Day 22 – Today there are two routes, however the choice for these was made yesterday, both routes meet at Hospital de Orbigo.
Route A Day 22 Villadangos del Paramo to Astorga – 28.9km
The first part of the day again hugs the N120 until Puenta de Orbigo, from here the route is further from the road until a few kilometres before Astorga. The day is easy walking without any steep accents or decent until the short steep accent into Astorga itself.
San Martin del Camino is the first village of day and perfectly placed for breakfast; it is an easy downward sloping track all the way to this village. The downward route continues to Hospital de Orbigo the town over the magnificent bridge leading into the village.
This is a perfect place to stop for an early lunch or buy food from the many shops to eat later. There is a café/ restaurant on the left hand side at the end of the bridge, it is a great place to enjoy the views and watch pilgrims walk across the bridge into the village.
From here the route turns right at the end of the village and heads across countryside passing through Villares de Orbigo and Santibanez. By now the route will be ascending easily towards the Cross of Santo Toribio, where you will have a view over the valley to Astorga. The bottom is the valley is incredibly flat; you will cross the railway tracks and walk the steep climb into the walled city of Astorga.
San Martin del Camino 3km, water, cafe, bar, shop
Albergue Municipal, Carretera de León, €5, 68 beds, M, B, K, @, Bike, Tel: 676 020 388, open all year.
Albergue Santa Ana, 3 Carretera de Astorga, private, €6, 96 beds, M, B, W, D, K, V, @, Bike, Tel: 987 378 653,
Albergue Vieira, Avenida Peregrinos, private, €7, 60 beds, M, B, K, @, Bike, Tel: 987 378 565, Web: http://www.alberguevieira.es, open Mar to Oct inc.
With a population of only just over 400 San Martin has almost all the services required by any pilgrim. The village dates from the early 13th century, however the oldest pilgrim’s hopice only dates from the 17th century, it no longer exists.
The parish church is dedicated to St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of pilgrims. Internally the altar is modern with other protectors of pilgrims grouped together; St Michael, San Antonio Abad, and San Roque.
Puenta de Orbigo 7km,
Puente de Orbigo is only a spread of houses along the side of the River Orbigo, however it is the best place to take photos of the Gothic bridge into Hospital de Orbigo, one of Spain’s best examples. The bridge is one of the most famous along the Camino Frances and in the past was of strategic importance. The oldest arches are 13th century, numbers 3 to 6 from the east; the other arches date mostly from the 17th century: over the years they have been swept away by floods and General Moore while fighting Napoleon blew two up while retreating. However the reconstructions have maintained the medieval aspect of the bridge. The area around the bridge has been the scene of many battles over the centuries – it may be one of the most bloodied places you are ever likely to stand on. The Swabians fought the Visogoths in 452, the Moors and Alfonso the Great also battled here, and before these the Romans had established a town on the edge of the river.
There is a famous Spanish legend associated with the bridge. It is said that in 1434 Suero de Quinones, a Leonese knight, held a jousting contest on the bridge as the result of being scorned by the lady he loved. He wore an iron collar around his neck and resolved to beat all comers, and being a Jacobean Holy Year many came. The tournament started two weeks before St James day and ran until the 11th August. After 11th Aug he remained undefeated having broken 300 lances belong to his opponents. The iron collar was taken off and he declared his honour intact and himself free from the love that had bound him and then he proceed to Santiago. Apparently a Catalan challenger that had heard of Suero’s reputation decided to wear armour with double steel – Suero mocking him came out in light armour and a woman’s blouse.
Just off the route by about 50 meters past the bridge before you cross is the pretty Hermitage de Nuestra Senora de la Purificacion, the entrance is up an alleyway on the right.
Hospital de Orbigo 2km, all services
Albergue Karl Leisner, c/ Álvarez Vega, 32, par, €5, 90 beds, K, Bike, Tel: 987 388 444, open all year.
Albergue Verde, Av Fueros de Léon, 76, private, €9, 26 beds, M, B, W, D, @, Bike, Tel: 689 927 926, open Easter to Nov inc.
Albergue La Encina, Avenida Suero de Quiñones, private, €9.5, 16 beds, B, M, W, D, Bike, Tel: 987 361 087, Web:www.complejolaribera.com, open all year.
Albergue San Miguel, c/ Álvarez Vega 35, association, €7, 40 beds, W, D, K, V, @, B, Bike, Tel: 988 388 285, Web: www.alberguesanmiguel.com, open all year.
Hospital de Orbigo is a pretty little market town and a great place to stop for lunch or to buy food for a later picnic. There are two cafes one on the left the other just down a little on the right as you leave the bridge, opposite the second cafe there is a small supermarket.
This is another town along the way that once belonged to the Knights Templar in the 13th century, there was once a famous pilgrim’s hospice here of which nothing remains.
Further down the main street you will pass the Church of San Justo. This 12th century church has been renovated many times over the years, but it is right on your path, inside it has San Juan as the center figure in the retablo.
Leaving Hospital de Orbigo it is possible to continue walking along the side of the N120, however unless you are cycling, this is the least attractive route to take with no water or food available until San Justo.
Villares de Orbigo 3.1km, water, bar, shop
Alb. Villares de Orbigo, c/ Arnal, 21, private, €7, 24 beds, W, D, K, @, B, M, Bike, Tel: 987 132 935, Web: http://www.alberguevillaresdeorbigo.com/, open 1st Feb to 15th Dec.
A small market town of less than 900 inhabitants. As is common when nearing a larger urban centre on the Camino the sites of importance in the surrounding town and villages are less as if all worthwhile artist work has been sucked into the centre.
The local parish church is dedicated to St James who presides over the altar as Santiago Matamoros.
Santibanez de Valdeiglesia 2.5km, water, bar, shop
Albergue Parroquial, Caromonte bajo, 3, €6, 20 beds, M, Bike, Tel: 626 362 159, open Mar to Nov inc.
Albergue Camino Francés, Calle Real, private, €7, 12 beds, W, D, M, B, @, Tel: 987 361 014, Web: http://alberguecaminofrances.com/open Apr to Oct inc.
The Church de la Trinidad has a few interesting images of Santiago as the Moor slayer and the pilgrim San Roque.
After Santibanez de Valdeiglesia there is an alternative path that follows the road, however it is the least pleasant of the two choice although flatter and more even underfoot.
About 1km before San Justo de la Vega you will come across a granite cross dedicated to St Toribio a 5th century Bishop of Astorga. The cross marks the spot where he stopped to shake the dust from his sandals after being forced to leave his diocese.
San Justo de la Vega 7.9km, all services
The town of San Justo has little to hold the pilgrim heading to finish their day in Astorga. The Church of San Justo although originally 16th century has been renovated over the years, only the bell tower has been preserved. Inside there is a 17th century retablo. An early Christian sarcophagus from here now reside in Astorga Cathedral.
Astorga 3.4km, all services
Albergue Siervos de Maria, Plaza San Francisco, 3, association, €5, 156 beds, K, W, D, Cred, @, Bike, Tel: 987 616 034, Web: http://www.caminodesantiagoastorga.com/, open all year.
Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier, Portería, 6, private, €8, 95 beds, W, D, K, B, @, Bike, Tel: 987 618 532, open Apr to Dec.
Albergue Camino y Via, just before Astorga, private, €6, 22 beds, W, D, K, V, B, @, Tel: 987 615 192
Due to its location Astorga has been an important cross road and city since Roman times. It sat at the junction of two main Roman roads the Via Traiana from Bordeaux and the Via de la Plata from Merida. There is a legend that the city was an episcopal see founded by St James; it is interesting to note that before the remains of St James were discovered at Santiago there is some evidence of a Cult of St James in this part of Northern Spain. However historical records do show a Bishop existed here in the 3rd century. As it was a Swabian city it was destroyed by the Visigoths after their victory at the battle of Orbigo mentioned above.
The city later flourished under Visigoth rule, but was once again destroyed by Muslim invaders in 714. Around 850 it was reconquered, by Ordono I, and became a Christian stronghold, and was once again fortified. The city was one of the few places in Spain were Jews had the same rights as the local population and were integrated into all aspects of the city life, even participating in the nightly patrols; this lasted until 1492 the date of the Jewish expulsion from Spain.
Astorga has a long tradition of aiding pilgrims, at one time there were twenty one hospices located here, second only to Burgos. Unlike other towns and cities Astorga provided shelter in their albergues to the homeless and indigent. There was a problem along the Camino Frances of the homeless continually walking the route and staying in pilgrim hospices. Some places took measures to discourage this practice, however in the 16th century as the popularity of the pilgrimage declined several hospices in Astorga agreed to house the homeless. There is evidence of confraternities selling off land during the 18th century to pay for this continued practice.
The current Astorga Cathedral and Museum was started in 1471 and was built over an earlier church that stood from 1069. However there have been many restorations and repairs over the years for example the south façade is 18th century, this and other areas were damaged by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. There are two main areas of the cathedral that should not be missed:
The west façade, which was finished in 1704, simulates a Baroque retablo, as is often the case with churches from this period it can be overpowering – it is designed in that manner. Inside the main retablo was designed by a disciple of Michelangelo, Gaspar Becerra, is one of the best Renaissance retablos you will see along the Camino Frances.
Unfortunately the choir stalls are generally closed to the public. However if you have a good zoom on your camera you can see the incredible detail of the carvings that mainly censure moral abuse using anthropomorphic animals – there is even one that censures smoking only twenty years after tobacco was brought to Spain by Columbus.
The Cathedral Museum is located beside the cloister, which is worth visiting anyway, it houses many of the older statues that pre date the current cathedral. Many valuable pieces from local churches along the way have made their way here over the centuries: an ivory Christ with painted blood was moved here from Rabanal, there is a good collection of Romanesque Virgins, and the Mozarabic chest of San Genadio circa 900 donated by Alfonso III. There is also a collection of St James as the pilgrim and the Moor slayer.
Antonio Gaudi’s amazing neo-Gothic Bishop’s Palace is designed to take your breath away, although called the Bishop’s Palace it has never housed a Bishop. Since 1963 it has been the home of the Museum of Pilgrimage, sometimes referred to as the Museum of the Ways. Even if you don’t visit the museum the building itself is a must see.
The Church of St Martha looks like it could be the location of a film set in an old cowboy movie with its plain façade and three bells ready to ring out at the top. The church was built in the 16th century over an earlier structure. Inside there is a good quality 18th century retablo. However perhaps the most interesting sight is attached to the side of the church, where there is a small 14th century prison cell where it is said local prostitutes were imprisoned. There is a legend that pilgrims fed the prisoner through a small hole in the door as an act of charity, however there is an interesting inscription that reads: “Consider how I have been judged, for your judgement will be the same: me yesterday, you toady.”
The other sights worth seeing in Astroga include: the Baroque Façade of the city hall, the city walls as some parts are still 9th century, and the Monastery of San Francisco.
Money – before leaving Astorga have enough cash for two days as it is unlikely you will have access to a ATM until Ponferrada.
From Villar de Mazarife it is nearly 10km without access to food or water so remember to stock up before leaving. But as above it is easy walking with a gentle downhill all the way to Hospital de Orbigo, which is a bustling market town.
Villavante 9.8km, water, bar, shop
Albergue Santa Lucía, Carretera a Villadangos, private, €8, 29 beds, W, D, K, V, M, B, @, Bike, Tel: 692 107 693, 987 389 105, web: http://www.alberguesantalucia.es/ , open Apr 1st to Oct 31st. Double rooms between €24 and €40.
Villavante is a small village with little to see, however from a pilgrim perceptive it is a great place for an early lunch and to fill up your water bottle.
The next stop is Hospital de Orbigo, 3.8km, – see route description above.
Following the Camino is easy; the yellow arrows point me in the right direction. What gives me direction at home?
Key: W = Washing, D = Drying, M = Menu, @ = Internet, K = Kitchen, B = Breakfast, V = Vending, Cred = Credential, Bike = Bike Storage
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