The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is a network of ancient, sacred pilgrimage roads throughout Europe that all lead to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. For more than a thousand years, travellers from all over the world have journeyed through northern Spain to experience the spiritual journey of the Camino de Santiago. Today, the Camino de Santiago remains an incredibly popular pilgrimage route, attracting nearly 300,000 travellers each year who come from all walks of life and from all corners of the world to experience the journey on foot, on horseback, and even on bicycle.
The Camino crosses right through the Rioja wine region, making the possibility to combine walking the Camino with a love of good wine a fantastic holiday opportunity! The first Rioja town on the Camino is the small town of Viana, and from there the route passes through the city of Logrono and on to Navarrete, Najera, Azofra, and Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Strictly, Santo Domingo de la Calzada is just outside the Rioja region, but as it is such an important milestone on the Camino we’ve been tempted to cover it on this site! Whilst there are many different routes to Santiago de Compostela, this particular route follows the most popular variant of the Camino, the Camino Frances, which follows ancient Roman roads that date back to the 9th century. Walking the Camino de Santiago is for many people a profoundly spiritual experience, as travellers reconnect with their true selves and with the surrounding environment throughout their journey. The ancient history and vibrant culture of the Camino de Santiago transport travellers back in time and make it easy to understand why millions of people throughout the centuries have made the pilgrimage.
A small but vibrant town founded in the 12th century, Viana has for a long time served as a popular resting place for travellers on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The Church of St. Martin, constructed in the 16th century, is the central landmark in Viana, and an important starting point for pilgrims who wish to begin their journey with a spiritual blessing. From Viana, the Camino de Santiago passes through a number of other towns in the Rioja area, featuring some magnificent cathedrals and breath-taking architecture that give travellers a glimpse into northern Spain’s past.
A couple of hours of walking on from Viana will take the pilgrim to Logrono, the capital city of the La Rioja municipal region. This is a large settlement by Rioja’s standards, and home to the University of La Rioja. Almost half of the population of the La Rioja municipal region live in Logrono. However, it is perhaps most famous amongst its visitors not just for the high quality of the tapas and pinchos available, but also for the high density of taperias (tapas bars) in the centre of town – you can easily while away an evening moving from taperia to taperia, eating delicious but tiny portions of food, washed down with local Rioja wine.
From Logrono, a pleasant 12km walk along the Camino takes us to the town of Navarette. A typical Camino town, influenced by the large numbers of pilgrims passing through down the ages. As well as wine production it is also famous for its pottery.
From Navarette it is a good 3 – 4 hour walk to the town of Najera. Najera may now be a small town, but it has a great heritage and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre. Crossing the Najerilla river, a tributary of the great Ebro river, the road out of town goes past the beautiful monastery of Santa Maria la Real, a true gem which any pilgrim stopping at the town today should not miss.
The next stop along the Camino de Santiago is the picturesque town of Azofra, Here, travellers can take in spectacular views of the surrounding hills and valleys. A small town though, with limited accommodation possibilities, although it is home to a 3* hotel located in a 17th century palace, which some people may feel makes the town worth visiting in its own right, just for the experience. For those seeking a more authentic pilgrimage there is always the usual “municipal” hostel.
The Camino de Santiago then leads travellers over a pleasant 3 hour walk to the nearby town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a small but historically significant town. From the outside, Santo Domingo de la Calzada appears almost unchanged since the time of its establishment in the 10th century. Inside the city walls, however, lie a plethora of spectacular attractions that attract travellers from all over the world. The city’s popular main attraction is a pilgrimage church that was built in the 12th century, and which was named after the legendary figure of St. Dominic. Here, pilgrims can pray for a safe journey in the comfort of the ancient church’s walls, and can even pay their respects to a pilgrim statue, which has stood since 1492.