Of late, my thoughts has been focussed on all things walking and I can’t help but fondly remember my three Spanish caminos. I am hoping my next adventure, the Italian leg of the Via Francigena, will be just as enjoyable, or perhaps, ‘same, same but different’.
As I follow in other bloggers ‘virtual footsteps throughout the Iberian peninsula, I thought it may be useful to some would-be pilgrims to share my own experience and to compare and contrast the three separate walks I have completed to date. Hopefully this will help people choose the one that suits them best.
- Camino Frances: 2013, September/October (European Autumn), 32 walking days and 2 rest days.
- Camino Via de la Plata: 2014, September/October (European Autumn), 38 walking days and 3 rest days.
- Camino Portuguese: 2016, May/June (European Spring), 23 walking days and 2 rest days.
- Camino Frances: approximately 790km. Averaging 25km per day. This is a very flexible walk and you can walk as much or as little distance as you want each day as the facilities are so well-developed.
- Camino Via de la Plata: approximately 1 000km. Averaging 26km per day although some days you had to walk 35km in a day as there were no intermediate villages or accommodation.
- Camino Portuguese: approximately 660km. Average 29km per day, and again some days are +30km just to get to the next village
The distances above have been described as ‘approximate’ as every document and map seems to quote different distances and it depends on how many times you take the ‘scenic’ route or get lost!
The daily averages are also set to change and become shorter as more albergues and hostels open their doors. This was certainly the case in Portugal and the availability of accommodation was increasing rapidly.
- Camino Frances: beautiful walking temperatures between 14°C-25°C across the period. Mostly dry except for the rain everyday as we walked into Galicia and finally to Santiago de Compostela. Make sure you pack both a good hat and good wet weather gear.
- Camino Via de la Plata: clear, fine and HOT days in the southern parts of Spain. We started walking early to avoid the worst of the heat. Definitely autumnal as we worked our way North and a beanie and gloves came in very handy at the start of some days. A little rain as we got closer to Galicia.
- Camino Portuguese: gorgeous Spring temperatures, but wet and windy on the coastal section from Porto northwards.
Scenery and Terrain
- Camino Frances: You get a little of everything on the Camino Frances. Some serious climbs over the Pyrenees at St Jean Pied de Port and up to O’Cebreiro, and then gloriously flat or gentle rolling hills over the Meseta. The Meseta is not boring, as some people claim, and it provides a fabulous contrast to other parts of this camino.
- Camino Via de la Plata: I loved the Via for its wide open spaces and isolation in places. It is not remote as such, but you are certainly off the pilgrim highway. Lots of fabulous Roman history as you walk northwards (make sure you have a rest day or two in Merida) and then more hill climbs as you head north-west and into Galicia.
- Camino Portuguese: This is a much more ‘urban’ walk on endless hard surfaces such as small country back roads and never-ending cobblestones. Probably the ‘flattest’ of all the caminos I have completed, but you need VERY good footwear to reduce the impact of the cobblestones. Again, beautiful scenery, especially on the coastal route from Porto up.
People and Popularity
- Camino Frances: This is a magical camino to start your walking career with as it is a walking United Nations and there is always someone interesting to chat to. The sheer number of pilgrims does mean it can be very competitive to get a bed in an albergue so plan ahead or plan to start walking early each day. Or simply trust that the Way will provide.
- Camino Via de la Plata: The whole time I walked the Via, I probably met 25-30 pilgrims total. While it would have been nice to be a bit more social, it did mean there was little, to no, competition for a bed. It was wonderful not to have that pressure.
- Camino Portuguese: Walking from Lisbon there were few pilgrims during the day, but I always managed to meet up with a group at night and I never felt lonely or unsafe. Apparently most pilgrims on the Camino Portuguese start walking from Porto (not Lisbon as I did) and predominantly walk the central route through Barcelos.
- Camino Frances: Plentiful of all different standards from five star to albergue, but you do need to plan ahead and book if you want to stay somewhere special.
- Camino Via de la Plata: The number of albergues are growing and most where of a good standard. Where albergues were not available, small hotels charged €15-20 for a bed, or you can always doss down in a community hall.
- Camino Portuguese: About the same as the Via de la Plata, but probably more like €25-30 for a private room in a small hotel. Youth hostels are also a good option in Portugal and they do offer pilgrim discounts if you book direct.
- Camino Frances: The bible of the Camino Frances has been written by John Brierly. Make sure you get the latest edition from Book Depository.
- Camino Via de la Plata: Unfortunately there is not a comprehensive guidebook of the Via yet, certainly nothing like the ones available on both the Camino Frances and the Portuguese. I used a guide book by Gerald Kelly and there is also one produced by the Amigos in Seville. Alison Raju is releasing an updated version on Book Depository at the start of 2019.
- Camino Portuguese: a recent resource was developed by Kat Davis at Following the Arrows for Cicerone Press. Check it out or see the one written by John Brierly too. Both are available from Book Depository.
Some of these guidebooks also provide free apps and GPS files.
All are wonderful experiences and I wouldn’t change a thing about them. If I had the opportunity to walk one of these routes again it would be the Via de la Plata just because of the sense of openness and space.
Where to next? There are so many tempting caminos, but the Camino Madrid and/or the del Norte are near the top of the list.
What about you? Are you tempted to walk?