Welcome to our 4th edition of big cities while walking the Camino Frances. We have already visited the following cities in previous posts:
- Pamplona – if you have read this post, you will remember that this is the beautiful city from where we started our Camino Frances in March 2017. You can read about our first big city on the Camino here.
- Logroño – this was the city with the MANY tapas bars and where we saw the first Catholic processions for Easter weekend (can I use this in one sentence)? You can read about Logroño here.
- Burgos – Burgos Cathedral was such a beautiful sight. This was also the city where I stayed for 2 nights to give some healing time to my Camino aches and pains, while Berto continued on the Camino. You can read about Burgos here.
To walk from Burgos to León, we had to cover 181.8km in 7 days. Once again, let’s have a look at some postcards of each day between these two cities:
Day 10: Hontanas (31.8km)
Long dirt roads on the Meseta (the large and expansive flat plains on the Camino Frances)
(You can read about the hiking of Day 10 here)
Day 11: Fromista (34.6km)
Still on the Meseta – but this time a long uphill needs to be conquered
(You can read about the hiking of Day 11 here)
Day 12: Carrion de Los Condes (20.5km)
Walking past the Hermitage of Our Lady of the River
(You can read about the hiking of Day 12 here)
Day 13: Terradillos (26.8km)
Just one of many beautiful sunrises on the Camino Frances
(You can read about the hiking of Day 13 here)
Day 14: Bercianos del Real Camino (23.1km)
Romanesque foundations outside Sahagun – the halfway mark of the Camino Frances (if you started walking in St Jean Pied-de-Port in France)
(You can read about the hiking of Day 14 here)
Day 15: Mansilla de Las Mulas(26.4km)
Pilgrims from all over the world: USA, Ireland, Korea/USA and South Africa
(You can read about the hiking of Day 15 here)
Day 16: León (18.6km)
The well-known blue pedestrian bridge on the outskirts of León
(You can read about the hiking of Day 16 here)
León is the capital of the Province of León and well-known for the Gothic 13th century Catedral de León. The city hosts numerous festivals throughout the year (noteworthy is the Easter processions) and it’s therefore a popular destination for both domestic and international tourism.
A welcoming sign for Camino pilgrims
León started off as a military campsite in the year 29 AC and in the year 910 it became the capital of the Kingdom of León. It felt a bit strange to suddenly walk over a pedestrian walkway after days that we walked on dirt roads and between farm fields. As we walked into León, we recognised it as the big city that it’s today.
Pilgrims crossing a pedestrian walkway
Getting closer to the historic centre of León
Our accommodation for the night was at the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Carbajal. It was the only albergue we slept in on the Camino that had designated areas for women, men and married couples… it’s also called the ‘Nun’s hostel’, so you really shouldn’t be surprised by the sleeping arrangements.
Pilgrims’ backpacks stacked along the wall
We did not waste too much time in the albergue, because we really wanted to explore this city. It was filled with locals, tourists and pilgrims and there was a real holiday vibe, probably because it was the beginning of Easter weekend. We gathered a few pilgrim friends together and walked out to see more of León.
Gloria and Javier (Spain) joined us. Monica (Sweden) took the photo. How do you recognise a pilgrim? They’re all wearing flip-flops!
Our first stop had to be the León Cathedral. It was built from 1205 – 1301 and contains one of the most extensive and best-preserved collections of medieval stained glass in Europe. The Cathedral was closed for the afternoon due to preparations for Easter weekend and we had to be satisfied with just viewing it from the outside.
In front of the Cathedral
The front door of the Cathedral
After walking for 16 days and 401.4km later, we arrived in León. It is indeed a beautiful city, especially the old town with it’s breathtaking architecture and Roman Walls that was built in the 1st century BC.
We are indeed in León
León’s Plaza Mayor is a graceful space, surrounded by colonnade arches, multi-coloured buildings and charming balconies. Most of these buildings date from 1672 – 1677. Everywhere in the Plaza was yellow barricades and steel pavilions for the Easter processions that would take place during the weekend.
Casa Botines (designed by one of Spain’s most famous architects – Antoni Gaudi)
The man himself – a life-size figure of Guadi sitting on a bench
On our walks through the old town, we noticed a large model of a city plan of the city of León structured on the ground. And as it was spring, it was also surrounded by pretty flowers.
Another beautiful building close to Plaza Mayor
One of many colonnade arches in the Plaza Mayor
And we can’t show you a city and not talk about the food! Without a doubt, Castilla- León is best known for its roast suckling pig and lamb. But you will also never be too far away from the tradition of receiving free tapas with each drink – young and old (and pilgrims) take full advantage of this!
Food display in a shop’s window
Enjoying a drink (and free tapas) in the street
After we walked the entire afternoon around in the old town of León (in the hot sun), there was only one more thing we had to do. Yes, ice-cream was a good way of cooling down a bit!
On the way back to our albergue, we noticed a big white tent in Plaza Mayor. We had a quick look inside and saw people busy preparing religious sculptures for the processions that would take place later that evening.
That evening was the biggest processions we saw while walking the Camino Frances. As mentioned before, we are not Catholics and therefore don’t fully understand all the customs during processions … but it was quite fascinating to watch these.
Here are just a couple of photos we took while the processions moved along León’s Plaza Mayor.
Easter weekend processions
Our pilgrim friend, Carl from the USA, were standing on the other side of the road while the processions went past. And he was so kind as to forward a photo that he took of the event where Berto and I were also in the picture. That’s a great reminder that we were really there!
Here we are in the photo of the Easter weekend processions (Photo credit: Carl Lockamy)
One last photo of the Easter weekend processions
We felt really privileged to be able to watch these processions. Walking the Camino Frances during Easter, was indeed a good time.
The festivities continued until very late that evening (actually, until the early morning hours). But the nuns were waiting for us at the door of the albergue and by 22:30 all pilgrims had to be in bed.
When we left León the next day, everything was quiet. It was almost unthinkable that there was a festival the previous evening and León looked beautiful in the early morning light.
Leaving León early morning
A last look at León Cathedral
On the way out of León, we walked past another stunning building. The Convent of San Marcos (Parador) is one of the greatest architectural gems in León. It dates back to the 12th century when it was built to house pilgrims travelling along the Camino. Today however, this old monastery is a luxury hotel … and unfortunately a bit out of reach for a pilgrim’s purse.
The Convent of San Marcos
We could only look in envy at those who were lucky enough to spend the night there
León is maybe not the best-known city in Spain, but definitely worth a visit. Here you will see amazing historical architecture, narrow streets and beautiful plazas at the picturesque old town – fit for both tourists and pilgrims.
The next city on the Camino Frances is much smaller than León, but definitely worth a quick visit. Looking forward seeing you there!