Day 50-Ponferrada to Cacabelos

  • Distance Today                      9.0 mi
  • Distance Camino 2017     370.6 mi

We spent most of the morning walking out of Ponferrada

and through several small residential communities, each promoting the wines of the Bierzo territory of Castile and León. Ponferrada is the current capital of the and Villafranca del Bierzo the historical capital. Cacabelos is between the two locations.

The territory of Bierzo is surrounded on all sides by mountains which makes the area very isolated. In pre-Roman times the region was populated by the Astures, a Hispano-Celtic Gallaecian people. They were conquered by Emperor Augustus in the Astur-Cantabrian Wars (29–19 BC) and the area quickly became the largest mining center of the Empire during the Roman period, where gold and other metals and minerals were extracted. Numerous Roman mining sites are still visible in the area as well as evidence of coal and other mining operations which dominated the economy up until the mid-20th century.

The Romans also imported grapevines, and wine production thrived in the region until the propagation of Phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, which destroyed the majority of the vineyards. The wine industry has since had a resurgence since the 1990’s and is now a major contributor to the economy as is tourism associated with the wine industry and the Camino Frances.

Today, the Camino took us through the older sections of Columbrianos, Fuentasnuevas, and Campanaraya.

While there are still a number of very old, abandoned buildings, in very poor condition, there doesn’t seem to be an effort or apparent desire to raze them. We have observed this all along the Camino and in many other parts of Europe we have visited. Old buildings, especially homes, eventually get converted to something newer, usually preserving the outside, historical architecture. Instead of demolition, a “se vende” (for sale) sign is placed on the structure and eventually, we assume, a new owner will restore it or convert it to a different end use, as we have observed, rather than starting from scratch (which says a lot about the design and integrity of the original structure).

Another interesting observation today were the gardens. The homes along the road between the villages almost all had large gardens, beautifully maintained with evidence of bountiful crops even this late in the season. And on this Sunday morning several owners could be seen with hand implements, weeding and nurturing the items still growing.

The final 4 miles of the walk took us back onto dirt paths through vineyards and other fruit and vegetable fields, in varying sizes.

The grapes in this region have apparently been harvested as very few are visible on the vines and therefore inaccessible for pilgrim snacks.

As we walked into Cacabelos, (pop.5475), on our right was Moncloa de San Lázaro (75€), our hotel, a converted 13th century pilgrim hospital. It only has 8 rooms and is apparently a destination itself, with a very popular restaurant featuring regional cuisine which was packed nearly all day, a large shop with local wines, art, crafts and sweets and a variety of facilities for groups.

While our room was being readied we were given a glass of the local Bierzo wine made from Mencía grapes, unique to the region, and a homemade empenada to occupy the 10 minute wait… an apparent tradition for Peregrinos.

The hotel and our room is traditional and upscale in an understated way.

We both ordered the restaurant’s traditional, local cuisine lunch, which was very filling, even after the first of 4 courses. The food was not unusual, not bad, just ok, but over-priced at 25€ per person.

After lunch (around 3:00) we returned to our room to rest from our walk, chill and swear off eating for the rest of the day.

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