I was lucky enough to be asked by my friend Caroline to join her on the holiday she won in 2021. Last year it was postponed because of Covid. The holiday was arranged by TD Active Holidays and is just one of many adventure holidays they organise.
We had to book our own flights from Manchester to Bilbao. We chose to go a day early and booked a cheaper hotel for our first night right in the centre of the city. Relying on local guidance we got off the airport bus on the main road and I was delighted that my basic Spanish enable us to locate the hotel. We went out early in the evening to explore and soon realised that the Spanish do not eat dinner before 8 pm! We gave up and found a Lidl and enjoyed a tasty snack in our room spending less than 5 euros!
The next morning, after checking in to our new, very posh hotel, we walked to the river and crossed one of the very impressive bridges. Lunch was eaten in an Indian restaurant overlooking the river Nevion with the magnificent Guggenheim Museum on the opposite bank.
Finally, at about 7 pm we met up with our tour leader and were surprised to find all our fellow walkers were from Ireland. Carolina was our lovely guide and she led us on a short tour round the city, including the old town which we had missed, ending up in a local restaurant. The 4-course meal was delicious, and the wine flowed.
After 1 of the best breakfasts I have ever had we all set off to visit The Guggenheim Museum. What an impressive modern, contemporary building Frank Gehry designed. The displays are spectacular and I could have stayed there all day.
Day 3 started with us all loading our cases onto the coach and meeting our driver, Manuel. Our first visit was to the Montecillo vineyard where we learned a lot about the production of Rioja wine. The guide was very enthusiastic and showed how the thousands of bottles are hand stacked every year to ensure the correct rotation. Of course, there was wine tasting to follow!
After a snack lunch we reached San Juan de Ortega and set off for our first walk along the Camino. Some of our fellow guests were obviously very fit but we managed to keep up as we walked through some very attractive woodlands. We passed (and were passed) by many walkers, many of whom were walking the whole way to Santiago, taking up to 28 days to do so. The route is very easy to follow as it is marked with yellow arrows and yellow painted shell signs. After a pleasant and not too grueling walk we were met by the bus and driven to our hotel in Burgos. During the walk the sole had come off Caroline’s boot so we found a small shop in the town which sold glue! She managed to stick it and wore them for the rest of the holiday!!
Once again, we had gone out too early to get a proper meal, so we gained the assistance of a very helpful receptionist at the hotel. He told us where to buy an Indian take away and set up the breakfast room so we could eat in comfort! Burgos was a lovely city, but we didn’t have much time to explore.
Today’s walk was the least interesting of them all, walking through endless wheatfields although Manuel got lost and we drove at least twice round a remote farm with a very bumpy farm track! Eventually we came across the Camino and set off, some doing a shorter walk and others trekking all the way to Castrojeriz. Castrojeriz is a beautiful small town which welcomes pilgrims and tourists. Many of the residents open their homes to pilgrims and one house had free cake outside. A small group of us had a delicious snack at the local cafe and we had a chance to get to know each other.
Our stop for the night was in Leon and there was a huge queue for the lifts. We were on the 5th floor, but Caroline wanted to walk up with our cases! Luckily a handsome young man came along and ran up the stairs with mine! We ate in the hotel, but the meal was disappointing, so we soon left and had an early night.
A quick tour of the cathedral in Leon then off on the bus to look at the bridge in Presto di Orbigo which was very pretty. We reached a mountain village, El Acebo de Saint Miguel where the walk started, walking over steep mountain slopes and it was pouring with rain! We always had the choice whether to walk or not, so I decided it wasn’t for me! The bus did stop halfway along the route to pick up any “strays”, but I must admit I was glad I didn’t attempt it. We drove to Molinaseca and settled into the hotel well before our bedraggled companions arrived.
Some of the walkers arrived back at the hotel a good 2 hours after the front runners!
That evening we had the best meal of the holiday – we all went to Hostel El Palacio which was full of happy pilgrims and we even had a guitarist. The atmosphere was terrific. It was good to stay in a peaceful village after the noisy city hotels.
We set off to El Cebrero and walked to Linares and then visited the small village of Portomarin, interesting because the whole of the village was moved to make way for a reservoir and you could see the old buildings as the water was low. Portomarin is nearing the final stage of the Camino and was full of walkers booking into the hostels. Consequently, we were not made to feel very welcome and had to walk out of 1 restaurant as we were being ignored! We travelled to Santiago for the final stretch, walking along roads all the way to the Plaza de Obradoira which is just behind the cathedral.
A local guide gave us an entertaining tour of Santiago and left us in the cathedral square which was rapidly filling up with people as it was the Spanish National Day. We queued to get into the cathedral and found a seat where we waited patiently to see the magnificent Botafumerio being swung from side to side by the monks. Although neither of us are Catholic we really enjoyed the mass and felt it was a wonderful end to a wonderful holiday.