Where We Be
Into the Hills of El Bierzo, Spain
Well, it took us a good month of hiking but we
finally hit our stride and found we could bite off
larger chunks of the Camino -- 13 to 15 miles at
a go -- just in time for the flat Meseta to end
and the hilly El Bierzo region to begin. That was
good because we wanted to make up ground
from our slower pace at the start of the Camino.
We'd built three buffer weeks into our post-
Camino schedule, and it looked like we'd need
one of those weeks even with our faster pace.

We really liked El Bierzo with its quaint stone
towns and especially its capital, Ponferrada.
which is home to an amazing Templar Castle
(shown left). Complete with moat, drawbridge,
and fluttering pennants, it looks like a fairy tale
castle but is the real deal, having been built by
the Knights Templar way back in the 1100's.
El Bierzo also plays host to the Cruz de Ferro
(Iron Cross), which marks the highest point of
the Camino. Pilgrims traditionally carry a stone
with them along the Way then place it here,
symbolizing the laying down of a burden.
You'll definitely do some climbing in El Bierzo, but the beautiful scenery, stone
towns, and dramatic Templar Castle in Ponferrada more than make up for it
During this stretch we hiked three days from just past Astorga to just past Ponferrada, with distances as follows:
13 miles to Foncebadon, 13 miles to Molinaseca, and 15 miles to Cacabelos (about 4 miles past Ponferrada)
Hiking Day 30: Murias de Rechivaldo to Foncebadon
We hiked 15 miles today, so Ponferrada was just a stop for breakfast along the
way -- but what a great stop with the magnificent Templar Castle to appreciate!
We ate croissants while looking at this view! When you think of a medieval
castle out of the storybooks, isn't this pretty much what you have in mind?
Poppies have somehow managed to take hold on the castle walls
The Templar Castle sits right in the center of
town and has both a moat and a drawbridge
The 12th century castle covers approximately 16,000 square
meters and looks completely impregnable as you walk around it
We also visited Ponferrada’s cathedral and the unusual statue standing
just outside. In the near background you can see the Templar Castle.
In Ponferrada's main square we caught a glimpse of this
pigeon drinking from a Camino imprint in one of the tiles
We really liked Ponferrada but still had a long way to go. We passed through three small towns along the way --
and paused a little longer than usual at this statue of Mary outside the pretty Church of Santa Maria in Compostilla.
You'll see a lot of pilgrim images along the Camino --
but these two are particularly distinctive
The land turned green and vibrant as we moved towards higher,
hillier terrain. The Galician Mountains were right ahead of us now.
Our feet and legs felt like lead by the time we finally reached Cacabelos.
We stayed at Hostal La Gallega (€40) in the center of town along this main street.
At La Gallega's restaurant we ordered the specialty of the house (and a regional specialty as well) -- pulpo a la
Gallega (octopus). It was tender and juicy, with just a hint of red pepper and salt, and served in bite-size chunks.
A hard hiking day of 13 miles with a stiff morning climb past windmills on a misty morning.
Eventually we reached the highest point of the Camino -- the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross)
We got to enjoy a relatively flat stretch of winding trail near the
highest point of the Camino before beginning a long descent
We added our stones to the already
huge pile at the base of the cross
Here's a closeup of the distance signs -- only 222 km to go to Santiago!
Down, down, down. This gives a good sense
of the hilly terrain in the El Bierzo region.
This improbably placed Camino sign is actually a reminder
for drivers to watch for us pilgrims crossing the road up ahead
Love this image of two pilgrims walking towards
Santiago, with the Galician Mountains up ahead
The Maragato village of El Acebo peeks
out from behind a field of purple flowers
This cat came stalking out of the tall
grass just as we were leaving town
Words of encouragement are always appreciated
on a tiring day, even in the form of graffiti
Molinaseca is nicely situated near the Meruelo River. You can see the Church of San
Nicolas de Bari in the background. We stayed the night at Pajarapinta Casa Rural (€48).
Not far beyond Riego de Ambros we passed this lovely grove of
chestnut trees, then it was more down, down, down to Molinaseca
We awoke to a sunny but cool day, perfect for
the 13-mile hike ahead of us, much of it uphill
We were pleasantly surprised at how gradual the uphill was for the first 10 miles or so. We
passed plenty of stone walls, and there were actual mountains with snow in the distance.
A common sight along the Camino -- crosses made
from branches woven into wire fences by pilgrims
We passed through the quaint village of Rabanal del Camino,
where many pilgrims were enjoying a break at the cafe up ahead
Rabanal itself was flat, but after Rabanal the hike turned steep, with loose rocks,
muddy patches, and a washed-out section of trail adding to the challenge
Foncebadon was a welcome sight. Located close to the highest point along the Camino, it's a
rough-and-ready town of stone houses and slate roofs. We stayed at El Trasgu hotel (€45).
Hiking Day 31: Foncebadon to Molinaseca
Hiking Day 32: Molinaseca to Ponferrada
A curious horse checks us out as we pass
through one of El Bierzo's stone towns
We had a delicious dinner of sea bass at La Taberna de Gaia, which has a medieval
theme combined with Celtic music. In fact the whole town has a Celtic feel to it.
Not far beyond was this distinctive hostel called Manjarin, known
for its signs listing distances to various places around the world
We both would have been happy to stay in the village of Riego de
Ambros (maybe at this charming place, Casa de las Hilanderas)
El Acebo with its wooden balconies was the first village
we came to after a long stretch with no amenities
We liked this statue in Molinaseca of a
pilgrim walking trustfully with his eyes closed
This is Molinaseca with its Puente del Peregrino
(Pilgrim Bridge) at the entry to town