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.)
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.
- 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.
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:
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:
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.
Please see the following websites for information on the Camino del Sureste:
http://caminodelsureste.es.tl/ – guidebook available
May-July 2015: follow Robert Gomez’s blog on this route