Walking the Camino de Santiago: Winter Pilgrimage

 

Since the release and unexpected success of the film The Way, it seems that walking the Camino de Santiago is on everyone’s travel bucket list. When I first walked the Camino back in 2003 it was little known to travellers outside of Europe and we felt quite the intrepid adventurers revealing our plans to walk across Spain.

 

Camino

 

So when my cousin and I decided to walk the Camino again in 2009 we thought we’d up the ante and do the 780km crossing in winter: a winter pilgrimage!

Why the heck would you attempt this trek in the winter months, you ask?

 

Well…

Apart from a bone-chilling week walking across the Meseta – an entirely flat and somewhat bleak wilderness of wheat fields and scrub land – this winter journey was sensational!

 

 A sunny day on the Meseta

A sunny day on the Meseta

 

At the time it was by far the most challenging and fulfilling thing I had ever done. (I’ve since explored Iceland, and photographed polar bears in the Arctic so this winter pilgrimage on the Camino is now on par with those experiences!)

 

Sure, there were ups and downs, as with anything, and dear God it was chilly at times but…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

 

Camino

 

Did my feet hurt? Yup….but sometimes they didn’t.

Was it cold? Hells yes…but often it was bright and sunny.

Were there times I felt like giving up? Absolutely…but mostly I was very happy to get up each morning and power on.

 

Camino - When the road becomes a river

When the road becomes a river

 

At the time about 100,000 people were walking the Camino de Santiago every year. Most would walk in summer and a smaller portion in Spring and Autumn.

 

But only a handful would attempt it during the winter months.

 

We didn’t want to walk with the masses and we were well aware of the possible difficulties awaiting us, but we decided we were up for the challenge that a winter pilgrimage would offer!

 

The rewards were plentiful and far outweighed the difficulties…

 

 

Other pilgrims are few and far between but the people we did meet were wonderful - these fine folk soon became our friends.

Other pilgrims are few and far between but the people we did meet were wonderful – these fine folk soon became our friends.

 

Walking through rain clouds on the top of the mountains…

 

Ploughing your way through knee-deep snow…

 

Finally see the sun breaking through after hours of fog…

 

Camino

 

Reaching a high point and look back over the misty hills you have just taken 3 days to walk through…

 

Camino

Feeling the burn in your face and hands when you first escape the cold into a warm bar…

 

Seeing your first ever fog-bow…

 

Fogbow: yep, there IS such a thing. Similar to a rainbow except it appears in fog instead of rain. And it is oh-so-pretty.

Fogbow: yep, there IS such a thing. Similar to a rainbow except it appears in fog instead of rain. And it is oh-so-pretty.

 

The solitude that comes with walking the Camino de Santiago at this time of year is also really lovely. While there were usually about 5-10 of us at any given time staying in the pilgrim hostels, there were times when my cousin and I were the only ones on the trail: just you and the road.

 

Camino

 

Even with the icy-cold Meseta, I would still say this is the most rewarding and beautiful time of year to walk the Camino. We had no regrets!

 

 

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Comments (19)
  • Avatar

    David Oct 22 2012 - 1:47 pm Reply

    Very inspiring, Cherina.

    The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.
    –Saint Augustine

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    Andrea Oct 26 2012 - 11:16 pm Reply

    Lovely photos! I never thought of Spain as a hiking destination but it makes sense…
    Andrea recently posted..Tallinn On Tap: Let There Be BeerMy Profile

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      Quiet Wanderings Nov 1 2012 - 12:02 pm Reply

      Spain is a great place to hike. I’ve always wanted to go back a do a longer hike through the Pyrenees and also the Picos de Europa in the far north is supposed to be fabulous for hiking.

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    Ayngelina Oct 30 2012 - 4:25 am Reply

    Gorgeous photos! I know I said I hate hiking but after visiting Spain this is on my wish list.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Getting lost in MontanaMy Profile

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    Natasha von Geldern Nov 1 2012 - 9:42 am Reply

    Love the idea of doing it in winter avoiding the crowds! And you’ve got some beautiful photos to prove the worth of the idea!
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted..Destination Australia: Rottnest IslandMy Profile

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      Quiet Wanderings Nov 1 2012 - 12:09 pm Reply

      It was such a beautiful time of year to be walking. Always a blessing if you can avoid the crowds in my opinion, especially when hiking.

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    Jonathan Dec 17 2012 - 8:35 am Reply

    Thank you thank you thank you. I am about to head out for a January camino and was beginning to wonder if I had made the correct decision about a winter trek. Your pics rejuvenated my enthusiasm and I am excited!

    • Avatar

      Quiet Wanderings Dec 17 2012 - 9:59 am Reply

      I’m sure it’s the right decision – a winter Camino was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m sure it won’t be without its challenges but the rewards will counteract those, I’m certain :)
      Thanks for stopping by, Jonathan – Have an awesome Camino!

  • Avatar

    Shannon J Jun 17 2013 - 11:57 pm Reply

    Great photos! Never thought of doing the trek in the winter before. This trip is definitely on my bucket list!

    • Avatar

      Quiet Wanderings Jun 19 2013 - 10:55 am Reply

      Thanks, Shannon. It’s a great time to do if you want to get away from the crowds of summer pilgrims. Take your thermals though :)

  • Avatar

    top 10 lists Jul 30 2013 - 1:22 am Reply

    wow! amazing photos and sounds like a great adventure! doing this hike in the winter sounds… a bit difficult I must say but also less crowded which is a big plus, at least for me

  • Avatar

    Kathryn Sep 16 2013 - 6:23 pm Reply

    Hey! Congratulations on your winter camino!

    I am starting my Camino Frances on 31st October 2013!

    Which months did you chose to walk it?

    Many thanks

  • Avatar

    Holidays Asturias Oct 3 2013 - 7:39 am Reply

    Dear Cherina, your photos and The Way description look just great! Which Camino did you walk? Asturias is a region on the north coast of Spain right at the foot of the Picos de Europa Mountains and the bay of Biscay that forms part of the original Way Of Saint James. If you are planning to walk the Camino again I would like to reccommend you do the Asturias Way Of Saint James along its coast. It is marvellous!

  • Avatar

    Molli Jun 13 2016 - 9:26 pm Reply

    Great post! We are thinking of doing a winter Camino in February 2017. Just wondering if it was difficult to find places to stay and shops and restaurants for resupply and dining during the winter.
    We are open to hostels as well as hotels. We thru-hiked the AT in 2014 and are in desperate need of another great adventure!

    • Avatar

      Sara Sep 11 2016 - 3:48 am Reply

      Hey Molli,

      Im planning my camino December-January. I am also finding it difficult to find sturdy information on Winter camino and albergue closures! I’m very excited for the adventure, but also a bit nervous to be going alone with a very small understanding of the Spanish language… I hope you have more luck in finding information! I’ll try my best to get back on here after my pilgrimage and let you know which towns/cities have openings!

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    Sara Sep 11 2016 - 3:43 am Reply

    I have been looking online a lot lately and getting very contradicting information.. I am planning my Camino in mid-December. Did you find it difficult to find open Albergues? I am planning to go alone, and am just learning the basics of Spanish. I’m just a bit concerned about communication and holiday closures. (Not like that will stop me from going though).. Do you feel it’s essential to speak the language when walking in winter?

    Any information would be helpful!

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