In Spain, the date of July 25 commemorates a religious holiday, the feast of the Apostle Saint James. But it also marks an excursion that's called El Camino de St. James, which culminates in the country's stunning Galicia region and is becoming increasingly popular with adventure travelers.
For about 1,000 years, priests and other spiritual seekers have made the pilgrimage from all over the world through various routes, or caminos, to St. James's tomb, a holy site in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia's capital city of Santiago.
But nowadays, more travelers looking for a truly authentic experience have been making the journey. Daily stages usually include 20 to 30 miles a day on foot, though you can also bike or horseback.
There are several different paths to take to get there – some start in Spain, others in Portugal, France and other parts of Europe – and many travelers stay at hostel-style accommodations, called refugios, along the way. Whatever route you take, you're guaranteed stunning vistas and a challenging trek through the foothills of the Pyrenees (the route that starts in Portugal is said to be the most difficult).
For those who complete the last 100 kilometers on foot, there's also a special ceremony at the cathedral. Travelers receive an official letter of completion and their name called out at a noon mass that's welcoming to all religious backgrounds.
In other words, the Camino is not unlike the Appalachian Trail – but with a much stronger air of spirituality. This year, the pilgrimage is even more revered, because July 25 falls on a Sunday – which only happens every 5, 6, or 10 years.
The ensuing celebration is called Xacobeo, or the Jubilee Year of the Compostela, and it involves a year's worth of special events, festivals, and concerts in Santiago and throughout Galicia. Not surprisingly, Jubilee years tend to draw significantly higher numbers of travelers (double the approximate 100,000 during other years), especially around July 25. So if you prefer lesser crowds, a fall visit would be ideal, with fewer people and cooler temperatures.
In addition, if you're a college student, are studying journalism, Spanish, or any other curriculum that involves Spanish or Galician history and can put together a video, check out the film contest offered by the Galician government. The grand prize is a seven-day trip to the region, including airfare and room and board.
For general travel information about the Xacobeo and the Camino, visit www.xacobeoamerica.com.
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