The last day of our camino came too quickly. Still in Northern Spain, we had a lovely walk from Torres del Rio to Logroño, about 23k or 13.9 miles. Once again, we had wonderful scenery, a well groomed trail with good signage and picturesque towns for lovely breaks in our day.
When we first planned this adventure, we decided to walk only 8 days of the Camino to see what it was like. We weren’t sure if walking all day with a bit of weight on our backs would become tiresome, boring or too much work. Keeping our packs light certainly helped. But the great walking paths, beautiful towns and camaraderie of the “Peregrinos” made it a wonderful adventure. We would like to do it again.
The Camino is full of beauty, but there are several challenges, too. The biggest challenge—one that we didn’t have to face, is walking daily for around 40 days. I can’t tell you how that feels because we chose to do only part of the Camino Frances. Our adventure was only 10 days and a bit over 100 miles. We also took a two day break in the middle of our walk in the lovely city of Pamplona, which I highly recommend.
An important challenge for most of us was managing our tired and damaged feet. Think about it, no matter how fit you are—how many of us walk eight hours a day on a daily basis? I would bet that the subject of “how to avoid blisters” was the most popular topic on the Camino. Luckily, there were several options for care along the way.
After a nice rest in Pamplona, we were happy to get back on the trail. It didn’t take long to get out of the city and back onto another scenic trail. With the improved weather, we were now able to hike in shorts and T shirts.
Gentle hills and valleys for the day
As you can see from the photo, I had my main backpack sent ahead to our hotel. For only around $6, it was well worth it to have one more easier day hiking. This service was available throughout the Camino and I was glad I could use it at the last minute.
For an easier itinerary, we chose to stay two nights in Pamplona, which was good planning. Not only did I need more rest to kick my cold, it was also time to get some laundry done. The city has plenty of shopping opportunities if you decide your hiking boots aren’t right or you need more equipment. I bought a small daypack at a great price.
Although Pamplona is a large city (almost 200,000 inhabitants), it was a very pleasant stop for us. The capital city of Navarre, Pamplona is also the second largest city of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Full of welcoming plazas, outdoor cafes and historic architecture, it’s worth an extra night’s stay if you can manage it.
We had a bit of rain and wind during the first few days of our Camino. Once we dropped down into Roncesvalles, the weather improved. However, I wasn’t able to shake the cold I caught on the first day’s hike in the rain. Luckily, there was a pharmacy in Zubiri and I was able to get some help. The pharmacists in most European cities are very well trained and give great advice. Even in this very small town, the person who helped me spoke English.
After a 13.5 mile walk, we stopped in Larrasoaña for the night. Although our albergo was adequate, I would not recommend spending the night here. There were no stores or real restaurants in town. The one spot to eat had just a few choices and was quite busy. Luckily for us, the friendly owner did a great job handling a crowd and the food was fine.
There are two main routes leading from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, the popular first day’s walk. Because of rain and overcast weather, we chose the easier route that goes by Valcarlos—a lovely town with several good accommodation options. We stayed the night to give us an easier and shorter first day on the Camino.
Basque Farmhouse in Navarre, Spain
The main Route de Napoleon is recommended as the most scenic route, which offers fantastic views on a clear day. Since the weather was overcast with very little visability, we were not disappointed with the quiet walk and beautiful farmlands along our trail. Although we walked on some roads for part of the day, they were minor farm roads with hardly any traffic. We also had some pleasant paths that led us through small verdant valleys and up gentle hills.
There are many ways to walk the Camino de Santiago, the famous path of St. James that ends in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. For our first experience, we chose the Camino Francés, which starts in France. Even that camino has various starting points. We began our adventure in Saint Jean Pied de Port, which is just below the Pyrenees Mountains on the French side of the border.
Saint Jean Pied de Port on the Nive River
We were glad we chose to spend a night in town because it gave us a chance to explore this beautiful town in the Pyrenees-Atlantique department of south-western France. This is the French Basque region, so there were plenty of excellent choices for a wonderful meal.
We’ve been to Rome several times and we keep coming back. What makes Rome so special? It’s hard to put into words, but I’ll give it a try.
Arch of Constantine
Everyone knows that Rome has plenty of famous ruins such as the Forum and the Colloseum. But what I love about the Eternal City are the unexpected ruins one finds around every corner. On my most recent trip, I discovered a new neighborhood for me, The Ghetto, the old Jewish quarter not far from the Pantheon. Besides a vibrant neighborhood with fun eateries, this area is home to Portico di Ottavia, a lovely portico built by Augustus in 27 BC. From the Portico, one can take a nice walk and visit the nearby Theatre of Marcellus. Just a few blocks north you can find the Largo di Argentina with four beautiful temples and the famous Roman cats.
Whether you are traveling in the countryside or want to explore a great city like Rome, Italy offers a comfortable and economic option for accommodations — a convent or monastery stay. Thanks to its Catholic heritage, Italy has an abundance of convents and monasteries throughout the country. In popular cities like Rome and Florence, the convents claim prime locations that are centrally located, yet often, on quiet side streets. Fortunately for us travelers, these renovated buildings are usually a great bargain compared to their competition.
Almost everyone who visits Italy for the first time includes Rome in their itinerary. We give ourselves three or four days to see the most important sights and we leave the city exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the history and art (and food) we’ve consumed in too short a time.
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to return to Rome. When you visit the eternal city again, you can move beyond the crowded and touristy areas and savor more of the smaller gems of this amazing city. Once you’ve gone where the guide books say to go, you can now choose your own path—hopefully, with a slower pace. We’ve been lucky enough to return to Rome four times and we still are amazed at what we discover. Next time you venture to Rome, you might consider these other venues.