de Santiago / French Way : 28. Villafranca del Bierzo - O Cebreiro
Villafranca del Bierzo, walk down Calle del
Agua and at the far end turn left by the statue
of the pilgrim and walk across the Río Burbía. Once
across the bridge you have 3 choices of route
which are all clearly way marked. One low level
route which follows the road down the valley or
a choice of two high level routes, the choice you
make will be determined firstly by the weather.
If the weather is foggy or raining heavily don't
attempt the higher level routes. The other will
be determined by your fitness and how good your
knees are. We will give you details of all three
routes below starting with the road route.
across the Rio Burbia walk past the convent and
Iglesia de la Concepción and keep walking until
you reach the exit of the road tunnel through the
mountains. Cross over here and take a right turn
and walk for another 3 kilometres when you will
take a right down an older section of the NVI road
just before you enter the village of Pereje.
There is a single albergue here as well as a bar.
down the Calle Camino de Santiago to the end of
the village where you rejoin the main road for about
2.5 kilometres and again you will take a section
of the old road for about 1 kilometre and into the
village of Trabadelo. There is a single albergue
here and a hostal with a restaurant.
walking down the Calle Camino de Santiago keep walking
ahead until you reach the spot where the motorway
crosses the NVI and you then turn right onto the
main road. Follow this road until you reach the
Hostal Valcarce where you will take a left down
the old road to Portela where you can fill
up your water bottle at the fountain or get something
to eat at the bar/restaurant.
the end of the village turn left to rejoin the main
road and at the junction take the route marked towards
Ambasmestas and after about 4.5 kilometres
you arrive in the village. Here are a couple of
bars, one of which has a restaurant that offers
a pilgrim's menu, a panaderia (bread shop) and an
route now takes you through Ambasmestas with the
road viaduct above you and out towards the village
of Vega de Valcarce.
There are a couple of
albergues in the village plus a number of the restaurants
offer a pilgrim's menu. There are also a few shops,
a bakery, a chemist to restock on your blister remedies
and some banks. It's probably a good idea to stop
here to get a good night's rest before you start
the steep climb up the mountains to O Cebreiro.
you choose to stay here the night you might want
to take a look at the Castillo del Sarracin up on
the hill above the town. It had once belonged to
the Marqueses de Villafranca but it is more or less
a ruin now but you do get some great views over
the valley. It is about a 1 hour round trip.
the village there is a great example of an horreo
or grain store. As you enter Galicia you will see
different styles, usually made of granite or wood
but this is a good example for this area. There
is however a rather unusual carving in front of
it, a bit spooky I think.
Camino from this point onwards until you get to
O Cebreiro climbs up through the mountains starting
off gently but progressively getting steeper. Walk
through Vega de Valcarce down the road for 2
kilometres until you reach the village of Ruitelán.
There is an albergue here if you were unable to
get a bed in Vega de Valcarce.
another kilometre you come to the village of Herrerias
where all three routes converge.
The village derives
its name from the iron forge that used to be here.
There are a couple of bars that offer food with
one of the bars containing a restored iron forge
if you would like to take a look. At the end of
the village the houses used to belong to the Hospital
Inglés a pilgrim hospital.
through the village and after about a kilometre
you come to a track with 2 marker posts,
one of the routes is for those doing the Camino
by bicycle, the other is for those on foot. If the
weather is bad follow the cyclist's route, if not
follow the walker's route.
path climbs steeply through chestnut woods for about
3.5 kilometres before you walk down the Calle Santiago
into La Faba.
village has a small shop and a café plus 2 albergues.
One of them, the private Albergue Vegetariano is
only open in the summer and only offers vegetarian
by here, during the winter of 1809 when General
Sir john Moore's army was retreating over the mountains
heading for La Coruña they were caught in a blizzard.
It was so bad that several hundred of his men froze
to death and the remaining men mutinied throwing
a large chest of gold over the cliff in protest.
The General managed to regain order but he ended
up being killed by the French at the battle of La
through the village and up a tree lined lane forking
right when you come into the open and keep on walking
uphill until you reach Laguna de Castilla
in 2 kilometres. The albergue here is only open
for a couple of months in the summer - July and
you walk out of the village you come to the first
of many marker stones which from now until you
reach Santiago will appear every 500 metres. They
are usually marked with a scallop shell and the
name of the town or village in which you are in
as well as how many kilometres you have left to
go until you reach Santiago.
walking straight through the village and after 1
kilometre you finally leave León and enter Galicia.
This point is marked with a large marker stone.
After another kilometre you come to the town of
I give you any more information on O Cebreiro I
will give you details of the other 2 routes.
second slightly longer route takes you via Pradela
were there is a fountain but no other amenities
and is clearly marked as are the other 2 routes.
Unlike the road route this doesn't start off gently,
this route is steep from the start.
the bridge in Villafranca del Bierzo take
a right hand fork down Calle Pradra and walk along
the steeply rising path for approximately 3 kilometres
when the path continues to climb but not as steeply.
After you have passed some television masts the
road begins to descend. Turn left at the junction,
Pradela is to your right if you want to stop
for water. Follow the path and then across the road
and down a steep gravel path into the village of
Trabadelo where you meet up with the flatter
road route. From here you now follow the road route
as I have described above.
third and final route takes you via Dragonete
and is not a route for the faint hearted, it is
considerably longer and pretty arduous. You need
to be pretty fit to embark on this route and you
need to make sure you have plenty of food and water
with you as the villages you pass through do not
have any amenities. Leave Villafranca del Bierzo
over the bridge as mentioned previously but this
time cross another bridge over the Rio Valcarce
and walk down the Calle Salvador crossing the NVI
at the road tunnel. Take a right hand fork up a
tarmacked track at the signpost saying Dragonete
4.3. Keep following this track to the village of
Dragonete. There is a fountain here if you need
to replenish your water.
through the village continuing along the tarmacked
track and after about 2 kilometres you will come
to a sign marked Camino de los Frances GR11, take
this track and at the minor road take a left and
continue descending into Moral de Valcarce where
again there is a fountain.
through the village take a left fork at the lavadero
(where Spanish women used to do their washing in
the days before washing machines) and follow the
track through the chestnut woods to the bottom of
the valley. You will pass by an old watermill and
through more chestnut woods until you reach the
Iglesia de San Fructuoso, which used to be part
of a monastery administering to sick pilgrims at
the entrance of the village of Vilar de Corrales.
Here too is a fountain.
path continues to wind its way up the mountain passing
a farm and another fountain. Keep following the
markers through an old quarry and at the road take
the path signposted Camino de los Frances into the
village of San Fiz do Seo. The path continues to
climb for about another 2 kilometres and then descends
slightly down a left hand fork in the path. A right
hand fork will then take you through some chestnut
woods and then down into the village of Villasinde
were there’s a bar and fountain. As you enter the
village take a right turn and fork right by the
cemetery down a descending track then across the
Puente Viejo into Vega de Valcarce. From here follow
the road route to O Cebreiro.
Cebreiro owes much of its existence
to the Camino de Santiago as well as to the many
roman roads that passed this way. It is the first
town you reach on the Camino Frances as you enter
first pilgrim hospital to appear in the town was
built in the mid 9th century and was run from the
late 11th century by the monks of Saint Gérard d’Aurillac,
a French order. Also in the 9th century the monastery
of el Santuario de O Cebreiro was built, not much
remains other than the Iglesia Santa Maria la
Real, considered to be the oldest intact church
along the whole Camino. The church was founded by
Benedictine monks but came under the control of
the French monks in the 11th century after the monastery
was given to the French order by King Alfonso VI.
It was to remain in their control until the monastery
was handed back to the Benedictines by the Catholic
Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. The monastery was
abandoned in the 19th century following the Mendizabal
disentailment in 1853, a similar act to that of
the dissolution of the monasteries which occurred
in the United Kingdom in the mid 16th century. The
church underwent a major renovation in the 1960’s
and 70’s initiated by Don Elias Valiña Sampedro,
the parish priest. A little bit more on this remarkable
books tell that "the Holy Grail"
was believed to have been hidden in this church
during the Middle Ages but what they are actually
referring to is a miracle that is believed to have
occurred here during the 14th century.
story tells of a single parishioner from a nearby
village called Barxamaior who climbed up to the
church through heavy snow and a blizzard in order
to hear mass. As the priest was performing the Eucharist
he had a momentary lapse of faith and whilst he
was consecrating the bread and wine he thought to
himself, whilst looking at the parishioner sat in
front of him “what is this man doing here in this
cold weather, just to see a piece of bread and a
little wine?”. It was at this point that the miracle
occurred, the bread turned to flesh and the wine
became blood. This became known locally as el Santo
Grial Gallego or the Galician Holy Grail. The relics
are kept in the church in a reliquary given to the
church by the Catholic Monarchs whilst they were
undertaking the Camino to Santiago in 1486, along
with the chalice and paten used in that mass. In
the church you will also find the tombs of the priest
and the parishioner who were involved in this miracle
along with that of Don Elias Valiña Sampedro.
outside the church is a bust of Don Elias Valiña
Sampedro who was the parish priest at Santa
Maria Real from 1959 until his death in 1989 who
took it upon himself to restore the church and the
ancient hospital (now the Hostal San Giraldo de
Aurillac). During his studies at la Universidad
Pontificia de Salamanca he wrote a thesis on the
Camino’s history. He promoted this thesis at various
universities across Europe and promoting the Camino
de Santiago. Even more remarkable it what he did
you were wondering how the signs and markers that
point your way on the Camino de Santiago came about
then look no further than Don Elias Valiña Sampedro.
This amazing man decided to undertake the Camino
but found that many of the original paths had virtually
disappeared, on his trip he decided to write a book
and his Camino guide book was published in 1982.
It was then in 1984, along with his nephews, that
he started to mark the entire Camino with the big
yellow arrows you see today with yellow paint he
managed to commandeer from the Spanish department
of transport. In 1985 he became a member of the
Comisario del Camino de Santiago who were tasked
with promoting the Camino and getting others involved
and from this came the association known as Amigos
del Camino de Santiago (Friends of the Camino).
To give you an idea of just how important this man
was you just have to look at the numbers who now
undertake the Camino. In the early 70’s less than
10 Compostelanas were issued, in 1989 when Pope
John Paul II visits Santiago over 5,700 Compostelanas
were given out and it is estimated that in the holy
year of 2010 over 300,000 pilgrims will have received
one of these hard earned certificates.
you are here in O Cebreiro you may want to take
a look at the Pallozas, the traditional round
stone houses with thatched roofs that the people
of this area used as their homes. Some have recently
been turned into holiday homes and one of them is
a small ethnographic museum.
can be found at the albergue and 3 hostals including
the Hostal San Giraldo de Aurillac, which was lovingly
restored by Don Elias. There are also a number of
shops, bars and restaurants.
à CF description
at wanadoo.fr - 07/01/2014