About the camino Routes Spain & Portugal Camino Catalán The routes from Cataluña are all relatively recently established, but there are a number to choose from. A map of routes in Catalunya can be found here. The Catalan name for the Camino de Santiago is the Camí de Sant Jaume. There are a number of possible starting points: El Port de la Selva on the northern Costa Brava or from La Jonquera near the French border via Figueres and Girona to Montserrat Barcelona to Montserrat The Monastery of Montserrat (the most traditional starting point for the Camí de Sant Jaume). You can take the variant via Lleída and Zaragoza to Logroño where it joins the Camino Francés or the variant via Huesca and San Juan de la Peña to Santa Cilia de Jaca where it joins the Camino Aragonés. Tarragona, joining the Camí de Sant Jaume at Lleída. The Ebro Delta via Tortosa, joining the Camí de Sant Jaume at Zaragoza. Camí de Sant 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 carries on southwest, through mainly hilly terrain via Roda de Ter, Vic, L’Estany, Artés and Manresa to Montserrat. Length: Including Olot, the route is approximately 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 are some confusing 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. After Girona you follow the vía 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 the town of Vic. 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 then 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 the temperatures get. 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, as ever, should be best. Bear in mind that hostales and casas rurales often close in September and a October so the staff can take holiday. Where to stay: As yet there are no pilgrim hostels, although pilgrims can stay at the Monastery in Montserrat. Cataluña 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: There is a comprehensive online breakdown to this route. The Catalan Government has also produced some guides (versions in Spanish and Catalan) to this route, giving a good deal of background information, with photos, about towns, villages, monuments etc. as well as some concise route-finding information. Accommodation information is a little harder to come by, but the Department for Tourism gives guides to different types of accommodation. 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. Overview: Cami de Sant Jaume (Huesca) Introduction: A modern route allowing pilgrims from Barcelona, Cataluña and central Spain to get to the Camino Aragonés and onwards to the Camino Francés. The traditional starting point is the shrine of the Moreneta (the Black Madonna) at Montserrat. 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 available here. 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 from El Port de la Selva. 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 Cataluña 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 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 the Camino 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 hostales and casas rurales often close in September and October to enable their staff to take their holidays. 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 pensión 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/Cataluña; 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 Cataluña 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, is excellent, with very clear route-finding information, sketch maps, useful and concise background information, and a good section on accommodation. It contains both the Huesca route and the Lleida-Zaragoza camino. Obtainable from the Gronze website. The Barcelona Association of Amics/Amigos has a map plus list of accommodation and other facilities on their website. The Mundicamino Guide is highly recommended. Language: Basic Spanish is essential as you will meet few English speakers and will need, amongst other things, to make phone calls, arrange accommodation, check on the route, etc.