Catalan Caminos

Catalunya is a relative newcomer to the routes to Santiago and yet there are several that begin in the region; routes in bold are described below.  For a map of routes in Catalunya www.gronze.com/camino-de-santiago/mapa-catalan.htm.

1a.     From El Port de la Selva on the northern Costa Brava or from La  Jonquera near the French border via Figueres and Girona to Montserrat.

1b.     From Barcelona to Montserrat.

2.       The Monastery of Montserrat is seen as the traditional starting point for the Camí de Sant Jaume (Camino de Santiago).  From here the route goes west to Tàrrega where there is a choice of 2 itineraries:

2a.     Via Lleida (Lérida), Zaragoza and Tudela to Logroño where it joins the Camino francés.

2b.     Via Balaguer, Huesca and San Juan de la Peña to Santa Cilia de Jaca where it joins the Camino aragonés to Puente la Reina.

3.       From Tarragona joining 2a at Lleida.

4.       From the Ebro delta via Tortosa, joining 2a before Zaragoza

There is also the Castellano-Aragonés route, which does not start in Catalunya, but from Gallur (between Zaragoza and Tudela), and goes via Soria and Santo Domingo de Silos to join the Camino Francés at Burgos – for an overview of this route please see here.

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Camí de San Jaume: El Port de la Selva – Montserrat

The route    Starting on the Mediterranean coast, the route climbs steeply to the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes before dropping down to Figueres and continuing southwest to Girona.  It then loops northwest to Sant Esteve d’en Bas with an optional extension to Olot.  Here it resumes its southwesterly course, through mainly hilly terrain via Roda de Ter, Vic, L’Estany, Artés and Manresa to Montserrat.

Length    Including Olot, some 270km; 10-12 days plus rest days and visiting.

Waymarking    Signage variable; can be good but in many places poor or completely lacking.  Both tall and short signposts but relatively few yellow arrows.  On sections such as the vías verdes (former railways) specific camino signs can be few and far between.  Some towns have metal shell signs on pavements – useful for walkers, less so for cyclists.  At times, such as after Manresa, there is a confusing profusion of local walk signs with only rare camí ones.

Terrain    A mixture of minor roads, paths, farm tracks, forest paths and vía verde cycle routes.  After a short section on the coastal path, the camí climbs some 600m steeply to Sant Pere de Rodes.  It then descends for 5km, paths alternating with minor roads to Figueres.  From here to the large town of Girona, there is a similar mix of surfaces, the camí pleasantly undulating.  After Girona you follow thevía verde for most of 2 days to reach Olot and an area of volcanoes.  10km south of Olot, after Hostalets d’en Bas, comes the second long steep climb of the route, an old path through forest; this is the camí real which you follow, on and off, to Vic, a sizeable town.  Another long climb up to 1000m, mainly on forest tracks, leads to L’Estany and then down, with splendid views, to Artés and Navarcles.  After a section on riverside tracks, the route climbs away from the river to Manresa, another largish town.  From Manresa, the way ascends above low cliffs then returns to cross the river at Castellgalí.  From here the views of the Sierra de Montserrat are increasingly spectacular as you climb, initially on tracks and latterly by minor road, up to the Monastery of Montserrat, high in the sierra.

Weather    From the coast to Girona you can expect mild Mediterranean weather, but the further west you go the more extreme will be the temperatures.  Expect mountain weather in the hills after Sant Esteve, before and after L’Estany and approaching Montserrat.

When to go    The route can be walked all year long; however, it is wise to avoid the heat of high summer and to check conditions very carefully in winter.   Spring and autumn should be best.  Bear in mind that, in September and October, hostales and casas rurales often close to enable their staff to take their holidays.

What to see    You will see many different areas of Catalunya, plenty of fine views and several interesting towns, villages and monasteries.  Sant Pere de Rodes: one of the most important medieval monasteries in Spain, in a stunning setting.  Vilabertran: another superb Catalan monastery. Figueres: lively town, Dalí’s Teatre-Museu, vast C18th fortress.  Girona: attractive town of 75,000, maze of old streets, Jewish museum, cathedral with huge nave and excellent museum, interesting churches, museums, parks, houses lining river.  Anglès: splendid gothic old town.  Olot: walk up to volcanic crater, Museu de la Garrotxa, modernista architecture (also buses to beautiful Besalú and dramatic Castellfollit de la Roca, both nearby).  Hostalets d’en Bas: picturesque village.  Vic: warren of old streets with interesting buildings, cathedral, Plaç a Major, outstanding Museu Episcopal not to be missed: Romanesque and Gothic works, also textiles, ceramics…  L’Estany: monastery with splendid cloister capitals.   Navarcles: monastery of Sant Benet de Bages.  Manresa: Basilica de Santa Maria de la Seu.  Montserrat: monastery site, breathtaking views, basilica with la Moreneta, the revered Virgin of Montserrat and famous Escolania boys’ choir, art museum, opportunity to climb Sant Jeroni, highest peak in sierra at 1236m.

Where to stay    As yet there are no pilgrim hostels, although pilgrims can stay at the Monastery in Montserrat.  Catalunya is not cheap, especially near the coast; youth hostels (Girona, Olot, Vic, Manresa) are probably the cheapest accommodation followed by pensiones and hostales.  You will probably find accommodation but it may be expensive and you should phone in advance.  At weekends accommodation can get booked up.

Distinctive features of the route    This is, as yet, a little-known route.  Away from towns and roads it is very quiet and peaceful and you will feel a pioneer!  On some stretches you will meet walkers and cyclists, especially at weekends, but they are unlikely to be pilgrims: in 2011 I saw three in nearly 300km.  Do not assume that locals will necessarily be aware of the camino.  However, I found Catalan people very friendly and helpful: if they cannot help, they will try and find someone who can.  Tourist offices and the police are an invaluable source of assistance.  Nevertheless, the waymarking leaves something to be desired, accommodation needs tracking down and there is as yet no really good guidebook (see below).  Most of the route is cyclable, but cyclists will need to keep to the road at times, for example, to reach Sant Pere de Rodes and on leaving Hospitalets d’en Bas.  Pilgrims will certainly need a reasonable command of Spanish (and/or Catalan) for this route, as well as experience of other caminos and the confidence/initiative to overcome the shortfalls of this attractive camino.

Guide books     The Catalan Government has produced some guides (versions in Spanish and Catalan) to this route; it can be freely downloaded from their site: http://empresaiocupacio.gencat.cat/ca/treb_departament/emo_publicacions/emo_turisme1/emo_guies_turistiques/emo_trams_cami_sant_jaume
It gives a good deal of background information, with photos, about towns, villages, monuments etc.  This information is quite detailed, indeed it forms the bulk of the book; you will probably want to edit it.  The guide also gives route-finding information; at times this is adequate, at other times it is poor, lacking sufficient detail with regard to directions and distances.  There are sketch maps that give only a broad idea of the route.  Each chapter/stage ends with a comprehensive summary of accommodation, but no indication of prices; many of the casas rurales listed appear to offer accommodation on a ‘whole house’ or more than 1 night basis only.  There is no indication of shops, restaurants etc.
There is also a guide, with sketch maps to the route on the site of the Girona amigoshttp://www.camigironasantiago.com/rutas and a Mundicamino guide atwww.mundicamino.com/rutas.cfm?id=48

Language    Reasonable command of Spanish or Catalan essential.  Although English is now taught in all schools, many will have NO English and some will talk to you only in Catalan, even though they understand your Spanish!  French may be useful, if not to communicate, at least to help you understand some Catalan words.

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Overview: Cami de Sant Jaume (Huesca)

A modern route enabling pilgrims from Barcelona, Catalunya and central Spain to journey to the Camino aragonés and onwards to the Camino francés.  Montserrat, the shrine of the Moreneta (the Black Madonna), is the traditional Catalan starting point.

The route    Descends from the Sierra de Montserrat and heads west through Igualada and Cervera to Tàrrega.  Here it splits from the Ebro/Zaragoza route and goes north-west via Balaguer, Monzón and Huesca to the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, joining the Camino aragonés at Santa Cilia de Jaca.  Map www.gronze.com/camino-de-santiago/camino-catalan-huesca-jaca.htm

Length    330km from Montserrat to Santa Cilia de Jaca; about a fortnight plus rest days and visiting.

Waymarking    Thanks to the hard work of the pilgrim associations, the route is now well marked with yellow arrows and signs throughout.  The waymarking, together with a very good guide (see below), means that the route is much easier to follow than route 1a above.

Terrain    The route is divided mainly between footpaths and broad farm tracks with some walking on quiet minor roads and a former main road.  In both Catalunya and Aragón the camino passes through significant stretches of agricultural land with very little shade.  It is a route that begins and ends in mountains.  First comes the Sierra de Montserrat with a long descent to flatter terrain where you broadly follow the line of the old NII and the A2 motorway.  A long gradual climb and descent leads through villages to the towns of Cervera and Tàrrega.  Here you leave the main communication axis and continue across pleasant flattish countryside and through orchards, large cereal fields and villages.  After the town of Balaguer, the way is more undulating and passes the Serra Larga, a long line of low hills.  Soon after Alfarràs, you enter Aragón and continue on flat, isolated farm tracks with few villages.  Later the way is hillier, with fine views.  However, it is after Huesca that the scenery becomes really rewarding as you head towards the Pyrenean foothills.  Between Sarsamarcuello and Santa Cilia, the scenery is magnificent; you climb the Sierra de Loarre to the spectacular Mallos and then descend steeply to the narrow gorge of the Foz de Escalete and the village of Estación de Santa María y la Peña.  A long, steady climb brings you to the villages of Ena and Botaya, followed by a steep ascent to the monasteries of San Juan de la Peña and superb views.  From here, GR65.3.2, a variant of the Camino aragonés, takes you steeply down to Santa Cruz de la Serós and via Binacua to Santa Cilia de Jaca.   (From Estación de Santa María de la Peña, it is possible to go by train to Jaca.)

Weather     Typical Spanish continental weather for the most part.  There will be mountain weather from Montserrat to Igualada and from Loarre onwards. Consult with locals if you have any doubt at all, especially from Loarre, where in the mountains there is almost no shelter or refuge, and pay close attention to their advice.  Elsewhere, weather similar to that between Burgos and Astorga on theCamino francés – very hot in the summer months.

When to go   It is possible to walk the route all year long, but June to early September is often extremely hot and long stretches of the route have absolutely no shade.  Avoid these months and also the heat of the day at other times.  Spring and autumn are best.  Do not attempt the Sierra de Loarre in snow or bad weather: there are only a very few mountaineers’ shelters.  You may want to take the train from Riglos to Jaca instead.  Bear in mind that, in September and October, hostales and casas rurales often close to enable their staff to take their holidays.

What to see    Montserrat: monastery site, breathtaking views, basilica with la Moreneta, the revered Virgin of Montserrat and famous Escolania boys’ choir, art museum, opportunity to climb Sant Jeroni, highest peak in sierra at 1236m.  Igualada: old centre and Basílica de Santa María.  Cervera: old streets, University, Plaza Mayor.  Tàrrega: churches, gothic cross, town palaces, park with views. Balaguer: Iglesia de Santa María, old quarter, Plaza Mercadal, churches.  Castelló de Farfanya: site and village.  Algerri: old village with hilltop castle ruins.  Tamarite de Litera: Iglesia de Santa María, old buildings.  Monzón: castle, cathedral.  Berbegal: hilltop site, views, Iglesia de Santa María. Pertusa: setting by gorge, Iglesia de Santa María.  Antillón: old village, walls and castle ruins. Huesca:  town of 50,000, historical centre (good tourist office tours) with cathedral, Monasterio de San Pedro el Viejo, Ayuntamiento, churches.  Bolea: splendid Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor; cherries! Loarre: pleasant village with monumental Romanesque Castillo de Loarre looming over it.  After Sarsamarcuello: amidst stunning scenery, the vulture viewpoint at Mirador de los Buitres.  Ena and Botaya: picturesque villages with traditional Aragonese architecture.  Monasterio Viejo de San Juan de la Peña: an utterly majestic mountainside monastery, justly a World Heritage Site.  Santa Cruz de la Serós: 2 beautiful Romanesque churches.

Where to stay    Pilgrim accommodation has increased considerably of late.    Pilgrims are accommodated at the monastery in Montserrat and by the nuns in Cervera.  There are pilgrim albergues, most of a high standard in Igualada, Tamarite de Litera, Berbegal, Pertusa, Pueyo de Fañanás, Huesca, Bolea, Sarsamarcuello, Ena and Santa Cilia de Jaca.  Unlike albergues on busier pilgrim routes, you may need to ring ahead to announce your arrival as pilgrims are few and far between and there is unlikely to be a resident hospitalero waiting for you.  In Jorba pilgrims are welcome at the pilgrim/youth hostel in the rectory.  Elsewhere you should be able to stay at a reasonably priced pension unless you choose a touristy area such as Loarre.  You may find a bar or restaurant with inexpensive rooms on their upper floor, or the owners will helpfully call around to find you a bed.  Tourist office and ayuntamiento (town hall) staff and local police can be delightfully warm and helpful.  At weekends accommodation can get booked up.

Distinctive features of the route    Very quiet and peaceful with very few pilgrims; you may be the only one in the albergue.  Would appeal to those seeking solitude and undiscovered Spain/Catalunya; you will come across many gems and meet few tourists.  There is certainly increasing awareness of the camino and you will find locals uniformly hospitable and helpful.  Their dogs, however, are NOT accustomed to pilgrims, so be careful.  Aside from the Sierra de Loarre, walking is fairly easy and there are few boring stretches.  The worry of getting lost has greatly diminished with the work recently put into waymarking and the availability of a good guidebook.  Cyclable most all the way, although difficult and at times impossible in the Sierra de Loarre.  No major industrial towns to negotiate – delightful medieval market towns in Catalunya and picturesque if poorer, dustier towns and villages in Aragón.

Guide books    El Camino Catalán de Santiago desde Montserrat   Joan Fiol Boada  Ediciones Lectio   2010   ISBN 978-84-96754-48-5 is excellent.  Very clear route-finding information, sketch maps, useful and concise background information and a good section on accommodation.   It contains both the Huesca route (2b) and the Lleida-Zaragoza camino (2a).  Obtainable, with downloadable updating sheet (actualización) from www.gronze.com/guias-gronze-c.htm
The Catalan Government has produced a free downloadable guide to the Catalan part of 2, 2a and 2b; see reservations above regarding their guide to route 1a.

English version: www.gencat.cat/diue/doc/doc_26922631_1.pdf

Spanish version:  www.gencat.cat/diue/doc/doc_35670304_1.pdf

The Barcelona Association of Amics/Amigos has a map plus list of accommodation and other facilities at http://www.amicsdelspelegrins.org/
The Mundicamino guide is available at www.mundicamino.com/rutas.cfm?id=49

Other websites
http://web.archive.org/web/20110831083826/http://www.terra.es/personal/jucasel/Camino/etapas98.html personal account following part of route. This website is in Spanish.

Language    Basic Spanish essential as you will meet few English speakers and will need, amongst other things, to make phone calls, arrange accommodation, check on the route…

Thanks to Austin Cooke, President, Canadian Company of Pilgrims, October 2009 (reviewed March 2014). Austin’s fuller account of his own experience of walking route 2/2b is in the CSJ Library. Thanks also to Michael Gaches who walked both the Catalan routes described above in May 2011, and to Peter Robins for additional information.