Day 51- Cacabelos to Villafranca del Bierzo

  • Distance Today                      5.4 mi
  • Distance Camino 2017      376.0 mi

The weather was threatening this morning so we retaliated with our pack covers, successfully.

We walked for almost a mile to get out of Cacabelos, stopping for breakfast on the way.

  • The path continued along the road for several miles. We ran into some pilgrims that we had seen a few days ago, one a young lady from Greenville. We walked with her until her other two companions took an alternate route that was longer and supposedly more scenic, also more difficult. She took a photo of us and joined her companions. We chose to stick with the traditional path along the road.

For the last few miles, the path took a turn through the vineyards and countryside,

weaving left, right, and up and down as we worked our way into Villafranca del Bierzo.

Villafranca del Bierzo is one of the most beautiful towns on the Camino, retaining much of its medieval and Renaissance character in spite of an increase of modern hotels and buildings. Several Roman castrum have been found in the area, with the strategic location at the confluence of the rivers Burbio and Valcarce and just below the mountain pass. This location later drew merchants from all over, giving the city its names (literally “city of the Franks” but more accurately, of the “foreigners.”) Villafranca marks the end of the 10th stage in the Codex Calixtinus and was home to numerous pilgrim hospitals.

Life wasn’t all that easy for the people of Villafranca, who suffered an outbreak of plague in 1589 and destruction by flood in 1715. In the Peninsular Wars of the early 19th century, French soldiers overtook the city only to be driven back by British soldiers who ravaged Villafranca, destroying the castle and stealing from churches.

On the way into town, we passed the  Iglesia de Santiago with its Puerta del Perdón, a doorway for pilgrims who were too sick to continue to Santiago. They could walk through the door in lieu of completing the pilgrimage and receive the same indulgences. 

Iglesia de San Francisco, according to legend, was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi himself on his pilgrimage to Santiago.

Finding our hotel was difficult. We walked around, asking directions for about 30 minutes. It was right in front of us, a convent, which we thought was a church, no signs!

By now it was 11:30, and the hotel didn’t open until 12:00 so we returned to a restaurant we had seen on our unplanned tour of the town, that looked like it had good pizza. Pizza also wasn’t available until after noon, so we sipped more cafe con leche and churros and then had a nice lunch while we waited for our room.

We checked into the hotel, Hotel San Nicolas del Real (50€), at about 1:00. It is a real convent with all the rooms around a courtyard. It has wide hallways, and wide stone stairs. Our room has a view of the old town and surrounding mountains.

Jim has been fighting early cold symptoms, so we didn’t do much site seeing, spending the afternoon resting while our clothes were being washed and dried (8€).

We had a very nice pilgrim dinner (just the two of us) in the cloisters of the 17th century Convent and Iglesia and then retired for the evening.

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