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Modern day pilgrimages and Caminos – a time for reflection and reviving

Whether you are religious or not, a long-distance walk can have reviving effects on the body and the mind. Caminos and pilgrimage routes that have developed over thousands of years can offer companionship or solitude, as you walk or pause for rest, food or shelter overnight whenever it feels right. Personal reflection or fitness challenge, whatever your motive you will certainly find the experience rewarding and may also make new lifelong friends.

Which Camino de Santiago route should I walk?

There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela, the most popular being the Camino Francés from St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees. You can join this route from just about anywhere, either approaching from France, or further afield or, if you feel that 784km and 4-6 weeks is more than you can manage, then you can always begin your walk along the route, at Pamplona or León for example. If you are hoping to obtain a Compostella at the end, then the minimum distance you need to walk is 100km, so starting in Sarria is the most popular choice.

The seaside Camino del Norte along the northern Spanish coast is perhaps more suited to walkers looking for a quieter experience, but since it crosses the hill country of Asturias, it is more demanding physically. You will find that a number of pilgrims will leave the del Norte to join the mountainous Camino Primitivo at Oviedo. The two routes converge to arrive in Santiago a few stages before the end of the Camino Francés.

The 116km Camino Inglés is another option for those with less than a week available, and though this route along with the Ruta do Mar are less popular, the solitude available makes them an attractive option. Be aware that the infrastructure of for food and lodging is a little more sparse, so planning ahead is important.

The amazing Via de la Plata is another long route, beginning at Seville in southern Spain and either joining the Francés at Astorga or continuing on the Camino Sanabrés to Santiago. Our new cycling guide for the Via de la Plata will be available in the spring of 2022.

Last but not least of the major routes to Santiago is the Camino Portugues, which ranks as the second most popular route to Santiago and the fastest growing. One option is to walk the entire, beautiful 640km route from Lisbon, while many start along the route at Porto. In total there are no fewer than four UNESCO World Heritage sites along the way.

Pilgrimage Walks in Italy

“All roads lead to Rome,” they say, and two of Italy’s top pilgrim trails make the saying true.

— a proverb of medieval origin

The Via Francigena begins in Canterbury and crosses France and Switzerland before entering Italy at the majestic Great St Bernard Pass. Over the next 1,000 kilometers this epic walk journeys among Italian castles and cathedrals, across the Po Valley, up and over the Apennines, and along the cypress-framed farm roads of beautiful Tuscany before arriving at the gates of the Vatican City in Rome.

Beginning at Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, the Way of St Francis connects sites central to the life of St Francis of Assisi, whose birthplace is one of Italy’s most cherished medieval towns. As befits the Patron Saint of the Environment, this is a green walk whose high point is Santuario della Verna, one of Italy’s most serene and remote mountain retreats.

There are two other popular pilgrim itineraries for which currently Cicerone don’t have guidebooks, that might be of interest.

With many important cultural, religious and historic sites, it’s no wonder Italy is crisscrossed by over 80 pilgrim itineraries. German pilgrims are bringing the Via Romea Germanica back to life after centuries of disuse, while Italian college students spend their school holidays on the Via degli Dei between Bologna and Florence.

While the rebirth of these Italian routes is a few years behind those in Spain, Italy’s dramatic scenery, ancient historical sites, stunning art and architecture, and world-class cuisine makes it an enchanting destination.

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