Two main roads pass through it: the LU-231 and the N-547. The latter connects Lugo with Santiago de Compostela.
A spa on the banks of a river It will be advisable to arrive in the early afternoon in order to enjoy its heritage, thermal spa facilities and local gastronomy. This is an emblematic point along the French way, so it has hotels, rural tourism houses, inns, hostels and the three-star Río Pambre Spa Hotel, where the local hot springs are located.
You’ll find the exit well signposted from the N-547. As soon as you arrive, you’ll notice the traditional local architecture. The spa’s main building is made of stone, wood and slate. The construction of the other two, which are smaller, imitatespallozas with their circular thatched roofs. The complex, located on the banks of the River Pambre,is surrounded by gardens and areas that invite taking a stroll, all surrounded by a native forest with the river’s crystal clear waters flowing in the background.
Tour of Pambre Castle Pambre Castle can be seen from the facilities. From here, you can enjoy excellent views of its large, three-storied square tower, flanked by four others that are shorter, all crenallated in points or triangles and joined by a wall. This fort – an icon of mediaeval military architecture in Galicia and one of the few survivors of the Irmandiñas revolutions, peasant uprisings against feudal power that took place during the fifteenth century – is worth a visit. You can get there by walking from the resort under the shade and protection of centuries-old trees.
A series of thermal treatments before dinner After your tour, we recommend that you return to the spa and enjoy a thermal circuit in its sulfur-, fluoride- and bicarbonaterich waters. These are prescribed to improve locomotor andrespiratory functions, and are highly recommended for dealingwith the first stage of the Way the next day. Afterwards, youcan relax in the rest area with views to the forest and the riveruntil just before dinnertime.
The king of the local cuisine is the cheese with the Arzúa- Ulloa Designation of Origin. A platter combining aged cheese and farmer’s cheese – milder and creamier – can be an ideal starter for an excellent locally sourced steak as livestock farming is predominant in the area.
There are travel agencies in Galicia that can arrange transfers between accommodations and thermal spas and the beginning and end of each stage as well as provide transport for your luggage and hire you a support vehicle for the entire route. We recommend you check with them or make your own arrangements using taxi or car hire services.
Any Way itinerary begins with a fairly early start that will be better tolerated with a good breakfast. During the day, we’ll follow the Frencha way between Palas de Rei and Arzúa. A vehicle will take us to San Xulián do Camiño, where we start off our walk next to its Romanesque church and cruceiro. Until Melide, it will not be an easy stretch, but we will be rewarded by its beauty.
A circular thatched granary Between Ponte Campaña and Casanova we’ll be amazed at the path among a spectacular forest of twisted branches that seems to recreate Tolkien’s imaginary world. The hamlet of Leboreiro is the first A Coruña parish of the stage, a milestone in the Way due to its cabazo, a circular granary that looks like an enormous plaited basket with a thatched roof. With the Romanesque Church of Santa María in the background, it makes the perfect scene to immortalise our presence here with a photo. The “foyer” to Melide is the mediaeval Furelos bridge, considered a jewel of the civil architecture along the Way.
In Melide, octopus á feira-style and typical sweets Once in Melide, we’ll reach the beautiful cobbled square of O Convento, centre of the Old Town and location of the old pilgrims’ hospital, the convent of Sancti Spiritus and an eighteenth-century pazo housing the Town Council.
If we’ve got a good sense of smell, we’ll notice the aromas of traditional bakeries, where they turn out the typical local sweets known as melindres, ricos and almendrados. Reserving these delicious sweets for dessert, we cannot turn our backs on the custom of enjoying a few plates of octopus á feira style, which is famous for being one of the tastiest of Galicia.
We visit a nice hostal in Arzúa We left Melide behind via the Rúa Principal with the intention of completing the stage up to Arzúa. It’s an easy stretch in good condition which alternates paths and small roads between hamlets. At times, we’ll feel like we’re in a postcard, for example after passing Carballal, where the landscape is filled with eucalyptus trees, deciduous species and meadows all the way to the stone walkway over the River Catasol. In Ribadiso we suggest you visit one of the most beautiful hostels along the French Way comprising a group of restored cottages and a large garden with stairs leading directly to the river, where you can take a dip in the summer.
Once in Arzúa, the vehicle can pick us up at the agreed spot and return to the spa in Palas de Rei where we suggest you accompany your thermal treatments with a massage that will make you feel like new before dinner and ensure a good night’s rest.
Most of the Way passes through this municipality, with many sections running through meadows, oaks, eucalyptus trees and maize fields around small hamlets such as A Calzada, Ferreiros, A Salceda, A Brea and Santa Irene. Here, we can visit its charming hermitage dedicated to the Portuguese saint next to a fountain with healing waters that is surrounded by lush trees.
After the village of A Rúa, we’ll reach Arca, the capital of O Pino, with lunchtime well upon us. Traditional eating spots, restaurants and grills feature native products on their menus, including the meat of the Piñeira hen, a breed whose taste has been said to lie between that of free-range chicken and wildfowl, and is perfect for stewed, sautéed and oven-baked dishes.
We relax from our walk in the Compostela spa in Brión After lunch, you’ll surely fancy an afternoon of relaxation and rest. One of the closest thermal spasis in O Tremo, in the municipality of Brión. It can be reached in a half-hour by car via the N-634, then the AP-9 to bypass Santiago and, lastly, the AG-56 towards Noia. The spa is located in the facilities of the Hotel-Balneario de Compostela, and were built over the historical Our Lady of the Angels spring. Its hot springs treatment series is suitable for improving circulation in the legs, which may be of great relief to us after our hike. You can also request a specific treatment or a massage.
Afterwards, a little siesta will serve to fully restore us from our efforts. In addition to the hotel, quality local rural accommodation is on offer. For dinner, you can stay in the hotel or dine in one of the restaurants and bars in the nearby town of Bertamiráns.
After the village, a leaf-covered path will lead us into a eucalyptus forest to the hamlet of Santo Antón, where we’ll ascend to Santiago via another forest of pine and eucalyptus trees that appear lined up close together, along with some oak trees.
After the last village of O Pino, a monolith carved with staff, calabash and scallop shell announces the entry into the municipality of Santiago. After circling the perimeter of Compostela’s airport, it begins a descent towards A Lavacolla, where we’ll cross the River Sionlla. In times past, pilgrims shed their clothes here and washed themselves before reaching the city of the Apostle.
In the past, pilgrims washed in the River Sionlla before reaching Santiago
The towers of the Cathedral can be first seen from Monte do Gozo Now we’re close to Monte do Gozo, an elevation from where the towers of Cathedral de Santiago fill the eyes of the pilgrims for the first time on the Way. To celebrate Xacobeo 93, the area was converted into a large and beautiful site that provides all kinds of services to pilgrims.
It has a large hostel, restaurants, hotels, bars, a chapel and a fountain. It will be just the right place to sit back and rest, eat and share our feelings and experiences along the Jacobean route with dozens of pilgrims. A farewell photo next to the monument to the pilgrim standing on top of the rise will be a nice memento. With the excitement and image of the cathedral in your eyes, we suggest that you to return to the spa and spend the remainder of your afternoon enjoying the spa’s leisure areas or a hydrotherapy or massage therapy treatment culminating in a short siesta before dinner.
We stroll delightful streets and squares After breakfast, we suggest that you limit your morning to the urban stretch of the French Way in Santiago, which begins on the prolonged Rúa de San Lázaro, which we’ll link with the rúas (streets) of O Valiño, As Fontiñas and Os Concheiros, which connects to the Rúa de San Pedro.
This street has a real mediaeval flavour due to its low-rise stone buildings darkened by time and rain. However, you’ll find it cheerful and full of life, enlivened by very active, highquality businesses featuring handicraft shops and cafés, and where traditional bars and taverns share the pavement with the latest trends in restaurant fare.
Afterwards, we’ll pass through the Porta do Camiño, which still retains the name of one of the gates of the nowdisappeared mediaeval wall that surrounded Santiago. We’ll ascend the Rúa das Casas Reais, where houses with noble crests and the church of As Ánimas. flank the street. Look at the bas-relief on its façade showing an expressive image of the burning souls in Purgatory.
We reach Praza de Cervantes, square, which is usually bustling with activity because one of the busiest shopping streets in the Old Town – O Preguntoiro – ends there. Later, we’ll take the Rúa da Acibechería,which owes its name to the craftsmen who used to carve jet. Today, there are still beautiful pieces of this stone in display in the shop windows. Further on, to our right stands the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario and Inmaculada square, which reveals the cathedral’s north façade, at the left.
Compostela has still got many shops dedicated to jet
The magical descent down the stairs under the arch of the Pazo de Xelmírez, – usually accompanied by music played by artists seeking shelter here – is the step before entering Praza do Obradoiro. And here, at last, before our eyes looms – as though suspended in the sky – the magnificent baroque facade of the Cathedral de Santiago. By then, the emotion – probably shared with dozens of pilgrims – will be difficult to describe.
The Pilgrim’s Mass is celebrated at noon We’ll arrive in time to hear the Pilgrim’s Mass – officiated every day at noon – celebrated inside the church. If it happens to be on certain liturgical dates, the marvellous spectacle of seeing the botafumeiro – a giant censer – flying will be a lasting memory. We can also give the traditional embrace to the Apostle, ascending to the niche of the high altar, and visit his relics in the crypt beneath it.
The best Galician cuisine, concentrated in the Rúa do Franco Our last day in Santiago can conclude with us enjoying the delicacies of Galician cuisine. On the nearby Rúa do Franco, we’ll find a distillation of the best steaks, seafood and fish, displayed in refrigerated cases at the doors of the restaurants. Besides eating a full meal, it’s a local custom to order a variety of plates to share, which allows us to enjoy many flavours and preparations.