900 years ago an abbey was built atop a rough hillside in Burgundy. Some genius architect decided to set the axis of the church so that when the sun rises in the morning the interior is blazed in light. From Vezelay to Santiago de Compostela it’s about 1,600 km, or 1,000 miles.
No matter what the weather is like, seeing nothing but rolling hills covered in sunflowers will put a smile on your face.
Imagine walking into a building that soars 38m (125 feet) above you, with an endless nave flanked by two correspondingly smaller vaults to either side. What do you do? You take a seat and let your mouth hang open, transfixed by this 800 year old marvel of epic geometry.
“Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views & leave you muddled & without bearings. They make you feel small & confused & vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie & you know you are in a big space. Stand in the woods and you only sense it. They are vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.” - Bill Bryson
The graceful cathedral of Limoges isn’t as cohesive as Bourges, but it will still take your breath away.
You don’t need coffee when everything around you is bathed in the iridescent light of a glorious sunrise.
On the way into the charming town of Ste. Foy-la-Grande, you emerge from a mountainside vineyard onto the bank of the Dordogne.
It has a really cool fortress at the top of a hill, steep cobblestoned streets, and it’s nestled in a valley, literally “at the foot of the gate” of the Pyrenees.
Take a steep mountain, add a cloud-covered valley below, a perfect sunrise, and the thousand-years-plus history of the Camino de Santiago and not only is this place beautiful, but it’s pretty badass as well.
Logroño is the capital of La Rioja, the most famous wine-growing region in Spain. It’s a city that you should see—but not with your eyes. Let your mouth do all the looking.
You actually walk through the Meseta for about a week, so it does start to look the same. But the boredom is more than worth the searingly beautiful loneliness of this desert-like plain.
Pilgrims take something from home and leave them here. Photographs, rings, seashells, rocks with names on them—you name it, someone has brought it. This place is beautiful because of its location in the mountains, and also because you can feel the weight of so many memories left here by people over many hundreds of years.
Dragonte is not for the faint of heart, nor for the faint of body. Most pilgrims choose a different, lesser path that skips the multiple ascents and descents that make Dragonte so difficult. Yet the steep, difficult terrain of Dragonte is also the most rewarding in the end.
The final part of the Camino crosses through Galicia, a region known especially for its torrential rains. So chances are when you see this beautiful monastery tucked into the valley below, your heart will soar at the prospect of shelter from the cold, wet rain.
On the last day of your Camino, you will be tired of sharing the road with people. Trust me on this—it’s cool meeting other pilgrims and getting to know them, but when you’ve walked about a thousand miles and are finally on the last stage, you’ll be appreciative of one final empty section of the road to keep to yourself. For me, that was here, at first light, in the village of Salceda. Soon the road becomes crowded with others, but savor the beauty of solitude one final time before you make your way into Santiago de Compostela and finish your epic journey.