Tag Archives: Cacabelos

Camino Day 30/Rest Day 4 – Cacabelos to Villafranca del Bierzo: Easy and nice

Monday 18 September 2023 – Yesterday was our 30th segment of the Camino, and we only had a short distance, 10km or so, to cover to Villfranca del Bierzo, so there was no time pressure upon us. We wandered down a few minutes after the official start of breakfast to fuel ourselves up for the day. There were only two tables set – ours and another group of about eight French people who were seated at a table presided over by someone who appeared to be in priestly dress.

After a workmanlike meal, we decided we might as well get under way, so departed at about 0830 into the gathering day. You can see the Relive here if you’d like a summary.

This was our chance to take a look at Cacabelos, since we hadn’t done this the day before. It’s a long, thin town

with a few quirky little corners as one walks through

to the Plaza Mayor.

In the UK, the local press are having a hard time of it. Out here in Spain, “local press” means something quite different, as we saw as we walked out of the town.

This is a very large press for local winemakers to use. There’s a helpful diagram on the side,

which is just as well, as I couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to work.

We soon reached open country

which is very clearly wine country. A little further on there is a decision point where one might opt to wind one’s way through the vineyards or carry on basically by the road for a spell.  We opted for the former, and were very glad we did, because we were treated to a very fine selection of views as we went along.

In some cases, the views were a little obscured

which made me wonder: if a view like this went viral over the internet and lots of people made rude comments about it, would it be a social media pylon? Thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.

Other noteworthy points along the way: for the first time in Spain, we saw grapes actually being harvested;

we passed through a remote village called Valtuille del Arriba, which had some attractive buildings but was also quite clearly crumbling round the edges;

and we were passed by the French group we’d seen at breakfast.

Jane found this little vignette charming, but I have to say I didn’t. I’m not a religious man and the rather slavish devotional nature of the procession made me feel quite uncomfortable.  However, I guess this group was closer to the “authentic pilgrim experience” (watch James Nesbitt in The Way to understand that allusion) than I.

We rejoined the main Camino route pretty much on the outskirts of Villafranca del Bierzo, and it’s a route that gives a very impressive overview of the town.

Villafranca is not just yer ordinary village; it holds a special significance on the Camino Francés as “la pequeña Compostela”, little Compostela. The Camino takes you past the Santiago Church

with its “Door of Forgiveness”, Puerta del Perdón.

Passing through this door, which is open in Holy Years (plus completing a bunch of other tasks to show one’s devotion and worthiness) provides a “plenary indulgence” – forgiveness for one’s sins. There are many churches around the world with such portals but this is the only church outside Santiago on the Camino where this is possible, a status conferred by Papal diktat in the middle ages, for those who cannot physically complete the journey to Santiago. It’s possibly this that qualifies Villafranca for its nickname.

Just by the Santiago church is a huge castle,

the Castle-Palace of the Marqueses de Villafranca. This is not generally open to the public, but these days is used as an event venue.

As you’d expect for a town with its history and Camino status, Villafranca has many chunky religious buildings.  The Church of St. Nicholas, now being used as an albergue

and the Colegiata de Santa María de Cluni

stand out, as does the Church of San Francisco, which is the huge church that we saw across the valley as we walked into the town.

We arrrived at about 11am, and our gamble that maybe our room would be ready at this early hour didn’t pay off.  This left us with some three hours to fill, so we went to the Plaza Mayor for coffee and other refreshments (yes, all right, beer), where, delightfully, we met Freddie again; he had just arrived on his bicycle from Ponferrada. This, of course, called for more beer, and it became clear from increasing commotion outside in the Plaza Mayor that Something Was About To Happen. Jane asked the lady managing the bar about it, and it transpired that Villafranca was now the third place we’d visited on the Camino that was having its fiesta the day we were there.

The singer gave great value – she was on stage and singing for two hours and seemed to go down very well. I’m afraid I have no idea who she was.

We needed to sort out a restaurant for a meal with Freddie, so we wandered over to what seemed like a strong candidate, a restaurant near the Colegiata, called, amazingly, La Colegiata. On the way, we passed the Jardin de la Alameda, where the fiesta spirit was also in operation

although not all of the spectators were that bound up in the whole thing.

The restaurant has very good reviews online, but seemed very informal when we looked in. We made a 4pm reservation, hoping that the reviews were accurate, and then wandered round a bit more, taking a look at the medieval bridge which will be our ongoing route out of town

with its own pilgrim statue

and a few other odd corners of Villafranca.

La Colegiata is a cash-only restaurant, so we sought out an ATM to make sure we had enough at our disposal. The first machine took money off the debit card I used but then refused to dispense actual cash due to a “technical error”; the second at least dispensed some cash before it ate my card, which was not an outcome I was particularly pleased about. Despite this, we had a lovely meal with Freddie at this very small and informal restaurant

which has a lovely design idea for bar stools

but whose gin stocks only just about stretched to our needs. La Colegiata doesn’t have a formal menu, just cooking what’s good on the day; the lass serving us did a grand job translating this informal list for us and generally made sure we enjoyed ourselves; the food was excellent.

That was it for yesterday.  I should update you with stats:  the 10.3km we covered to get to Villafranca brings our total to 610.4 – 379 miles. In theory, then, we have 170km (around 105 miles) to go, but I suspect we’ll end up with a total distance in excess of the “official” version.

Today has been a rest day. Priority one was to visit the bank outside which was the ATM which had eaten my card. They were well-enough organised as to have the card ready for me to pick up, which was a considerable relief and a good start to the day.

The forecast specified a 50% chance of showers all day, so I had set my expectations for any further sughtseeing on the low side.  However, it failed to rain, and so, since I had my drone with me, I thought it might be fun to take some aerial photos of all of those buildings which are difficult to capture from ground level, but particularly the castle.

Here are some of the results.

Here’s how it all fits together.

We tried to get into the Colegiata, but it’s closed Mondays. We wanted to get into the Santiago Church because of its status and also because there is reportedly a statue of St. James in full pilgrim regalia. We walked up to it, but it was closed. Enquiring at the Albergue next door, we were told that it was open from 5-7pm, so we thought we could usefully spend time taking in some lunch whilst we waited.  We’d spent a little time looking through potential restaurants in the quest for a place for yesterday’s meal with Freddie, and so we went to look at one of the other candidates.

It was closed.  It had closed yesterday for a fortnight.

We were on the Plaza Mayor at this stage and there are several establishments there; so we took a gamble on a place called “El Casino” and had a decent lunch, although the order of courses was somewhat affected by communication difficulties with the waitress.

Having lunched and siestaed, we toiled back up the hill to the Santiago Church at 5.30pm.

It was closed.

Enquiring next door once again established that it’s closed on Mondays. Well, I suppose even devotion has to take a rest, but it’s a shame we couldn’t see inside two of the town’s significant religious buildings.

Villafranca may be strong on religious buildings, but it’s crap at launderettes. The hotel’s laundry service was officially not available, but the nice lady at reception told us that if we were to give her a bag of washing she would return it, washed and dried, during the evening, which was good of her, as These Things Are Important, You Know.  It was typical of the hotel, which is well-placed and well-organised.  Like the Don Suero de Quinones in Hospital de Orbigo, it was not a large room, but it was very well laid out and, slow internet access aside, was a good place for a rest day.

That just leaves the morrow, when we start the process of crossing the hills into Galicia. We go to Ambasmestas tomorrow, just 15km away.  Our choice will be to follow the road on a flat course, or to aim for more variety – and a great deal more up-and-down. One of the main deciding factors will be the state of my knee, which has been OK the last couple of days. Let’s see how energetic we feel, shall we?



Camino Day 29 – Molinaseca to Cacabelos: we dodged the rain!

Saturday 16 September 2023 – Today, it’s one calendar month since we started out from SJPdP.

If you’d prefer, you can watch the Relive summary of route and photos by clicking here. Otherwise, read on….

When I looked out of the window at 0730, the weather omens were, well, ominous.

We were first in to breakfast at 0800 and were joined over the following minutes by various locals brandishing umbrellas or shaking off rain jackets.  So, having finished a slightly odd but nonetheless functional breakfast, we put our rain covers on our back packs and donned walking boots (instead of the normal sandals) and rain jackets….and walked out into dry conditions.

Walking was, for me at least, a bit of a problem, as yesterday’s torturous descent had taken its toll; my left knee was somewhat painful. At first, I was worried that I would be unable to walk the 22km to Cacabelos, but I actually managed to work out a subtle change to my gait that minimised discomfort; however it meant a more leisurely pace than we’d normally adopt. No matter; it wasn’t raining, and that is a Good Thing.

Because it had been raining the previous day, we hadn’t expored Molinaseca at all, so it was nice to see it as we walked along the Camino trail. It’s-a nice-a place.

As we left the town and got into country, the weather gave us some nice views

and as we approached the next town, Ponferrada, we were, if not bathed in sunshine, then at least under a sprinkling of it.

We passed a mysterious and ruined castle, San Blas,

which we might have got a little closer to had it not involved going down a rather perilous-looking set of steps; my knee problem made this an activity of dubious merit. Instead we cut across to an approach to Ponferrada which was rather delightful, leading us past allotments

along a quiet road until we got to the medieval bridge that brings one of the Camino tracks into the town.

Ponferrada is a handsome town

with an astonishingly Disneyesque castle, which dates from the time of the Knights Templar.

Serendipity allowed us to break our journey for a coffee and croissant with a good friend, Freddie, who is visiting the area with a view to taking the Camino journey from Ponferrada to Santiago – by bicycle. It was a very pleasant break to our walk and a chance to catch up; we hope to see him again before he dwindles into a dot in the distance.

The town has other attractive buildings, such as the church of San Andrés;

the Basilica de la Virgen de la Encina,

in front of which is a statue of the Knight Templar who found, in a niche in a tree being used during construction of the castle, a statue of the virgin Mary and baby Jesus which had, according to legend, been hidden there by a monk a long time before (la encina is the Spanish for the Holm Oak tree);

and a rather handsome clock tower, Torre del Reloj.

On the way out of Ponferrada is the “Factory of Light” – a museum of energy,

and, shortly after, an area surrounding the church of Santa Maria de Compostilla, which is a rather lovely environment, reached via an underpass which, for once, is not daubed in crude graffiti.

The conurbation continues into an area called Fuentes Nuevas,

and the Camino passes another Interesting Church, the Parish Church of San Ildefonso, in an area called Camponayara.

It looked, from the outside, as if the church might have some interesting modern stained glass, and so we took a quick look in.

It was around this time that we decided that the chance of rain was small enough to permit an experiment on my knee. I changed out of my walking shoes (Merrills) and back into the Teva sandals that I had been wearing every day, with only one exception, since Day 2 of our Camino. I was pleased to find that getting back into my unstylish-but-comfortable socks-and-sandals combination actually made my knee a lot more comfortable. It wasn’t that the discomfort vanished; but it lessened considerably, which was, well, a relief.

We passed a place where you can buy ferrets

and the only CBD shop I have noticed so far in Spain.

Not far from there is an interestingly-constructed tribute to Lydia Valentin, a Spanish Olympic and World Champion weightlifter.

Look through the installation at the right angle and it exactly frames the statue behind it – a neat piece of design.

More artwork is on display close by. At first blush, it looks a bit odd

but it soon becomes clear that it’s to do with wine-making, and these statues are outside the Bierzo Wine Co-operative.

It becomes abundantly clear that we have entered wine country again. The Camino trail leaves the roads at this point

to go through a series of vineyards,

some of which feature some very old and gnarly vines.  At one point, the trail leads between two different styles of vine training: the one familiar to the eyes of anyone who’s been to France’s vineyards

and the other seeming to be entirely less disciplined.

We appeared to have reached a part of Castilla y León where the Castillian camp was fighting back in its own small way

and we also passed quite a significant milestone (kilometerstone?).

There was publicity for a hotel that was for old ladies only

and, as we approached Cacabelos, some interesting architecture on view.

Then we reached the outskirts of Cacabelos

and, shortly thereafter, our hotel, the Moncloa de San Lázaro.

It is a traditional Bercian building (i.e. from the Bierzo region) that was an old pilgrim hospital in the 17th century. It’s not clear what a Moncloa is – even ChatGPT is equivocal on the subject – but I think it signifies a building of some pith and moment to the politics of the area. It’s certainly quite large and quite impressive inside.

We had a late lunch there which was a decent meal – apparently the staff were amazed at our capacity for consuming huge quantities of salad – and retired to relax for the rest of the day and to prepare for tomorrow.

Stats. We covered 23.8km today, which brings us to a total of (fanfare, please) 600.1km, or very nearly 373 miles. Tomorrow is a short walk, just 10km to Villafranca del Bierzo.  Given that the forecast is for a dry morning but a wet afternoon, I think I’m glad about that; we should be able to get there and be safely ensconced behind a glass of something nice before the heavens open. That, at least, is the profound hope. Keep in touch with these pages to see if the plan came together OK.