Outdoor World

10 of the best pilgrim routes in Europe: readers travel tips

From marching with monks to heavenly Korean food, our tipsters have experienced joy spiritual and earthly on these venerable trails

Cultural trips

Winning tip: Pilgrims Way, Winchester to Canterbury

A 10-day pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury, following Walking The Pilgrims Way by Leigh Hatts (Cicerone), included many ups and downs, both literal and emotional. There are many glorious parts of the walk, but the one that took my breath away was the hard push up Hackhurst Downs in Surrey, through a gorgeous yew-lined avenue, which then opened magnificently on to Blatchford Down. The splendid views from the top are well worth the ascent. To get the most of the pilgrimage, make sure you go off-path to visit the many divine little churches along the way, especially 900-year-old St Benedicts in Paddlesworth (near Maidstone), Kent.
britishpilgrimage.org
Kirrily Long

St Conans Way, Highlands

Iona
Iona Abbey. Photograph: Alamy

Wildflowers, waterfalls and rainbows there can hardly be anywhere more lovely and more varied to walk than Argyll in June. I walked St Conans Way from Dalmally to Iona, part of a planned pilgrimage route from St Andrews. I went with a friendly small organised group and was left with an enduring sense of replenishment. After 100km of walking (six days) and two ferry crossings, we reached Iona, a destination for pilgrims since the seventh century.
britishpilgrimage.org
Sarah Akehurst

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Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a 200 voucher from hotels.com. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

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St Margarets Way, Edinburgh to St Andrews

The
The Fife Coastal Path near Anstruther. Photograph: Phil Seale/Alamy

Last Easter I followed St Margarets Way from Edinburgh to St Andrews. Its a beautiful and varied route west and over the Forth Road Bridge, back east along the Fife Coastal Path, then north at Shell Bay, with easy terrain that took four days to walk. My sunrise starting point was St Giless Cathedral in Edinburgh, where the warden was kind enough to let me in before hours. I wild camped: in the ruined 12th-century St Bridgets Kirk, in woods near East Wemyss, and by the loch at Kilconquhar. Cafes in coastal towns served haggis-heavy breakfasts. I stayed in cheap hostels at either end of the walk.
thewayofstandrews.com
Sam

Via Podiensis, France

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Photograph: Mattia Giovanni Argentieri/Getty Images

Ive walked many of the pilgrim routes across Europe and they are all beautiful but my favourite is the Via Podiensis, from Le Puy in south-central France to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees. The 700km route meanders south-west through deep gorges, over rolling hills and by fields of sunflowers. The villages and towns are rustic perfection. Accommodation for pilgrims comes in the form of gtes dtape (walkers hostels) and is basic but cheap (5-10) or in gtes that provide dinner, bed and breakfast for around 30. The walk takes just over a month but can be done in shorter stages.
Alison Jilks

St Olavs Way, Norway

Crossing
Crossing the Dovre mountain, St Olavs Way. Photograph: David Tett

This route, really a network of paths, is a great way of remembering Norways 11th centrury King Olav II Haraldsson, who was later made a saint. The 643km path leads to the splendid cathedral in Trondheim, which according to tradition you should walk around three times before saying a prayer. Farmers will hail you along the way and share their food or dinner with you and even put you up in their barns if the weather turns bad as one family did for me. We sat around a campfire at night sharing a plate of moose tacos washed down with forest berry juice a spiritual and nourishing experience that really helped me on my way.
pilegrimsleden.no
Nigel

A stretch of the Via Francigena, Switzerland

Classic
Chateau de Chillon on Lake Geneva, near Montreux. Photograph: Scott Wilson/Alamy

Hiking in the hills just north of Lake Geneva this year, I came across a small wooden sign near a village saying Via Francigena. Curious, I followed some Spanish monks through the vineyards east of Lausanne. Replenished with their picnic offerings in spring sunshine we rested on the shores of the lake near Vevey. They taught me Spanish phrases; I taught them some English ones. We shared some food, some prayers under the stars and then a big tent before hiking another day together heading towards Montreux and the bend of the Rhne on the condition of mobile phones being switched off. A heavenly hike!
viefrancigene.org
Greta Cooper

Camino de Finisterre, Galicia

Sunset
Sunset at the Virxe da Barca sanctuary in Muxia. Photograph: Joel Carillet/Getty Images

Because Santiago and much of Galicia are often somewhat busy, committing to any pilgrimage can be a struggle if you are seeking a more spiritual experience. The 30km coastal route between Finisterre (Fisterra in Galician) and Muxa west of Santiago and so away from the main Camino is the antidote. This is a microcosm of every Iberian pilgrimage. The coast is never far away, but the route winds over hills, through woods and fields and then gently, oh so gently, descends to Muxa. The setting of its gothic chapel, right on the shoreline, is beautiful beyond words. If you are looking for refreshment over the route, or want to split your walk over two days, the Albergue as Eiras in Lires (dorm bed from 14 including breakfast), which has a good restaurant and is generous with food and attitude for pilgrims, is right on the trail.
pilgrimagetraveler.com
Alex Bell

Wool Route, Spain

Caracena
Caracena canyon. Photograph: Getty Images

The 700km Ruta de la Lana, or Wool Route, is part of the Camino de Santiago that links Valencia and Alicante with Burgos, with the wool from the south once following the same path. It passes through two of Spains most sparsely populated provinces, Soria and Guadalajara, and was used by pilgrims in the 16th and 17th centuries. En route are many magnificent Romanesque churches and some outstanding landscapes, including the vulture-rich Rio Dulce natural park, and the glorious canyon of Caracena. Of the larger towns, Cuenca and Sigenza are both well worth a rest day, and neither is on the overseas tourists map. If you want, you can walk another 500km to Santiago on the more popular Camino Francs from Burgos.
csj.org.uk
Harriet

Korean food, Spain

Albergue
Dishes at Albergue Orion

The Camino de Santiago is the gateway pilgrimage its easy to be a pilgrim when cheap lodgings and bars can be found round every corner. But after eating yet another menu del da of chicken, chips and salad, its time for something different. Save yourself from those junk food blues by sampling bibimbap yes, Korean food! in the pretty village of Castrojerz, just west of Burgos. With almost as many Koreans as Brits walking to Santiago, its perhaps not so surprising that theres a hostel offering Korean food: Albergue Orion (on Facebook, full dinner about 10).
santiago-compostela.net
Dominic

Camino Portugus, Lisbon to Santiago

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/oct/31/10-best-pilgrim-walking-routes-europe-readers-travel-tips

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