In the most popular Camino de Santiago guide (written by John Brierley), it has the whole pilgrimage broken down into 33 stages (how much to walk in a day and where to start and stop). It’s an outstanding book (not just from a how-to standpoint, but also a spiritual one), and it’s no wonder nearly everyone we meet has a copy. If you followed it exactly, you could theoretically finish the whole journey in a little over a month.
We’re not on that pace.
J’Nell and I are taking a more leisurely approach. And after Logroño, we decided to get off the starting and ending points from the guide whenever possible, as they tend to be less crowded. We also just like doing shorter days (20-24k, or 13-15 miles, seems to be the sweet spot), and often the book’s stages are longer.
Logroño to Ventosa
If we were following the guide, we would have walked another 6 miles that day, and there was no need for that after our super fun fiesta in Logroño. In fact, strapping on the backpack and leaving our comfy bed at the hotel to hike seemed like a terrible idea. But we did, and Ventosa was a relatively short distance from what we’d been doing.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal of that day (September 23rd) that I wrote at a sidewalk table:
Sitting here at this mostly empty cafe in this charming hilltop town enjoying a San Miguel cerveza. The owner/bartender of this place is so nice, and the olives he gave us as a complimentary bar snack could be the best I’ve ever had. We need to start thinking about dinner (its either here or the one other place …Ventosa has a population of under 200) as Quiet Time at the albergue is at 10 pm (standard for the pilgrim hostels).
What a contrast to the fiesta we just left in Logroño . We arrived in town today at 3 pm to Albergue San Saturino (named after the church in town), which was only 11 euros per bed and clean, friendly, and cozy. After showering we walked up to the 16th Century church (it was closed but was nice to admire from the outside), and then took in the sweeping views of a valley of red dirt interspersed with the green of the vineyards and darker green of the trees in the distance.
We could also glimpse Alvia Winery below, and made the trek down to see if it was open. You have to arrange in advance for a tasting or tour, but thankfully the shop was abierto for business. The very friendly lady there explained the different wines they sold in English, and we got their famous Tempranillo for only 6 euros. Spanish wine is terrific and inexpensive, the way it should be everywhere.
But how about that walk today? It started with the cutest 7 or 8 year-old girl as we were leaving Logroño say completely unprovoked, “Buen Camino, peregrinos”. Sweet, touching, and emblematic of the wonderful people here.
While it took a while to walk out of the city proper, we did go through a nice park and saw reddish-brown squirrels, a gaggle of large geese, and a feeding frenzy of fish (a woman was throwing bread into the pond and they were swarming). We continued to the pretty hilltop town of Navarrete with a 16th Century church (Iglesia de la Asunción) with one of the grandest alterpieces I’ve ever seen (carved of wood and glittering with gold). Before reaching Ventosa we would also pass through lots of vineyards with grapes plump and purple.
Alterpiece (or Retablo) at Navarrete
Our Second Spanish Winery visit
Taking the alternative route to Ventosa
They look ready to become wine!
Walking through all these vineyards sure makes me thirsty.
Ventosa to Azofra
Here’s my journal excerpt of from September 24th:
Sitting here at a table in the communal area of our albergue in this tiny, appealing town drinking a glass of vino tinto. We’re continuing to go off the book for our Camino, and also doing shorter days of walking (win, win!). Like Ventosa, there’s around 200 residents here, two bar/restaurants, and one church that was great to look at but closed.
The walk today was lovely (not a word I normally use, but apt … and maybe the Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis we’ve been meeting are rubbing off on me). It was mostly vineyards stretching out to mountains far off in the distance. And those clouds! As great as I thought they were yesterday they were even better today.
The other highlight was visiting Santa María la Real in Nájera, an 11th Century Monastery that includes a Church built into the red cliff mountainside. Its a gem of a place (we were surprised to see so many pilgrims just trucking on by it), and we’re very glad we stopped. The inside of the church is dramatic and gothic, but what sets it apart from the others we’ve seen on this trip is the miracle cave.
The dude who discovered the cave, King García III, was out hunting in 1044 when his falcon flew inside it. Legend goes he followed after his bird, and the King found an image of Mary and Baby Jesus on the wall and then then ordered the church to be built. Whether you believe the miracle or not (and either way, I think this could make an outstanding episode of Drunk History) it’s a damn fine cave and seeing it was a special experience.
Sunrise leaving Ventosa
The Miracle Cave of Nájera
Heading towards Azofra … More cloud porn.
Pre-dinner beers and journal time.
Where we stayed in Azofra