Villafranca del Bierzo to Vega de Valcarce – Stage 28

Stage 28 – Villafranca del Bierzo – Vega de Valcarce
Total Distance – 16.0 km
Adjusted for Climb – 16.5 km (accrued ascent 80 m = 0.5 km)
High Point: Vega de Valcarce at 630 m (2,067 feet)

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La Iglesia de Santiago - an XI century Romanesque church. It is obviously a fortified church which makes sense given its location. Inside it has a Puerta de Perdón and an excellent statute of Santiago Peregrino. Unfortunately we couldn't see it. Next time for sure!

La Iglesia de Santiago – an XI century Romanesque church. It is obviously a fortified church which makes sense given its location. Inside it has a Puerta de Perdón and an excellent statute of Santiago Peregrino. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it. Next time for sure!

The Monasterio de San Francisco - 13th century. To the left (unpictured) is the XV century Castillo Palacio de Los Marqueses

The Monasterio de San Francisco – 13th century. Some say that this monastery was founded by Saint Francis himself. To the left (unpictured) is the XV century Castillo Palacio de Los Marqueses

I remember thinking that this town would make an ideal fortress when Sue and I climbed up and into Villafranca del Bierzo. As I studied the terrain (couldn’t help doing so since I was walking it) and saw the placement of the fortress-like churches situated very close to the Castillo Palacio de Los Marqueses I thought that my Army JROTC past and my reading of military history is always lurking somewhere inside of me. The other churches and monasteries did nothing to dissuade me of the notion that an invading army would have had a tough time if it wanted to invade this town.

Invasions Villafranca has seen much of, principally because of its location. The town sits at the confluence of the Burbia and Valcarce ríos and being at the west end of the fertile Bierzo basin it has always in the past been an attraction for armies and merchants alike. Being at the foot of the narrow valley leading up to the El Cebreiro pass it has also served as a gateway for armies and peregrinos into Galicia. A document from 943 already called this town a “Foreigners’ Town”. The town has seen it all; plague, floods, a looting and destructive rampage by British troops in 1809 but it still survives with much of its medieval and Renaissance character intact.

Plaza Major in Villafranca del Bierzo

Plaza Major in Villafranca del Bierzo as seen from the Hotel Posada Plaza Major

Luckily for Villafranca the only invaders they had to face that day were Sue and I, hardly an imposing army! We soon found our way to the Plaza Major and gratefully settled ourselves in the Hotel Posada Plaza Major. The hotel was completely modern on the inside while on the outside it looked like a charming townhouse with planters full of Bougainvillea adorning the outside of every window. From there we could see the Ayuntamiento on the left side of the plaza and restaurants with outdoor tables and large umbrellas to protect customers from the sun. After showering and resting we enjoyed a pleasant meal at one of these restaurants. From there we could see the top of the mountain where I knew the mountain pass that we would traverse the next day awaited us. But we could relax then, that was to be for the next day.

That morning we passed the impressive  Iglesia de San Nicolás (on the left) and I was very impressed by the facade of the church. Later I was to learn that this 17th century church, was modeled after the famous El Escorial. Felipe II's monumental palace outside of Madrid.

The next morning we passed the impressive Iglesia de San Nicolás (on the left) and I was very impressed by the facade of the church. Later I was to learn that this 17th century church, was modeled after the famous El Escorial. Felipe II’s monumental palace outside of Madrid.

La Colegiata de Santa María de Cluny has its origins in the 12th century as a Benedictine monastery (none of which remains) and was rebuilt in the 16th century. Since the 19th century it has served as a parish church.

La Colegiata de Santa María de Cluny has its origins in the 12th century as a Benedictine monastery (none of which remains) and was rebuilt in the 16th century. Since the 19th century it has served as a parish church.

 

The next morning as we walked out of Villafranca my thoughts were of the mountains. I knew we were about to enter the Valcarce valley and we had decided to split in half what was to have been one of the steepest stages (according to Brierley) of the entire Camino. That meant that instead of walking 26.6 kilometers with the last 10 kilometers being a climb from 600 meters to 1,300 meters, we would instead walk a flat 16 kilometers and leave the heavy climbing for the next day. Since there were three routes, two of which involved steep climbs, we could have started climbing immediately after leaving Villafranca but decided instead to take the flat route that followed the N-IV road along the narrow valley floor.

The bridge over the río Burbia. look to the left side of the picture.

The bridge over the río Burbia. Look to the left side of the picture.

The statute of the peregrino that shows you the way to Santiago.

The statute of the peregrino that shows you the way to Santiago. In case you didn’t get the hint there is also a more traditional scallop shell marker at the lower right hand side of the photo.

Our shadows! Notice the familiar scallop shell motif on the handrail of the bridge.

Our shadows! Notice the familiar scallop shell motif on the handrail of the bridge.

The entrance to the narrow and steep sided Valcarce valley. Val carce is from the Latin Vallis Carceras which means narrow valley.

The entrance to the narrow and steep-sided Valcarce valley. Val carce is from the Latin Vallis Carceras which means narrow valley.

A couple of kilometers after crossing the bridge that spanned the río Burbia we were in for a surprise, or rather Sue was in for a surprise, that brought back memories of her stay in Roncesvalles. As we walked a young and very fit man passed us. Sue immediately called out, “Manuel!!” and he stopped. Manuel was a farmer from Malta that was on a very tight schedule in order to make it to Santiago. For about 5 minutes we had a wonderful chat while walking with him before he took of with a long stride that we could not hope to match. The people you meet with on the Camino and how you can run into them in the most unlikely places never cease to amaze me!

Manuel powering ahead of us just outside of Villafranca.

Manuel powering ahead of us just outside of Villafranca.

Looking over our shoulders at Villafranca

Looking over our shoulders at Villafranca

Villafranca in the distance behind us. You can clearly see the massive Castillo Palacio de Los Marqueses.

Villafranca in the distance behind us. You can clearly see the massive Castillo Palacio de Los Marqueses.

Our route was a very peaceful one along the mainly shaded valley floor paralleling a burbling río all the way to our destination at Vega de Valcarce. Before we got there we would meet some familiar peregrinos and see some beautiful sights.

Peregrinos along the narrow road

Peregrinos along the narrow road

A Camino poet with an affinity to Tom Petty decided to show us the way in words!

A Camino poet with an affinity to Tom Petty decided to show us the way in words!

Very soon a protective concrete barrier protected us from cars.

Very soon a protective concrete barrier protected us from cars. Notice the modern A-6 Roadway overhead to the left.

I have to say that this was some of the most enjoyable walking I did on the Camino. It was mainly in the shade, not too steep and accompanied by the sounds of birds and a burbling river below us.

 

The artists of the Camino were not to be left behnd!

The artists of the Camino were not to be left behnd!

The entrance to a village of Pereje where we saw much evidence of the timber industry in this region.

The entrance to a village of Pereje where we saw much evidence of the timber industry in this region.

We saw many artistic recreations like this turtle surfing peregrino at places were we needed to cross the road.

We saw many artistic recreations like this turtle surfing peregrino at places were we needed to cross the road.

The villages along this route were very small and hugged the road. I suspected that the timber industry and we peregrinos were the only things that kept people living here.

Sue walking through Pereje

Sue walking through Pereje

The barriers were much appreciated as there was car and track traffic on the road.

The barriers were much appreciated as there was car and track traffic on the road.

A cycling team out for a training ride.

A cycling team out for a training ride.

The timber industry in evidence. The smell of the wood was very nice.

The timber industry in evidence. The smell of the wood was very nice.

While walking this peaceful route we were reunited with my Spanish girlfriends from Madrid and a French couple (we had seen them 2 days prior to this!) that we were constantly coming into contact with either from catching up to them or their catching up to us while walking. Every encounter was an opportunity for conversation and laughter!

Entrance to the village of Trabadelo

Entrance to the village of Trabadelo (Pop. 560)

 

We stopped at this Bar in Trabadelo and here I was reunited with my Spanish girlfriends from Madrid!

We stopped at this Bar in Trabadelo and here I was reunited with my Spanish girlfriends from Madrid!

The French couple moving on ahead of us.

The French couple moving on ahead of us.

Very soon we were nearing the lovely trio of villages of La Portela de Valcarce, Ambasmestas and our destination, Vega de Valcarce (Pop. 865). It was at these villages where you could hear some of the Galician language begin to be spoken. The buildings also began to take on a different look and character.

All of the villages along this route have small albergues and many also have casa rurales and make peaceful places to stay.

All of the villages along this route have small albergues and many also have casa rurales and make peaceful places to stay.

A friend waiting for us!

A friend waiting for us!

Not bad advice!

Not bad advice!

The entrance to La Portela de Valcarce

The entrance to La Portela de Valcarce

Statute of a Peregrino

Statute of a Peregrino

We don't have far to go!!

We don’t have far to go!!

La iglesia San Juan in La Portela de Valcarce

La iglesia San Juan Bautista in La Portela de Valcarce.

Inside la iglesia de San Juan

Inside la iglesia de San Juan Bautista

La iglesia de San Juan

La iglesia de San Juan Bautista is from the 17th to the 18th century. It has a simple Baroque style with a rectangular floor plan and a single nave.

After stopping for an opportunity to see the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista in La Portela our next unexpected stop was to be the in the next adjoining village of Ambasmestas. It was a quaint little village named in Galician (although we were in Leòn and not in Galicia yet!) for the joining of two rivers, the ríos Valcarce and Balboa. Interestingly as Sue and I neared Galicia we saw many signs that named towns in Castilian with the names crossed out by spray paint and replaced with the Galician names!!

Sue and I made an expected stop to see the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen and found it to be almost identical to the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista in La Portela. After this we looked for a place to have a snack and found that we hit the jackpot, for Sue! We were in a very attractive Bar when Sue reflexively ordered tea. She expected to get your regular run of the mill tea bag but instead got real tea leaves brewed traditionally. Let me tell you that she was in Heaven! I believe that this was the first and only time she had real tea on the Camino and, judging from her expression of sheer bliss, I don’t think anyone enjoyed a cup of tea on the Camino more than her on that day!

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen

Inside the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen

Inside the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen

Ambasmestas

Ambasmestas

From Ambasmestas it was a short walk to Vega de Valcarce and the casa rural where we were staying for the night. I found Vega de Valcarce to be a lovely village with many signs of agriculture. Sue and I had a good dinner with an Australian peregrino at the Bar-Restaurante Alfredo . Actually the owner, Mary a formidible woman who was quite a character, was as entertaining as the company at dinner! Good thing that we were well fed, happy and relaxed because we expected a tough climb the next day.

Beautiful home

Beautiful home

The casa rural, El Recanto, where we stayed.

The casa rural, El Recanto, where we stayed.

Lovely setting along the río Valcarce

Lovely setting along the río Valcarce

 

Our humble restaurant for the evening. We sat outside under the red umbrella

Our humble restaurant for the evening. We sat outside under the red umbrella and enjoyed the view of the river.

DSCN2921

Vega de Valcarce

Vega de Valcarce – Sue and our Australian friend.

Vega de Valcarce

Vega de Valcarce

 

Beautiful house

Beautiful house

Lovely scene

Lovely scene

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