El Camino de Levante & La Ruta de la Lana

  • El Camino de Levante  From Valencia via Toledo and Avila to Zamora; thence by one or other of the branches of the Vía de la Plata to Santiago. (N.B. this 2002 description is supplemented by reports and messages received since 2006: see below.)
  • La Ruta de la Lana  This is a little-walked camino largely following historical tracks and footpaths from Alicante to Burgos.  It offers a great variety of attractive scenery, many welcoming small villages, World Heritage sites and a splendid opportunity to enjoy traditional Spain.  It is a ‘favourite camino’ of some CSJ members.

El Camino de Levante

The Route.   Starts in Valencia and initially goes south to Xátiva, then westerly/northwesterly via Albacete, San Clemente, Toledo, Avila, Arévalo, Medina del Campo, and Toro to Zamora.  From Zamora there are three options: continue to Astorga and thence by the Camino francés to Santiago, go directly through Galicia via Puebla de Sanabria and Ourense to Santiago or turn west after Zamora and go via Bragança and northeastern Portugal, joining the southern variant of the Vía de la Plata in Verín.  The distance from Valencia to Zamora is c. 900 km and to Santiago c.1300 km.  Allow 7 weeks or so for the full trip.

Distinctive features of the route. 1. There are some very long stages, 48-52 km, where there is nothing en route, no bars, no accommodation, sometimes not even fresh water, so it is essential to carry sufficient food and especially drink, given the temperatures, more so than on any of the other pilgrim routes. 2. It is a seriously solitary route.  In September/October 2002 we were told of only 3 other pilgrims, cyclists, who had passed through.  We met 2 of them early on in Xátiva and they were the last we saw until Astorga, almost 1000 km later!   3. Despite the paucity of pilgrims some of the locals in the villages are aware of the camino and are extremely hospitable.  But no one speaks any English and it is imperative to be able to speak, read and understand Spanish to a good level of proficiency to survive on this route. 4. The route is suitable for mountain bikes although some of the earth tracks could be extremely hard going when wet.

Waymarking.  Yellow arrows, generally good, although very sparse on some stages and on these it is essential to be able to read in great detail the Spanish text of the only guide.

Terrain.  Generally not strenuous per se but the distances involved on some of the stages, combined with the heat can be exhausting.  There are many days with very little or even no shade:  days of vineyards, orange groves, and maize affording no shelter from the elements.  La Mancha although beautiful is particularly barren with long stages.  A few steep climbs including the Alto de la Paramera, 1345m, approaching Avila.

Weather/when to go: NOT July/August for the Valencia-Zamora stretch.  September/October is a good time although it can still be very hot, 30/35º C., but it has the advantage that the grape harvest is in full flow and the oranges, figs and apples are all in full fruit, which adds to the interest on some of the longer monotonous stages, plus the fact that you actually get to see some other human beings through the day!

Accommodation.  In the larger towns and villages finding a room in a hostal/pension was not normally a problem on weekdays, but at weekends in September it seemed that there were fiestas everywhere and there were absolutely no vacancies to be had.  There are albergues mentioned in the Spanish guide but no one in the villages seemed to know of their existence, with the exception of the one in Higueruela (and that was closed in September for holidays!).  There is no formal system of R&F.  On occasions, but not always, the local priest offered a floor and occasionally accommodation was on offer in a local monastery or convent.

What to see.  Spectacular scenery, beautiful villages, towns and cities.  The major sights such as Toledo and Avila are well known tourist destinations but you also get to see places such as Chinchilla, a hill top town with castle, cave dwellings and a Santiago peregrino in natural stone on the external wall of the apse of Iglesia de Santa María; San Clemente is a mediaeval town with a 15th c church dedicated to Santiago Apóstol; Tembleque has a beautiful balconied Plaza Mayor.

Guide Books.

  • Camino del Levante : VALENCIA ­ TOLEDO ­ ZAMORA ­ OURENSE – SANTIAGO Nouveauté 2008 published by Lepère Guides who no longer appear to stock it.   Available from the author Gérard Rousse at http://www.guides-cheminsdecompostelle.com/ .  There are second hand 2003 editions available from various websites such as Amazon France.
  • Topoguia: El Camino de Levante. 3rd ed Summer 2009. 320pp. ISBN 978-84-86715-31-8. €20. Reported excellent. This guide covers the whole route from Valencia to Santiago via Zamora and Ourense.  It has useful strip maps for the whole route (printed in the book and separately) and lists services along the entire route. It is available from: Amigos del Camino de Santiago de la Comunidad Valenciana, Dr. Gil y Morte, 24 -1º, pta 3 46007-VALENCIA.  Tel/fax. 96 385 99 82. It is also available from a selection of bookshops in Valencia.
  • The Way of Saint James from Valencia GR 239, Camino de Levante. Amigos del Camino de Santiago de la Comunidad Valenciana, 2010, 324pp translated into English by Laurie Dennett. Available here.

Discussion Forum. Visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum to join in the current conversation.

Language. While it is not impossible to take this route without any command of Spanish prospective pilgrims are strongly urged to learn as much as possible before they set out. Please see our FAQ Do I need to speak Spanish or French? for suggested ways of learning.

Websites.

http://www.vieiragrino.com/ has detailed stage information including accommodation.

www.mundicamino.com provides lots of route details too.

The Camino Manchego – message received July 2009:

Dear friends,

Just now, we, a little group of people in La Mancha, Spain, have finished to mark with typical yellow arrows the “Camino Manchego”, which goes from Ciudad Real to Toledo, where it connects with the “Camino del Sureste”, arriving from Alicante. Our way is a short track that leads us for 130kms mainly by the old “Royal Way from Toledo to Córdoba”, which joined the main city of the Christian Empire and the main city of the Arabian Empire. It was a very useful way for centuries. Later, when the Jewish culture is forbidden, many of them peregrinate to ompostela to save their lifes and properties.

You can see more about us in:

Our Forum: http://groups.google.es/group/camino-manchego
The Blog: http://delamanchaalcamino.blogspot.com
The Web: http://caminomanchego.es.tl

We hope you find them interesting.

Greetings and “Buen Camino!!”


From Andy Delmege, November 2009:

I’ve just walked the bulk of the Camino de Levante. [Recommendation for the 2009 edition of the Spanish Guide incorporated above.] There are some problems with the route changing due to the obras, particularly between Chinchilla and Albacete, but in general the yellow arrows and common sense get you round these.

I have put some information on the route on my blog: http://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/


From Éamann Ó Ruairc , February 2010:

To put my remarks in context, I am a man in my mid-60’s, I had previously walked the Camino francés and the Via de la Plata and I keep myself reasonably fit by walking and cycling on a regular basis. I speak fluent Spanish. I did this walk in the early spring of 2009.

According to the guide books, the Camino del Levante is 1,200 km long but I clocked up 1,350 km on my GPS. It is a  path for those who seek solitude. In more than four weeks, until I reached Zamora and the Via de la Plata, I crossed the path of only three other pilgrims/walkers, and then only briefly.

From Valencia the path heads paradoxically south, only turning north-west five days later. At that point it takes a road that rises up from the coastal plain to the Meseta. The first few days of walking bring you through the satellite towns and the extensive industrial hinterland of Valencia and then through its famous orange and lemon orchards.

Arriving on the Meseta you enter the region of La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote and windmills, a country of vast horizons, vineyards, olive groves and whitewashed villages. After ten days walking on the Meseta  hills appear on the horizon – you are  approaching the Sierra de Gredos. In the early Middle Ages, Madrid did not yet exist and therefore it is through the medieval towns of Toledo and Ávila that the Camino passes. A week’s walking through the Sierra separates the two towns. Your path  will peak at almost 1500m just before reaching Ávila. By that time you are  roughly halfway to Santiago.

North of Ávila lies the province of Castilla-Leon. Once again the yellow arrows will lead you across unending plains with vast horizons. Towards the end, for several days, the waters of the Duero keep you company and will lead you to Zamora. There the Camino del Levante joines the Via de la Plata.

The walking is not particularly demanding but the distances between places where you can find a restaurant or sleeping accommodation tend to be long, often around 30 km and sometimes up to 40 km.. My daily average was almost 30 km (see the table below).

There are few of the “albergues” that pilgrims/walkers on other Caminos are used to, although their number is increasing. On the other hand, most villages and towns provide shelter in one form or another, often in their sports centres or Red Cross facilities. Some are comfortable and well-equiped but others can be minimalist. If the weather is warm and dry that might not matter much, but if you are drenched to the skin and cold, the prospect of a night in an unheated building with perhaps no hot water may send you in search of more comfortable accommodation.

Luckily, with only two or three exceptions, there are  “pensiones”, “hostales” or hotels in all the towns and villages on the way. Prices range from €20 to €35 for a single room. I attach a table showing where I ate and slept. I have written in bold the names of restaurants and hotels which I recommend and in italics those which I found especially uncomfortable and bad value.

The way-marking is good, sometimes very good, but there are inevitably places where the arrows have disappeared for one reason or another. Recent guidebooks exists in French and in Spanish. Being able to follow a downloaded “track” on a GPS takes much of the stress out of finding your way, but even these tracks can soon be outdated, as Spain presses forward with improvements to its road, water, gas and railway infrastructures.

We tend to associate Spain with the sun and for those who will walk this path in the late spring or early autumn (the summer months are best avoided on account of the high temperatures) that may well be the case. But if you decide to do it in the early spring, be prepared for rain and cold on the Meseta!

The Camino del Sureste is a rival variant to the Camino del Levante. It starts out from Alicante, meets up with the Camino del Levante in Albacete, follows it for much of the time but on occasions takes a different route.

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Please see the following websites for information on the Camino del Sureste:

http://caminodelsureste.es.tl/ – guidebook available

https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/forums/camino-del-sureste.108/

http://www.encaminodesdealicante.org/camino-del-sureste/etapas

http://www.mundicamino.com/rutas.cfm?id=57

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May-July 2015: follow Robert Gomez’s blog on this route

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LA RUTA DE LA LANA

History   La Ruta de la Lana means the Wool Route and is based broadly on drove roads (cañadas) followed by drovers and their often huge flocks, travelling to milder climates nearer the coasts for winter and to higher mountain pasture in summer.  These routes, dating back to before the Middle Ages, were also used by sheep-shearers and wool merchants, and to take livestock to markets.  Burgos itself was the capital of the wool trade in the 16th and 17th centuries and the routes from the SE, especially from La Mancha, were well used.   This route was undoubtedly well-used by pilgrims to Santiago and there is documentation of a pilgrimage to Santiago made in 1624 by Francisco Patiño, his wife and cousin, from Monteagudo de las Salinas, a village some 45 kilometres before Cuenca.

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The Route   From Alicante to Burgos is approximately 700km with a further 500km if you continue on the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela.  Early stages are shared with the Camino del Sureste as you cross the dry, flattish landscapes of SE Spain, each village and small town dominated by its castle.  Gradually you gain height and for much of the route you will be walking at 800-1000m, typical of much of central Spain.  There are very few arduous ascents on the route, although some days you will be faced by longish distances between villages.

After 100km, the Ruta de la Lana is met by the Camino de Levante from Valencia, an alternative starting point for our route.  You are now in Castilla-La Mancha with its mix of almonds, cereals, pines and vast fields of vines as well as spectacular hill-top villages.   Cuenca, the only large town on the route, is half-way and fully merits a day’s visit.  There is greater variety in the landscape now, cultivated valley bottoms contrasting with hillsides of holm oaks, mountain scrub and pines and more ups and downs as you cross low sierras.  Villages are small, often with fewer than 100 inhabitants and you may see little sign of life as you pass through.  In some settlements many houses have a ‘Se Vende’ (For Sale) sign, or are in a complete state of abandonment or ruin, forlorn reminders of long-term rural depopulation in this depressed region of Spain.  At Mandayona there is a variant of the route.  This goes via an impressive gorge to the beautiful town of Sigüenza, followed by a completely walled village, before rejoining the main camino near the medieval village of Atienza.  Ahead are the highest point of the route at 1430m, an exciting gorge, timeless, half-abandoned villages, great views, Santo Domingo de Silos with its famous monastery and a final flattish but long stage to Burgos.

Waymarking   Now, very good throughout, with familiar arrows and marker posts.  Some stretches are also waymarked with the Camino del Cid and Ruta del Quijote.

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Weather and when to go   As for many of the longer caminos, the most pleasant times for walking are spring and autumn.  Alicante will probably be warm to hot, while central Spain has temperature extremes and nights can be very cold.

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Where to stay   There is an increasing number of pilgrim hostels, often superbly equipped, and in many villages more basic accommodation is made available to pilgrims.  Unlike other caminos, because there are so few pilgrims, it is essential to phone at least a day in advance to check that pilgrim accommodation is available, where to obtain the key etc.  The hospitaleros on this route are outstandingly helpful but most have full-time jobs.  There are also cheap hotels and hostales, some accommodation run by religious orders and Casas Rurales (in villages, sometimes self-catering, sometimes B&B).

 

Distinctive features

  • The friendliness of the local people; many villages rarely see strangers but the welcome for the occasional pilgrim is invariably a very warm one.
  • Very few pilgrims indeed; if you like solitary caminos that offer ample opportunity for reflection and contemplation, this is certainly one for you. CSJ members report meeting just 2-3 other pilgrims over the 700km; arriving in Burgos will be a shock!
  • The timeless attractiveness of small Spanish villages, with their castles and churches, many dating back to the Middle Ages. Some sites such as Alcalá del Júcar are simply spectacular.
  • Cuenca, a World Heritage Site, between 2 gorges with superb views and many fine buildings. Sigüenza rivals it for the quality of its architecture.
  • Churches (sadly) often closed, cathedrals and monasteries, especially Santo Domingo de Silos.
  • Landscape that is attractive throughout and truly impressive at times, such as the gorges of the Río Dulce or Río Caracena. A route of birdsong, hoopoes, eagles, countless vultures, deer, boars…
  • Most of the route is way off the tourist track and you will find hotel/hostal and meal prices very reasonable.

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Language   You will need to have at least basic Spanish, not least to make phone calls regarding accommodation, and to make yourself understood in shops and restaurants where there may well be no-one who speaks English.  A knowledge of Spanish will also be important to glean the information in many of the websites listed below.

Guides and maps   The only published guide is in Spanish and dates from 1999.  More up-to-date information is available from the internet, much the fruits of labour of Amigos de Alicante and Cuenca.  For details for each stage with distances and accommodation and for maps, check the following: 

http://www.dealbaceteasantiago.es/IndiceCaminos-11.html Km by km of route; also version in English; recent accommodation list

http://elcaminoderequena.blogspot.co.uk  scroll down for downloadable QR code guide to route

http://caminodelalana.blogspot.com.es    Route description; machine translation available

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Amigos-del-Camino-de-Santiago-Camino-de-la-Lana/111461602217985  Some useful updates

http://caminosantiagoalbacete.jimdo.com/camino-de-la-lana/  Description for first half of route with good map links

http://www.caminosdeguadalajara.es/el-camino-de-santiago.html  Guide to camino in province of Guadalajara

Specifically for maps      

http://es.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=3340071  Google map for whole route

http://douglasajohnson.com/rutadelalana.htm  Good maps for all stages by clicking links

http://www.ign.es/iberpix2/visor/#   Printable IGN maps of all Spain

And well worth reading is the article in the March 2014 edition of the Confraternity’s Bulletin by Peter Walsh:  Processionary Caterpillars – A Walk on the Ruta de la Lana

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Michael Gaches and Peter Walsh September 2016

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