Leon to Sarria Highlights
-Visit some of the most beautiful, and quintessentially Camino, towns including Astorga, Villafranca del Bierzo and Hospital del Orbigo.
-Lay a stone at the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross), the highpoint of the Camino, to symbolise the shedding of burdens or as a tribute to walking motivations.
-Visit the tiny hamlet of Manjarin (population 1!) run by a self confessed descendent of the Knights Templar.
-Visit the pristine Knights Templar castle in Ponferrada.
-Have lunch or dinner, depending on your itinerary, overlooking the river in the delightful town of Molinaseca.
-Marvel at the breathtaking scenery as you head back into the hills after the vast expanses of the meseta.
-After the arduous climb into O Cebreiro, stop at this gorgeous hamlet that is many people’s highlight town of the whole Camino.
This is the hill stage as you pass over the Cantabrian Mountains shortly after the city of Astorga. Some of the best scenery and highlights on the entire Camino can be found on this section as you climb from the plains over the mountains into the province of Galicia. The walk up to the ‘Iron Cross’ near Foncebaddon (1520m high point) and then climb up to the hamlet of O’Cebreiro (1330m) are the biggest on the Camino after the Pyrenees section.
Whilst Leon itself is a very attractive & lively city, the walkout of Leon is possibly the least attractive of the entire Camino, but once you reach the village of Hospital de Orbigo with it’s Roman Bridge things lookup. Soon afterwards you will reach Astorga – an attractive city and it’s Cathedral and Episcopalian Palace designed by Gaudi are worth seeing. (Not to mention the Chocolate museum!)
After leaving Astorga you come to Rabanal Del Camino and from here the climb starts to the once-abandoned ( not now though) village of Foncebaddon and shortly afterwards the famous Cruz Ferro / ‘Iron Cross’ monument where for centuries pilgrims unburden themselves of any stones they’ve carried that symbolise burdens/ bad habits they’ve been carrying. So afterwards they continue lighter on their journey. It’s an interesting spot with many mementoes of different sorts
Ponferrada is the next city you’ll encounter, home to the grandest Castle of the Knight’s Templar – the semi-mystical order that once protected Pilgrims on the Camino and the Holy land. Before you reach the Mountains you have Villafranca del Bierzo, a delightful town at the foot of the hills. The climb up to O’Cebreiro, although not the highest, is certainly one of the steepest. The tiny hilltop Hamlet reminds many people of a village in Ireland and the contrast in architectural & cultural styles are very evident as you enter into Galicia – reflecting it’s Gaelic roots.
Hints and tips
-ASTORGA: Make sure you’re hungry when you arrive because the restaurants are plentiful and delicious. The Episcopal Palace, designed and built by Gaudi, is also well worth exploring.
-RABANAL DEL CAMINO: As you enter town, the first albergue on the left also has a restaurant where they have simply THE best hamburgers in the world, EVER! Ok, so that’s a big call, but get a bottle of wine and settle down with a hamburger and I guarantee you a great night.
-THE WALK FROM CRUZ DE FERRO TO EL ACEBO: This stretch, mainly from the 1 person town of Manjarin, is some of the steepest on the Camino. If you take the path parallel to the road it is also extremely rocky. Many people have done their knees on this stretch. Walking on the road for this short period is much easier, you’ll be able to enjoy the gorgeous views, isn’t much further at all than the path, and could possibly save you from a Camino-ending injury. Just make sure you walk on the left so you see oncoming traffic.
-EL ACEBO: Although tiny, this town oozes charm and the surrounding views are gorgeous. A great place to stop, either for the night or for a long lunch (depending on your itinerary). The restaurant/guesthouse right at the top of town is run by an Australian woman who, if you’re there early in the season, may have some vegemite she’s willing to share.
-MOLINASECA: Another gorgeous, but bigger, town. If your itinerary has you passing through here and not spending the night, make sure you spend plenty of time exploring the cobblestone streets. And have a nice loooong lunch at a restaurant overlooking the beautiful river at the top of town. You can even swim in the river if it’s hot enough.
-PONFERRADA: Although not the most exciting place on the Camino, Ponferrada is home to one of the most pristine castles you’ll ever see outside of Disneyland. The Knights Templar castle doubles as a museum with exhibits in English and is well worth exploring. The castle doesn’t open till 10am in some seasons so it may be difficult to fit it in, depending on your itinerary.
-VILLAFRANCA DEL BIERZO: Hunt down one of the wine cellars that Villafranca is famous for. With many churches and monasteries to explore, this is a lovely town to spend some time in.
-O CEBREIRO: This quintessential Galician village at the top of the mountain is one of the real treats of the Camino. Although very small, it is blessed with some wonderful restaurants and bars. Depending on when you’re there, there’s a good chance it could be under snow so come prepared.
This was produced by the French friends of the Way of St. Jacques