ONWARD INTO GALICIA
With Galicia waiting just round the corner and Santiago now closer than ever, the time to leave Matavenero had finally come. Living here for nearly a week is a moment in my life that I will always cherish. Along the Camino you learn to appreciate the value of the simple things in life, and here more than anywhere we lived these experiences. A part of us wished to remain behind for an undetermined spell of time, but we both knew that our journey was not over yet and so we decided to press on. Our backpacks felt light and our bodies filled with a new energy as we set off climbing back up the mountain we had first come from.
From these high peaks we began our descent towards the ancient city of Ponferrada. Once under the protectorate of the Order of the Knights Templar it is now a vibrant city, capital of El Bierzo where the unique microclimate allows for the production of the famous Bierzo wines. The balance between the humidity and rainfall of Galicia and the arid heat of Castilla creates an ideal climate for viticulture. Of course, the Romans were the first pioneers to introduce vines here, yet the peak of cultivation occured in the Middle Ages with the expansion of monasteries and the Cistercian order. Along with the sweet taste of wine our afternoon walk was accompanied by an array of old sports cars descending the mountain alongside us.
Our entrance into the city of Ponferrada was welcomed by the majestic 12th century Castillos de los Templarios; according to some the resting place of the Holy Grail. I now regret not having visited the castle but at the time the idea of a hot meal and some wine seemed much more appealing. After Ponferrada we moved on through the picturesque town of Villafranca and into the O’Cebreiro, leaving the Bierzo region behind us, now moving out of Castilla and upwards into the mountains of Galicia.
We were immediately greeted by showers of rain which as we climbed higher turned into ever-thickening fog. Galicia’s unstable climate is determined by its closeness to the Atlantic, it is the first piece of land for 5000km to be hit by westerly winds and thus is often tormented by heavy rainfall and mountain fog. O’Cebreiro, a little stone village sitting at 1300m, marks our first important stop in this region. Here, still standing, is one of the oldest surviving churches associated with the Camino: the Iglesia de Santa Maria Real, dating as far back as the 9th century.
Here, after placing a stamp on our passports, we went on to enjoy the spectacular views of the valley below. The next day we were ready to head deeper into the heart of Galicia with Santiago now less than 200km away.