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Imagine you anticipated going back to the Way of St. James for a year. That’s what happens to most pilgrims. The so-called Camino de Santiago is the trip of a lifetime and the Camino family is most dearly missed. International communities and atheists alike find their way to Spain to partake in the pilgrimage, and an atmosphere of open-mindedness prevails all along the route. Motives for walking it are very diverse and range from the intent to simply spend an active holiday, to a mere fascination with “walking the miles.” Nonetheless, seeing the cathedrals and walking through the historic towns along the way leaves everyone in awe.
Having left off in Logroño in the first instalment of our two-part series on the Way of St. James, we’re taking you to three more must-see cities. We’re starting with Burgos – namely, its cathedral – for which you should plan at least half a day!
4. Burgos – Where Mastery Found a Home
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
Imagine the architects of this world would have refrained from following their dreams of building cathedrals, palaces, temples, or other highly complex buildings. Our world would look rather bleak, wouldn’t it? Building a cathedral means having a vision, daringly placing the first stone despite fears of obstacles or failure, and going forth step-by-step. Cathedrals are one example of the great things human beings can achieve once they set their minds to something.
Burgos‘ cathedral, Santa María de Burgos, could also be called the Queen of Spain’s cathedrals, as it’s one of the most beautiful displays of craftsmanship the country has to offer. Gothic in its origins, its side chapels are made up of different architectural styles – ranging from Gothic, to Renaissance, to Baroque. You can easily spend half a day – or longer – wandering around this stunning building and discovering its fascinating details. Don’t miss out on standing in the middle of the main nave and getting dizzy as you look up! Also, their exposition will give you more background information about the cathedral’s history.
Burgos is the historic capital of the Spanish province Castile and León. This region has a rich history and was home to the first Europeans that lived here 800,000 years ago. We highly recommend a visit to the city’s Museum of Human Evolution, covering that part of world history. Another must-see is the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas with tombs of early Spanish royals. To round off your trip, we recommend having its regional specialities, Quéso de Burgos and black sausage, in one of the city’s many tapas bars.
5. León – City of Kings
“We all live in our own world. But if you look up at the starry sky – you’ll see that all the different worlds up there combine to form constellations, solar systems, galaxies.”
- Paulo Coelho
León is one of the major cities on the Way of St. James and home to one of Spain’s most important cathedrals, the Catedral Santa Maria de León. Featuring a massive, very impressive rose window and three doorways with beautiful sculptures, it’s considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and the “most French” of all the Spanish cathedrals. Over many centuries, Spanish kings have been ruling this city and been laid to rest at the Romanesque Basilica de San Isidoro, the former most important church in Spain. Its funeral chapel features rare Visigoth capitals, and the painted murals are exceptionally well preserved. Having a look at the coffins from entirely different centuries is highly interesting as well! Other sightseeing spots are León’s historical Parador and Gaudí’s Casa Botines. If you have a few spare hours, do take a trip to Valporquero to visit its magnificent caves.
6. Santiago de Compostela – Urban and Cultural Beauty
“To die tomorrow was no worse than dying on any other day. Every day was there to be lived or to mark one’s departure from this world.”
- Paulo Coelho
The most important building in this city is, of course, the cathedral containing the sarcophagus with the remains of Saint James. Though, the entire old part of town is beautiful with a great atmosphere, try out the typical Pulpo ala Gallega in a so-called Pulpería. We recommend the traditional Pulpeira Os Concheiros. Also, as you’re walking through the gates towards the cathedral, you might be surprised to hear bagpipe music. In fact, this region – Galicia – has a strong Celtic heritage and its music is very similar to that of the Irish, Scottish, and Breton.
The Way of St. James is commonly compared to life itself – arriving in Santiago de Compostela feels a little bit like a life cycle coming to an end. It means saying goodbye to a way of life and a pace that has become dear to most. Indeed, the pilgrimage means learning to live in the “now” and making the best out of every situation – something most people try to do in their day-to-day lives.
Would you consider walking across Spain or would you rather take the bus? Let us know in the comment section below!