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Camino Secrets – Part 2

My second tour in this series begins with a leisurely start at our holiday rental property, Campo Verde. Sympathetically restored in 2007/08, this traditional Galician farmhouse maintains many original features whilst incorporating all the luxuries of modern living: the perfect place to start a new day; but don’t take my word for it, here’s just one of many guestbook comments.

“The owners have produced an immaculate holiday home as a result of high quality building, superb finishes and an incredibly knowledgeable attention to detail. Their own descriptions of the property are understated. This is five star and sets the standard.”
Malcolm and June – Mojacar, Spain

Today’s Camino Secrets are situated along the Camino Francés or French Route: arguably the most popular of all the camino routes.

Leaving the village of Vilatan we follow the signs for Monforte de Lemos. From here we take the road heading towards the provincial capital Lugo. After 33km we enter the town of Sarria: a bustling, modern town. For walkers on a tight time schedule, Sarria is one of the most popular starting points on the entire camino.

To obtain a Compostela certificate, certifying that you have completed an official pilgrimage, walkers and those travelling on horseback, need to complete a minimum distance of 100km. At exactly 112km from Santiago, Sarria is ideally situated; but pilgrims starting from here will inevitably miss out on one of the most beautiful villages along the Camino Francés, Samos.

The village of Samos is less than 12km east of Sarria. Its focal point, the restored Monastery of San Xulian, rests comfortably on the banks of the Rio Sarria and is one of Galicia’s must-see places. A guided tour takes about an hour and admission is a paltry 3 euros. Tours start at 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday and fiesta days.

The monastery was founded in the 6th century and belongs to the Benedictine Order. Its heyday came during the Middle Ages but a devastating fire in 1558 led to its decline. After the fire the monastery was completely rebuilt but failed to regain its regional importance. In 1951 another fire destroyed the cloisters, this time caused by careless monks distilling the locally produced spirit, aguadiente. Once again the monastery was rebuilt.

The current church is in the Baroque style, built between 1734 and 1748. The interior is incredibly light and airy for a church of this style: due in part to eight windows in the central dome which radiate daylight into the darkest corners.

The monastery itself has two cloisters. The small cloister was built between 1539 and 1582 by Pedro Rodriguez a native of the town of Monforte de Lemos.
The Great cloister was built between 1685 and 1689 and is the largest in Spain at over 3000m² with each of its sides measuring over 54m in length.

It’s known as ‘The Father Feijoo’ after its designer: a statue of whom forms the centre-piece of the beautifully manicured gardens. The interior walls on the first floor of the cloisters are stunning: decorated with murals depicting the life of San Bieito. The paintings are the work of three artists; Enrique Navara, Celia Cortes, and Carlos Rodriguez. The artistry of these murals cannot be overstated.

Today the monastery is a college of Theology and Philosophy for monks of the Benedictine order. Any trip to Galicia would not be complete without visiting this amazing building. For more photos of this stunning monastery visit the Samos gallery.

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The conclusion of our guided tour coincided with lunchtime. There are a number of restaurants along the roadside heading back towards Sarria and many more in the town; but we decided to stay in the village. At the back of the monastery is Hostal Vitoria, (c/Salvador 4, 27260, Samos, Lugo +34 982 546 022). The restaurant serves a reasonably priced menu del día based on traditional Galician recipes.

After a delicious lunch we headed back to Sarria and on to our final destination of the day, Portomarin a mere 90km from Santiago.

It’s difficult to believe that the present Portomarin is just over 50 years old. The original town was submerged after the completion of the river Miño dam at Belesar. The plans for the dam began in 1956 and by 1962 the village had been moved, stone-by-stone, to it present location.

Centrepiece of the new town is the Iglesia de San Juan (Church of Saint John) also known as San Nicolas. It’s a temple-fortress built by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem in the 13th century in a Romanesque style with design features of both a church and a castle.

Cafes and bars line the street to the main square and although the tapas here aren’t free, it’s worth taking a break in the picturesque main square. Relax in the afternoon sunshine and watch pilgrims as they wander through the town.

As the afternoon sun descends in the west, it’s time to head back to Campo Verde. By the time we arrive back we’ll have taken a round trip of 135km and we’ll be home in plenty of time to watch the sun setting over Monte Faro while enjoying a refreshing glass of locally produced Albariño. Until next time, cheers!

Craig Briggs 2013

To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our Getaway Galicia website

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