Hello, Hello! Castilla y León is so vast it deserves a second post! Last time I covered off on the drudgery of this section of the Camino de Santiago, but today I would like to share the treasures and traditions that make Castilla y León a ‘must-do’ on the Camino.
I must say despite the mental challenge of this part of the Camino de Santiago, I had some of the most charming experiences on the entire journey. When I lived in Madrid, the study abroad program coordinators did a great job of carting around sixty obnoxious Americans to see some of the greatest highlights of Spain. Surprisingly, they skipped León.
León is the capital of the province of the same name and has a population of around 120,000. It was built by the Romans as a military encampment back in 29 BC and like so many other Spanish cities, was run by local royalty until it joined forces with the rest of the kingdoms to create a united Spain. Similar to the Basques and Catalans, some Leonese still fight for independence. The city’s claims to fame are the beautiful cathedral and other notable architecture and being an important stop along the Camino de Santiago.
Built in the 13th century, León’s gothic cathedral is the focal point of the city. It is absolutely gorgeous. The fractured light from the stain glass windows illuminates the cathedral as you walk in. It took my breath away. Apparently there are over 120 windows, with an overall surface of 1800 square meters of glass. That is why the cathedral is known as “The House of Light”.
Also, the nightlife was great in Leon. I met such nice people and ate some of the best jamón in all of Spain! I started my night with the college kids but eventually found my people – grandmas and grandpas eating the best jamón around!
If you are a meat eater, you must indulge in Spain. Spaniards love their pork and I love them for it. It is SO good! The passion for cured meat is so intense in Spain that they have created a rating system.
I tried the black label 100% Jamón Iberico. These pigs are acorn and grass fed for three to four months. The curing process is 36 to 48 months. It was so good! Definitely try different jamón during your journey.
The Long Way
I met Wynette and Charlie (featured in a Pilgrim Profile) at a charming B&B located about a day’s walk outside of Leon. By this point it was October and the weather had begun to change. Our hosts had a gorgeous hearth and we took advantage of our time by the fire after a delicious home cooked meal. I had learned about a charming town 3KM off the beaten track on the Camino de Santiago and shared with my fellow pilgrims this hidden gem.
In a country so rich with traditions, the Camino de Santiago is no different. One essential right of passage is located at the end of the second phase of the Camino, the Cruz de Hierro.
Cruz de Hierro
In your reading and research on the Camino de Santiago you may have learned about Cruz de Hierro. If you follow the tradition, a peregrino carries stones along The Way that represent one’s burdens in hopes of relinquishing by the end of the trip. This is the spot you leave the stones. To be honest, it is not the most impressive site. Atop a mound of stones is a glorified pole with a cross on top. But I must say it is a pretty spiritual place when you think of all of the pilgrims who have left their burdens or wishes on that mound and moved on to their next and final stage of the Camino.
I highly recommend adopting this tradition on your journey. At times, I asked myself why am I carrying these silly stones in my pocket, but that foggy morning as I said goodbye to my burdens and hello to my wishes, I watched the sun breakthrough the clouds and I couldn’t help but feel my load lighten. It was unforgettable.
358 miles down, 62 miles to go! Hope you enjoyed this post. Please use the comment space to request topics you would like covered. Also, if you liked this post and want to read more, join ‘la princesa del camino’ mailing list to make sure you do not miss a post. ¡Buen Camino!