Galicia is a bit reminiscent of Oregon. They both have stunning beaches, lush wooded areas, mountains, and breathtaking scenery, all in close proximity. You’ll experience most of that along the Camino de Invierno.
The Winter Way starts off in Ponferrada, which is a town that has historical ties with the Knights Templar. You can visit the Los Templarios Castle, which is the home to the Knights Templar Library.
It got its name because this route was taken in Winter to avoid the snowy peak of O Cebreiro. Pilgrims in medieval times would have to climb the 1300m high peak. It would be a dangerous a massive task to take this on during the winter, where you’ll have to contend with snow and strenuous climbs.
The route winds through the Sil Valley for 263 km through all four provinces of Galicia: Ourense, Lugo, Pontevedra, and on to A Coruña where you’ll reach Santiago.
The Camino de Invierno wasn’t recognized as a route by the Oficina de Peregrino (Pilgrim’s Office) until 2015, even though the history of the route goes back generations. The Xunta de Galicia recognized this route as an official route the following year.
The Camino de Invierno offers gorgeous natural scenery and lush landscapes. This route does miss the mountain village of O Cebreiero, which is about 1300m high. You would go through the village on the Camino Francés.
Advantages of the Camino de Invierno
Obviously, you’re walking along a route that Romans and pilgrims have taken for centuries. Stop and appreciate Las Médulas in El Bierzo (Leon), which was a Roman mining area. As a result of two centuries of mining, the Romans left behind a bright red landscape covered with chestnut trees.
If you love going on long hikes in the woods, you will love this route. If you’ve done the Camino Primativo, you’ll appreciate this route as well. There is so much natural scenery that will blow you away along the Camino Primativo.
Take the time to stop and take in God’s creation along your journey.
Good Alternative to Crowded Camino Francés
Just as the medieval pilgrims turned to the Camino Invierno out of necessity during the winter months, you can turn to the Camino de Invierno as an alternative to the crowded Camino Francés.
Disadvantages of the Camino de Invierno
Prepare for Steep Climbs and Drops
For the most part, the route isn’t that challenging. In the early stages of this route, there are a lot of ups and downs. There are also several long stages, so you do need to be physically and mentally prepared to make those climbs.
Restaurants Operate on Spanish Time
If you’re used to ‘normal operating hours’ for restaurants and cervecerias, you will notice that a lot of restaurants in the towns along this route don’t have standard hours.
They open when they open and they close when they close. That can make getting a meal at the end of the day challenge.
The waymarking has improved over the years, but it’s not as well marked as other routes.
How to Get To Camino de Invierno
Even through Ponferrada is a relatively small city of 66,000 people, it is pretty accessible by bus and train.
Ponferrada by Train
From Madrid, it’s about four hours on the train to get to Ponferrada. You’ll leave Madrid from the Chamartín station. Check Renfe for timetables and prices.
From Barcelona, it’s a longer train ride (about 7 hours), but it will get to you Ponferrada.
Ponferrada by Bus
Alsa operates bus routes from Madrid, Léon, Granada, A Coruña, Oviedo and Santiago de Compostela.
Ponferrada by Plane
Flying doesn’t make sense since the closest airport would be Léon. You could fly to Léon from Barcelona or Madrid. You would have to then take a bus or train to Ponferrada.