Frequently Asked Questions
Travel abroad can be complicated, and the uninitiated tend to get nervous just thinking about it. Allow us then, to help you get to the bottom of things by answering as many of the more common questions as we can.
Is there only one Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago is a generic description of the numerous routes which lead to Santiago de Compostela. There are many other routes to Santiago de Compostela, from England, France, Germany, Scandinavia, the list goes on ….. but the Camino Francés or the French Route, has become by far the most popular route to Santiago de Compostela.
Where is the official starting point?
Most commonly people start the Camino Francés in St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees or Roncesvalles in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Others start the route in Le Puy-en-Velay in France (part of the GR65, or Grande Randonée from Geneva to Roncesvalles).
From Toulouse following the Via Tolosana (the Arles Route) joining the Camino Aragonés through the Aragón region of Spain.
The Camino del Norte (Camino de la Costa) which follows the Cantabrian and Asturian coastlines towards Galicia is the second most popular route and starts in Irún, near San Sebastián in the Basque region of Spain.
The route from Canterbury in England to Rome is known as the Via Francigena and is another one of the principal Christian pilgrimage routes, crossing the English Channel into France, through Switzerland then Italy.
What´s the significance of the scallop shell?
Like many things related to the Camino, myth and legend surround the significance of the scallop shell. Medieval pilgrims to Santiago would, if they survived the journey, have returned home (on foot!) with a scallop shell which are typically found on the coastline of Galicia. Some say this was a medieval souvenir and also proof that the pilgrim had completed their journey – pilgrims returning from Jerusalem brought a palm branch and those from Rome the crossed keys of St Peter. Others say it was a practical method of drinking water from streams whilst on the return trip home. The legend of the scallop shell refers to one of the miracles of St James, where a knight fell into the sea on his horse and was raised from his watery grave to emerge covered in shells.
Whatever the origins of the symbol of the scallop shell, you will see it all along the Camino and many people wear a scallop shell on their backpack to show they are a pilgrim. We will provide you with your very own scallop shell when you start your journey!
Is it a religious pilgrimage?
Of course, the origins of the Camino are Christian and many people still walk the Camino as a religious pilgrimage. However, the majority of people are walking for a variety of reasons, spiritual or otherwise. The Camino is a very tolerant environment and you will find most people interested in and respectful of the motivations of others.
I´m travelling alone – will I meet other people?
The Camino de Santiago is a very friendly place to be! You will meet people from all over the world and friendships are often made on the trail. Because we are travelling as a group you will of course get to know your travelling companions over dinner and drinks!
I don´t speak Spanish/Italian/French – will this be a problem?
Not at all. The language of the Camino, especially in Spain, is English. We will be there to help you out if you need it. Of course it´s useful to have mastered a few phrases and the locals will appreciate it too! If you are already learning the language it´s a great opportunity to practise your skills. If you would like to organise a trip with a language learning focus, let us know!
There are lots of language learning websites – the BBC is a good option for Spanish, Italian and French. Go to www.bbc.co.uk/languages and choose the language.
Also, if you use an mp3 player, try downloading some language learning podcasts – www.freelanguage.org has listings for lots of podcasts to try out.
What should I pack for my trip?
Our advice is don´t bring too much! You can buy lots of things when you get here. Also, the less you bring from home, the more room you will have to fill your suitcase full of souvenirs from the Camino!
- It´s best to bring clothes made from quick-drying fabrics, rather than cotton.
- Waterproof jacket.
- Quick-dry short-sleeved tops.
- Quick-dry long-sleeved tops.
- Fleece pullover or jacket.
- Quick-dry walking pants – the ones that zip off to make shorts are a good option.
- Walking socks – make sure that you have tested them out with your footwear!
- Hat – with good sun protection for your face and neck.
- A pair of gloves – for chilly early mornings.
- A pair of walking boots or shoes – the most important decision you will make when packing so make sure it´s the right one!
- A pair of shoes to wear at the end of the day.
- Something casual to wear in the evenings.
- Daypack for daily use – around 20 litres should be more than enough and make sure you test-run it before your trip.
We recommend a hydration system such as Camelbak or similar. We find these most convenient to ensure you keep hydrated. But, if you prefer, a water bottle is fine.
Earplugs – just in case of local fiestas which tend to go on all night…
Basic First Aid essentials including blister protection such as Compeed – you can buy more on the trail but it´s good to bring some just in case.
Sunscreen – you can always pick up more if you need it.
- Pair of waterproof pants – unless the weather is very cold, it´s usually best to walk in shorts when it´s raining as your skin is the best waterproof device! However, if you can´t stand wet legs, it might be worth bringing some.
What should I leave at home?
It´s best not to bring valuables. We will be moving around a lot and it´s very easy to forget things when you are packing your suitcase every day to move on to our next destination.
Can I bring my walking poles?
If you would like to bring your walking poles check with your airline about whether you need to check them in or carry them on. If you need replacement poles or decide you would like to use walking poles once you are on the trail, you can easily pick some up.
Do I need to buy a guide book or maps?
On most trips we will provide you with a guide book for the trail you are walking and will also provide you with copies of the daily maps we will be using. We will let you know before your trip which book we will be using.
Are walking boots essential?
This is really a personal decision. You will be spending a lot of time on your feet, so the most important thing to consider is comfort. You don´t need rigid mountaineering boots, but if you like to have some ankle support, lightweight waterproof boots are a good option. Otherwise, a good quality waterproof walking shoe with a good grip is fine. In fine weather you can walk most of the trails in running shoes and even walking sandals such as Tevas.
Make sure you do plenty of walking in the boots/shoes you plan to bring in order to check they are suitable!
A good idea is to bring some spare footwear for exploring towns in the evenings, which can also substitute for your normal daily walking shoes if you get wet or get blisters and need to change your footwear. A big advantage of having a support vehicle is that you can leave your spare shoes in there and change if you need to as the day goes on.
What type of training do you recommend?
It´s a good idea to get your legs and feet used to walking several miles at a time. Try to walk 5-10 miles a couple of times before your trip – including some uphill and downhill and carrying your backpack! The longest distance we cover is around 18 miles, but remember we have all day to walk and there are lots of places to stop and rest and refuel! Our experience is that you will quickly develop stamina and become accustomed to walking every day. If you do some walking prior to your trip you will definitely be more prepared and enjoy the experience more.
I´m a very fast/slow walker – will that be a problem?
We encourage everyone to walk at their own pace – it´s not a race and we want you to enjoy yourself! On days where we drive to our accommodation at the end of the walk faster walkers may have to sit and relax with a glass of something cold while we regroup! Wherever possible we plan our days so that everyone can walk in their own way.
Is it possible to get lost?
It´s always possible to get lost! However, on the Camino de Santiago routes in Spain it is very difficult to lose your way. The routes are very well-marked and a local or another pilgrim will soon let you know if you get off the trail. On routes which are less well-marked we will make sure you are on the right trail. One of us will be walking with you and ensuring we all get to our destination! You will have a map every day which we will mark with “checkpoints” where you will see the support vehicle, places to get food and drink, points of interest, information about accommodation etc.
What are “checkpoints”?
Each day we will tell you where and when you will see the support vehicle throughout the day. This is so that we can fill up your water bottles, offer you a snack and check you are OK!
Does everybody get blisters?
No! Blisters are a hazard of walking long distances but are usually a result of not looking after your feet. If you have well-fitting footwear and socks and make sure you stop and deal with developing “hotspots” on your feet, you shouldn´t have a problem.
How do I get to the starting point for the trip?
In each Tour Description we have provided travel information. Go to the Tour Description you are interested in and you will see lots of information and relevant links.
Is it best to travel by plane, bus or train?
By air… For long distances, flying is a good option. Check the Aena website www.aena.es for destinations within Spain and the Italian Airport Guide for Italy www.italianairportguide.com. For France check www.aeroport.fr.
By bus… For long bus journeys within Spain, book a “Supra” bus – these are very comfortable. You can check routes and prices and book tickets online through the National bus company, Alsa www.alsa.es.
By train… Trains generally take longer than buses, except for the high speed trains such as the “AVE” in Spain which has very high speed links from Madrid to some major Spanish cities. Check the Renfe website for more details.
For France the TGV has high speed links across Europe www.tgv.com.
For links from the UK to France check Eurostar www.eurostar.com.
For Italy check the European TVG network www.tgv-europe.it.
Should I buy tickets for transport before I leave home?
If you are travelling at a busy time of year, it´s a good idea to book in advance using the websites we have provided. The “Man in Seat Sixty-One” is a useful link explaining how to buy train tickets on-line www.seat61.com.
Are ATMs/Cash Machines easy to find?
Yes, in most small towns and all cities you will find banks with ATM machines. We will let you know about where the next available ATM will be if necessary. Make sure your card is authorised to use whilst abroad.
What about using credit cards?
Lots of bars and restaurants on the trails don´t accept credit cards. However, you can use credit cards in most large stores and shops. Again, make sure you check with your bank that your card is ready to use abroad.
Should I bring Euros with me, or just use my ATM card/debit/credit card?
It´s a good idea to have some Euros with you – best to have notes of 50€ or 20€. There are notes of 500€, 200€, 100€, 50€, 20€, 10€ and 5€.
500€, 200€ and 100€ are not the best for small purchases.
What about tipping – how does it work in Europe?
It´s not obligatory to tip in Europe. If you are happy with your service you can tip 10%. It´s not normal to tip for drinks, coffees or taxis, but it´s obviously appreciated.
Can you give me some examples of typical prices for everyday things?
Prices vary a little across Spain, but in general…
- Set 3-course lunch menu – 10.00-15.00€
- Cheese and ham baguette – 4.00-6.00€
- A glass of wine – 1.50-2.00€
- A coffee – 1.00 -1.50€
- A glass of draught beer – 1.30-1.80€
- A soft drink – 1.50-2.50€
- A small bottle of water – 1.00 -1.50€
For Italy and France, add around 20% to these prices.
What time do we normally have breakfast and what does that consist of?
Usually between 8.00am and 8.30am. A normal breakfast in Spain, France and Italy is very light and consists of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, orange juice and toast or croissants. In some accommodation breakfast is more substantial. Where breakfast is on the light side we make sure we augment it to prepare you for your day of walking!
What about lunch?
Lunch in Spain is eaten between 2.00pm and 4.00pm. In Italy and in France at around 1pm.
When lunch is provided by us (check tour details for how many lunches are included in each trip) we will prepare lunch to eat at a picnic spot on the trail. If the weather is bad, don´t worry, we will find a restaurant to eat our lunch out of the rain!
On days where we don´t provide lunch, you can stop in one of the many bars and restaurants along the way or pick up provisions to make your own picnic. We will let you know about places to eat.
Again, dinner is usually late – it is difficult to get dinner before 8.30pm, especially in Spain and Italy. However, this gives you time to have a shower, relax and recuperate, explore the area and have a glass of wine!
Can I buy energy bars or should I bring them?
You can buy granola or cereal bars easily, but if you like a particular brand of energy bar, you can bring some with you. We will provide you with snacks and fruit from our support vehicle.
Is the water safe to drink?
Tap water is absolutely fine to drink. There are public water fountains along the trails, but we don´t recommend drinking from them as we can´t guarantee the cleanliness of the water. We will provide you with bottled water while you are walking.
I´m vegetarian/vegan – will I be able to eat anything?!
Yes! Although you will find that in Spain and France, vegetarian food is not the norm and options are more limited than you may be used to. In Italy you will find many more options. However, we will ensure that we cater for you when we prepare our picnic lunches and will arrange for a vegetarian/vegan option for dinner. Let us know on your booking form about special dietary needs.
I have food intolerances/allergies – will you be able to cater for my needs?
Let us know about your specific intolerance/allergy and we will plan ahead to make sure we can meet your needs. Make sure you bring any allergy medication you might need.
What will be weather be like?
That´s the million dollar question! On each tour itinerary we have provided average temperatures and rainfall in each area. You can also check out www.eltiempo.es or www.eurometeo.com/english/home for European weather information before you leave home, to help you plan what to pack.
Do we still walk if the weather is really bad?
Whatever the weather, there will always be pilgrims walking the Camino – it´s actually nice to experience the Camino in rain and shine! Don´t forget you have the luxury of not carrying a wet backpack with all your luggage and a comfortable bed and hot shower at the end of the day! However, if you are a fair-weather walker, you can always choose to ride in our support vehicle.
Will I have access to the internet?
In most small towns and all big cities you will find internet cafes. In some hotels you will also have access to a computer. We will let you know about internet access in each place we stay.
What about WIFI access in hotels?
Wifi is sometimes available but not guaranteed. As we are often travelling in rural areas you will find that many villages do not have internet networks.
So, should I leave my laptop at home?
We would recommend that you do! If you absolutely can´t be without it, please ensure you have adequate insurance for damage or loss.
Do I need to bring my cell phone?
If your cell phone can be used in Europe it´s a good idea to have it with you in case of emergencies. We carry phones at all times so it´s a good way to keep in contact on the trail. Make sure you bring your charger and a travel adaptor. If you don´t have a phone or don´t want to bring one, no problem!
Can my family and friends contact me while I´m away?
We will let you know the names and phone numbers for all the accommodation we will be using and the dates when we will be there, so your family or friends can get in touch if needed.
For international dialling codes for each country check www.countrycallingcodes.com.
Do I have to pay a single supplement?
We do have to charge a single supplement as we are charged a single supplement by the hotels we use. We know this is a burden for the single traveller and have tried to keep this charge to a minimum.
What type of accommodation can I expect?
We try to use small rural farmhouses or manor houses wherever possible. These are similar to bed and breakfasts and are usually traditional houses typical of the region, full of character and run by local people. Sometimes we use hotels so you will experience a mix of accommodation types, always of good quality!
Is all the accommodation on the trail itself?
Sometimes we stay in towns right on the trail, other times we may have a short drive to our accommodation. This is to ensure you have the best accommodation in each area!
Do I have to pay a single supplement?
We don´t charge a standard single supplement! If you are travelling alone you will sometimes find that your room is smaller than a typical double room. If you would like to reserve a double room for individual use, let us know on your booking form and we will let you know the small supplement we have to add to ensure this.
Will I have a bathtub in my room?
It depends! Rooms vary greatly – some have bathtubs, some showers and some both. We will try and ensure you have a bathtub but we can´t guarantee it.
Do all accommodations have hair-dryers?
Again, sometimes but not always. We carry a spare hair-dryer in our support vehicle if you need one!
I want to arrive a few days early/stay a few days after the trip – should I reserve hotels before I leave?
If you are travelling at a busy time of year it´s best to reserve. For hotels in Santiago de Compostela it´s certainly better to reserve in advance. We can help you out if you need advice or assistance booking a room – just let us know.
What sort of insurance should I have?
You should make sure you have full health insurance for any medical emergencies or accidents. You should also ensure you have trip cancellation/interruption insurance and ensure your personal belongings are insured.
What if I get sick while I´m on the tour?
We will of course support you with whatever you need. If you catch a cold or just don´t feel great you can choose to have a day or two off from walking. If you need medical attention we will get you to the nearest clinic or hospital.
I have to take medication which needs refrigeration – will this be possible?
Yes, just let us know and make sure you bring it in a cool bag for transit between accommodations.
Can you recommend useful books to read before or during the trip?
The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson
The Roads to Santiago: The Medieval Pilgrimage Routes Through France and Spain to Santiago De Compostela by Derry Brabbs
I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago: My Journey Along the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling
Travels with My Donkey: One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago by Tim Moore
General Books about Spanish Culture and History
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past by Giles Tremlett
The New Spaniards by John Hooper
Books about the Via Francigena
An Italian Odyssey: One Couple’s Culinary and Cultural Pilgrimage by Julie A Burk and Neville J Tencer
General Books about Italian Culture and History
The New Italians by Charles Richards
A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics: 1943-1980 by Paul Ginsborg
General Books about French Culture and History
Serge Bastarde Ate My Baguette: On the Road in the Real Rural France by John Dummer
My Life in France by Julia Child