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Spain: Camino de Santiago

Bite-sized variants of the epic pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela mean there’s no need to martyr yourself

Spain: Camino de Santiago
Cathedral of Leon, an important stop on the Way of St James. Image: Getty

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Also known as the Way of St James, the Camino de Santiago has been one of Europe’s most iconic routes since ninth-century pilgrims began making their way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to venerate the remains of St James (one of the 12 apostles, and the patron saint of Spain).

There are 13 main variations on the route, including five originating in France, seven in Spain and one from the Portuguese coast. The popularity of the walk is enduring, with the best part of 200,000 people a year presenting themselves as pilgrims in the cathedral and securing a compostela, or pilgrim’s certificate, written in Latin, confirming the completion of at least 100km of the route.

Walking the entire length of any of the main routes is a huge undertaking. Some of the shorter variations can be completed in around 10 days, but most are substantially longer and impossible in the standard fortnight most of us would be able to spare. So, unless pilgrimage and compostela are your goals, consider taking a tailor-made approach to the Camino, organising your trip through a specialist walking company that will transport your bags while you walk, organise accommodation and even drive you to your daily starting point.

How to do it: Pura Aventura offers the 11-night Camino Inn to Inn, from £2,265 per person, based on two sharing in three- to four-star hotels. Includes most meals and luggage transfers, plus daily car rides.
Marly Camino offers seven nights on the final 112km of the Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago for £1,714, including a pilgrim’s kit and an English-speaking guide.

Published in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Read more tales of European walking trails here.