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Vía de la Plata Camino de Santiago

Photo by Melanie Radzicki McManus

Vía de la Plata Camino de Santiago Itineraries

Vía de la Plata Stage 1: Sevilla to Mérida

Vía de la Plata Stage 2: Mérida to Cáceres

Vía de la Plata Stage 3: Cáceres to Salamanca

Vía de la Plata Stage 4: Salamanca to Zamora

Vía de la Plata Stage 5: Zamora to Puebla de Sanabria

Vía de la Plata Stage 6: Puebla de Sanabria to Ourense

Vía de la Plata Stage 7: Ourense to Santiago de Compostela

One of five main Camino pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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The Vía de la Plata (Silver Way) is a UNESCO World Heritage Route and one of five main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago is said to be the resting place of St. James the Great, one of Jesus’ apostles. The Silver Route stretches from Sevilla in southern Spain north to Granja de Moreruela, where it splits. Pilgrims can continue north to Astorga, where the route connects with the Camino Francés. Or they can go to Santiago via the Camino Sanabrés, which runs northwest through Ourense. Both routes are roughly 1,000 kilometers long (about 620 miles) and generally can be walked in six weeks.


Ancient Roman Path

The Vía de la Plata (VDLP) largely follows the ancient Roman Silver Route, or Ruta de la Plata. The ancient Silver Route was a stone path constructed to move goods, troops, traders and travelers from Sevilla to the seaport of Gijón. Because of this, the VDLP passes many fascinating Roman ruins. You’ll see aqueducts, bridges and miliarios, which are cylindrical stone milestones. The most notable spots for viewing Roman ruins are at Itálica in Santiponce, the city of Mérida and in Cáparra, home of a famous Roman arch and rich archeological site.


Less Crowded Than Popular Camino Francés

Of the five main pilgrimage routes into Santiago, the Camino Francés attracts the majority of hikers. Some 65 percent of pilgrims selected that route in 2015. That’s likely because the Francés, which runs along Spain’s northern tier from France, is one of oldest routes. (It was the one featured in the movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen. It was also featured in The Camino Documentary, directed by Lydia Smith.) But its popularity means a hike along the Francés is often a crowded, noisy one. And it can be difficult to secure a bunk in one of the pilgrimage hostels at night. The Silver Way annually attracts fewer pilgrims — about 3 to 5 percent — offering a much calmer, reflective experience. And no fighting for a bunk at night!


Easy Hiking, Convenient Stages

The majority of the Vía de la Plata consists of relatively easy hiking. The route gets hillier when you turn west towards Galicia after Granja de Moreruela. Views along the trail are quite stunning in any season. But a spring trek means you’ll get to enjoy the outstanding profusion of wildflowers that blankets the Extremadura section.

The VDLP runs through several larger cities, which make convenient transportation hubs. So it’s easy to hop on and off the trail if you can’t hike the entire thing at once. You may wish to hike the Vía de la Plata in these stages.

1: Sevilla to Mérida

2: Mérida to Cáceres

3: Cáceres to Salamanca

4: Salamanca to Zamora

5: Zamora to Puebla de Sanabria

6: Puebla de Sanabria to Ourense

7: Ourense to Santiago de Compostela

While there are many highlights along the VDLP in addition to the Roman ruins, it’s hard to beat the natural hot springs, or termas, found in Baños and Ourense. The historic city of Salamanca is famed for its Renaissance-period buildings. Largely constructed from a honey-colored sandstone, they glow when the light is right. Another gem is the Celtic-influenced Puebla de Sanabria, with its towering castle.

No matter whether you hike the entire route or the VDLP’s last 100 kilometers, you’ll find gorgeous scenery, good food and a warm welcome wherever you wander.


When To Go

You can hike the VDLP in any season, and pilgrims can be found along the route every month of the year. But spring and fall are the ideal times to hike.

How Much Time To Spend

If you plan to hike the entire Vía de la Plata, plan to spend roughly five to eight weeks, depending on your hiking pace. This equates to roughly 12 to 18 miles per day (20 to 29 kilometers).

Many people simply want to hike the required final 100 kilometers into Santiago in order to receive their Compostela. That means starting in Ourense, 67.7 miles (109 km) out. Budget four to six days for this stretch, plus an extra day to explore Ourense, which has some beautiful sights, plus free hot springs.

Another popular option is to divide the hike into several smaller ones that can be completed a little at a time. This is most easily accomplished by starting and ending in one of the VDLP’s larger cities, serviced by bus, train and/or airplane.

Sevilla to Mérida is 134.8 miles (216.9 km); 8-11 days
Mérida to Cáceres is 46.9 miles (75.5 km); 2-4 days
Cáceres to Salamanca is 135 miles (217.2 km); 8-11 days. Salamanca is roughly the halfway point.
Salamanca to Zamora is 42.5 miles (68.4 km); 2-4 days
Zamora to Puebla de Sanabria is 98.8 miles (158.8 km); 5-8 days
Puebla de Sanabria to Ourense is 89.1 miles (143.6 km); 5-7 days
Ourense to Santiago is 67.7 miles (109 km); 4-6 days

Remember to add in an extra day (or more) to explore each of these cities. And tossing in a few rest days is a wise idea, too.

High and Low Season

High season in Spain is roughly mid-June through mid-September, with August being the busiest month for tourists. December to March is low season, when prices are cheapest. The remaining months are the shoulder seasons.

The main exception to the info above is Holy Week, or Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. During this time, many cities and towns hold masked processions and parades featuring massive floats. Sevilla in particular is known for its large Semana Santa celebration. Semana Santa is typically in April, although it can fall in March some years. Rates will always be higher during Semana Santa.

Weather and Climate

The VDLP stretches more than 600 miles (nearly 1,000 km) from Sevilla in southwestern Spain to Santiago de Compostela in the country’s northwestern corner. You’ll find very different weather along the route, namely between Sevilla and Santiago.

It’s unwise to hike the VDLP in summertime, especially if you’ll be in the trail’s southern half, where temperatures are regularly in the 80s and 90s (27-32 C.) and can top 100 degrees (38 C.). In addition, there are some stretches along the trail where water is scarce and you have to hike 20 or 30 miles (32-48 km) to the next town.

The best months for your pilgrimage are April, May, September and October, when temperatures are moderate. March and November can also be wonderful times to hike, as the weather is generally cool but not cold. However, you may experience a lot of rain.

Events and Holidays

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a major celebration in Spain. During this week before Easter, many cities hold elaborate festivals, parades and processions. It’s a very special time to experience the Camino, given its religious roots. But it can be a crowded time, and prices are elevated. Sevilla, the start of the VDLP, is well-known for its Semana Santa celebration.

European Holidays
January 1: New Year’s Day
Good Friday and Easter Monday (mid-March to mid-April; varies by year)
May 1 or the first Monday in May
May 14:  Ascension Day (not UK, Spain, Italy)
May Whit Monday: Last Monday of month (not Greece, Ireland, Italy or Spain)
August 15: Assumption Day (not UK, Netherlands, Scandinavia, parts of Germany)
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day

Public holidays vary throughout Europe, and some countries have more than others; e.g., Germany has 14 while Spain has only eight. The exceptions above for Ascension, Whit and Assumption are not exclusive. Many countries also have a National Day; e.g., June 2 in Italy (Republic Day) and July 14 in France (Bastille Day).

Consult http://www.feiertagskalender.ch/

Time Zone

Spain is located in the Central European Time (CET) Zone.

To check the local time in Spain, click here.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1 a.m.) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.

What To Pack and Wear

What you bring to hike the Camino depends largely on whether you are backpacking or hiking with a day pack. Obviously if you’re toting everything on your back, you’ll pack sparingly. Still, here are some essentials.

Comfortable shoes. Hiking boots are not necessary on the VDLP, although if you have a pair you love and they don’t cause blisters, go for it. But a good pair of gym shoes or running shoes work well. A lot of people also favor sturdy sandals, such as those made by Keen and Merrill.

Sandals. After hiking all day, your feet will appreciate being in open footwear.

Raingear. An inexpensive plastic poncho and waterproof pants work well at keep you dry. While cheap ponchos can rip easily hiking through some of the trail’s gnarly sections, heavier versions often prove to be too warm, causing you to sweat rivers as you hike.

Sunscreen. Remember to apply it no matter what time of year you hike. Many pilgrims from cooler climes get terribly sunburned in March or November because they don’t think to put on sunscreen.

Trekking poles. The VDLP only has a handful of truly steep spots. But trekking poles can come in handy for all sorts of ancillary reasons, such as helping you determine the depth of water crossings you might have to navigate, keep your balance when hopping across rocks and even as a means of protection against unfriendly farm dogs.

Headlamp. You might not plan to be hiking when night falls, but sometimes things happen. You get lost, you spend too much time exploring a town or attractions, your catnap turns into a two-hour siesta … Better to be safe than sorry.

Swimsuit. Ourense and Baños de Montemayor are known for their hot springs, and tiny Aljucén features a beautiful Roman bath. You won’t want to pass any of these up.

Re: dress, no one will question the attire of a pilgrim while hiking. In the evenings, you’ll be fine dining out or nosing around towns in casual clothing in most of the small towns along the VDLP. If you plan to spend time in the larger cities, you might feel more comfortable in clothing a little nicer than jeans, shorts, t-shirts and gym shoes.

What it Costs

A stay at the VDLP’s albergues, or hostels, can be free (or a freewill offering, which is generally 5-10 euros) or cost up to about 15 euros per night. Casas rurales and pensiones, which are like B&Bs or inns, can run anywhere from about 25 euros per night to 100 or more, although most are in the 25-50 euro range. Most include washing facilities and detergent, plus breakfast in the morning. Hotels have similar pricing to those in the U.S. (about $75 per night on up to $200 or more). Paradores, which are high-end accommodations, often in historic buildings, can cost 100 or 200 euros per night and higher.

Food is reasonably priced along the Camino. Most towns have bar-restaurants that offer a “Menú del Día” for 10-15 euros. This meal typically features a large starter, such as soup, salad or pasta; bread; a meat-and-potato entree; dessert; wine and coffee. Pilgrim discounts may be available. Many people choose to pick up food at local groceries and cook in their albergue or inn; prices are comparable to those in the U.S. Coffee and morning pastries and sandwiches are relatively inexpensive; you can easily have a meal for 5 euros or less.

Sending your bags ahead via taxi can be quite pricey along the VDLP. On the popular Camino Francés, taxis run “mochila” (backpack) services, where you can toss your pack into a taxi (along with other pilgrims’ packs) and the driver will take them to the next town for about 5 euros. These types of services are just starting on the VDLP, and can mainly be found from Ourense to Santiago. Along the remainder of the route, hiring a local taxi driver to take your bags ahead will set you back about 1 euro per kilometer, a fee that can really add up. However, if you are staying at a local inn, very often the innkeeper will drive your bags ahead for you for a cheaper fee than that charged by the local taxista.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in €.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double

Eat
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop         
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as EasyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2,  British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.

Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price-shopping.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short-term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.

Ride-sharing companies such as Uber are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that your ride is on its way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events.

Trip Cancellation. About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical. Travelers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement. For example, EEA visitors to the U.K. will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that U.K. residents do. Some countries — e.g., France — make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travelers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.

For travelers from outside the European Union, the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the U.S., can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home, it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad. But you need to check this out. And in any case, additional medical travel insurance will cover private health care or other expenses.

Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries. For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries, and Australia has agreements with the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.

Trip Interruption. If you become ill during your trip, or if someone at home gets sick and you have to get off the Camino, the insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip back home.

Travel Delay. Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel.

Baggage. Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel your trip for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip is expensive, it’s essential. And even if it isn’t, it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, AXA and Zurich. but there are many smaller providers such as InsureandGo and Direct Line.

Pre-existing health conditions. Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition, or charge an additional premium related to the condition. Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your travel package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance. If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have stripped-down coverage and restrictions.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency
The main currency in Europe is the euro. The euro is currently used in 25 countries, a few of which are not even European Union (EU) members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency, including the U.K. (pound), Denmark (kroner) and Poland (zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss franc) and Turkey (lira) continue to use their own currency. All currencies are decimalized and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.

Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. It’s easy to differentiate between them because they vary in color and also in size, from 4.7 in / 120 mm x 2.4 in / 62 mm (€5) to 6.3 in / 160 mm x 3.2 in / 82 mm (500). All feature European architecture throughout the ages. NOTE: Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes on hand.

There are eight denominations of euro coins: 1-, 2-, 5-, 10-, 20- and 50-cent pieces, plus €1 and €2 coins. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave, as they can’t be exchanged.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The good news for travelers in Europe is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping. You don’t have to do it, and when you do, it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than something you are expected to do. On the whole, workers in tourism here are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases, over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Restaurants
Many restaurants include a service charge in the price, so check before you consider tipping. If a service charge isn’t included, then a tip of 5 – 10% is plenty. If a service charge is included but you feel you’ve had really excellent service, you may tip the same amount. But hand it directly to your server to ensure he or she receives it.

Other ways to calculate a tip are to add a euro or two for each member of the party, or to round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.

Taxis
With taxis, just round up to the next euro for a short journey. For longer rides, round up to the nearest 10. Again, 10% is the maximum you should consider tipping, unless the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport.

Hotels
You may wish to give the porter a euro or pound for each bag he carries. But while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly, you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if someone has been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.

Other costs
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between €10 and €40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local groceries, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Most pilgrims fly into Madrid before beginning the Camino. It’s hard to match the efficiency of Iberia Airlines for getting there. Plus, being among so many Spanish-speaking flight attendants and fellow passengers on the way over sets the mood for your trip. You’ll also get your first sip of vino tinto …

From Madrid’s Barajas Airport, here’s the best way to get to the following cities.

SevillaHope on a connecting flight, then take the EA bus line (two or three euros) into the city center. The closest stop to the cathedral is Avenida del Cid. Buses run from about 5:30 a.m. until midnight and come every 30 minutes. A taxi costs roughly €20.

MéridaPay about €25 (which will be split if you’re in a group) to take the AeroCity shuttle to Madrid’s Estación Sur de Aurobuses, where you can catch an Avanza bus to Mérida’s bus station. (Roughly €25-€40, depending on departure time.) Cabs from Barajas to the bus station can run as much as €50 , depending on traffic, while the subway involves a transfer and can be confusing. Once you arrive in Mérida, it’s an easy walk across the Lusitania bridge to the city center.

The train (Renfe) is another option, although it’s a bit pricier and the trip takes longer.

CáceresAvanza Bus has several departures leaving from Madrid, with tickets priced similarly to those for Mérida. Follow the instructions above to get from the airport to Madrid’s bus station.

The train (Renfe) is another option; it’s similarly priced, but the trip takes longer.

SalamancaAvanza buses run directly between Salamanca and Barajas’ Terminal 1. The cost varies, but is roughly €20-€25 for a one-way ticket. Most days buses start departing from Barajas at 1 p.m., but on Mondays there’s an 11 a.m. departure, too. Purchase your ticket online before you arrive, or else at the Viajes El Corte Inglés travel agency counter in Terminal 1. The agency levies a surcharge (about €6), but if you purchase a ticket online and miss your bus, you have to purchase another ticket for the next departure, as tickets are good only for a specific departure time. Buses leave from a surface parking lot across from Terminal 1, and arrive about 30 minutes before their scheduled departure. Salamanca’s bus station is about a €5 taxi ride from the city’s old town, where the Camino runs and where the albergue is located.

The train generally costs €5-€10 more, but the trip is shorter.

ZamoraAvanza typically has several departures leaving from Madrid; follow the instructions in the Mérida section to get from the airport to the bus station. Tickets run about €20-€30, depending on departure time.

The train (Renfe) costs about the same price, and the trip is shorter.

Puebla de Sanabria. Avanza buses run to and from this city several times daily. Again, one-way fare is roughly €20-€25.

Ourense. The best two options here are to take the Renfe train or to hop on a connecting flight to Santiago de Compostela, then take an Alsa bus to Ourense. The wisest option for you may depend on the cost and timing.

Transportation Hubs

The main transportation hubs for a hike along the VDLP are Sevilla, Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca, Zamora and Ourense. Secondary hubs are Zafra and Puebla de Sanabria.

Background

The Vía de La Plata, aka the Ruta de la Plata, is an ancient commercial and pilgrimage path in western Spain stretching south to north from Sevilla to Astorga. Most people hiking the pilgrimage path head northwest at Granja de Moreruela on the Camino Sanabrés, which runs through Ourense into Santiago de Compostela. This entire path is still known as the Vía de La Plata.

Etiquette

Spaniards are generally very open and friendly. Direct eye contact is the norm, and expected. Women and men are viewed as equals, and both sexes tend to talk with their hands waving about.

When greeting someone, a handshake is fine. Among family and friends, Spaniards often give light cheek kisses. Don’t be surprised if, after engaging in a warm conversation with a Spaniard — say, the hostess of your inn — she later gives you a light kiss hello or goodbye.

While time can be viewed a bit flexibly in Spain, especially in social situations, transportation services typically run on time, as do business meetings and the like.

You may notice Spaniards frequently saying vale (VAH lay) as they nod their heads. This roughly translates to O.K. They also may shorten de nada (you’re welcome) to nada. Dígame (DEE guh may), which directly translates to tell me, is the standard phone greeting, as well as the greeting you’ll get from a bartender or wait staff.

Cuisine

Spain is known around the globe for its cuisine. But when you’re hiking along the Vía de la Plata, finding fine food is generally a secondary concern. Here’s what you need to know.

Breakfast is Spain is typically toast (tostada) and coffee, especially cafe con leche, a delightful mix of espresso and milk or cream. Some breakfast spots offer heartier fare such as eggs, and/or sweets such as churros and chocolate pastries.

Many pilgrims pack snacks to nibble on while they hike — you can’t always find a lunch spot when you arrive in a given town, or one that’s open, especially if it’s siesta time — and have their larger meal at dinnertime.

Bar-restaurants often don’t begin serving dinner until 8:30 p.m. And in some locales, such as Puebla de Sanabria, 9 or 9:30 p.m. is more the norm. On the flip side, some places will try to accommodate pilgrims by serving dinner as early as 7:30 or 8 p.m. That’s still pretty late for people who have been hiking all day, so plan accordingly (snack!). And it never hurts to ask if a place will serve earlier.

Pilgrim menus and menus of the day are common along the VDLP. For somewhere around $8-$15 you can generally get a hearty three-course meal: a starter (salad, soup or pasta); entree (generally beef or pork with french fries); and dessert (ice cream, flan, yogurt). These meals also include bread, wine and coffee.

Some albergues serve pilgrim dinners for a small fee, and you’re welcome to dine there even if you aren’t staying overnight, too.

When you arrive in Galicia, the autonomous community that’s home to Santiago de Compostela, be prepared for seafood everywhere you go. Iberian ham is popular throughout the country, and also in certain spots along the VDLP, such as Guillena. Try Toro wines in the Sanabria region.

Religion

The majority of people in Spain are Catholic, although many don’t regularly practice the religion. In addition to Catholics, the country is home to Muslims, Jews, Protestants and Hindus, to name a few of the more popular religions.

A millennium or so ago, the Catholics and Muslims fought back and forth for power. In many cities and towns along the Vía
de la Plata, you’ll find evidence of these struggles. One of the most prominent is Sevilla’s cathedral, which was built on the site of a former mosque and which today incorporates one of the mosque’s towers.

Spain also had a significant Jewish population in the past. Accordingly, many larger cities still incorporate the old Jewish quarters. Toledo, which sits just south of Madrid, has always been home to many Jewish people. The city is famed for being a place where Jews, Arabs and Christians coexisted peacefully, at least until the 1400s.

Language

Spanish is the language spoken in Spain. But not all Spanish is alike. The type of Spanish most of us learn is Castilian, or Castillano, which is the country’s official tongue. Pretty much every Spaniard speaks Castilian.

In Galicia, the autonomous community in which Santiago de Compostela lies, the people speak Gallego (guy EH go). Also known as Galician, Gallego is a distinct language, not a Spanish dialect.

Gallego is a little like a mix of Spanish and Portuguese; in the 12th century, it was nearly identical to Portuguese. When you reach this final stretch of the VDLP, you’ll immediately notice the difference. The streets change from “calles” to “ruas,” for example, and the “Vía de la Plata” becomes the “Vía de la Prata.”

There are two other languages in Spain, Basque and Catalan. Basque is spoken in the country’s northeastern region; you’ll encounter it in eastern stretches of the Camino Francés. Catalan is spoken mainly in Spain’s southeast and eastern areas, namely Catalonia.

Movies

Although the movies The Way and Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago are both set on the Camino Francés, or the French Way, they’re great picks to watch before your VDLP journey.

Soundtrack for a Road Trip

Prepare for your pilgrimage by grabbing the soundtrack from “The Way” (2010), starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. This movie about the Camino Francés was many Americans’ (and other non-Europeans’) first introduction to the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

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