Day 26 Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro – 30.3km
Today we leave the province of Leon and enter Galicia. About 1km after the village of Laguna de Castilla you will see the stones marking the boundary and the distance left to Santiago – 152km.
Where some guidebooks show three options today, in reality there are only two well marked routes. You can leave Villafranca and stay on the main road and walk in the valley, the road is not very busy since a motorway has been opened nearby. The second path involves a 400 metre climb and descent to finish at the same place. The second route is certainly more scenic, but much more strenuous.
The first 20km on Route one above is gently uphill and fairly easy; however the last 8km is hard going with an assent from 700 meters to 1,330 meters, a hard afternoon. Many pilgrims walk only the first 20km today. Adding the km together from today and tomorrow comes to about 66km. Therefore many split what would be two hard days walking into three much easier days; there are enough hostels to do this.
Effectively pilgrims often walk from Villfranca to Vega de Valcarce, then from there to Fonfria, then to Sarria. Otherwise you have one very hard day of 27.8km and then another hard day of 38.5km. If you are going to stay at Fonfria, (tomorrow), between July and the end of Aug it is best to book the morning or night before – web http://www.albergueareboleira.blogspot.com/ and Tel: 982 18 12 71, 659 061 196. They also serve a great evening meal.
Today there are many places for water, but have breakfast before you leave Villafranca as there is nowhere to eat for 11.5 km, until Trabadelo. After this there are enough places for food and water for the rest of the day.
Be warned O Cebreiro is a tourist stop for buses and car drivers. It is strange walking into this little hamlet on top of the hills hearing what sounds like Scottish or Irish music, but it is local Celtic music. It can be cold here in the middle of summer and found myself stopping to don my fleece, in winter the area is often covered with snow.
Pereje 4.5km, water – alternative route only
Albergue Municipal, Calle Camino de Santiago, €5, 55 beds, W, D, K, Bike, Tel: 987 540 138, open all year, Web: http://pereje.org/
Trabadelo 11.5km, water, cafe, bar, shop, pharmacy
Albergue Crispeta, c/ Camino de Santiago, private, €6, 20 beds, K, W, D, @, Bike, Tel: 620 329 386, open all year.
Albergue Municipal, c/ Camino de Santiago, €5, 36 beds, W, D, K, V, Bike, Tel: 687 827 987, open Mar to Nov inc.
Albergue Camino y Leyenda, private, €10, 16 beds, W, D, K, V, @, Bike, Tel: 680 822 242, Web: http://www.alberguecaminoyleyenda.com/, open Apr to Oct inc.
Albergue Parroquial de Trabadelo, par, €5, 22 beds, W, D, K, @, Bike, Tel: 630 628 130, Web: http://www.albergueparroquialtrabadelo.com/, open all year.
Trabadelo is typical of the villages we will pass through during the next two days; one street villages seemingly isolated from the modern world. For pilgrims of of the past this was a dangerous area where local lords supported themselves by taxing pilgrims, violence was not uncommon, though Alfonso VI tried to put a stop to the practice.
The parish Church of San Nicolas contains a Romanesque Virgin.
La Portela de Valcarce 3.7km, water, bar
Alb. El Peregrino, c/ Camino de Santiago, 5, private, €8, 28 beds, M, W, @, Bike, Tel: 987 543 197, Web: www.laportela.com, open Mar to Nov.
Tiny hamlet with only a handful of houses. The name of the town derives from Galician for narrow pass.
Ambasmestas 1km, water, bar
Albergue Das Animas, c/ Campo Bajo, 3, association, €5, 18 beds, W, @, Bike, Tel: 619 048 626, Web: http://www.dasanimas.com/, open Apr to Oct.
Albergue Camynos, private, €10, 10 beds, W, D, M, B, @, Bike, Tel: 609 381 412, Web: http://www.camynos.es/, open Apr to Oct.
Another tiny hamlet with a small local church dedicated to San Pedro. The village name derives from a place where currents of water meet; this is where the river Balboa joins the river Valcarce.
Vega de Valcarce 2.3km, water, shop, bar, pharmacy, ATM last one till Triacastela, (2 days)
Albergue Municipal, c/ Panadelo, €5, 92, beds, W, D, K, M, @, Bike, Tel: 987 543 006, open all year.
Albergue Santa Mariá Magdelena, private, €10, 13 beds, W, K, Bike, Tel: 646 128 423, open Mar to Nov.
Albergue El Roble, private, €5, 17 beds, W, D, M, @, Bike, Tel: 696 161 604, open Mar to Nov inc.
Albergue Sarracin, private, €10, 12 beds, W, D, K, M, @, Bike, Tel: 696 982 672 Web: http://alberguesarracin.com/, open Feb to Nov inc.
Albergue Vurgen de la Encina, C/ Juan Pablo II, s/n, parochial, donation, 26 beds, K, @, Bike, Tel: 649 133 272, Web: http://www.fraternidadagustiniana.blogspot.com.es/, open Jun to Aug inc.
Vega stands at the top of the Valcarce valley. It is a small prosperous town with 670 inhabitants.
The small local church of Santa Magdalena holds little interest architecturally or interiorly.
Over the valley on a hill to the south was the castle of Sarracin founded in the 9th century. The Lords of Sarracin owned thirty five towns in the area. You can walk to the castle, it will take about 45 minutes round trip – however this day is difficult enough for most of us already.
Ruitelan 2.3km, water, bar, shop
Refugio Pequeno Potala, Carretera de A Coruña, 22, private, €5, 34 beds, W, D, M, B, @, Bike, Tel: 987 561 322, open all year.
Another hamlet with a population of 31 inhabitants.
The 15th century Parish church of San Juan Bautista has a small chapel dedicated to San Froilan who became the Bishop of Leon after founding a hermitage in this area. Interestingly this left the church as a part of the Leon diocese rather than Astorga.
Las Herreias de Valcarce 1.2km, water, bar, shop
Albergue Las Herrerias, 8 km before O Cebreiro, private, €5, 17 beds, W, M, B, Tel: 654 353 940, Web: https://www.facebook.com/Alberguelove, open Apr to Oct inc.
Las Herreias was known to medieval pilgrims as a place where excavated iron ore and brought to the village for smelting. It again is a tiny hamlet but useful for modern day pilgrims as a stopping point for food and water.
Las Faba 3.2km, water, bar, shop
Alb. German Confraternity, c/ de la Iglesia, association, €5, 66 beds, W, D, K, Bike, Tel: 630 836 865, Web: http://lafaba.weebly.com/, open Apr to Oct inc
Another tiny village with only 25 inhabitants. The small 16th century Church of Saint Andrew was rebuilt during the 18th century.
La Laguna de Castilla 2.5km, water
Albergue La Escuela, c/ Camino de Santiago, private, €9, 20 beds, W, D, M, B, Bike, Tel: 987 684 786, open Easter to Nov inc.
La Laguna is the last town in Leon, however it looks and feels Galician. The stones houses, (pallozas), with thatched roofs are typically Galician and you will see many between here on Santiago. There is a large horreo, corn storage, in the village; you will see hundreds of these for the next few days, however this is perhaps the best well preserved between here and Santiago.
O Cebreiro 2.6km, water, bar, shop
Albergue Xunta, €6, 104 beds, W, D, Cred, Tel: 660 396 809, http://www.xacobeo.es/, open all year.
Cebreiro is the first village in Galicia, it has just over 1,200 inhabitant and sit at 1,293 metres. Due to the location it has always been an important location on the Camino Frances in aiding pilgrims get across the mountains safely. There was a pilgrims hospital here in 1072 entrusted by Alfonso VI to monks from St. Giraldo d’Aurillac, later it was administered by the Benedictines until the disentailment.
The Church of Santa Maria la Real is a simple pre-Romanesque construction typical of the area. It has a three aisle interior and rectangular aspe. Inside there is a beautiful 12th century Romanesque statue of Santa Maria la Real, the patroness of the area. On her saints day up to 30,000 people visit the church, 8th September. A 12th century chalice and paten commemorate the famous “Miracle of Cebreiro”, it is housed alongside the golden reliquary, donated by the Catholic Kings in 1486, in a glass fronted safe. The present statue of Christ on the altar is a reproduction as the original is displayed in the Archeological Museum in Madrid.
The Miracle of Cebreiro likely occurred at the start of the 14th century. A peasant from a nearby village struggled in a snowstorm to receive communion, the monk officiating despised the peasant for bothering to come, as his faith was less than the peasant’s. The sacramental bread and wine miraculously became the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. The peasant and the monk are buried in the Capilla del Milagro. It is also said that the chalice is the Holy Grail from which Christ drank from during the last supper.
There are several great examples of pallozas, the straw roofed houses, two of these house the Ethnographic Museum. Pallozas are also typical of Celtic areas in Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and parts of Morocco. They are perfect for their environment, the aerodynamic thatched roof sits on top of the rounded walls and is tightly tied down. The dwellings are normally split in two, humans on one side and animals on the other – entering by the same door. The human side is often split in two levels by a wooden platform. They have no chimmy as the smoke seeps out through the straw. In the rafters meat was hung to cure in the smoke from the fire.