This article was posted by Sylvia Nilsen in the Pilgrim Camino Discussion group on Facebook. I consider Sylvia somewhat of an authority on all things Camino.
Detours from the Camino Frances
When planning to walk the Camino Frances, allow a few extra days for detours from the Camino path. There are many interesting, historical places just a few kilometers off the actual path that are not on the modern Camino but which probably were a part of alternate trails in the Middle Ages. Some will add a few kilometers to your walk, others you can reach by bus or take a tour.
If you start in Roncesvalles, try to get there early enough to take a 3 km walk up to the 1 300 m Ibaneta Pass and look into France from the top. The famous monastery and Hospice of San Salvador once stood here. There is a modern chapel here dedicated to Charlemagne and a monument to Roland. This is where the Route Napoleon and the Val Carlos Route join.
Many pilgrims start at Roncesvalles (or stagger in late from St Jean Pied de Port!), but because they arrive on the evening bus, they don’t have time to explore this historic monastery complex. Try to get there the day before, or take a taxi from Pamplona (share the fare with other pilgrims) so that you have time to visit the cloisters and the museum with its extraordinary reliquaries and other artifacts. Scan the church walls for mason signs; visit the old walls of the original hospice opposite the church and the monastery ossury that is said to hold the remains of Charlemagne’s soldiers.
From Muruzabel, about 3 km off the Camino path, is the octagonal church of Santa María de Eunate. Built around 1170 it has been associated with the Knights Templar and excavations close by having revealed numbers of graves with scallop shells suggesting that it could have been a funerary church. The walls have many mason signs that you will see all along the Camino.
18 km south-west of Logroño is the ruined castle of Clavijo, the site of the legend that Sant Iago appeared out of the clouds on a white horse to help the Christian soldiers against moor invasions. The battle did not actually take place and some historians say that the story of Santiago Matamoros was started even before the claim that his body was discovered near Compostela.
You can take a taxi there or walk there and back in two days.
San Millán de la Cogalla :
14 km south-west of Azofra is the magnificent monasteries of Suso and Yuso, the first built between the 5th and 6th centuries and the Yuso around the 16th century.
Book a guided tour to the fascinating archaeological site which lies within a military zone about 40 km from the village. Atapuerca is one of Europe’s most important archaeological sites.
It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001.
(No private visits allowed.) email@example.com Santo Domingo de Silos :
Take a bus from Burgos to the monastery where the Gregorian chants were made famous a few years ago. (The trip itself is an experience, along narrow winding roads, through stunning, rock-face scenery.) The cloisters are unique and the pharmacy museum is worth a visit. Plan on spending at least two nights. The bus leaves Burgos at 17h30 and returns at 08h30 the next day – not leaving enough time to see the village, hear the chanting and visit the museum. www.hotelsantodomingodesilos.com
Castrojeriz Climb the hill and visit the ruins of the castle Mirador with spectacular views of the valley below. Visit the Convent of Santa Clara about 2 km south of the village – a closed order – where you can buy biscuits and other baked goodies bypassing your money through a revolving serving hatch.
About 60 km from Astorga and 20 km from Ponferrada, the fantastical landscape of the Medulas used to be the most important gold mining area in the Roman Empire. Las Médulas landscape is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Vega de Valcarce :
You will see the Castle Sarracin squatting on the high hill to your left on the way to O Cebreiro. Originally built in the 9th century, it was owned by the lords of Sarracin who also owned 35 small towns in the area. This 14th century was one of eight castles owned by the Marques de Villafranca. A round trip of about 45 minutes will reward you with extensive views and an impressive ruin that has sheer cliffs on three sides.
A 6 km detour to the recently restored, spectacular Monasterio de San Salvador at Vilar das Donas.
Finisterre and Muxia: About 90 km west of Santiago is the small fishing village of Fistera or Finisterre, known as The End of The World in medieval times. The bus takes about 2.5 hours or you can walk there in three to four days and earn the Fisterrana certificate.
25 km north of Fistera and the final destination of Santiago pilgrims, legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to an evangelic apostle. The Celtic stones near the church are said to be remains of the Virgin Mary’s stone boat.
South-west of Santiago visit the church of Santiago which contains the ‘Pedron’ stone under the altar. This is the stone where Saint James’ disciples tied their boat when they came ashore with his body which they had brought from the Holy Land.