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The Pilgrimage to Santiago is a one of a kind experience. While many would love to walk the entire way, it is not always easy to get away from our day-to-day duties and responsibilities for a whole month.
Rather than giving up the journey altogether, many pilgrims opt to undertake a shorter one-week version of the Camino. When the time is limited, people want to make the most of the experience. Thus, the pressing question on the minds of to-be one-week pilgrims is that of the best starting point.
Where should you kick off your journey to get the best of the Camino in a short period of seven days?
Camino Frances from Sarria
If you are in for the most classic of experiences, Sarria is probably the best place to start. It is just over 100km away from Santiago which complies with the minimum distance to receive the pilgrim’s certificate. You can divide your journey into 5 to 7 stages, depending on your physical condition and preference. Personally, I recommend you to take it slow. You only have a few days on the road, so it’s important you savor it.
The main stopping points are Portomarin, Palas de Rei, Arzua, Melide, and Pedrouzo. The terrain is relatively easy yet varied supplying you with plenty of breathtaking views. The route will take you through a lovely countryside riddled with streams and rivers, hidden in the shade of oaks and chestnuts trees. Although there are a few asphalt roads on the stage from Portomarin to Palas de Rei, the next stage to Arzua will surprise you with beautiful eucalyptus forests. The road is winding but there are no significant ascends or descends that should worry you.
Perhaps the only downside of this route is it is very busy. Being the last part of the most popular of the Camino ways, it is also the busiest. If you are looking for a more solitary experience this is not the route for you, as the number of pilgrims can leave you feeling overwhelmed. However, if this is your first time on a similar journey, you can enjoy an authentic pilgrim experience while having the safety of well-built infrastructure and services.
Camino Portugues from Tui
If you want to get a taste of two different cultures, Camino Portugues might be the right choice for you. Tui, similarly to Saria, is a little over 100km from Santiago (118km) and can be walked in six to seven comfy stages of around 20-25 km a day. From all the Caminos, this way is probably the easiest regarding ascends and descends, making it easy on your knees.
This route takes you through peaceful forests that wrap you in vivid greenery, rich farmlands and lovely historic towns with plenty of stories to tell. The main stops on the way are O Porriño, Redondela, Pontevedra with its typical Galician old town center, Caldas de Reis and Padron. The way will take you to the coast, to the town called Arcade that is well-known for its Oyster Festival.
Comparing to Sarria, this route is much calmer yet not too solitary, after all the Portuguese way is the second most popular Camino. It offers a full dose of historical jewels as well as natural beauty which makes one of the top one-week choices for pilgrims all over the world.
TIP: If you are traveling in summer and want to enjoy a bit more of the coast, start in the alluring seaside town of Baiona (128 km from Santiago) which lies on the coastal variant of the Portuguese way. After giving you 43 kilometers of stunning coastal views, it joins the original route at Redondela.
Camino Primitivo from Lugo
Starting in Lugo will allow you to experience the oldest recorded route to Santiago de Compostela. Due to its long history, the Camino Primitivo is sprinkled with Roman ruins and monuments. There is something to worth seeing in almost every stage of the journey. Lugo itself is protected by the best preserved Roman wall in Europe. You will leave Lugo through the oldest city gate following the historic tracks that connect tiny old villages like Seixalvo, Xende, and Ferreira.
You will pass through cool green woods and extensive farmlands, following old paved Roman roads and picturesque medieval bridges. The Camino Primitivo joins the Camino Frances in Melide.
This is a great choice if you want to get a little bit of both worlds. A little taste of the original route that will give you a couple of days of peace and solitude as well as the experience of the classic French way so many times referenced in books and movies around the world.
Via de la Plata from Ourense
Out of all the last 100km routes before Santiago de Compostela, Via de la Plata from Ourense probably offers the most fairytale-like experience. With 111 km, the distance can be conquered in 5 to 6 days, (7 if you want to take your time). It is the best choice for those seeking a bit of peace and quiet far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The city of Ourense is impressive in itself, conveniently located on both shores of Rio Mino and known for its 12th-century cathedral and natural thermal springs. The way takes you through lovely lush Galician countryside that bursts with greenery. The main stops along the way are Cea, Castro Dozón, Lalin, Silleda and Ponte Ulla.
You will encounter quiet woods, farmlands and sleepy ancient villages with lovely Romanesque churches and chapels. This part of the Camino is a real jewel in the rough.
Is There More?
Of course! There are plenty more! For example, if you want to complete the whole pilgrimage but only have the seven days, Camino Inglés starting in Ferrol is perfect for you. The whole pilgrimage is no longer than 120 km. While the first kilometers can be a bit industrial, the stage between Miño and Hospital de Bruma will make up for any asphalt roads you had to cross.
If you are feeling rebellious and yearn to swim against the flow, starting in Muxia, following to Finisterre and making your way to Santiago from the east is a fascinating option. The way is waymarked both ways, so you do not need to worry about getting lost or confused. Plus, you are bound to encounter many pilgrims with intriguing stories. The whole route is slightly over 100km and filled with inspiring coastal views, eucalyptus forests and farmlands dotted with quiet forgotten settlements.
Not everyone is interested in getting all the way to Santiago, so if you are one of those who simply want to enjoy the hike, you have plenty of options to choose from. For instance, any stage in the Basque Country (whether on Camino Francés or Camino del Norte) is definitely worth checking out. Serious hikers will enjoy the mountainous challenge that comes with it while enjoying the spiritual serendipity of the Camino.