Wednesday, January 28, 2009


When planning to walk the Camino Frances, try to allow a few extra days for detours from the camino path. There are many interesting, historical places just a few km off the actual path that are not on the modern camino but which probably were a part of alternate trails in the middle ages. Some will add a few km to your walk, others you can reach by bus or take a tour.

Ibaneta Pass
If you start in Roncesvalles, try to get there early enough to take a 3km walk up to the 1300m Ibaneta Pass and look into France from the top.
The famous monastery and hospice of San Salvador once stood here. There is a modern chapel here dedicated to Charlemagne. (Today - 28th January - marks the 1195th anniversary of the death of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne). There is a monument here to Roland and this is where the Route Napoleon and the Val Carlos Route join.

Many pilgrims start at Roncesvalles (or stagger in late from St Jean Pied de Port!), but because they arrive on the evening bus, they don't have time to explore this historic monastery complex. Try to get there the day before, or take a taxi from Pamplona (share the fare with other pilgrims) so that you have time to visit the cloisters and the museum with its extraordinary reliquaries and other artefacts. Scan the church walls for mason signs, visit the old walls of the original hospice opposite the church and the monastery ossuary that is said to hold the remains of Charlemagne’s soldiers.


From Muruzabel, about 3kms off the camino path, is the octagonal church of Santa María de Eunate (Muruzábal). Built around 1170 it has been associated with the Knights Templar and excavations close by have revealed numbers of graves with scallop shells suggesting that it could have been a funerary church. The walls have many mason signs that you will see all along the camino. There is a small refuge there but check to see if it is open before planning to spend the night.


18km southwest of Logrono is the ruined castle of Clavijo, reputedly the site where Santiago appeared on a white horse to help the Christian soldiers against moor invasions.
You can take a taxi there or walk there and back in 2 days.

San Millán de la Cogalla
14km southwest of Azofra are the magnificent monasteries of Suso and Yuso, the first built between the 5th and 6th centuries and the Yuso around the 16th C.

Atapuerca (photo from Wikipedia)

Book a guided tour from Atapuerca to the fascinating archaeological site which lies within a military zone about 40 kms from the village. Atapuerca is one of Europe's most important archaeological sites. It was declared a World Heritage site in 2001. (No private visits allowed).

Santo Domingo de Silos

Take a bus from Burgos to the Monastery where the Gregorian Chants were made famous a few years ago. (The trip on the road is an experience, along narrow winding roads, through stunning, rockface scenery)

The cloisters are unique and the pharmacy museum is worth a visit. Plan on spending two nights. The bus leaves Burgos at 17h30 and returns at 08h30 the next day - not leaving enough time to see the village, hear the chanting and visit the museum.
We stayed at the Santo Domingo de Silos Hotel which has upmarket rooms, plain doubles with en suite for 36 euros. Excellent food in the little reaturant downstairs.


Climb the hill and visit the ruins of the castle Mirador with spectacular views of the valley below.
Visit the Convent of Santa Clara about 2km south of the village – a closed order – where you can buy biscuits and other baked goodies by passing your money through a revolving serving hatch.

Ponferrada or Astorga
About 60kms from Astorga and 20kms from Ponferrada, the fantasitcal Medulas used to be the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire.

Las Médulas is listed by the UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites.(Photo wikipedia Picture taken by Rafael Ibáñez Fernández)

Vega de Valcarce
You will see the Castle Sarracin squating on

the high hill to your left on the way to O Cebreiro.
Originally built in the 9thC, it was owned by the lords of Sarracin who also owned 35 small towns in the area. This 14thC ruin was one of 8 castles owned by the Marques de Villafranca
A round trip of about 45mins will reward you with extensive views and an impressive ruin that has sheer cliffs on 3 sides.


6km detour to the recently restored, spectacular Monasterio de San Salvador at Vilar das Donas

If you are not walking on to Finisterre - The End of the World - it would be worth taking a bus for a day trip to Fistera.  Walk the 2.5km up to the lighthouse and burn an item of clothing at the top!