Rabanal del Camino

Rabanal, (pop 60), is a good resting place before making your way over the mountain, Monte Irago, in the morning. When I first passed here in 2004 it had two Albergues, it now has four competing for your pilgrim Euros along with a few small tourist shops.

Albergue Gaucelmo (CSJ), Calvario, 4, association, donation, 46 beds, B, K, Bike, Tel: 987 691 901, , open Apr to Oct inc.

Albergue La Senda, Calle Real, private, €5, 34 beds, W, D, K, @, Bike, Tel: 650 952 721, , open: unknown.

Albergue Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Plaza de Jerónimo Morán Alonso, private, €5, 72 beds, W, B, K, @, Cred, Bike, Tel: 987 631 621, , open all year.

Albergue Municipal, Plaza de Jerónimo Morán Alonso, W, K, @, Bike, Tel: 987 631 687, open 15th May to 15th Sep

Rural house in Rabanal

In the 12th century, the Knights Templar protected the village and are thought to have provided protection for pilgrims over Mount Irago. It is also thought that the Templars built the 12th-century Romanesque church Santa Maria de la Asuncion, however, it was extensively renovated during the 18th century.

Inside the church, there is a 12th-century image of St Blas and 18th-century retablos. You can attend Vespers in the church each night at 7 pm, it is an excellent opportunity to hear the service all in Gregorian chant.

The church is now run by Benedictine monks affiliated to an order in Germany, Sankt Ottilien’s Erzabtel. The monastery is beside the church and next door is Refugio Gaucelmo, a hostel run by the Confraternity of St James in the UK.

The monks offer a retreat for pilgrims wishing to stay and explore their spirituality, the minimum time is two days with no apparent maximum. More on their website.

The current Albergue run by the Confraternity of St James is built on the site of the 12th-century Hospital de San Gregorio, which was also known as Gaucelmo, hence the current name.

The famous Aymery Picaud stayed here, he was the first to write a guide to the Camino Frances. The Confraternity took over the building in 1991 and refurbished it to its current great standard, previously there was no hostel in Rabanal.

Today’s Walk: 32.7 km (20 mi)

Rabanal del Camino to Ponferrada Map

This is a longer day’s walk than usual, however, the first part is interesting and wild, the second half is easy going and the last third into Ponferrada is fairly dull road and hard gravel paths.

Unlike many places, you will be able to have breakfast in Rabanal. Two albergues serve food and it is worth eating, however, there are places to eat at Foncebadon, El Acebo, and Molinaseca. There are fountains during the day to refill with drinking water.

At all times of the year, an early start will be chilly, so it is worth having your fleece out as you start walking. The panorama views in the mountains are beautiful.

The first village you will walk through is Foncebadon which was abandoned for many years, however, due to the Camino, there are now a few residents and four pilgrim hostels. There was only one the first time I passed through.

Today is a day that many pilgrims hope to be lighter, both physically and spiritually. The Cruz de Ferro is an iron cross on top of a 5-meter wooden pole. Many pilgrims bring a stone from home to leave with the many thousands of stones already there.

Leaving a stone is the sign of leaving behind a burden, or letting go of something in your life. However, it is best not to be here from 11 am onwards when tourist buses start to arrive as this detracts from the atmosphere.

Though, even with only pilgrims, there can be a queue for the obligatory photo beside the cross. Near the cross is the Hermitage de Santiago, it was built for a holy year and normally remains closed and locked.

The cross is at 1,500 m (4921 ft) and just after is the high point of the day at 1,520 m (4986 ft) and the highest point of the whole Camino Frances.

The next village was also abandoned and ruined until the Camino started to become popular again. There is now an albergue here.

It is one of the strangest albergues along the Camino and therefore it is worth stopping to have tea or coffee. It is normally open all day to welcome pilgrims.

El Acebo is the start of civilization once again. It is a picturesque little one-street village that caters to the many pilgrims that pass through and it is a great place to either stop for the day or to have lunch.

Continuing downhill and following the arrows the next stopping place is Molinaseca. The town has an outstanding Romanesque bridge that leads across the river into the town and the main street. At the end of the bridge on the left is a great little cafe where you can hang out for a while with a view of the bridge and say hello to fellow pilgrims.

Make sure you have water when leaving Molinaseca as there are no fountains before the hostel in Ponferrada, which is nearly another 8 km (5 mi). These last 8 km are semi-urban and much of the walking is beside the road with little tree coverage.

The main hostel in Ponferrada is relatively new and there is a smallish supermarket nearby for food, so I did not walk into Ponferrada till the next morning and I just used the internet and soaked my feet in the fountain out front.


Foncebadon Spain

5.6 km (3.5 mi), water, bar, cafe,

Albergue De Monte Irago, Foncebadón, private, K, W, D, V, M, B, Bike, Tel: 695 452 950, open all year.

Albergue Domus Dei de Foncebadon, Calle Real, parochial, donation, 18 beds, W, K, @, M, B, Tel: none, Web: https://www.facebook.com/alberguefoncebadon, open Apr to Oct inc.

Albergue Convento de Foncebadon, private, €7, 30 beds, M, V, B, @, Tel: 658 974 818,

Albergue La Cruz de Fierro, Calle Real, private, €7, 40 beds, W, D, V, K, Tel: 987 691 093, 665 258 169,

Albergue Roger de Lauria, @, Bike, Tel: 625 313 425, open Feb to Nov inc.

Albergue La Posada del Druida, €7, 20 beds, W, D, K, Tel: 696 820 136, https://www.facebook.com/LaPosadadelDruida, open Mar to Oct inc.

Foncebadon has reawakened due to the popularity of the Camino, the first time I walked through the villages most of the houses were only crumbling walls.

Today there is a thriving cafe and four albergues; Gaucelmo, the hermit, would be proud; he built the second hospice here in the 12th century, the Hospital of San Juan, which was 300 meters beyond the village.

In 1103 the Church of San Salvador de Irago was built here. By the 1980’s the church was a ruin. However, it has been partially renovated and has an albergue built into the side of it.

Cruz de Ferro

Cruz de Ferro on the Camino

2.1 km (1.3 mi)

The Cruz de Ferro, Iron Cross, stands at 1,504 meters above sea and is surrounded by stones and tokens that many pilgrims leave here as a sign of love, leaving something behind, or of contrition.

It is a simple five-meter wooden pole topped with an iron cross. The cross is a replica of the original which is now housed in the Museum of the Ways in Astorga.

It is believed that the pile of stones pre-dates Christianity as the Celts were in the habit of marking high mountaintops that were used as tracks with stone, the Gaelic word is still in use today – Cairns.

This tradition could have continued with the Romans who also marked high passes to honor the god Mercury who was then the patron saint of travelers.

It is believed that Gaucelmo Christianised what was a pagan monument as he Christianised the surrounding area.

The small chapel built to the side of the Cruz de Ferro was constructed in 1982 and is normally closed.


Tomas Hostel on the Camino

2 km (1.2 mi), water, tea, sometimes snacks

Refuge, beside road, donation, 35 beds, K, open all year.

Manjarin is an abandoned 12th-century village that is mostly in ruins, there was a pilgrims hospice here in 1180 and there are records of its existence until the 16th century.

Its official population is 1; that is Thomas who runs an unusual albergue with places for 35 pilgrims in tents and wooden shacks. It is worthwhile stopping for a coffee and enjoying the atmosphere.

El Acebo

El Acebo Spain

6.8 km (4,2 mi), water, cafe, shop

Albergue Apostol Santiago, Plaza de la Iglesia, par, donation, 23 beds, W, K, M, B, Bike, Tel: none, open Apr to Oct inc.

Mesón El Acebo, 16 Calle Real, private, €5, 23 beds, W, D, V, Bike, Tel: 987 695 074, Web: , open 20th Jan to 22nd Dec

Albergue La Taberna de Jose, private, €5, 7 beds, overflow for above.

Albergue La Casa del Peregrino, Carretera de Compludo, s/n, €10, 103 beds, private, W, D, V, @, Bike, Tel: 987 057 875, Web: , open 10th Jan to 20th Dec.

El Acebo is another mountain village that was nearly abandoned but has had life breathed back into it due to the Camino Frances.

It is said the villagers of Acebo enjoyed a tax-free life in return for marking the pilgrim’s route with 800 stakes over the pass from Foncebadon. This is a good place to stop for lunch as there are several options.

The 15th-century parish Church of San Miguel contains a statue that could be either Santiago or San Juan Bauista. However, it is a beautiful statue with a tunic decorated with fleur de lys, which according to the Codex Calixtinus is one of the symbols of St James.

Riego de Ambros

Riego de Ambros Spain

3.9 km (2.4 mi), water, bar, cafe, shop

Albergue De Peregrinos, Avenida Fraga Iribarne, municipal, €5, 30 beds, W, D, K, V, Bike, Tel: 987 695 190, open Apr to Oct inc.

Riego de Ambros is a beautiful mountain village and worth staying in to avoid the busy city and albergue in Ponferrada. There was a pilgrim’s hostel here in the 12th century.

The 16th-century parish church is dedicated to Mary Magdalena, its one interesting feature is the Baroque retablo.

Leaving Riego de Ambros we continue steeply downhill to Molinasca. Cyclists are warned to be careful on this section as one German pilgrim has already died on this section.


Molinaseca Spain

4.6 km (2.8 mi), all services

Albergue Municipal San Roque, Avenida Fraga Iribarne, €5, 25 beds, W, D, V, Cred, Tel: 987 453 077, open all year.

Albergue Santa Marina, Avenida Fraga Iribarne, private, €7, 56 beds, W, D, M, B, Bike, Tel: 987 453 077, open mid Mar to Nov inc.

On the last downhill stretch into the town the on the right built into the cliff is the beautiful 18th-century baroque chapel Capilla de la Virgen de las Angustias. Shortly you cross the river Meruelo on a Romanesque bridge into the town, the river is a good place to cool sore and hot feet.

Molinaseca prospered after being sold by the Monastery de Sandoval to the Monastery of Carracedo in the 13th century. After its sale, the town was granted a charter to encourage French traders to settle which aided the growth of a market town.

The Neoclassical church of San Nicholas de Bari replaced an earlier 12th-century construction. Inside there is a figure of San Roque and a Churrigueresque retablo from 1674. (Churrigueresque is a particular Spanish Baroque style)

It’s a 7.7-km (4.8 mi) walk from Molinaseca to Ponferrada, where you will find all services.

Read info on being a volunteer in the hostel in Rabanal del Camino

Key: W = Washing, D = Drying, M = Menu, @ = Internet, K = Kitchen, B = Breakfast, V = Vending, Cred = Credential

Rabanal del Camino to Ponferrada Elevation Map

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