If you’re interested in hiking El Camino De Santiago (a pilgrimage in Spain), you’ll want to research all of your options.
We’d heard about the Camino de Santiago many moons ago at a family gathering. The Camino had been traditionally a Catholic pilgrimage to pay respects to the relics of St. James, but back in the last century, it evolved into a pilgrimage for more than just the Catholic religion. It was for those seeking spirituality, those wanting a physical challenge and/or those seeking answers in life. (You can view the different Camino routes and history here.) Every now and then, the Camino would pop up in conversation – someone’s mother or cousin or grandmother had an amazing experience making a pilgrimage in Spain.
We decided that we’d celebrate a milestone birthday by finally making the pilgrimage. We knew that in order to earn the Compostela, we needed to hike the last 100 km/67 miles. We researched our options – lug our supplies on our backs and sleep in albergues (pilgrim hostels) along the way, or go with a company that transports our stuff from stop to stop and prearranges our meals and accommodations at B&Bs along the way. We’d stayed at hostels in our twenties, but our tastes had changed in the last two decades. We didn’t want to sleep in a warehouse of bunkbeds with strangers, and I wanted my own bathroom with a warm shower each evening. (Yup, I’m high maintenance!) So, we chose the latter.
My husband researched companies. We nixed the five star ones because of budget, as well as the low end ones that guided pilgrims from hostel to hostel. We wanted a small company that would take care of a small group of travelers instead of herding around a huge bus full of tourists. We wanted a company whose goal was to share their joy of culture, food, and travel – and not just take money from as many people as they could. We wanted a company who knows what they’re doing. This is what led us to Fresco Tours.
Owner Alex Chang was born and bred in the U.S., so he understands Americans’ needs. But as a resident of Spain for over a decade at the time we went, he knows the language, people, and ins and outs of daily life. The guides he hires aren’t travel mercenaries who show up during high season to make tips. They live in Spain full time and are equally proud of sharing their knowledge.
Before our arrival in Spain, we were given guidelines and packing lists to help us prepare. (You know I love lists!) Upon arrival, we met up with the other pilgrims in our group in Leon at an orientation that laid out everything that we needed to know about the hike details. And I really do mean details. They’ve thought of everything that could possibly happen and have systems in place for every part of the trip. They do so much work behind the scenes in their meticulous planning, and it truly pays off. As pilgrims, we didn’t have to think because every detail of the day was taken care of for us. All we had to do was make it to breakfast on time in the morning and the rally point in the late afternoon.
Every evening we reviewed the plan for the following day: breakfast time, step-off time, bathroom locations, lunch stop, sites, scenery, best places to get pilgrim passport stamps, and the end-of-day rally point. They take care of the regimented fine points so that when you leave the van in the morning, your mind and body can float freely on the trail.
The hiking itself was not always easy. There were a couple of rocky areas, slippery spots, and steep hills. I had planned to train for the hike by walking several miles every day, but that never happened. I showed up totally out of shape. Because of that – and my hard-headed competitiveness to be one of the “top finishers” at each mile marker – I was incredibly sore for the first three days. (Lesson learned – walk at your own pace!!) But the scenery, wine, food, wine, hospitality and wine allowed me to forget about that soreness.
Each morning started with a hearty breakfast. We hiked at our own pace each day. We enjoyed some of the best-tasting, freshest foods at our lunch stops. Every evening we were treated to farm-fresh dinners. We slept well in manor homes that housed only our group and were located in peaceful areas.
When we reached Santiago, we all walked to the cathedral together. We’d spent the last nine days hiking 150 kilometers (about 100 miles). It was time to claim our Compostelas and time to celebrate at our farewell dinner.
The Camino de Santiago was the guest house, and Fresco Tours was the gracious host. Thanks to the organization and efficiency that Fresco Tours implements, I can thank them for the most incredible experience ever. It was a journey that was so peaceful and freeing that my second book, ROADMAP to Get Organized, literally got subconsciously outlined in my head as we walked. It was a journey that was so profound that I still rave about the experience of hiking “The Way” with Fresco Tours…even though it happened back in 2011.
If you’d like to view pictures from our journey, please feel free to browse our photo journal.