Tag Archives: Villafranca del Bierzo

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?