Camino de Santiago: The Historical Heart Of Spain
Before you arrive – Spied from a distance (usually atop Monte do Gozo, 3 km away), the ancient city of Santiago de Compostela appears as an intriguing cluster of terracotta roofs and cobbled streets, all leading to the spires of the medieval cathedral at its heart. From here it appears almost dreamlike, a fabled mirage on the horizon. And that’s exactly what it has been for the many hikers of the world-famous Camino de Santiago, a long-distance path (or more accurately, collection of paths) that ends in this Galician enclave in Spain’s north-west corner. Ask anyone who has completed a long-distance walk how it feels to reach the end and they will likely look wistful, try to sound positive, but paint an anticlimactic finish. Part of the problem is that after days on a trail, with a mission each day, stopping is disorientating. Reaching Santiago is no exception.
The reason is twofold. The first, stumbling block is expectation. Google the city before you reach it and you will find no end of beautiful photos depicting its namesake cathedral’s glorious façade basking in the sunshine. This is not the sight that will greet you. Its Portico de la Gloria has, since 2012, been encased in scaffolding while vital maintenance work is slowly undertaken (the completion date is some time in 2018). And as disappointing as that may be, the other issue with these images is that in truth it rains here. A lot. The second reason is that most people don’t actually know what to do when they finally arrive in Santiago, and it’s difficult to find someone to advise you. So while you can’t change the weather (or slow building work), you can arrive -no matter what length of trail you’ve walked -armed with a plan to make the most of it.
Getting home – Santiago Airport sits around 16km north-east of town. Ryanair offers direct flights to and from London Stansted every day except Thursday and Saturday. Flight time is around two hours; returns from £32 plus tax. Iberia aIso run daily flights there to/from the UK via its hub in Madrid.
Getting to the airport – The cheapest way is to take the airport bus, which leaves every 30 minutes between 6am and mid night from Plaza de Galicia and costs from €3 (£2.50) one-way. Allow one hour for traffic. Taxis are available, usually for a fixed price from hotels of around €20 (£17).
Other ways to leave/arrive – Trains connect Santiago with the rest of Europe, with direct trains to Madrid, Sarria (to start the minimum 100km walk along the Camino, so as toqualify for a pilgrimage certificate) and beyond.