Lines of a scallop shell are the main symbol of Camino de Santiago – one of the most popular and most important Christian pilgrimage routes, leading from France, Spain, Portugal and other European countries, to the Shrine of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain).
While scallop indeed makes a good metaphor – radial lines all meeting at the same spot, as pilgrims and their paths all cross at Santiago de Compostela, a more precise description of Camino de Santiago would be that it resembles a river network, with hundreds of smaller trails merging and creating smaller number major routes.
Out of all of these, several have stood up as the most popular among pilgrims and tourists. We will look into the three videly popular Camino routes.
The French Way is without a doubt the most popular way to Santiago de Compostela. A part of Via Regia – network of ancient Roman roads through Europe that where considered royal, and therefore were protected, Camino Francés is also historically most important trail to Camino de Santiago, since the majority of pilgrims in the Middle Ages came from France.
Camino Frances is 790 kilometers long, with the official starting point at St Jean Pied de Port, although you can choose other starting points along the same way. Léon is about halfway to Santiago, and is an ideal place to enjoy some beautiful mountainous landscapes.
The last part of Camino Francés from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela is also the most social part of the route. Since it’s about 100 kilometers away, Sarria is the closest starting point to walk to Santiago, but so that it can still be counted as a pilgrimage and eligible for a compostela. That’s why Sarria is the most popular starting point of the whole route.
Along Camino Francés, you will find beautiful medieval towns, stunning landscapes of the Pyrenees, the vineyards of La Rioja where you can traditionally stop and taste some fine wine, the mountains of Léon, and finally the peaceful hills and valleys of Galicia, which you will pass just before reaching your goal – Santiago de Compostela.
On average, it takes about four weeks to walk the whole French Way, with one or two days of rest counted in.
Camino Ingles, the English Way
The English way has traditionally been used by pilgrims of Northern Europe, England and Ireland. Since sailing was an integral part of the pilgrimage, they were called the sea-faring pilgrims. Today with modern means of travel, this route counts as an easy one. It is around 110 kilometers long, and is considered a nice alternative to Sarria – Santiago de Compostela route of the French Way.
The Camino Ingles usually starts at the charming coastal town of Ferrol. Ferrol has a very rich history. A fishing port in Roman times, and safe harbor for the Spanish Armada in the 16th century, it’s development during the Enlightenment is so interesting that it has managed to get Ferrol as a candidate for UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
At first, the trail follows the shoreline. Then, it turns inland and ascends into the lush, densely forested mountains before reaching Santiago de Compostela. Beautiful scenery is the main attraction of this route, since you’ll get to experience the coast, the mountains and unique urban sites all on the same route.
Caminho da Costa – the Portuguese Way
The Portuguese Coastal Way – Caminho da Costa is another popular route on Santiago de Compostela. It is geographically very different from Camino Francés since it follows the coast of Atlantic. It usually starts at one of two beautiful cathedrals – that in Lisbon, which makes the route 610 km long, or the more popular option – at the cathedral in Porto, which is is 227 km away from Santiago. On the way, you will discover the wonderful sandy beaches of Portuguese Atlantic coast and colorful seaside towns. Also, you will be able to enjoy delicious wine and seafood.
Be warned that the longer route from Lisbon is not so rich in pilgrim infrastructure as other popular routes. The shorter version of the route starting at Porto is a more common pick and it and takes about two weeks to complete. This post is from http://earlyretirement.ie/ who help people get on their Camino eariler by helping them retire earlier.