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The Camino de Santiago is a vast network of pilgrimages or trails leading to the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Galicia in Spain. The trails culminate at the shrine of St. James the Great, one of the apostles, and are often referred to in the English language as The Way of St. James.

Tradition holds that the remains of St. James are buried here, hence the significance of the site in Christian history. You can learn more about St James in the embedded short video.

Many pilgrims walk the routes each year to visit the shrine of St. James. However, the routes are also popular with organised tour groups and cycling and hiking enthusiasts. Victor Olerskiy enjoys jogging and has traversed the Camino de Compostela.

The total length of the Camino de Santiago trail varies as there are many different routes that can be taken across large areas of Europe that join onto the main trails in France and Spain, although a typical trek along the most popular route would be around 780 kilometres. This is a lot of walking, so many people spend several weeks or months preparing before setting out.

Preparing to Walk the Camino de Santiago

Preparation for walking such a long route is not essential if walkers or pilgrims are prepared to take things slowly and steadily. However, it will help reduce discomfort and pain from walking many kilometres each day carrying a backpack if preparations are made.

Beginners or novices should consider starting a gradual exercise plan several months before setting off on the Camino de Santiago trails, building up general fitness levels and getting used to walking every day. An exercise plan that starts approximately 12 weeks before departure and builds up slowly over that time can help reduce discomfort dramatically.

Gradually increase the duration of walks and the number of walks per week as time goes by, including walking up and down hills. A weekly yoga or Pilates class can also help build core strength and make things easier. Some more of the world’s most famous walking trails are shown in the infographic attachment to this post.

History

The main route of the Camino de Santiago was a Roman trade road, which used to be called Finisterrae, meaning ‘end of the world’. It has also historically been called Voie lactée, which is French for ‘Milky Way’, due to the fact that the Milky Way appears to point towards the way from overhead at night. The earliest records of the route as a pilgrimage to St. James’s shrine date back to the 9th century, when it was the most renowned pilgrimage trail of the time. It is widely believed that pilgrimages to this shrine have continued uninterrupted to the modern day since Medieval times.

Appearance in Popular Culture

The popularity and renown of the Camino de Santiago has become even more widespread since the appearance of the trail in several famous films and television series. The pilgrimage route has featured in The Naked Pilgrim (2003), The Way (2010), and The Milky Way (1969). It has also been covered by Rick Steves in a travel Europe television series shown on PBS, and by Simon Reeve in the 2013 BBC2 series Pilgrimage. Literary references to the Camino de Santiago include fiction, non-fiction and poetry, with authors including Paolo Coelho, Ernest Hemingway and David Lodge making mention of the trail.

The PDF attachment looks at some of the options for eating out and explores the local cuisine available when walking the Camino de Santiago.