Ponferrada became a city in 1908 with a population of only 3,000 at that time. Today the population has grown to over 67,000 making it the last large city before Santiago in about 8 to 10 days.
The city sits in a strategic location, first as it overlooked the surrounding fertile valley and then as a rich mining district.
It is believed the area was settled before the Romans invaded and first built a fort and started mining. The Roman fort was destroyed by the Visigoths around 456 and the Moors destroyed the town during their 9th-century invasion.
The city was reconquered by Alfonso III el Magno who started the reconstruction. The first documented evidence of building for pilgrims was the construction of a bridge for pilgrims in 1082. The bridge reinforced with iron bars gave the city its name: Pons Ferrata.
Ponferrada Castle: Late in the 12th century the city was entrusted to the Knight Templar who starting building the castle in 1218 and finished in 1282. However, they only got to enjoy the finished work for just over twenty years. The Templars had become powerful, wealthy, and political, therefore, they were feared which led to their downfall.
Rumors abound that they did not believe in Christ, the Virgin and they worshipped demons. All this led first to their general arrest in France in 1307, Spain followed a year later; the Order was dissolved in 1312.
During the next 300 years, the castle changed hands frequently between various Spanish nobility as they fought over land and rights. In 1507 the castle was taken by the crown and then later sold to the Marques de Villafranca which led to the long-settled period until the War of Independence in the 19th century.
Daily tours are available and the castle can be visited between 10.00 and 14.00 and 16.30 and 20.30 between 1st April and 15th Oct. For times outside of these dates see their website.
The Church of San Andres is mostly now of 17th century reconstruction. Inside there is a Christ known as the Cristo de las Maravillas which interesting is thought to be of Templar origin showing Christ in a skirt. There is also an interesting Baroque retablo.
The Church of Santa Maria de la Encina was originally built in the 12th century and has been replaced by the current church constructed between 1573 and 1660. In the center of the main retablo is an image of the virgin which legend says was discovered by the Templars in an Oak tree while they were building the castle.
Note the depiction of the Last Judgement, on the north aisle wall, of souls awaiting admittance to heaven, some in hell, and others in purgatory. On the way back out of the church, you face three statutes of Christ with different expressions; these have been described as suffering, Godly, and as self-absorbed.
The Museum del Bierzo has been installed in a former prison that was built in the 16th century. Separate rooms explain the different periods in the history of the area; the Castro culture, Roman mining, archaeology, and of course the Templars.
Today’s Walk: 23.3 km (14.5 mi)
Today is a fairly easy day walking as far as the Camino goes. Most of the day is through vineyards and along easy tracks underfoot. The maximum change in elevation over the day is about 70 meters (230 ft).
If you have stayed overnight in the main hostel in Ponferrada now is a good time to see a little of Ponferrada, walk by the Templar’s Castle, and visit a bank machine to have enough money for the next three days as ATM’s will be patchy.
There are water fountains well spaced throughout the day.
Ponferrada is a good place to have breakfast; however, there are several small towns along the way today to stop for food.
You can eat at Fuentes Nuevas, after 7.8 km (4.9 mi), Camponaraya is another 1.7 km (1mi), then Cacabelos is another 5.8 km (3.6mi).
During the last 8 km (5 mi) from Cacabelos to Villafranca it is fairly easy-going, with only one small hill after the town, but there is no place to stop for water or food.
2.7 km (1.7 mi)
Compostilla is essentially a suburb of Ponferrada which became a coal mining company town during the 1960s.
However you will pass a new small church which has been built on the site of a medieval hermitage; the Nuestra Senora del Refugio is painted with pilgrim iconography that of course includes Santiago as a pilgrim.
2.3 km (1.8 mi), water, bar
Columbrianos is a modern town with an ancient heart in the center being one of the oldest towns in the Bierzo. There are two hermitages dedicated to St John and St Blase, and the Parish Church of San Esteban.
On the two rounded hills to the north sit two pre-Roman castros.
2.8 km (1.7 mi), water, cafe
It will take little more than two minutes to walk through Fuentes Nuevas.
There is a cafe for refreshments and the Camino passes the door of the Parish Church of Santa Maria and the Hermitage del Campo del Divino Cristo.
1.7 km (1 mi), water, bar, shop
Camponaraya, the name and town was formed from two villages that joined together in the 15th century, each had developed on separate sides of the river.
The modern parish church is dedicated to San Ildefonso, who was the Bishop of Toledo.
5.8 km (3.6 mi), all services
Cacabelos is a sizable town with over five thousand inhabitants, and has strong links to the Camino evidenced by the five medieval pilgrim hospices that once existed here.
It has been in existence since the 10th century, however, the town was destroyed by an earthquake in the early 12th century and rebuilt by Bishop Diego who owned the town. Today the town is a center for wine production.
The Archaeological Museum has displays from Celtic, Roman, and Medieval period.
Within the Church of Santa Maria de la Plaza there is a beautiful 13th-century statue of the Virgin carved in stone. Although the church was first built in the 12th century little remains from that period as it was reconstructed in the 16th century.
On the way out of the town, over the river Cua, stands the 18th-century Sanctuario de la Quinta Angustia built on the site of a former hermitage. Inside, the altarpiece is remarkable as it shows the Baby Jesus playing cards with Saint Anthony of Padua, well worth seeing.
3.5 km (2.1 mi), water, cafe
Pieros has a population of only 35 inhabitants and the one albergue. There is a cafe which is part of the albergue and may not be open outside of the albergue opening times.
There is a path just beyond Pieros that leads up the Carro de la Ventosa, the large circular hill to the south. If you walk up this path it rejoins the pilgrim route further along.
The top of the hill has been excavated and you can see the old Celtiberian defensive wall. This hill is an illustration of the castro culture, mostly Celtic, that inhabited the area from about 800 B.C. until the Romans conquered Northern Spain.
The villages appear to be the first permanent villages of clans that had been hunter-gathers. Flat hilltops near rivers were chosen for the natural defense they offered.
Valtuille de Arriba
1.3 km (0.8 mi), water, cafe
The Camino Frances briefly passes through the south part of the village. There is a cafe and water if you walk further into the town.
Villafranca del Bierzo is a 3.2-km (2 mi) walk from Valtuille de Arriba. It has all the services you may need.
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.