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Background notes to the Yellow Arrow Guide to the Vía de la Plata.
The route followed by the Vía de la Plata was originally a Roman Road linking Asturias in the north of Spain with the port of Cádiz in the south. Its name, which means The Silver Route, is based on the belief that the Romans used this route to transport silver from Asturias to the Mediterranean port of Cádiz. However, given that the mines of Asturias mostly produced gold, some historians question the validity of this explanation.
Beginning in about the 9th century, as Santiago de Compostela was becoming known as a Christian pilgrimage site, this route began to be used by pilgrims travelling to and from the tomb of St James the Apostle.
In the 1980s the revival of the Camino Francés as a walking route led to renewed interested in the Vía de la Plata. Since then numbers of pilgrims have increased slowly reaching a peak of 14,197 in Holy Year 2010. Then 8,061 in 2011, 8,163 in 2012, 9,016 in 2013, 8,491 in 2014, 9,221 in 2015, 9,067 in 2016, 9,138 in 2017 and 9,127 in 2019 (these are figures for pilgrims arriving in Santiago). Despite what the statistics say the numbers of people walking the Vía has grown steadily in recent years. That we’re not seeing this reflected in the statistics seems to be because many people are only walking parts, for example Seville to Salamanca, or if they do arrive in Santiago are simply not bothering to get a Compostela because they already have several from previous Caminos.
In contrast to the Camino Francés which is busiest in summer, the busiest times on the Vía de la Plata are spring and autumn.
Today the Vía de la Plata is a popular alternative to the Camino Francés for people looking for solitude and a more authentic Camino experience (with its accompanying difficulties).
About this guide
This guide covers the Vía de la Plata from Seville to Granja de Moreruela, and the Camino Sanabrés which branches from the Vía de la Plata and arrives in Santiago through southern Galicia. People often use the term Vía de la Plata to refer to the combination of these two routes. For simplicity I will refer to the combination of these two routes as the Vía.
I started writing this guide after I can back from walking the Vía de la Plata from Seville to Santiago via Astorga in the winter of 2009, and finished it after returning to walk the Camino Sanabrés in 2012. It has been updated and republished every year since then. It’s now available in both printed book and app format.
Preparing for my walk I had been unable to find any reliable information in English about the routes and accommodation along them. This didn’t deter me and I managed fine with a print out of accommodation from a Spanish website and some Google maps of the towns with the route roughly sketched on them. However, if I hadn’t been able to access information in Spanish I would have been lost, and I probably wouldn’t have even attempted this walk. Based on this experience I decided to try to make information more widely available in English.
I started by making the guide available as a free download from my website, www.ViadelaPlataGuide.net. Thanks to the positive feedback and encouragement I received from other pilgrims who used it I decided to try publishing it on Amazon (with the addition of maps). This has enabled me to bring the information to a far wider audience.
From the beginning I appealed to pilgrims to send me updates and corrections to help me keep the information up-to-date. Many people responded to my call, and this, together with the wealth of information available online, allowed me to keep track of new albergues and route changes. This system isn’t perfect and I would prefer (in fact I would love!) if I had the time and money to walk the Vía every year and do the updates as I go along. But I don’t, and given the small number of English-speaking pilgrims walking this Camino, it’s unlikely this or any other guide will ever make enough money to cover a full, yearly update (such as the German guides manage).
I set out to create a source of the essential information someone will need to walk the Vía, and this guide is still that, the essential information: distances, pilgrim albergues, places to buy food, places to eat, and notes about those places where the yellow arrows may not be sufficient for you to find your way.
The Vía is very different from the Camino Francés in that it is longer, lonelier and less scenic. It is closer to the original experience of long-distance pilgrimage than the commercialised and ‘tamed’ Camino Francés. You can walk the Camino Francés on ‘autopilot’, by which I mean, without planning ahead or really paying much attention, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, one of the great things about the Camino Francés is that it’s accessible to people of all levels of ability and commitment. But, if you approached the Vía on ‘autopilot’ you’d quickly find yourself lost, hungry and thirsty. As a consequence, the people who walk the Vía tend to be a self-reliant bunch with experience of long-distance hiking (such as, having walked the Camino Francés).
If you find this guide useful and you want to help (or if you don’t find it useful and you still want to help) then send all suggestions, updates, corrections, etc. to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Vía in 2019
It was a cold, sunny winter’s day just before Christmas 2018 when I set off from Seville. My journey this time would be in four parts covering winter, spring, early summer and autumn. It would be almost ten months before I arrived on a cold, sunny autumn’s day into Santiago de Compostela.
The road had changed little in the three years since I had walked it last. The half-abandoned villages with their ubiquitous ‘for sale’ signs sported an occasional new bars or albergue, sometimes even a shop. But besides these small changes everything seemed more-or-less as always. It was like in this remote corner of Spain time was standing still.
What had changed, and changed fundamentally, was the experience of walking the Vía.
Almost completely consigned to history was the feeling of being the only pilgrim in town. Long, dark nights alone in an albergue with only a host of unexplained noises for company were a thing of the past. And the idea of walking for days or even weeks without seeing another pilgrim now seemed to belong to a quaint, bygone era.
Sometimes I missed the old days and the feeling of being a pioneer, but mostly I didn’t. Being the only pilgrim in town, eating dinner on your own with the television and a bottle of wine for company, was never really much fun.
In any case solitude was there if you wanted it during the long walking days through the vast open spaces and distant horizons of rural Spain, where everything seemed to melt away as it always had and I often found myself alone for hours with nothing but my thoughts and the wind and an occasional dog (friendly or otherwise).
Galicia was cold and it rained (as it always does). I was glad I would be finishing soon. I was passing through these mountains for the third time and for the third time I saw nothing but fog and rain. I decided it was enough and if I ever walk the Camino Sanabrés again it will be in summer.
On the last day I passed the scene of the Angrois train crash. No sign of what happened here remains except for the strange mixture of objects left by relatives of the dead and passing pilgrims. A man sat in a car nearby with no apparent purpose. I felt like he was watching me, maybe to see what I’d do. I took a photo of these objects, shells, boots, articles of clothing. I wondered if it was the right place for what looked like a shrine to the Camino. Then I walked on, being careful not to look in the direction of the man in his car. I didn’t want to intrude. I already felt uncomfortably like a spectator to some personal tragedy.
It was a sad end to a long Camino and made for a melancholic arrival into Santiago. I went straight to my albergue, the Praza Obradoiro could wait.
The Vía in 2020
In September 2020 I set off from Cáceres for what was planned to be a short walk to Salamanca. Covid-19 had washed over the world since I had last set foot on a Camino and all of our perspectives on life had changed to some degree.
What I found in the small towns and villages of Extremadura and Castilla y León was people getting on with life, adapting to the new circumstances and obeying the restrictions (to the spirit, if not always to the letter).
Within a few days I had joined a small band of six or seven pilgrims from five or six different countries. We were welcomed everywhere we went, many people told us we were the largest number of pilgrims they’d seen since Covid arrived. Unfortunately we were the exception, overall pilgrims were scarce and 2020 was a tough year financially for business along the Vía.
Despite this I heard very little complaining and lots of hope and optimism for the future. The Spanish are descended from the Romans who themselves were descended from all the peoples of the Mediterranean Basin and beyond. Mix that with the Visigoths, the Celts, the Moors, the Basques and a few other groups and you get a race of people who face life with compassion, humour and resilience. The kind of people who are at their best when times get tough.
The 2020 edition
The 2020 edition was updated with information gathered while walking the Vía in 2019 together with feedback and advice from many pilgrims.
I’d like to thank everybody who took the time to write to me. I’m always very happy to hear from my readers and as always I was amazed at the trouble some people took to help me and their fellow pilgrims. As always I can be contacted at email@example.com
I’m always happy to answer questions and to help people in any way I can so if there’s something specific I can help you with please just ask. I can also supply PDF copies of this guide, which are handy for reading on a smartphone or a tablet computer.
We now have an active group on Facebook with Vía pilgrims of all levels of experience. Join to ask questions or to share your knowledge and experience with your fellow pilgrims. You can link to it here.
Thanks for all the help and support and Buen Camino!
Seville, April 2021
The information in the guide
Information about albergues (pilgrim hostels)
The following information is given about albergues: whether it is private, religious, etc. (how many people it sleeps, the cost and opening dates (if none given then it’s open all the time) the albergue’s name. This is followed by a description of how to find the albergue and any other relevant information including its telephone number.
Private (12, 12€ with breakfast) Albergue Luz del Camino, on the Camino on the left, on Calle Federico García Lorca. Kitchen, laundry facilities. Positive reports. Website albergueluzdelcamino.es Tel 955 785 262 or 667 727 380 Open in the morning
This is a private albergue, it sleeps twelve people, costs 12 euros which includes breakfast, and it’s open all year. Its name is Albergue Luz del Camino. Next come directions for finding the albergue, followed by any other relevant information and the albergue’s contact information. Finally is the time the albergue begins to check in pilgrims, if specified.
Information about places and facilities: The following information is given about facilities available in towns and villages (see the note below about opening hours):
- café / bar: if they’re known to serve food it will say so
- shop: by which we mean a shop which sells food, etc.
- bank: meaning an ATM / cash machine
Please remember the following (IMPORTANT)
If the guide doesn’t say that there’s a shop / restaurant / café / water source / bank / pharmacy (etc., etc.), then assume there isn’t and plan accordingly!
Likewise, always assume there are no sources of water or places to buy food or drinks between villages and that some villages have no facilities of any type.
Even if there are shops and cafés never assume they’ll be open.
The text of this guide is not sprinkled with reminders to always make sure you have enough food and water. It is up to you to plan your walking day the day before and indeed several days in advance, taking account of availability of places where you can restock with food and water.
Opening times (ALSO IMPORTANT)
Bear in mind that shops (including pharmacies) in rural Spain usually open from 9 AM until 12 PM and again from 5 PM until 8 PM. Also bear in mind that these times can vary.
They are also usually closed, or have greatly reduced opening times, on Sundays and Mondays and on public and religious holidays.
Cafés don’t always open in the morning and if they do they rarely do before 8 AM. The note about public and religious holidays above also applies to cafés. If it says in the guide that a café opens early that mean about 8 PM. Also cafés often close one day a week por descanso, it’s often Monday. Restaurants server lunch from about 2 PM until about 4 PM and then dinner from about 8 PM until about 9 PM.
If you’re planning to walk over the summer or Christmas / New Year, it’s important to note that many family-run businesses will also be closed for holidays over those times.
A good reference for public holidays in Spain (including the many regional but not all local ones) is on the Time and Date website.
Some of the albergues on this Camino are basic. However, unless otherwise stated, all of them have the following:
- Beds with mattresses
- Showers with hot water
- Drinking water
- Heating (although it may not be very effective and it may not be switched on)
Any other facilities of note are mentioned in the guide. If the guide says ‘Laundry facilities’ it means there’s a washing machine and drier. If this isn’t mentioned then the laundry facilities available are probably a sink where you can hand wash clothes and a clothes line outside.
Many albergues are not adequately heated and during the cold months (a period which varies according to latitude and altitude but means approximately November to March) it will be cold in those albergues. This underlines the necessity of having a good sleeping-bag.
Not all albergues have a kitchen. Where the albergue has one and it is in working order, it’s mentioned.
If you’re first to arrive many albergues will be locked with a contact telephone number stuck to the door. For this reason having a mobile phone is essential. If you need to ring for the key and you don’t speak Spanish try the following: Estoy aquí a la puerta del albergue de peregrinos, ¿puede Usted abrirme la puerta? – which means I am here at the door of the pilgrim albergue, can you open the door for me? The ideal response would be sí, sí, cinco minutos / diez minutos – yes, yes five minutes / ten minutes. However, the likelihood is the reply will be somewhat more verbose in which case the best thing to say is no entiendo español – I don’t understand Spanish. And hope for the best.
Don’t let this worry you if you speak no Spanish, the person answering the phone is expecting calls like yours and even if you completely fail to understand anything they will automatically assume you are waiting for them at the albergue door.
Waymarkings are basic but functional. Everywhere you will find painted yellow arrows like on the Camino Francés. However, it’s important to note that the arrows are sometimes far less frequent than on the Camino Francés and are sometimes only to be seen at points where the Vía turns. So basically, if you don’t see an arrow keep going straight, but keep your eyes peeled.
The Vía de la Plata is different from the Camino Francés in that it was originally a Roman Road and the present day Vía follows the route of this road for part of its length. The official waymarkings reflect this history.
In Extremadura, as well as the yellow arrow, the Vía and the Roman Road are marked by blocks on the ground with a coloured tile on one side and a representation of the arch in Cáparra on the top pointing in the direction which you must follow. The tiles are coloured yellow (for the Camino) or green (for the Roman road) or bi-coloured where the Vía follows the Roman road.
In parts of Castilla y León you’ll see stone pillars with the name of the Vía written in Spanish and Arabic – a reflection of the fact that this route was used by Arabic speaking Mozarabic Christians from Andalucia.
In Galicia you’ll find the ubiquitous concrete bollards with the shell symbol on a tile pointing, with its flat end, the direction to follow.
In some places along the route the original Roman waymarkings are still present. Known as Miliarium these are stone columns about one metre high which originally had writing on them giving such information as: the emperor under whose reign the road was built, the distance to Rome or another important city on the road. These stones were placed one Roman mile (1,481m) apart. Wikipedia.
In certain places you may find that several different kinds of waymarking co-exist and occasionally they may point in contradictory directions. If in doubt, as a general rule you should follow the yellow arrows. This is not to say that the other waymarkings are wrong, just that the yellow arrows are painted by people who have walked the Vía recently, and are most likely to indicate the best walking route. The yellow arrows are also the waymarkings which are most likely to be up-to-date in the event of minor route changes.
The Vía is about 1,000km long and most of that is through farmland. Dogs in this area are used to help guard and control flocks of sheep and so are often to be seen unsupervised in a field with a flock of sheep. Despite this incidents with dogs are rare and serious incidents, ones in which someone has been bitten requiring medical treatment, are to my knowledge unheard of.
During all the times I’ve walked the Vía (three times in its totality and many other stages) I have at no time come anywhere close to being bitten by a dog. There have been occasions when I’ve had to stand my ground when a dog ran over barking when it saw me but none of these turned out to be dangerous, just annoying. I’ve been around dogs all my life and I like dogs, but I know that that isn’t the case for everybody. What might be annoying for me might be frightening for someone else.
If you do meet an aggressive dog, your safest option is to back away (without turning your back) and get out of its territory. Running is not a good idea because a dog can move much faster than you can and many breeds of dogs will instinctively take chase if you run.
Raising a stick at it will probably be enough to convince it it’s dealing with someone who’ll fight back (working, country dogs associate a stick with pain, unlike their townie cousins). If you haven’t got a stick to hand, bend down and pick up a few stones, they understand that too. However, hitting a dog is an absolute last resort, only to be used if it attacks first. Pre-emptive action may just provoke it.
If you encounter dogs looking after sheep or goats, bear in mind that they’re very protective and if you come too close or between them and their flock they will regard you as a threat. So stay as far away as possible.
It’s also probable the dog’s owner is someplace nearby, and attracting their attention is probably the easiest way to deal with the offending mutt.
Walking in summer
The extreme summer heat in southern Spain makes June, July, August and September the most difficult and dangerous time to walk the souther sections of this Camino (south of Salamanca). In recent years several people have died on the Via while walking or cycling in hot weather. You should not attempt the southern sections of the Vía in summer unless you are used to and comfortable walking in 40C and higher.
You may also find albergues, cafés and restaurants are closed. This is the holiday season after all and many family-run businesses take advantage of the lack of customers to take a few weeks off.
North of Salamanca is a different matter. The climatic conditions which prevail here are largely similar to what you would encounter on the Camino Francés.
How to calculate distances
The distances next to placenames are stage distances. Measurements are taken from the pilgrim albergue, or if the pilgrim albergue is not on the route of the Vía or there is more than one, it’s taken from some central point, such as the main square or the church / cathedral. Use these distances when calculating the length of stages. Other distances given in the route description are distances between things you’ll pass along the way. You could call them intermediate distances. They’re just there to give you and idea of where things are and they should be ignored when calculating stage distances.
They are not cumulative. Example:
4km café – making a total of 6km from the place where we bagan
For more information about the Via and the latest updates visit the Frequently Asked Questions section of our website.
Go here for tips about packing and links to useful equipment.
Todos somos romeos…
Todos quantos vevimos, qe en piedes andamos
siquere en presón, o en lecho yagamos
todos somos romeos, qe camino passamos…