For most people, the Camino de Santiago means a month of walking across northern Spain, covering about 800 km (500 miles). So it is unsurprising that most of us plan a few rest days along the Camino.
Below are some of the towns and villages I suggest are good places to stop for a day and be a tourist instead of a pilgrim.
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Why a Rest Day?
It is fairly easy to walk 10km; if you are fit enough, it is easy to walk 25 or 30 kilometers. However, your body starts to feel the strain when you walk day after day. Muscles you did not know existed hurt, and sometimes they strain – at this point, it is a good idea to rest otherwise, you run the possibility of not being able to finish.
Two Trains of Thought
Some people want to walk every day, even if it is just 5, 10, or 15 km. If you are used to walking 30km daily, then 10km feels like a rest. This has been my usual way of taking a few easy days when needed.
Others like to take a full day off and have two nights somewhere. If you fall into this category, I suggest booking a hotel or Casa Rural / Pension, much like a Bed and Breakfast.
If you are having an extra night somewhere, most pilgrim hostels don’t allow you to stay more than one day except for medical reasons (though many private albergues will allow this). And really, do you want to get woken at 6 am or earlier by noisy pilgrims on your day off?
After a week of sleeping in albergues and hostels, I looked forward to the feel of clean sheets, a real bed, and a room to myself – so a hotel is well worth the price.
Saint Jean Pied de Port
The Camino Frances starts in St Jean, so why have a rest before you start? This is normal for visitors from other continents. Starting to walk while suffering from jet lag or having just finished two days of travel is not the best start to your pilgrimage.
St Jean Pied de Port is a pretty little market town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees that separate France and Spain. There is enough to keep you occupied for a day or so.
Pamplona is the first major city on the way and is famous for its San Fermin festival and the running of the bulls (July 6 to 14). It normally takes three days to walk from St Jean to Pamplona, so this might be a little early to have a day off. However, Pamplona is a beautiful city with tapa restaurants on every corner.
Other sites to see in Pamplona include:
- The 14th-century Gothic Cathedral
- Museum of Navarra
- The two 13th-century Gothic Churches of San Sernin and San Nicholas
- And in the evening, before eating have a stroll around the old city walls
Burgos, the capital of Castile, comes after thirteen walking days. It is not a city well known outside of Spain. However, it contains one of Spain’s best and oldest Gothic Cathedrals. The city is home to El Cid, evidenced by the many statues.
The Museum of Human Evolution is the best museum in the city to visit; it is housed in a futuristic-looking building built on old barracks. The museum aims to be one of the top ten in Spain.
Ten miles outside Burgos are the Atapuerca Mountains. This is the main reason for the above museum being situated in Burgos. Excavations in the area have discovered the earliest human remains in Europe at 1.2 million years old. The local tourist office can supply information on tours to the caves.
Ponferrada is another small city that few people will have heard of. However, it is a great size to stop in for a rest day.
It has it all in miniature; a Templar Castle, the Renaissance Basilica de la Encina with its baroque towers, and the Museum de El Bierzo, which contains the area’s history and important archaeological pieces.
Santiago de Compostela
I stayed in Santiago for three days, one day too long.
It is a small tourist city, and it was overwhelming after being a pilgrim walking the Camino Frances in peace and quiet. You have to see Santiago Cathedral (here is a list of things to see in Santiago) and meet with friends that have been made along the way, but it is not a place for quiet relaxation.
If you are not a city person, there are many small villages and market towns along the way to rest. Often the best way is just to rest when you are ready, rather than planning and creating a timetable for yourself; however, if you have certain sights you want to see, then planning your rest days on the Camino de Santiago might be a good idea.
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.