Distance from Camponaraya to Trabadelo, Spain 23.5 kilometers
Camponaraya wasn’t my favorite place on the Camino de Santiago, but when walking such a long distance with a goal in mind, sometimes you have to decide between keeping distances consistent and manageable, and staying in the most appealing places and staying in places that fit in with your itinerary. Walk too far on a day so you can spend the night in a special place and you might arrive too late or be too tired to enjoy it. Stop early to stay in particularly charming towns too often and you find yourself getting too far behind in even the most flexible of schedules.
Sarah and I, as well as a number of people we have talked to, find that about twenty to twenty-five kilometers a day is a good number. Thirty is doable, but very tiring and all you want to do is rest when you arrive. More than thirty-five is just miserable. Less than twenty and you feel like, for whatever reason, you are moving too slow. Of course people differ on this, but we have found, for us, that this is a good guideline.
A few kilometers outside of Camponaraya the landscape started to become more attractive. We were finally out of the suburbs of Ponferrada and moving into rolling hills, patches of forest and farmland. At about 10 AM we stopped for coffee in the surprisingly pleasant village of Cacabelos, a former administrative center for 5th century gold mining. The path of the Camino de Santiago took us past the villages 16th century church (“The Way” always seems to pass by a settlements oldest church) and in the Plaza Mayor there were preparations being made for a fiesta.
As we left town we were brought into the Bierzo wine region, with a landscape of vineyards, mixed with a few groves and cherry trees, as far as you could see. You could tell it a wasn’t a particularly wealthy area, at least the houses weren’t opulent, but almost every place we passed looked like a wonderful place to live.
We arrived into Villafranca del Bierzo about lunch time, found a nice restaurant in the sun and ordered the pilgrim meal. A typical “Pilgrim Menu”, offered by most bars and restaurants along “The Way of Saint James”, usually costs around €10 euros and offers a bottle of wine, a starter, a main course and a dessert. I had a tuna pasta salad, a piece of grilled trout followed up with arroz con leche.
Outside of Villafranca, the path was wedged between rock strewn, fast running, clear water stream and a highway. If you looked left you saw an idyllic scene with beautiful deciduous trees just starting to fill with fresh spring leaves and the stream. If you looked right you saw the highway. It wasn’t perfect, but I am a glass half-full kind of guy and mostly watched the nature on the left.
We found our “Casa Rural”, El Puente Peregrino, right as we entered the village. In wasn’t in the most scenic of locations, overlooking the highway and a mechanics shop, but from the time we entered we could tell this place was special. Downstairs was a bar/restaurant offering foods we haven’t seen since we started walking: lasagne, burritos, hamburgers, vegetable curry and many other favorites not readily available on the camino, served by an amiable Dutch woman who obviously put great care into her food. It only had three rooms upstairs. Ours was not fancy, but it was comfortable and clean and the shower was perfect.
Apparently this was about the only place to eat in town, because by dinner time the tiny place was packed. We had a great evening discussing our experiences on”The Way” and everyone shared stories of their lives back home. It was a great way to spend an evening.