Where We Be
Rioja Region, Spain
Feeling happy to be on the Camino. One thing
we've learned as inveterate travelers is that
intensive travel can be tiring, and after a solid
month of it we were beginning to feel a little
ragged around the edges. But here on the
Camino any sense of travel weariness is gone,
replaced by a physical tiredness from the
exertion each day brings but a mental alertness
and emotional happiness that's hard to explain
but definitely there. As best we can tell it’s
because we’re hiking in nature, going from
place to place on foot with minimal logistics,
and spending more time hiking than checking
off sights. Here we simply walk, we eat, we
drink wine, we meet new friends, and we enjoy
the countryside we're passing through. The
towns are quaint, there's a feeling of serenity,
and we have the fun of not quite knowing
what's around the next corner. Admittedly,
Spain's Rioja region is a hard place not to like
with its fine red wine and scenery, but still it's a
revelation how much we enjoy traveling on foot.
Rioja is practically synonymous with Spanish red wine, so as
you can imagine we had no trouble enjoying ourselves here
Some of the scenery was stunning -- something you don't usually say about agricultural zones
This green "sand dune" caught our eye
On this rainy 10-mile day we hiked past thick gnarled
grape vines and fields of freshly turned red earth
We believe these white poles are protectors for new grape vines
We ate some of our favorite tapas of the Camino in the Navarre and Rioja regions, where it seems
every bar has tapas on display. In Najera we ordered four different tapas with drinks for just  €9.
My favorite: warm goat cheese with marmelade and walnut atop serrano ham and crusty bread.
Najera is a popular stopping point on the Camino
but we pressed on to the smaller town of Azofra
On the outskirts of Logroño we came to a nature
reserve with a cafe at the far end -- breakfast solved!
We continued on to Navarette, a pretty town with a church spire visible from
a distance with vineyards all around. We could have stayed here happily.
We paused for a look at the Church of the Assumption and a bite to eat at the cafe next door
It felt good to be two-thirds done with our 12-mile
hike by lunchtime as we pushed on from Navarette
The gold retablo within was over-the-top
Baroque but quite beautiful when lit up
Most every restaurant and cafe along the Camino offers pilgrim menus -- basic set menus for
about €10 per person that include appetizer, entree, dessert, and wine. Robin has become a
particular fan of the pork tenderloin with red peppers. I've become a particular fan of the red wine!
Our 12-mile hike to Logroño was over rolling hills on a hot, sunny day.
We crossed from Navarre into Rioja in the midst of primo red wine country.
The octagonal Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Torres del Rio looks especially lovely in the morning light. The 12th
century church was likely built by the Knights Templar, who were charged with protecting pilgrims on the Camino.
Lunch was in Viana, which contains the ruins of San
Pedro Church. The church stands open to the elements.
We liked the feel of Viana with its flowered balconies and quiet dignity
European storks with their huge nests were a common sight atop every
church tower in every town. Here we even have a baby stork to appreciate!
We arrived at Logroño (pop. 150,000) footsore and weary, only to wander around for a long hour looking for a proper bed
on a busy Friday night. We ended up at Condes de Haro (€70). It was after this experience that we finally broke down
and bought a SIM card for our phone for €10 so we could call ahead for lodgings a day or two prior. Great decision!
During this stretch we hiked four days from Sansol to Grañon, with distances as follows: 12 miles to
Logroño, 12 miles to Ventosa, 10 miles to Azofra, and 13½ miles to Grañon just past Santo Domingo.
Hiking Day 10: Sansol to Logroño
But that last third gets us every time. We arrived in tiny Ventosa (pop. 169) tired,
sweaty, and ready to be done. We found lodging at Hotel Las Aguedas (€65).
Hiking Day 11: Logroño to Ventosa
Hiking Day 12: Ventosa to Azofra
The cathedral in Santo Domingo houses live chickens. Why? Because of what has become my favorite Camino legend. It
involves the hanging of an innocent boy who miraculously remained alive with the help of St. Domingo. When the magistrate was
told of the miracle over dinner, he replied to the parents, "Your boy can no more be alive than these chickens on my plate could
get up right now and crow." Which they promptly did! The magistrate fell to his knees at this second miracle and set the boy free.
We limped into Grañon around 2 pm at the end of another long hiking day. Just about
everyone we meet on the Camino is limping and sore at the end of each day, so we’re not alone.
We checked into a "casa rural" called Cerro de Mirabel
(€50 with private bath and breakfast included)
Hiking Day 13: Azofra to Grañon
We hiked the first 7 miles to Santo Domingo through lovely
wheat fields and vineyards, with birds singing and toads croaking
We hiked 13½ miles on this day and completed what felt like an actual normal stage of the Camino, in that all the people
we met hiking from Azofra were also hiking to Grañon. This was a long distance for us with packs, but we made it okay.
In Santo Domingo we refilled our water bottles and enjoyed a range of delicious tapas for lunch
Outside we liked the simple statues with
flowers added, perhaps by a Camino pilgrim
Farmers were very busy in late May working their fields;
occasionally we'd share our hiking path with tractors
The municipal albergue in Azofra is unusual in that each "dorm" consists of
only two beds, each bed costing just €7 -- perfect for a couple like us