Spain // Castilla y León and La Rioja //

The Camino de Santiago in Castilla y León

With the vineyards and well-watered countryside of La Rioja behind you, the Camino de Santiago arrives at Burgos and the start of the plains of Castile. Pilgrims are sharply divided about the meseta. Fans praise the big skies and the contemplative nature of the unchanging views, while detractors bemoan the bone-chilling wind that blows for nine months of the year, and the depressing way that you can see your destination hours before you reach it. It’s certainly the flattest, driest part of the path and, if it’s cold in winter, the lack of shade makes it uncomfortably hot in summer. The route often shadows the main road along a purpose-built gravel track, but there are many well-marked detours along isolated tracks crunchy with wild thyme.

Highlights are, of course, the glorious Gothic cathedrals of Burgos and León, after which the meseta ends at the town of Astorga, 50km west of León. From here you’ll climb to the highest pass of the camino (1517m), where mist and fog can descend year-round and snow makes winter travel difficult. Traditionally, pilgrims bring a stone from home to leave on a massive pile at Cruz de Hierro, just before the pass. Things warm up considerably as you descend through gorgeous scenery to the Bierzo valley, 50km from Astorga, where the charming riverside town of Villafranca del Bierzo is an ideal place to rest before heading uphill into Galicia. For more information, see Practicalities of the Camino de Santiago.