Camino Francés 2022 Days 24-30: León to Villafranca del Bierzo

Leaving León, some say that the meseta is now behind us. But is it really? Personally, studying the map, I am not convinced. It looks to me that we will have another couple of days before we begin to see substantially different terrain. In the meantime, we all know what we need to do: just get up and walk!

Day 24: León to Villavante

There is no other way to say it: today was long! My furthest daily distance walked, and a tie for my longest time on the trail. Today is also Spain’s National Day, which means most things are closed or opening late. I was ignorant of this and just expected another “average,” day, so I was in no particular hurry to get out this morning.

I was immediately reminded that the meseta doesn’t end in León. Today’s route, another alternativo, had very few pilgrims for conversation, and a lot of fields. Here we go again…

More bodego “hobbit” homes in the León suburbs: how wonder how they are inside. And life without windows must feel like a submarine.

We were quickly back out in the countryside and saw more reminders of the changing of the seasons.

Yes, like I said: there were a lot of fields!

I know this place looks the same as the last one, but it is many kilometers down the road!

Mileage Check – this one seemed momentous.

Public Art

Daily Stats: 32.8km (20.4 miles) and 430m (1,411′) of elevation gain.

Check out León to Villavante on Relive!

It feels like a reward after this long day: I am staying at this beautiful B&B that had formerly been an old water mill – with its own river running underneath.

My feet hurt tonight!

My accommodation:
Molino Galochas
24393, Villavante
+34 987 388 546

Day 25: Villavante to Hospital de Órbigo

As much as yesterday’s walk was a long one, today’s walk was very short. It allowed me the chance to relax in the morning, take a leisurely stroll through the village, meet new people and chat over a café con leche, and still get to my destination town before noon. All of my formal “rest days” have been in the larger cities, so I consider this a “rural rest day.”

It’s amazing how quickly the change of the seasons can be seen in the tree coloring, and also in the chilly temperatures at night and in the mornings.

Villavante, like nearly all Spanish towns and villages, has its own churches and bell towers…

… and its own stork nests!

After my very short walk, I arrived at my destination town of Hospital de Órbigo, famous for its medieval bridge.

Alongside the bridge is an old jousting ground that is used even today for periodic festivals.

At an outdoor café, I found that the trees aren’t the only source of bright colors. I later learned that these are Golden Pheasants – beautiful!

Daily Stats: 6.6km (4.1 miles) and 68m (223′) of elevation gain.

This was definitely my shortest walking day on the Camino!

Check out Villavante to Hospital de Órbigo on Relive!

I started my walk four weeks ago today. The blue dot is getting closer and closer to Santiago de Compostela and the ocean!

I have a lot of extra time on this fairly quiet day, so I had some time to collect some stats:

29 days on the path, 25 days walking.
530 kms completed (329 miles), 57%.
21.2 kms / day (13.2 miles / day).

21 days to go to the end, 19 days walking.
Estimated 399 kms to go (248 miles).
21.0 kms / day (13.0 miles / day).

It’s a long walk!

My accommodation:
Canton Plaza
Calle Santos Olivera, 27
24286, Hospital de Orbigo
+34 987 388 896

Day 26: Hospital de Órbigo to Astorga

What a wonderful day on the Camino! Beautiful scenery, perfect walking temperatures, varied terrain, a fun little detour out on my own, a nice city entry, new friends, great chats… honestly, today had it all! Combine this route with a fantastic destination city that was one of the largest Roman settlements on the Iberian peninsula and it could easily be described as the perfect Camino day!

There were constant reminders that we are still on the meseta, but the guidebooks say it will end today. We’ll see…

Another welcomed Caminopreneur with a roadside business to meet our needs. I love these folk!

All along the Camino, we are conditioned to follow the yellow arrows.

This morning’s conversations covered topics such as compliance and conformity, rules, and risk aversion/attraction. When I later reached this fork on the path, those conversations prompted me to go right, and not to follow the yellow arrow. My ultimate goal, the ocean, was far beyond those distant mountains, so I didn’t believe going off-road would take me too far off track. I’m not a big risk-taker, but I’m learning to lighten up a bit (and I’m winking at you, Tyler! 😉).

My detour gave me a great view of my destination city, Astorga, in the distance.

I rejoined the main route nearer the city and came across a very elaborate structure to cross a simple rail line – it is worthy of a crowded water park!

Daily Stats: 18.0km (11.2 miles) and 298m (978′) of elevation gain.

Check out Hospital de Órbigo to Astorga on Relive!

I had a wonderful afternoon exploring this beautiful city of Astorga, with its extensive Roman ruins, museums and historical buildings.

Roman Ruins

Public Art

Astorga Cathedral

Gaudi‘s Palacio Episcopal

My accommodation:
Hostal La Peseta
La Plaza de San Bartolome 3
24700, Astorga
+34 987 617 275

Day 27: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

I started today’s walk very early as an experiment, getting out in time to catch the sunrise, and I’m sure glad I did. The soft morning lift gave me a new perspective on both the Cathedral and Palacio Episcopal in Astorga, as well as cloud formations unlike any I’ve seen before!

I am thinking about doing it again tomorrow morning so that I can watch the sun come up from atop the famous Cruz de Fiero, one of the most iconic landmarks on the Camino. If the cloud formations are anything like what I saw today, it will be well worth climbing for a couple of hours in the dark tomorrow. I think you’ll agree that I should make that effort.

I have no idea how this cloud can have such blue sky beyond.

Mileage Check

For as many beautiful towns and villages we find on our path, there are nearly as many that we see nearby but never visit. Like this one…

Daily Stats: 20.8km (12.9 miles) and 367m (1,204′) of elevation gain.

Check out Astorga to Rabanal del Camino on Relive!

For this evening’s entertainment, we were treated to a vespers service completely in chants in Rabanal’s charming village church.

My accommodation:
Posada Tesin
Calle Real
24722, Rabanal del Camino
+34 635 527 522

Day 28: Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo de San Miguel

Today’s agenda has been on my mind for as long as I’ve been planning my Camino, because it’s the day I reach Cruz de Fierro (Iron Cross), one of the most iconic landmarks along our route. It is located at one the highest passes and features a tall crucifix atop a small rock mound. Historically, it has been the place where pilgrims leave behind small stones, rocks, and notes that they have carried on their journey. Those items can represent worries and burdens that they want to leave behind, or to remember and honor lost loved ones. Recently, I learned that there is another tradition for ambitious peregrinos: to visit Cruz de Fierro in time to watch the sunrise, and after yesterday’s beautiful dawning, I decided to do just this. The first hour of my walk today, alone, was a placid nighttime climb, lit only by the light from the moon and stars. I literally sang Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow out loud!

Here’s my view looking back to the early morning sky. Not quite as dramatic as yesterday’s sunrise, but still pretty special from on high!

Cruz de Fierro presented many fun photo ops.

But now, back to the stones…

From the start of my Camino, I have been carrying two small stones to leave behind here. Neither represents any worries or burdens, for I have been fortunate not to have many of those.

One stone represents my dad, who taught me to love hiking and camping, and would have loved to do this trek. His is a small piece of rose quartz from Namibia that I picked up on a hike out of Arandis before flying home to be with him before he died five years ago. He would have scoffed a bit at this public display of sentimentality, but deep inside, I think he would have thought it pretty cool that thousands of people do something like this each year.

The second stone is a re-gift of a rock that a wonderful young Namibian girl gave to me last year when I hiked with her and her siblings up Arandis Mountain during my last visit to Namibia and their town. It is my attempt to acknowledge her family’s religious faith and and the wonderful way that they have welcomed me into their family. Many of my Namibian friends and colleagues have trouble understanding why I am walking for many weeks across a country. At the same time, the respect and support they show me while following my journey inspires me everyday to not only walk my path but to document it here for anyone interested in joining me.

This message is specifically for them: Yes, I agree with you: “there aren’t enough people who look like you here.”

But also: Yes, I believe: this is something that you can consider doing and succeed at doing! And trust me when I say: the Camino needs you!

My stones now have a new home, at Cruz de Fierro, on the Camino Francés.

Once you climb a pass, it’s time to head down the other side.

Lunch breaks are a good chance to get onto WiFi and continue conversations that we started on the trail. Countries represented here, from the left: Venezuela, Spain, Canada, Holland, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Canada.

El Acebo is a lovely mountain town – I’m glad that I’m staying here tonight.

Daily Stats: 17.6km (10.9 miles) and 543m (1,782′) of elevation gain.

Check out Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo de San Miguel on Relive!

My accommodation:
La Rosa Del Agua
Calle Real 52
27413, El Acebo
+34 637 710 056

Day 29: El Acebo de San Miguel to Ponferrada

What a range of emotions today brought. It started out with worry about a pain deep inside my left foot that kept me from being able to put any weight on it for the first hour after waking up. I was concerned that I might have to taxi to my next destination. Slow and deliberate stretches allowed me to set out in the misty rain, although much later than my ordinary start time. After 3 km along a tricky descent on a rocky trail (made more slippery with the rain), I felt good enough in the next village to set out on another alternativo to the main Camino. And I’m so happy that I did!

Mileage Check in a wonderful mountain village.

Michael, the owner of my hotel El Acebo last night (and a former Camino walker from Texas who decided to move to Spain and enjoy the Camino full-time), gave me a tip for this other route that was phenomenal! The sign directed me to my new route with a literal translation of: “the Misstep Bridges.” Ha! That sounds perfect!

At the end of this narrow road, 90° from the town’s main road, I found the trailhead to the best stretch of path I’ve seen in more than four weeks!

It was a single-track on the opposite side of the canyon from the main Camino, with both up and down scrambles, remarkable views, and complete isolation for hours. After weeks of long walks each day, I was finally on a hiking trail and it felt great!

Probably the best part were the two stone bridges I crossed that had been built more than 1,800 years ago by the Romans! This was the first, named Puente Grande, and the only one for which I could find a spot to stand and catch it in a photograph.

As Michael had warned me, both bridges could easily have been missed but for these “hand rails” on the trails. After these hundreds of years, the paths integrate seamlessly with the adjacent terrain.

After being out on my own for so long, I was pleased to come around a bend and catch sight of the main Camino route across the canyon.

Our routes converged just before entering the beautiful village of Molinaseca, where I found a convenient map at the trailhead to better remind me of this great alternativo for future reference.

Because of my late start, and my detour, I reached my destination town of Ponferrada at a much later hour than normal on this trip. I rushed through my afternoon routine (hand washing my laundry, showering, sorting through photos for the daily mini-blog post) to do some walking around before losing the sun. The downside to my time-consuming detour today was missing the chance to explore this town. I later learned from other peregrinos that the city has a lot to offer and I’ve made a note to give it its due time on my next visit.

Public Art

Daily Stats: 19.2km (11.9 miles) and 305m (1,001′) of elevation gain.

Check out El Acebo de San Miguel to Ponferrada on Relive!

My accommodation:
Aroi Bierzo Plaza
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, 4
24400, Ponferrada
+34 987 409 001

Day 30: Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Today’s route took me into yet another mountain range, and to my last “rest day town” before I reach Santiago. The last time I walked into a “rest day town” (León, just a week ago), I felt strong and capable of continuing on without a break. Not so today…

My body is beginning to rebel against the daily onslaught to which I’m subjecting it. I truly welcome my rest tomorrow!

Walking everyday in my Chacos was my old “cure” for blisters, but I think they may be to blame for the pain in my left foot. On my alternativo hike yesterday, I switched to my boots and didn’t have any adverse effects. Because today looked to be a rather average day for terrain, I started with the Chacos and started to feel the left foot pain again within a few kilometers. So, back into the boots. But now, because of this average Camino terrain, the pre-blister “hot spots” have started up again. Hmmm… what to do? Chacos and foot pain or Boots and blisters? I’m going to take a day off the trail tomorrow and let my body help me decide…

I left again today before the sunrise, but that wasn’t necessarily my goal. A couple of weeks ago, when I first started my early departures, I deliberately left early to “beat the heat.” These days, even when leaving at a “normal time,” I find the skies are still dark. It’s yet another reminder of the change of seasons.

Public Art

Mileage Check. Sub-200km to Santiago. Several of my “camigos” with whom I started walking a month ago, are already arriving there…

More vineyards to color the approach to my next mountain town.

Daily Stats: 25km (15.5 miles) and 411m (1,348′) of elevation gain.

Check out Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo on Relive!

My accommodation:
Villafranca Plaza
Plaza Mayor, 4
24500, Villafranca del Bierzo
+34 987 540 620

Rest Day: Villafranca del Bierzo

All my previous rest days have been in cities, which allowed me (required me?) to walk a far distance while playing tourist and sightseeing. I am happy that this rest stop is in a small mountain `town rather than a city, and that it rained here all morning, because it kept me indoors and off my feet for most of the day. I did break out for a short walk around some of the town and managed to see a small bit of what it has to offer.

Later in the day, I came across friends playing cards. From the left, France, Australia, Idaho and South Korea.

Public Art

Tomorrow morning, if the weather and my feet allow me, I will hike the alternativo “mountain route” which starts over this bridge and up the small road to the right. Fingers crossed I can get off the main route and enjoy some rural mountain scenery again.

A quick Q&A in response to my reported foot problems yesterday. Someone asked, “does everyone finish the Camino?” The number of pilgrims who have arrived to Santiago this year, from all the different routes, topped 400,000 a few days ago (that data is collected and reported by the Pilgrim’s Office). But many people here, particularly Europeans, are walking 1- and 2-week stages each year, and don’t necessarily end their walks in Santiago.

A re-phrasing of the question might be: “does everyone finish their Camino?” however they define it. I believe the answer is “yes, most people succeed in accomplishing their goal.” But not everyone.

The Camino claims casualties and at least 6 people I’ve met have ended their Caminos prematurely. Mostly due to illness (Covid), or injury (falls, tendinitis, shin splits, etc). In the cases I’ve heard about, they all have committed to return and finish when they can. I hope they do.

I succeeded in staying off my feet today, and sure hope today’s rest helps me tomorrow!

¡Buen camino!

Author: Chris

Until 2019, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia focused on Community Economic Development. Before that, I was a high-tech executive, small business owner, consultant and business broker.

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