I was recently asked to present my 2016 Via de la Plata trek in Spain, and I thought I would share my speech and slides in this post. I was one of seven presenters speaking on routes other than the most commonly walked, Camino Francés. My friend Laurie Ferris over at thecaminoprovides.com was one of the organizers of the event and had this to say about the event when she posted the slideshows on her website:
“Our NorCal chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino had its annual Welcome Home celebration event on November 11th, 2017 in Oakland. This year we had presentations on Camino routes “beyond the Francés.” It was a fun way to learn about less popular routes that are off the beaten path. It also gave the opportunity for first-time pilgrims and veterans to share some highlights at a gathering. We did the presentations in 10×10 format, which is ten slides in ten minutes. We had seven routes represented, and I presented on the Camino Inglés. It was challenging for all of us to select photos to include, and to speak for only ten minutes, because we are all very passionate about our experiences!”
This was a very fun experience for me and it brought back many of my wonderful experiences while making that fabulous journey, last fall. Hope you enjoy!
When asked if I would speak about this route, I was initially excited and honored. Then I began to revisit my many blog posts and hundreds of photos. Preparing to discuss a month-long journey of 625 miles on Camino in Spain in ten minutes has proven to be a difficult path.
I hope to pique your interest in this route, and I shall do my best to introduce you to the Via de la Plata, or the Silver Way. Also, I will encourage those pilgrims that should wish to take to this path that the fall season may be best for their Camino.
The Via de la Plata ambles north from Seville, in southern Spain, to Santiago, mostly paralleling the Portuguese border and at times ventures very close to Portugal. As with other Camino paths, there are variations. From near Zamora, the route continues northward to join the Camino Francés at Astorga or veers westward along the Camino Sanabrés variant, which is the route that I took.
One year ago, I walked the Silver Way over thirty-three days, with one rest day in Salamanca. This was my second Camino de Santiago, having walked the Camino Francés with a close friend in the summer of 2015. Due to scheduling constraints, and because we liked a challenge and knew we could do it, we walked the Francés in twenty days; that’s about forty kilometers per day. I don’t recommend that to anybody.
For the Via de la Plata, I wanted to take a slower pace, to go it alone, and meet other people. Thirty-three days may not seem slow for 1,000 kilometers, I averaged just about thirty-one kilometers per day on this trip. What can I say? I like to walk.
The Via de la Plata was used by the Roman Empire to transport silver out of Spain, hence its moniker, the Silver Way. There are many signs of this long Roman history.
It certainly seems that the pilgrim walking this Camino crosses dozens of these well-worn, two-thousand-year-old bridges.
Pilgrims walk past many of these Roman milestones, upper right, some etched with information such as the name of the emperor at that time, perhaps the year, and maybe distances. Between Cáceres and Salamana there is a well-preserved and marked stretch of these milestones on the Camino route. Along that particular stretch, pilgrims and visitors can read interpretive plaques and marvel at the history of the Silver Way. I tried to put myself there in that ancient time; it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around such a time frame—two thousand years ago, wow.
My favorite bit of Roman history on the Via de la Plata was this four-posted arch. The Camino passes right through that arch near the ruins of the large Roman outpost known as Caparra. Those ruins are being preserved by historians and visited by tourists and pilgrims of the Camino. There is a visitor’s center just to the east of the trail that is well worth a visit.
And then, there are the cities.
The Via de la Plata connects Seville to Santiago by way of Mérida, shown here with its ancient Roman aqueducts; Cáceres, with its fabulous plaza (this picture does it no justice, it would need a lengthy video to capture the plaza’s true grandeur); and the large and beautiful city of Salamanca, with its old and new cathedrals just after crossing a roman bridge over the Rio Tormes. Also, Salamanca is home to the oldest university in Spain, the University of Salamanca, which was founded in 1218 (sorry, I just love saying the name, Salamanca). The last city shown here is the smaller but equally wonderful Zamora. Zamora has a population of about 60,000 people and sits on a promontory above the Douro River.
Next on my route was Ourense, with its ancient Roman hot spring baths beside the River Miño.
Although I didn’t take the waters, a Spanish friend from Ourense that I had met earlier on my trek led me and two other Camino friends on a wonderful tour of the area to see ancient monasteries, the magnificent canyon of the Rio Sil, and out on the town that evening for pinchos and godello, an excellent Galician white wine. Godello is similar to albariño, but better.
The path of the Via de la Plata is much like the Camino Francés, but then again much different. We tend to want to compare one to the other, but they really should be taken unto their own. There are mountain passes and long, flat, barren stretches. But these are not the Pyrenees, nor the Meseta. By my estimation, there is nothing as difficult as the Pyrenees, or as vast and magical as the Meseta, but the Via de la Plata has its own merits.
As you can see here, markings are similar and I would say they are just as prevalent as on the Francés, making pilgrims confident in their path.
Summers on the Silver Way are horrendous, and should be avoided. Please take heed to this warning. At times, there are very long stretches between villages and watering holes. The Camino Francés is hot, hot, hot in summer. I know because I walked that route in July. The Via de la Plata must be doubly so.
Many pilgrims of the Silver Way take to the path in spring after most of the winter rains have passed and before the summer heat sets in. There are plenty of amenities along this route, but they can be stretched to their limits during the peak spring season. In contrast, three or four times I was alone for the night in an albergue last fall. Other nights several pilgrims were present, but no more than one quarter to one third of capacity. We always had bottom bunks.
It is for these reasons that I suggest walking the Via de la Plata during the fall season. I think—more as luck would have it than accurate planning—that my timing was perfect. When I left Seville on October 17th of last year, the daytime temps were still well into the 80s. Quite often in those early days we could sit out on the plaza—in whatever city or village—and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine well into the evening hours. But by mid-November, when I finished in Santiago, temps were very chilly, with trees changing their colors and snow falling in the mountains of Galicia.
That selfie is from one morning before Ourense, on November 7th. I experienced very little rain. I can only remember a few days when I donned raingear.
As I mentioned earlier, the Via de la Plata continues directly northward to join the Camino Francés at Astorga or veers westward towards Ourense.
This sign is at that very point where a pilgrim must finally decide which route he or she shall take. This decision point is in a small farming village north of Zamora.
Having completed the Camino Francés in 2015, I chose to take a left-hand turn here and venture through Ourense and the region of Spain known as Céa, where I was introduce to pan de Céa—hands down the best bread in all of Spain, and maybe the world. Whether it’s the water, or the yeast, or the air, there are huge differences in bread on this Camino. Pan de Céa is in a class of its own.
AAAAHHHHH Galicia. I love Spain, its people, its long Caminos, and I especially love Galicia. It is so beautiful, especially so in fall with the changing colors and storm clouds coming and going.
The two pilgrims in this photo are my Camino friends Fernando, from Asturias, Spain, and Hiromi, from Japan. I met Fernando on my first night out of Seville and Hiromi a couple of weeks later. GREAT people, now lifelong friends.
Churros and chocolate. What better way to start a day on Camino or to end a tale about the Via de la Plata.
I received many questions following the presentation, several regarding guidebooks and other route resources. Listed below are some of the limited bits I used:
Kelly, Gerald (second edition) Walking Guide to the Via de la Plata and the Camino Sanabres Available in hardcopy and kindle formats. For updates and contact with Gerald, use the information provided in his book.
For pilgrims who read Spanish, the Eroski Consumer online guides are excellent and heavily used by Spanish pilgrims. Via de la Plata in twenty-six stages, from Seville to Astorga, and Camino Sanabres in thirteen stages, from Granja de Moreruela to Santiago.
For more details on my trek of the Via de la Plata, click here.
¡¡¡Buen Camino peregrinos!!!