Some pilgrims don’t have the time, or desire, to hike the entire 1,000-kilometer VDLP. And that’s fine. Many opt instead to hike the final 100 kilometers of the Vía de la Plata from Ourense to Santiago. That’s all you need to do to qualify for a coveted Compostela, or official pilgrim certificate. (If you’re biking or on horseback, it’s the final 200 kilometers).
Unfortunately, the route through town isn’t well-marked. Generally, the markings consist of metal shells set into the sidewalks. These can be hard to see because of the pedestrian traffic. Plus some were removed during recent construction and not replaced. So here’s what to do. Make your way from the cathedral to the old Roman bridge crossing the Miño River. Once you cross you’ll almost immediately be faced with a route split. The split is marked by a large stone with two arrows set in the middle of the street.
If you head to the right, you’ll be taking the official Camino route, which runs northeast through Tamallancos and Viduedo. Heading left will take you northwest through Quintela, Mandras and Pulledo. Both routes rejoin at Cea.
Why the split? Centuries back, pilgrims took both routes from Ourense to Santiago. No one knows for sure which route was the first-used or most popular. During the pilgrimage’s early years, some greedy bishops levied taxes on pilgrims passing through their jurisdiction. So if taxes were being levied by a bishop(s) on the northwestern route, peregrinos would switch to the northeastern route, and vice versa. So both routes are “real,” but today only the one to the right is “official.”
Taking the “official” route to the right, you’ll do a lot of climbing, especially right out of town. Watch out for dogs; this part of the VDLP seems to have the most dogs of any leg, and most seem to be German Shepherds. Luckily, most are fenced in or tied up.
It’s a pleasant stroll across old stone bridges and through small forested pockets before arriving in Cea, famed for its bread. The official Camino route leads you out of town and directly to Castro-Dozón, but many pilgrims opt to take a scenic detour up to the Cistercian Monasterio de Oseira in Oseira. If you have the time, do it. It’s a beautiful climb up to the monastery, and the descent is even prettier. If you time it right you’ll be able to tour the monastery, too.
From Castro-Dozón, the next town of note is Silleda, a city of 10,000. Stock up on groceries here, and maybe pamper yourself with a night at the comfy Hotel Vía Argentum. You’ll need some pampering; it’s an insane downhill trek into Ponte Ulla, and then a quad-busting ascent out. After that, you’re in the home stretch to Santiago.
Make sure you have your smartphone or a map when entering Santiago. Strangely (and disappointingly), all of the Camino markers disappear once you’re led into the city. It’s not too difficult to make your way to the city’s old town. But once there its warren of crazily-winding streets makes it difficult to get to the cathedral, even though you can easily see its spires. Of course, you can also just ask the wealth of people walking around, too.
When you do make it to the Catedral de Santiago, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve just hiked the Vía de la Plata!