From the French Basque Country to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, via Pamplona in Navarra and Burgos and León in Castile, and returning via Altamira and Bilbao in the Spanish Basque Country.
Evening departure for Brussels with SN Brussels Airlines. Dinner and a light breakfast will be served on board.
Arrival in Brussels, and connecting flight to Toulouse. Arrival around noon, and immediate transfer to the nearby town of Albi. Check into the first-class/4-star Hotel Mercure, a converted water mill overlooking the scenic Tarn River and the picturesque old town and its magnificent Cathedral. Free time to settle in and get some rest after your overnight flight. Dinner in the restaurant of our hotel.
Morning walking tour of Albi’s old town, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the Middle Ages, Albi served as headquarters of the mysterious heretic movements known as the Cathars or “Albigensians”, with focus on the magnificent and fascinating, fortress-like red brick Cathedral. Also visit to the neighbouring museum devoted to the life and work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born here. Dinner in a typical restaurant.
Departure from Albi after breakfast. We motor to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, the picturesque village at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains where three roads to Compostela converged. After our lunch break, we follow the footsteps of the pilgrims to the top (at a modest altitude of 1057m) of the mountain pass of Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles), where Charlemagne’s legendary paladin, the brave knight Roland, died heroically in a battle against the Saracens. Visit to the monastery church, burial place of the monarchs of Navarra, a medieval kingdom that is now a province of Spain. On to Navarra’s capital, Pamplona, home of the world-famous annual "running of the bulls" described by Hemingway, for overnight in the centrally-located first-class Hotel Tres Reyes. Dinner in the hotel or in a nearby restaurant.
A full day of leisurely sightseeing in the Pamplona area, with visits to the Monastery of Leyre, the greatest spiritual centre of Navarra, featuring impressive early Romanesque architecture; the mysterious little pilgrims' church of Eunate, a fine example of Spanish Romanesque architecture; and the old town of Puente de la Reina, where we will be greeted by the statue of a Jacquet (Compostela pilgrim) in traditional costume, at the historical crossroads where the fourth and final pilgrims' route from France joined the others to form one single road, the Camino Frances; it is this road, classified in its entirety as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that we will follow from here all the way to distant Compostela! Also symbolic walk (about 1 km) through this quaint town and across the medieval bridge, used by thousands of pilgrims in the past, which gave its name to the town. Return to Pamplona in time for dinner in the hotel or in a nearby restaurant.
Full-day excursion to nearby San Sebastian, the most beautiful city and resort of the Spanish Basque Country. Highlights will include the superb Concha Beach, comparable to Rio’s Copacabana; Monte Igueldo Hill, featuring grandiose panoramic views of the city and the Bay of Biscay; the pretty old town; and the Peine del Viento (“Comb of the Wind”), a quixotic open-air masterpiece of the world-famous Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Also free time to shop and enjoy tapas or a gourmet lunch in this city, Spain’s gastronomic Mecca! Return to Pamplona and dinner in the hotel.
Departure from Pamplona after breakfast. We descend from the foothills of the Pyrenees into the Ebro River Valley, the world-famous Rioja wine region, whose “cultural landscape” was recently placed on the tentative UNESCO list. Stop in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a small but very interesting town where it is de rigueur to visit the cathedral, associated with the fascinating "miracle of the cock and hen"! Then we enter Old Castile, the heartland of Spain. In Burgos we visit the magnificent cathedral with the tomb of El Cid, classified as a UNESCO site, and in late afternoon we reach León, a proud ancient city, founded by Roman legionnaires and full of mementoes of a glorious past. Dinner and overnight in the first-class Hotel Conde Luna.
Morning visit to León's Gothic cathedral with its superb stained-glass windows, reminiscent of those of Chartres, and to the Romanesque San Isidoro Basilica, whose amazing crypt, featuring the finest frescoes in Spain, is known as the “Sistine Chapel” of Romanesque painting! We will also view the Roman city walls and Casa Botines, one of the rare edifices by Gaudi to be found outside of Barcelona. The afternoon is free to enjoy this great city on your own. Group dinner in a typical restaurant.
Morning sightseeing tour of Santiago, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight will of course be the Cathedral, located on majestic Obradoiro Square; this sanctuary, a shell of Romanesque architecture overgrown with barnacles of exuberant Baroque decorations, features the Tomb of St. James as well as the sublime sculptures of Master Mateo’s Portico de la Gloria, the Holy Gate, and other treasures. And it will hopefully be possible to witness the swinging of the great censer known as "Botafumeiro". The afternoon is free to explore Compostela on your own. Dinner in the restaurant of our hotel.
Today we take a sidetrip along the rugged Galician coast with its many fjord-like inlets. Our destination is Cabo Fisterra, the cape of "the end of the earth," long considered to be continental Europe's westernmost point. Pilgrims already flocked to a pagan shrine on this site hundreds of years before Christianity appeared on the scene, and it is here that medieval pilgrims searched for the sea scallop (Pecten Jacobaeus) whose shell became emblematic for the cult of St. James - the coquille St. Jacques! A simple but delicious lunch of Galician seafood will be served in a typical restaurant. Return to Compostela in late afternoon and rest of the day at leisure.
This morning we leave Galicia and cross into the neighbouring province of Asturias. We first follow the scenic road along the rugged “Costa Verde”, Spain’s window on the Bay of Biscay, then enter the rugged mountain range known as the Picos de Europa. Visit to Covadonga, site of the first Christian victory against the Arabs (in 722), starting point of the Reconquista, and cradle of the Spanish Monarchy. In the afternoon we continue through the green Asturian hills and along the shores of the Bay of Biscay to Santillana del Mar, a showcase of Spanish Medieval and Renaissance architecture, often described as the prettiest village in Spain. Dinner and overnight in the local Parador, a converted noble mansion of the 17th century!
Morning visit to the museum of the Altamira Cave, another “Sistine Chapel” and UNESCO site, this one of prehistoric art; the cave itself is unfortunately not open to visitors, but the museum features a superb facsimile of the cave paintings. Afterwards we explore the nearby seaport and cosmopolitan resort of Santander, featuring superb beaches, lush gardens, and attractive city centre where there will be some free time for shopping and individual exploring. Return to Santillana in late afternoon and rest of the day at leisure. No group dinner.
Departure from Santillana after breakfast. Via a fine motorway we cross the Basque Country, in Spain as well as in France, then follow the Garonne River Valley to the medieval village of St. Bertrand de Comminges, officially ranked as one of “Most Beautiful Villages of France”; a magnificent former Cathedral bears witness to the importance of this place in the past, when it was a famous station on one of the four “ways to St. James” in France, namely the Via Tolosana. after the city of Toulouse, where we will stay for a final group dinner and overnight in the first-class Hotel Radisson Blu.
After breakfast, transfer to Toulouse Airport and return flight to Canada, via Brussels.
Return flight with SN Brussels from Toronto to Toulouse; Airport taxes, security fees, and fuel surcharges; Accommodation in 4- and 5-star hotels as shown in the above itinerary and based on double occupancy – the single room supplement is $875; Breakfast (mostly buffet-style) and dinner (or sometimes full lunch) daily, except on day 15; Overland transportation by private coach; All transfers, sightseeing, and excursions as described in the itinerary; Porterage of one suitcase per person at all hotels when available. Gratuity for the coach driver.
All items of a personal nature; Wine, beer, mineral water and similar beverages with dinners; Travel Insurance is available on request.
Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom.
Michael Jacobs, The Road to Santiago de Compostela.
William Melczer, The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela.
Jane V. Blanchard, Women of the Way: Embracing the Camino
Cees Nooteboom, Roads to Santiago: Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain.