Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past   2 comments

 Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past

March 25 – April 9, 2017

Bilbao, Guernica, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Orreaga, Roncesvalles, Obanos, Gares, Burgos, Leon, Las Medulas, Lugo, Santiago de Compostela & Cambados, Spain; Chaves, Pinhao, Amarante, Guimaraes, Braga & Porto, Portugal.


I booked “Northern Spain & Portugal – Pilgrimage into the Past” with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This two week adventure was my 39th trip with this company.  There was a very enjoyable group of fifteen travelers in our adventure through Spain & Portugal.  The three of us pictured in the above photo were solo travelers and we had such a nice time together.  We three did back-to-back adventures with OAT.  We had just completed “Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” which is featured in my previous travel blog.  “Back Roads” ended on Saturday morning in Madrid.  We three headed to Bilbao, Spain and the “Northern Spain” trip began that afternoon.  It was perfect timing.   


This map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure Travel web site.  Fernando was our awesome tour director, and he kept everyday full of what he called surprises.  It was so much fun experiencing all of his learning & discoveries.  For example, one evening we popped into a Ma & Pa restaurant & we got to see a live octopus, watch the preparation and then eat it. We would never know what our next surprise might be. 

You notice that part of the title of this trip is “Pilgrimage into the Past” and you wonder what does that mean?  We followed the path of ancient pilgrimage routes on a journey from the Basque capital of Bilbao, through Pamplona and on to legendary Santiago de Compostela.  This is a thousand year old pilgrimage route—the Way of St. James—to the holy city of Santiago.   Mind you we didn’t walk the entire distance, but hiked interesting bits of the trail.  We learned how to follow the route because it is marked with the scallop shell, the symbol of St. James.  We also visited with various pilgrims along the way.  It was a pretty neat experience. 

  SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


Train to Bilbao, Spain:   Annie flew but Nancy & I took a direct train from Madrid to Bilbao, Spain.  It was about a 5 hour ride and it was delightful.  We saw snow on the first part of the journey and it was raining when we arrived in Bilbao & our awesome tour director, Fernando was waiting at the train for us. 


 Bilbao, Spain:   Bilbao, is an industrial port city in the North of Spain between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Bay of Biscay in Basque country.  It is an industrial port city and a shipbuilding center and was the wealthiest city in all of Spain by 1900.  But the 20th century brought natural disasters & civil war.  The Guggenheim brought the city back to life. 


Guggenheim Museum:   Bilbao is famed for the Guggenheim Museum designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997.  It’s a museum of modern & contemporary art.  But the building itself is a spectacular sculpture-like structure, and has been hailed as a masterpiece of the 20th century.


Pinchos:  I cannot lie.  My favorite thing in Bilbao was the Pinchos Bars.  In Basque (northern) Spain you go out for “pinchos”. This consists of sampling miniature dishes that fill the counters in bars and taverns.  They were inexpensive!  The prices I experienced was beer 1.80 Euro and pinchos about 1.20-1.50 euro.  Of course this is an average, but was the price at our favorite bar that was at the end of the block by our hotel.  Pinchos Bars absolutely lined the streets in the great area where our hotel was located. 


 A nice restaurant in Bilbao where our group ate. 


The Vizcaya Bridge:  It was built to connect the two banks of the Nervion River in Bilbao.  It was built in 1893 and is the world’s oldest transporter bridge.  It was the solution for connecting the two sides of the river without disrupting the maritime traffic of the Port of Bilbao.  It can transport passengers and cargo, so we rode across.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


A stroll through the old town of Bilbao.


Scallop Shell:  Our first lesson is learning how to follow the thousand year old pilgrimage route–the Way of St. James–to the holy city of Santiago. The route is marked with the scallop shell, the symbol of St. James.  As the second photo illustrates you follow this shell in that direction.  Out on the trails hiking through the countryside we’d follow a yellow arrow painted on a rock, or a tree or etc.  (Illustration will follow when we get out on the trail.)


Guernica, Spain:  It was established in 1366 and was the eventual seat of the Basque parliament, which conducted business in a 16th century Assembly House standing in the shade of an oak tree.  The Assembly House was rebuilt in 1833 and it is beautiful. 


The little town of Guernica and Nancy’s happy birthday.



 Gaztelugatxeko Hermitage, Basque Country, Spain:  This Heritage located on the little island is dedicated to John the Baptist and dates from the 10th century. The hermitage is accessed by a narrow path, crossing the solid stone bridge, and going up 231 steps.  According to legend, after the slightly strenuous climb to the top of the crag one should ring the bell three times and make a wish.  We didn’t go to the Heritage, just looked from afar.

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San Sebastian:  It is a resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country. It’s known for its beached framed by a picturesque bay front promenade.  A beachfront promenade runs the length of the bay, with the cobblestoned Old Town at one end and a smart shopping district in the center.


Bretxa Market San Sebastian:  This 1871 market is one of the oldest continuously operating traditional markets in Spain. 



Pamplona, Spain:  This city in northern Spain was made famous by the “running of the bulls” during the San Fermin Festival in July.  During this legendary multiday festival, bulls are led through the city streets by daredevil runners. Pamplona is also a major stop along the Camino de Santiago, a medieval-era pilgrimage route.  We walked the route of the “running of the bulls” and here it is from beginning to end.


Camino De Santiago:   Then we set off to discover the Camino de Santiago, one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage routes.  During the Middle Ages, the three great Christian pilgrimage destinations were Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where it was believed a cathedral housed the bones of St. James.  We were driven just past Roncesvalles to Orreaga where our little group of 15 got our first experience on the Camino de Santiago. 


We were looking across the mountains at the “French Way” (which crosses the Pyrenees) when low & behold two hikers appear.  Please note the scallop shell on the pilgrims back-pack.  The scallop shell is one of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago, and it will be visible on all back-packs. (Fernando gave us each a scallop shell).  These hikers had come across the French Pyrenees and were headed to Pamplona for the night. 


 After a visit with the pilgrims we set off on our own Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  As the sign indicates were are at Orreaga and it’s 1.5 km to Roncesvalles (see the Scallop Shell on the sign)?


Roncesvalles, Spain:  My goodness it was time to eat in the little village of Roncesvalles, and to get our Pilgrimage Passport stamped for this little leg of the journey. 


 A good lunch and off we go again.  Please note that on the sign it indicates that Santiago de Compostelo is 790 km (490 miles).  No we won’t walk all of that, only going to the next little town on the pilgrimage route.  In the last photo I am showing you a yellow arrow that also serves as a pilgrimage marker. 


This is the route as pilgrims enter Pamplona, Spain. 


Obanos, Spain:  We went to the village of Obanos & enjoyed a pleasant morning walk along the Camino de Santiago.  See the scallop shell trail marker (I inserted a red arrow) on the stone gate in the 2nd photo?


  Gares, Spain:  We walked on through Gares, which lies between Pamplona and Estella on the Way of St. James pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.


Puente La Reina – Gares:  After walking through town we arrived at this beautiful bridge.  This bridge is well preserved, and has an important history, for with its construction, the fording of the river here was far easier for Medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.  Fernando told us if you crossed with your shoes removed you’d have good luck.  Annie did you have good luck?



Burgos, Spain:  It was the historic capital of the 16th century Castile kingdom.  It is situated in the Pilgrim’s Road to Santiago de Compostela.  The medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is full of architectural gems of the 14th-15th century.


Our Lady of Burgos Cathedral, Burgos:  Construction on the Cathedral began in 1221 and was completed in 1567.  The history of Gothic art is summed up in its superb architecture and its unique collection of works of art, including paintings, choir stalls, tombs, and stained-glass windows.  The Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


We departed Burgos & drove to Leon, Spain.


Parador de Leon, Leon Spain:  We stayed in this nice Parador which had been the 16th-century San Marcos Monastery.  It featured antique furnishings and tapestries.


Casa de los Botines, Leon, Spain:  Barcelona’s Gaudí designed this building with a medieval air and neo-Gothic characteristics.


Leon Cathedral:  The Leon cathedral, completed in the 16th century, is also one of the three most important cathedrals, along with that of Burgos & Santiago de Compostela,  on The Way of Saint James.  The church has nearly 1,800 square meters of stained glass windows with most of them dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century which is a rarity among medieval gothic churches.


Las Medulas Mines:  In the first century AD, Las Medulas served as the main source of gold for the entire Roman Empire.  An army of slaves built canals and tunnels, through which they pumped water to break up the rock and free it from the precious metal. Seven linked aqueducts provided water for a vast basin above Las Medulas; when the water was released in a torrent, it stripped away soft rock to yield the the precious gold—and left behind canyon-like landscapes.  It is a bizarre landscapes and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


Lugo, Spain:  The walls of Lugo were built in the later part of the 3rd century.  It is the finest example of late Roman fortifications in western Europe.  Lugo is the world’s only city that is completely surrounded by completely intact ancient Roman walls.  They reach a height of 33 to 49 feet, along a 6,946 feet circuit ringed with 71 towers and 10 gates.


 Inside the fortified town of Lugo.

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Santiago de Compostela (commonly known as Santiago):  We have arrived in Santiago de Compostela, which is the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.  The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


  Santiago de Compostela Cathedral:  The Cathedral is the alleged burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James.  It is the destination of The Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route which originated in the 9th century.  On our way to the Cathedral, rightly enough, we stopped & visited with some pilgrims that were on their way to the Cathedral. 


Pilgrim’s Mass:  At 12:00 noon everyday in the Cathedral there is a special Mass for the Pilgrim’s.  We attended.


A Traditional Galician Night:  We enjoyed a Galician dinner in the countryside.  It was complete with bagpipes, singing, & a punch made of brandy-like liquor, herbs, sugar, lemon, cinnamon & coffee beans that is set aflame.  it is said to banish evil & bring good luck for those who drink it. 


Cambados, Spain:  Fishing is a major industry in this coastal town.  We went out to sea to see how mussels are grown and harvested.  Long net parcels hanging off platforms become part of a horizontal systems of ropes suspended in the water. The net will disintegrate in a few days and the young mussels will clamp onto the rope where they’ll feed on the nutrients of the sea.  We watched the harvest then sampled fresh steamed mussels!


 I’m going to be the new captain, but I may need to ditch the life-jacket to make people feel more secure. LOL


Albarino Wine: It’s a variety of white wine grape grown in Galicia (northwest Spain).  We visited the 16th century wine-making complex of a family that produces it.  We also toured their villa, went to their vineyard & then enjoyed a picnic lunch and tasting of the wine. 


The octopus learning & discovery:  Okay, so now I know how to cook octopus.  Fernando took us to a Ma & Pa place that has been there for the last 60 years and we learned all about octopus—and got to eat it.  Don’t have much opportunity in Kansas you know!



We left Spain and departed for Portugal’s Douro Valley.


Chaves:  It has been occupied since the Roman era.  Chaves is best known for its hot springs & its forts, battlements & towers ranging from the medieval era to the 18th century. 


Pinhao in the Douro Valley:  Ever since the ancient Romans first cultivated grape vines here in the 3rd century, this mountainous region has been a wine-growing powerhouse, especially known for port wine.  This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


   Port Wine:  It exclusively originates on the terraced vineyards that rise up alongside the Douro River on wine farms. We visited the Quinta da Pacheca Vineyard and traced the path of port from grape to glass.  Then we had a cooking class and got to eat the fun things we prepared. 


Two favorite pictures!  Thanks for sharing Nancy N.

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I thought the Portuguese tiles in the train station in a little town in the Douro Valley were particularly pretty. 


Next was a fun boat ride down the Douro River in the Douro Valley.


Amarante, Portugal:  A settlement since the 4th century BC, Amarante is situated in the rich agricultural lands of the Minho region,  The bridge over the River Tamega was the site of a battle against the French invaders in 1809.


Guimaraes, Portugal:  It’s known as the “cradle of Portugal,” settled in the 9th century.  We saw a 19th century castle built to defend the local monastery from attacks by Muslim & Norman raiders.


Guimaraes was a pleasant little town.  The historic town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga Portugal:  This hilltop pilgrimage site has a Baroque stairway that climbs 381 feet to the Sanctuary.  We were very pleased to ride the funicular up & walk down.


Porto, Spain:  It is a coastal city in northwest Portugal known for its stately bridges & port wine production.


Porto, Portugal:  It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe with a quaint medieval Ribeira (riverside) district, and narrow cobbled streets.   It’s located on both sides of the river with the main attractions being on the side where these photos are focused.  Our hotel was in the area with all the attractions in an excellent location on the level near the river.


Palacio da Bols: (Stock Exchange Palace) is a historical building in Porto. The palace was built in the 19th century in  Neoclassical style & is located in the historical center of Porto.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


 Sites around Porto.  The first one is from my hotel balcony.  All the walking was uphill & downhill (mostly uphill). ha


 Francesinha Sandwich:  How about this sandwich?  The Portuguese version of the Monte Cristo includes sliced meats in a sandwich topped with melted cheese & served with beer sauce.  Big line of people waiting to get in this place to eat these.  It was our treat from Fernando.


The train station in Porto was really pretty with all the Portuguese tiles that decorate it. 


While in Porto, everyone should ride a trolley, right?


And then… daughter & son-in-law met me in Porto & whisked me away to spend some time with them in Portugal.  Keep checking, because that travel blog is next. 


Keep on traveling!


Posted May 26, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

2 responses to “Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past

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  1. Fantastic trip thank you !!!

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