The Route: The traditional starting point is Gallur, 46km northwest of Zaragoza. Head west to Borja, then to the cathedral town of Tarazona, to Agreda and over the plains to the cathedal and university city of Soria, where the poet Machodo is still the town hero. After passing through pine forests where the film Dr Zhivago was shot many years ago, it crosses the moors to Santo Domingo de Silos, from where the Camino San Olav links to Burgos.
Terrain: The route passes through the fields and vineyards of southern Aragon and Castile, then over the moors to Santo Domingo. The path from Tarazona takes one through the foothills of Moncayo and its cool green hills and streams, very different from the parched fields of the first few days of this Camino.
Waymarking: Marking is fair to good, but finding the route out of most places can be challenging. The tourist office (turismo) or innkeeper will provide the pilgrim with detailed instructions and, in a pinch, the Civil Guard or local police can be helpful, as are the provincial and municipal workers one encounters. Given the relative absence of pilgrims and the isolation of the area, a pilgrim will want to keep a careful eye out for yellow arrows, for missing one can lead one off the route. A map of the area is helpful, and there are several places where a GPS would be very useful indeed and some would say it is essential.
Weather/When to go: The best time to go is from May to September but even in late September, there can be some very warm days and, in the earlier part of this route, shade can be limited. Fuentes are few and far between
Accommodation: Pilgrim accommodation is limited, with five albergues on the route (Gallur, Pozalmuro, Abéjar, San Leonardo de Yagüe, and the Monastery in Santo Domingo de Silos, with possibilities for accommodation at a youth hostel at the Sanctuario de Misericordia out of Borja, the Seminario in Tarazona, and the Casa Diocesano Pio XII in Soria). Travellers must rely on commercial accommodation. Casas rurales can be found in many places for 30€-40€ a night, and most small towns have an inexpensive hostal or pension attached to the local restaurant/bar. Truckstops are clean, if spartan, in the accommodations available, and the food is usually excellent.
What to see: This route is a dream come true for the student of Spanish history and especially for the aficionado of the romanesque. From Borja, home town of the Borgias, to the cathedral cities of Tarazona and Soria, almost each town repays your efforts with the vigour and poetry of Spanish history. Village church after village church features romanesque carving which brings one face to face with the power of imagination from a thousand years ago.
Guide books: To our knowledge, nothing is available.
Cyclists: Most of this route can be easily and profitably followed by cyclists and, in some ways, it is more a cyclists’ camino than a walkers’. In a few places, the cyclist will prefer the local road and, unless they have a very industrial mountain bike, will keep well clear of the railway beds around Naveleno.
What’s it like?: This is not a path for beginners, but pilgrims are not unknown here. As the inkeeper in Abejar said, “Es muy duro.” Scenery is outstanding and dramatic, but this route will appeal to the seasoned hiker happy with their own company. Towns with grocery stores are few and far apart, and I saw no fuentes at all between pueblos. It is necessary to plan carefully and with a flexible timetable. In a few places no accommodation was easily found, although locals came through with generosity at difficult spots– telephoning ahead is often advisable. The moor on the day into Santo Domingo de Silos requires some care, both to follow the yellow arrows painted on the ground, but also as one can become isolated in bad weather. Paths are not regularly patrolled.
Spanish: Along the entire route, turismo staff were the only ones I met who spoke English. A useable level of Spanish is required.
Websites: A few bits can be found on provincial tourism sites but the best information is at https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/forums/camino-castellano-aragon%C3%A9s.110/ which features questions and answers, and updates by the few who know this route. In particular Alan Sykes and Laurie Reynolds, who were prime among the anglophone pioneers on this route, have provided useful descriptions of each stage.
Austin Cooke, December 2016