Camino de Santiago-Camino de Invierno Route
In April 2019 we will be going back to Spain to walk another route of The Camino de Santiago. This time we’re walking the Camino de Invierno (The Winter Way) which starts in the town of Ponferrada. The Camino de Invierno was traditionally used by some pilgrims who were walking in Winter. During the Middle Ages, Pilgrims walking in Winter would often encounter impassable snowy conditions when approaching the mountain village of O Cebreiro. It is located on a ridge at about 4265 ft between the mountain ranges of O Courel and Os Ancares. As an alternative to avoid this high mountain pass, Pilgrims would detour at the town of Ponferrada and head South along this old Roman route.
This Roman road was used to transport ore from the mines along the Sil River. It now takes pilgrims to the unique landscapes of Las Médulas; a UNESCO site shaped by gold-mining in Roman times. It passes through the Ribeira Sacra, the valley of the Sil River with it’s impressive terraced vineyards that go back to the 8th Century. This route is unique, as it passes through all four provinces of Galicia: Ourense, Lugo, Pontevedra, and A Coruña.
The Camino de Invierno is approximately 275km (171mi) in length from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela. It was officially recognized as one of the valid routes for obtaining the Compostela in 2016.
Our planned itinerary
1. Ponferrada-Villavieja 16KM
2. Villavieja-Las Medulas 12KM
3. Las Medulas-Puente de Domingo Florez 8.1KM
4. PdDF–O Barco 18.3KM
5. O Barco-A Rua 14.2KM
6. A Rua- Quiroga 20KM Get a ride to a point 7km past A rua and avoid all the road walking and make this stage 20KM. Otherwise, it’s 27KM
7. Quiroga-Labrada 15.4KM
8. Labrada-Monforte 20KM
9. Monforte-Villariño (casa rural is ¼ mile off the trail) 14KM
10. Vilariño- Chantada 16KM
11. Chantada-Penasillas 9KM
12. Penasillas-Rodeiro 17KM
13. Rodeiro-Lalin 21.3
14. Lalin-Silleda 15.6KM
15. Silleda-Ponte Ulla 20KM
16. Ponte Ulla-Santiago 21.2KM
The above itinerary includes a combination of albergues (cheap pilgrim Hostels), hostales (budget hotels), pensiones and casa rurales (B&Bs and rural homes), and I think that there is one hotel in there. Unlike the Camino Frances or the Camino Primitivo, the infrastructure along the Invierno is very limited. There are only 3 albergues during the first 12 days of my itinerary, so this required some planning in order to find accommodations at each of my desired stops. A great resource for finding lodging is the Gronze website. It’s in Spanish and provides details of the terrain, the towns, food, things to see, and elevation profiles. I used that site extensively in my planning.
This walk can be completed in 12 days, however, we decided to take our time and really enjoy the scenery. During our first Pilgrimage to Santiago in 2017 (Camino Primitivo) I acquired Plantar Fasciitis just a few days into the walk. Walking more than 18-20km (11-12.5mi) per day caused me to be in great pain. I literally limped at a snails pace for the last 7 days of that walk. Every step was like walking on knives. I would start out fine and as soon as I hit the 20km mark, the knives came back. It was horrendous and almost ended my Camino. I am determined not to let that happen again.
But life happens.
To quote German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke:
“Men, be ready to make changes on the battlefield—we all know that no plan survives contact with the enemy.“
Getting to Ponferrada
Nothing about going to Spain from Alaska to walk the Camino is ever simple. We are flying from Anchorage to Portland on a 6:30 am flight. We are staying the night in a hotel near the airport due to an 18 hour layover. The following morning we depart Portland for Dallas-Ft.-Worth where we arrive at 4:45pm. Our flight to Madrid leaves a couple hours later and we are scheduled to arrive in Madrid around 9:00 am the following day.
We basically leave Alaska on Saturday and arrive in Ponferrada Monday evening. I opted for this sequence because 1) we’re using frequent flyer miles to get to Spain and this itinerary was the cheapest on the day I wanted, 2) it breaks up the usual 24-36 hour trip we normally endure on transatlantic flights. This way we get a good night’s rest before continuing on for the next 24 hours straight of travel.
Upon arriving in Madrid we have about 4 1/2 hours before we board the bus to Ponferrada. We always prefer to take the train, but on this particular route the train doesn’t leave until later in the afternoon and we don’t feel like hanging around the train station for 7 hours. Been there, done that. I bought the bus tickets through the ALSA website which is really easy to use since it’s in English. For some strange reason, this time the bus tickets were a lot more expensive then the train tickets. At the time of writing this post I paid 86.72 Euros for 2 one-way tickets. We arrive in Ponferrada around 7pm after a 5 1/2 hour ride (instead of 11:00 pm on the train). These buses are very comfortable and have bathrooms and WiFi.
We’ll be in Ponferrada at an AirBnB for 2 nights in order to rest and take a tour of the Templar Castle that this old medieval town is best known for. This means that we start walking on April 17th, right in the middle of Holy Week. This is the only reason that I was forced to book accommodations for every night for the next 14 days. This time in Spain is when the majority of Spaniards take time off and walk the Caminos. I booked at least 5 months out and still had trouble getting a place in a couple of the places. Any other time of the year you won’t have to worry about making arrangements along the Camino de Invierno. The route sees far fewer pilgrims than the other Caminos and lodging is never reported as a problem.
Our return trip was purchased with cash. We are flying out of Santiago directly to Dublin where we will stay for 3 nights and do a little sightseeing. We’ve been to Ireland twice before for several weeks each time but never really spent more than a day in Dublin. This time a layover seemed like a nice way to break up the return trip. The alternative was to spend half the day returning back to Madrid by train, and then flying out from there. You won’t have these issues if you live anywhere on the East Coast of the US or elsewhere in Europe. My travel issues are pretty unique to those of us living in far flung places.
In my next post I will discuss what I’m doing differently for footwear from our first Camino.