The Camino de Invierno: A forgotten route
The Camino de Invierno was the route that pilgrims followed during the Middle Ages during winter months, to avoid the mountain passes of Foncebadón and O Cebreiro, on the Camino Frances. Therefore, it is known as the Camino de Santiago Winter Route.
Despite its name, it is an ideal itinerary to complete at any time of the year. If you’re going to complete the Camino de Santiago during the winter months, this route will allow you to avoid the snowfall on these mountain passes, while if you complete your pilgrimage in summer it is a great option to avoid the crowds that can occur during the last stages of the Camino Frances.
Even so, this path is often forgotten by both pilgrims and the Camino de Santiago agencies. That is why, according to official statistics, last year, just 700 pilgrims used this route for their pilgrimage to Santiago.
In Santiago Ways, who are in love with the Camino, want to dedicate this article to the Camino de Invierno. For us, this route is an itinerary that hides many charms and deserves to be used, to guarantee its conservation.
So, if you have come here from another of our articles or just browsing the Internet, it’s clear that you are looking for a less classic route to Santiago and we are happy that you are. In this publication, we will tell you what the stages on the Camino de Invierno are like and everything that you will find on this magnificent journey.
Camino de Invierno: route and stages
The Camino de Invierno starts in Ponferrada and crosses the Bierzo region through the River Sil Valley. Pilgrims who come completing the Camino Frances and want to finish their pilgrimage along the Camino de Invierno will have to deviate on stage 25 to follow this route.
This itinerary of the Camino de Santiago has a distance of 263 kilometres. Which can be completed in 10 stages. On its last two stages, the Camino de Invierno joins the Camino Sanabrés, one of the northern variants of the Via de la Plata.
Both routes are characterized by their low influx of pilgrims. Therefore, sharing the last two stages is not an inconvenience for those pilgrims who seek solitude and tranquillity.
One of the peculiarities of the Camino de Invierno is that it is the only route to Santiago that runs through all four Galician provinces. First, you enter Ourense, continue through Lugo and join the Camino Sanabrés in Pontevedra. Finally, both routes reach A Coruña, where the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is located. Here we talk about each of its stages.
First stage: from Ponferrada to Las Médulas
The first stage of the Camino de Invierno runs through El Bierzo, between Ponferrada and Las Médulas. The distance between the two points is 27.2 kilometres and the route is characterized by the extreme beauty of its landscape.
At this stage you will advance through fields surrounded by vineyards and paths bordered by chestnut trees. You will also have the opportunity to cross small villages, where you can appreciate traditional Galician architecture.
The biggest challenge of the day is the ascent to Villavieja. A stretch that is made over stony terrain and where you face a slope of 200 metres in less than 3 kilometres.
From Las Médulas to El Barco de Valdeorras
On the second stage, the Camino de Invierno enters Galicia, in Ourense. The stage runs largely next to one of the tributary channels of the River Sil, the Cabrera. This stage is also characterized by the presence of vineyards.
The route has a distance of 26.4 km and its difficulty is similar to that of the previous stage. At this stage, the pilgrims encounter the Rubiá variant, a route that extends the route by 10 kilometres but crosses beautiful forests full of galleries.
Stage 3: Route to A Rúa de Valdeorras
This is one of the easiest stages on the Camino de Invierno. Apart from having a few slopes, the tour is of short distance.
Only 14.2 kilometres separate El Barco de Valdeorras from A Rúa de Valdeorras. The reason for such a short stage is that between A Rúa de Valdeorras and the next place with services there is a long distance, so it is advisable to finish the stage at this point.
On this journey along the Camino de Invierno, you will continue to advance in the company of the River Sil. Surrounded by riverside vegetation, you will enjoy a pleasant stage.
The fourth stage of the Camino de Invierno
The fourth stage runs between A Rúa de Valdeorras and Quiroga. In total it is 26.3 km long. Again, the stage does not present great difficulties, except for the scarcity of services.
Today’s route is not completed beside the river, but it is enjoyed during almost the entire stage with beautiful views of it. This stage is also dominated by the presence of vineyards, in fact, Quiroga wines are internationally recognized and have the guarantee of origin from Ribeira Sacra.
One of the most difficult stages on the Camino de Invierno
The fifth stage joins Quiroga with Monforte de Lemos. The distance between one point and the other is 35.4 km, which is a considerable increase in distance when compared to previous stages.
In addition to the distance, at this stage, we encounter some of the biggest slopes on the Camino de Invierno. All this makes this stage considered as being the most difficult of the Camino de Invierno.
On this part of the Camino de Invierno, it separates from the River Sil. Instead, other Galician rivers such as the Lor, Saa and Cabe all appear.
From Monforte de Lemos to Chantada
The sixth stage is 29.7 kilometres long and runs mostly on asphalt. At this stage, you will also find a few services but you will enjoy the beautiful landscape of Codos de Belesar.
Stage 7 of the Camino de Invierno
Stage 7 joins Chantada with Rodeiro, a 25.8-kilometre route. Today you reach the highest point of the Camino de Invierno, at an altitude of 1,153 metres, which will allow you to enjoy excellent panoramic views.
The biggest challenge of the day is the ascent to Mount Faro, but the unevenness becomes quite bearable. At that point, the Camino de Invierno leaves the province of Lugo and enters Pontevedra.
The last stage before joining the Camino Sanabrés
This is the last stage that pilgrims who have been doing the Camino de Invierno will do alone. The eighth stage ends in A Laxe, where the Camino Sanabrés and the Camino de Invierno meet up.
The route of this stage is 27.2 kilometres and runs through a beautiful rural environment. Company for today is provided, on this occasion, by the River Arnego, a tributary of the Ulla.
Stage 9: The Camino de Invierno and the Camino Sanabrés
The ninth day on the Camino de Invierno runs between A Laxe and Ponte de Ulla. A total of 28.7 km. Although there are pilgrims who continue to Outerio, facing 34.1 kilometres in total.
The beginning of the route, up to Silleda, is made along asphalt tracks and does not face any big slopes. Then we go along paths flanked by eucalyptus and pine trees, dotted with charming villages. During the second part of the stage, some slopes appear, but all of moderate character.
Last stage of the Camino de Invierno
The tenth and final stage of the Camino de Invierno has a distance of 20.9 km to Santiago de Compostela. The tour is a pleasant walk through a wooded setting and passes next to Pico Sacro, the place where the legend of Queen Lupa and the oxen took place.
What to see and visit
Throughout the 10 stages on the Camino de Invierno, you will have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful landscapes. The rural and livestock areas, surrounded by green meadows and oak forests are a gift for your senses.
In addition to its beautiful landscapes, the Camino de Invierno has places of great heritage value. Here are some of them:
- Ponferrada: The Camino de Invierno starts from this city, we advise you to take your time to visit its famous Castillo de los Templarios.
- Los cañones del Sil: a tour dotted with viewpoints with stunning views over the Ribeira Sacra.
- Las Médulas: the largest open-air gold mine that was exploited during the Roman Empire, now declared a World Heritage Site.
- Monasterio de San Vicente O Pino: a beautiful monastic site located in Monforte de Lemos, in Lugo.
- El Monasterio de Oseira: known in Galicia as the Galician Escorial. An imposing 12th-century temple.
- Important historic towns: O Barco de Valdeorras, Chantada, Rodeiro, Lalín, Silleda and Ponte Ulla.
- Santiago de Compostela: as with all the routes of the Camino de Santiago, the tour ends in Compostela, where we recommend you take a few days of rest to enjoy the city. You can check our guide to Santiago to see what to see and do in the city of Compostela.
What to eat on the Camino de Invierno
Like other Jacobean routes, the Camino de Invierno also has its typical regional dishes. Be sure to try the traditional cuisine! Here, we suggest some dishes that you can enjoy on this route:
- Smoked meats
- Dishes made with chestnuts
- Botillo berciano (Stuffed pork intestines)
- Red wines from El Bierzo
- Empanadas de costrelas (Pastry filled with pork rib) in the Valdeorras region and chorizo and bacon in Rodeiro
Apart from the previous dishes, on your tour of Galicia you can enjoy tapas culture. We advise you to consult our monograph on tapas routes in the Galician community so you can enjoy them to the fullest.
Do you feel like doing the Camino de Invierno?
Now you know, if you are looking for an alternative route, characterized by the low influx of pilgrims, the Camino de Invierno is your route. Do not think about it anymore and encourage yourself to make a pilgrimage to Compostela following the route taken during the winter by medieval pilgrims.
If you have already completed any stage of this route, we would appreciate it if you could share your experience with all the pilgrims who read on our site. On the contrary, if you have not yet lived the experience, don’t hesitate anymore. Come to the Camino de Invierno!
Remember that at Santiago Ways we are happy to help you. Whether you have questions about this route, or if you would like to have an agency specialized in the Camino de Santiago that will help you organize your pilgrimage, contact us. You can write on our Facebook page or use the form on our website.