My wife, Sandy, and I walked the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago in 2016 at the end of winter. We started on March 12th and finished around the first of May, 46 days at our own leisurely pace. At the time I was 68 and Sandy was 67. We decided before we began that the three things we would not talk about on our journey were politics, sports, and debts.
The “Napoleon Way” from St. Jean was closed due to deep snow accumulation and continued snowing, so initially, we had to take the path that followed along the road to Roncesvalles. Actually, we spent our first night in the village of Valcarlos and proceeded the next day to Roncesvalles, where, of course, we stayed at the Hostel Roncesvalles – Orrega. The following day we headed out about 8:00 in the morning, our normal time to start our walking.
We encountered about ten straight days of snow, cold rain, sometimes sleet, and occasionally high winds. But we were resolute in our desire to keep going, and never once considered stopping our journey (it had not yet become our pilgrimage as we now claim it). Every day we looked forward to finding our evening resting place, taking a hot shower, eating a warm meal, drinking a beer or glass of wine, perhaps visiting with strangers or newfound friends for a short while, and then climbing into a warm bed —- always comfortable enough to quickly fall asleep. Probably because of our age, more often than not we chose to stay at pensions or small hotels rather than albergues.
After that first week and a half of precipitous weather, the sun broke through the clouds, and spring literally exploded all around us. The weather was comfortable and beautiful, birds were singing throughout the day, flowers of all kinds were blooming everywhere, and baby animals of all types were abundant to be seen. Time just slowed down to a crawl in our perceptions, and evidence of the salts of the earth was everywhere.
A transformation had begun in our journey, in our lives. We had begun to feel God in our presence, communing with us daily, walking along by our sides, asking us to pause and take notice of the creations and beauty around us, pointing out how we could hear the cuckoo birds throughout the day although never saw them, pointing to the storks nesting at the top of church towers and steeples, and allowing us to see the daily blessings that we previously had been in too much of a hurry to take notice of. Our journey had indeed become not only a historical and cultural way, but it had also become a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage.
As we neared Santiago de Compostela, the number of travelers on the pathway increased significantly, some on their own pilgrimage, others on a personalized journey of other importance, some coming the way we had come from St. Jean Pied de Port, others have begun their journey at Sarria. Ultimately, it made no difference, our journey/pilgrimage had taken on a meaning that was reserved exclusively for us, while others were to become absorbed in their own revelations. At Way’s end in Santiago, though having bittersweet feelings about reaching the end of our sojourn, we also knew that we had received an inspiring satisfaction that we could keep for the rest of our lives.
Related: Best time to walk the Camino
ps. Once this coronavirus has run its course, Sandy and I are planning another Camino, probably from Lisbon to Santiago. Although I must admit, I have thoughts of beginning our second journey, our second pilgrimage, in Le Puy, France, traversing through St. Jean, and repeating our previous journey from there to Santiago. Now, can I just convince Sandy that we should do this? After all, we are in our seventies now. Author: David Bennett.
If you want to walk the Camino in winter, I also suggest checking out my guide to winter hiking.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.
19 thoughts on “Hiking the Camino de Santiago in Winter & Spring”
I made my pilgrimage in 2013 in the 6 weeks before my 60th birthday and also highly recommend using pensions! For the first two weeks my Camino friend & I stayed exclusively in alburgues (honoring her desire to spend as little money as possible!) but after she decided to return home & I wanted to continue the pilgrimage, I booked the rest of the way in pensions (I used a company called CaminoWays.com) and the security of knowing exactly where I was staying each night was a terrific boon. I recommend pensions for travelers of any age, but especially for older peregrinos!
Thank you for the info. I walked the Camino from St.Jeanne to Santiago in 2012 when I was 63. It took me 49 days stopping once for 2 nights and I always stayed at Auberges. I often thought of doing it again but I’m 70 yrs old now and with this Pandemic who knows when it will be open again? It’s good to hear that pensions worked well for you. I will consider it IF I ever do it again.
Albergues are fine for us old people. Only tourists use hotels or pre book, Recently walked the Primitivo on 12 days at 74, and at least a third of walkers were over 70!
Hello…I am 72 and God willing will begin my 3rd Camino in May of 2021. Memories of earlier adventures will always be with me. I am looking forward to new experiences,meeting new pilgrims,experiencing a spiritual revival.Buen Camino to all,Pat
Good on you for walking the Camino in your 70s. My husband & I walked the Camino Frances in 2017 and we are planning to walk again in our 70s – May be 2025 when we will both be 70. The peregrinos, the Spanish people, the walk, the friendliness- all of it just captured our hearts. It is doable at any age. Just have to have “ganas”.
Do not hesitate to go again, if you can walk you can do it. I ran into many Octogenarians on my Camino, Ken 81, some wonderful lady from Cornwall, 85. Just approach it as you did the winter one, at your pace and enjoy!
Wow, look at all that snow!
You guys are AWESOME! And so positive! That must be what keeps you looking so young and seeking new adventures!
I LOVED your story, thank you so much for sharing it! I walked the Camino Del Norte from Arun to Santiago in June 2018 just after my husband was killed in a awful vehicle crash and highly recommend that route! There are far less people walking that trail which suited me and although I was 60, I chose to stay in Alburgues so met many lovely young people and still keep contact with them! It was the simplicity of that time that I needed, walk as far as you want each day, eat when you find somewhere to buy food and sleep where there is a spare bed! (good ear plugs essential) I will not forget that special time, where I was able to grieve without having to deal with the fallout of my husband’s death and make decisions with clarity. I carried a small container of Greg’s ashes with me (he never wanted to miss out on anything) leaving some along the way and finally at Finisterre, Lands end!
I may never be able to walk another pilgrimage coming from the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, but I will carry the one I did with me always!
You can do it! Age is just an idea. The way from La Puy is the so beautiful. Learn some French first!
La ruta portugués is also fabulous, but do it in the spring since the summer is unbearable.
What a wonderful memory! I was in Luzaide/Valcarlos visiting family in March of 2016. Our cousin is a firefighter with Vacarlos Fire and talked about having to rescue multiple pilgrims that winter, despite having closed the pass. What a record snowfall year that was–and what an incredible time to make the pilgrimage! Thank you for sharing–and thank you from all of us who either live in or have family roots in Valcarlos for staying there. As we say in Valcarlos, the Camino Francés truly starts here! 🙂
I loved your post. I also hiked the Northern route in winter (Feb 2018). I loved the solitude, yet the fewer pilgrims on the way made running into fellow pilgrims extra special. I too stayed in hostels because most all the albuerques were closed. I really enjoyed your memories and look forward to hearing about your future pilgrimages!
Thank you for sharing your story. It was refreshing to read about your winter experience in the hot climate of New Mexico. I started the Camino Frances in the fall of 2016 with my brother. After walking only 200 miles, I had to return to work due to unforeseen circumstances. In early January 2018, I chose to finish the remaining 300 miles in winter. I absolute enjoyed walking in snow and experiencing the Camino with fewer pilgrims. Didn’t enjoy the cold rain on the Meseta, but it was rewarding at the end of the day. After my pilgrimage, I was encouraged to write about my experience from my local chapter. This led to a book. If you’ll permit me to share it here. The book is called, “Walking in Winter on the Camino.” I posted pictures and information on the book at: Brianscamino.com. Thank you both, and Buen Camino.
I am in the same boat, being the same age and having rescheduled my departure from the USA on 4-20-2021. Hope to be on the Camino Portuguese and then do the short but demanding Camino Ingles immediately afterwards. Will be using pensiones for sure! Planning a leisurely hike and exploration of never before seen towns/cities, since my return flight is scheduled for June 9th. Buen camino! Hoping all goes well for all of us of there with a similar plan and itinerary itinerary.
Can definitely recommend the route from Le Put in France. It’s very beautiful, sometimes challenging, and a lot quieter than the main Camino in Spain. My husband and I have walked from Le Puy to Fromista in several stages, nearly always staying in pensiones that I booked ahead. We walk quite slowly and didn’t want the stress of racing to the next albergue for a bed, or the communal snoring! Hoping to continue when it’s safe. Buen Camino!
I did the Portuguese route from April 30 to May 1 at 75yrs. My second Camino. If you thought Spain is beautiful in Spring, Portugal is spring on steroids. Plus you get Lisbon and Porto. We flew into Lisbon, train to Porto and started Camino and flew out of Santiago to home. I wish you boa viagem
Thank you, very encouraging. Now if this covid business would just subside somewhat, we are ready to do the Camino again —- likely the Portugese route.
What is the Camino like in the fall say September, October weather wise.
September is the best time, and October gets a little rainier. But after the summer rush, I think this is a great time to walk. I have covered it more in this post https://www.caminoadventures.com/blog/what-is-the-best-time-to-walk-the-camino-de-santiago/
Do not stop in Santiago! Best part is Santiago to Finisterre! Plan on the Plata in 2023 at age 75. Walked five Camino carrying my own pack and never pre booked