on the Ways to Santiago
on the Ways to Santiago
The Way of Saint James (aka Camiño de Santiago, UNESCO Routes of Santiago de Compostela) is the most popular pilgrimage route in Europe, crossing the Iberian Peninsula towards the tomb of the Apostle James the Greater in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, in the Spanish region of Galicia. Since it was rediscovered and boosted as a tourist product in the 1980s, the Way has proved to be a motor of economic development in the areas it crosses, but a major impact in wide areas can still be achieved while promoting a better territory knowledge and experience among pilgrims. The rurAllure pilot aims to disseminate alternative tourist areas and experiences among pilgrims to Santiago, focusing on a particular original type of heritage (literary), luring them to explore the territory they are passing by on the steps of authors and written works. This approach dives into literature as a tool to interpret and disseminate unknown heritage through storytelling, and is connected to topics such as travel literature, pilgrimage literature, oral tradition, and personal experiences.
The Way comprises a network of paths across 1500 km in Spain, and connecting with others routes across the continent. The Apostle’s tomb was arguably discovered in Galicia in the 9th century under the reign of Alfonso II, King of Asturias, at a moment when most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim domain: the discovery was key for the Christian world and turned Santiago into one of the three main places of Christian pilgrimage, along with Rome and Jerusalem. Kings and monks were the very first pilgrims to Santiago, quickly consolidating it as an international destination between the 11th and the 12th centuries, staying alive through the 14 and 15th. While the Middle Ages were the golden era for these routes, playing a key role in religious and cultural exchange, with troubadour they entered into decline in the Modern Age. In the 1980s, the Council of Europe acknowledged it as the first European Cultural Route inaugurating a new flourishing era as a powerful tool for cultural and spiritual tourism and attracting a growing number of modern-day pilgrims.
The Way trespasses frontiers, with many trails coming from the East (French Way, North Way), the South of the Peninsula (Silver Way, Portuguese Ways) or even from the British Islands. The rurAllure project will focus on the following three:
The Way of Saint James inaugurated the programme for European Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe, and in many parts of Galicia they cross with these other routes. Furthermore, it is twinned with another UNESCO World Heritage Site Route: the Kumano-Kodo (since 1998), as well as with the Shikoku Henro trail (both in Japan). The Way of St James connects in France with other important pilgrimage routes that also originated in the Middle Ages, and which are the focus of the other rurAllure pilots. The design of the routes has also served as inspiration for other tourist and recreational routes, and it is pretty common to find alternative variations of the marked path (connections with hiking and biking trails).
Covering such a wide territory, the Routes of Santiago include a built heritage of historical importance created to meet the needs of pilgrims: cathedrals, churches, hospitals, hostels, bridges, and other structures, many of them illustrating the artistic evolution from Romanesque to Baroque. The French Way is the Jacobean itinerary with the greatest tradition, with many landmarks including the cathedrals of Burgos, Leon, and Santiago de Compostela itself; Santo Domingo de Silos Abbey; the Templars’ Castle of Ponferrada, Samos Monastery, Bishop’s Palace of Astorga (a masterpiece of Gaudí) or the thatched roof house of O Cebreiro. It also boasts outstanding natural landscapes (Pyrenees mountains, oak trees in San Juan, La Rioja vineyards) as well as a rich intangible cultural heritage that survives to the present day. This valuable heritage is common to other routes to Santiago, such as the Portuguese Way, which goes through Porto (UNESCO Heritage Site since 1996) and Vila do Conde (a rurAllure partner) and the Winter Way, which starts in Las Médulas, an impressive gold-mining area exploited by Romans, and passes through the wine areas of Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra, the latest being Spain’s candidate for the next World Heritage title.
The Way of Saint James is the most important tourist product in the Galicia region, and the main source of international tourism. In 2019 the pilgrim’s office in Santiago registered more than 350.000 visitors. 2021 has been declared by Santiago’s Cathedral as the next Holy or Jubilee years, and these figures are expected to grow significantly. The routes are managed throughout Spain by regional governments, and so do the neighbouring countries France and Portugal, where the Way has a strong presence. In Galicia, Xacobeo SA (a rurAllure associate partner) manages a public network of more than 70 pilgrims’ hostels, and looks after the signposting (the well-known “yellow arrows” and the scallop shell).
Municipalities are especially committed to the promotion of the route, as it is important for local economies. For example, in 2010 the Portuguese Government finally credited the Way as an official (and thus protected) pilgrimage route, leveling it with Fatima, as an answer to the long-time demands of municipalities and associations. Because of its economic relevance, the Way boasts a full range of accommodation facilities (besides the official network of hostels) and services. Likewise, the Way appears in numerous focused advertising campaigns, and private tourism agents offer tons of tourist products and packages related to this route. Other relevant stakeholders are Friends of the Way associations, which are independent nonprofit organisations involved with the promotion and conservation of these routes. They spread all around the world (a detailed list can be found here).
Both the French Way and the Winter Way in Galicia go mainly through rural settlements, covering areas with a very low population density and inverse population pyramids characterised by aging processes. Agriculture used to be the most common activity —today only small self-subsistence farming, along with little cattle— although it is decreasing in favour of services, while some industry activities, linked to mining facilities, still remain. The lack of job opportunities forces youngsters to move to other territories, a common phenomena strongly linked to the territories aging process. The presence of pilgrimage routes has an important impact in these territories, with little villages whose economic activity is mainly built upon the presence of pilgrims with hostels, catering services, small retailing shops, etc.
The Courel Mountains, where part of this pilot focuses on, is surrounded to the north by the French Way and to the south by the Winter Way, only 30 kms away from each other. The area reproduces the rural scheme mentioned above, with its main municipalities, Pedrafita and Folgoso do Courel, sparsely populated: less than 10 inh/km2 and around 1000 inhabitants each, with people aged 65 or more representing around 40% of the population.
Although incredibly rich in natural and cultural heritage, the Courel mountains remain today still unknown to the majority of pilgrims passing by the Ways to Santiago. Right in the heart of it, less than 20 km away from the French Way (Pedrafita do Cebreiro) and the Winter Way (Quiroga) lies the House-Museum of Uxío Novoneyra, the “poet of O Courel”, managed by the eponymous foundation (Fundación Uxío Novoneyra, a rurAllure partner). It is a privileged location with a great potential to reach pilgrims in their last stage of the Way or even those who choose to make only this part of the route (a popular choice) developing products on literary tourism linked to the character and poetry of Uxío Novoneyra. This relevant Galician poet, who devoted most of his verses to the mountains where he was born, spent his life constantly moving between O Courel and Santiago de Compostela: a sort of personal pilgrimage he depicted in poetry volumes such as Do Courel a Compostela (“From O Courel to Compostela”) Ámeto mítico: Arrodeos e Desvíos do Camiño de Santiago (“Mythic Scope: Branches and Detours to the Way of Saint James and other routes”), the latter focused on the Jacobian Ways. Mythic Scope was published by Galician Regional Government on the occasion of 1933 Holy Compostelan Year and still can be seen as a “travel guide” to the Way, guiding pilgrims through unexpected locations and revealing its poetic dimension, while acknowledging Courel’s position within the route. This collection of poems will be the starting inspirational source for developing literary tourism products linked to these two popular Ways to Santiago de Compostela.
And from the mountains to the sea. The literary dimensions within the Portuguese Way will be explored around the Municipality of Vila do Conde, in the northwest of Portugal. This coastal historic town at the mouth of Ave River, just a few kilometers away from Porto, is the hometown of Portuguese poet José Régio and treasures an interesting heritage, both in artistic and literary ways.
The millenary origins of Vila do Conde are imprinted in the landscape, and the great historical richness of its heritage, natural sceneries, traditions, and stories provide a large range of unique interesting experiences. Within the considerable built heritage, we must highlight the monumental Santa Clara Church and Monastery and the second-largest Aqueduct in Portugal, with 999 arches and approximately 4km in length, which define the old town’s silhouette. In addition, the Main Church and the Pillory recognized National Monuments, also relevant the Former Council Chambers; S. Francisco Church and Monastery; Senhora da Guia Chapel and S. João Batista Fortress, are some of the built heritage testimonies of the great historical richness of the past of this land that goes back and beyond the foundation of the Portuguese territory.
The cultural heritage of the valuable shipbuilding knowledge strongly linked to the Portuguese Age of Discovery which endures to this day can be appreciated in the heart of the riverside where the shipyards once worked, by visiting the Royal Customs House and a unique replica of a sixteenth Portuguese ship anchored there.
Bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean —and home to nice sandy beaches— Vila do Conde is part of the Metropolitan Area of Oporto and the Galicia-Northern Portugal Euro-region, crossed by one of the most popular Portuguese Ways to Santiago, the coastal one. It also incorporates the Greater Oporto Region (NUTIII), the Northern Region (NUTS II), and the Continent (NUTS I).
In terms of tourism development, Vila do Conde has made relevant investments giving culture a more prominent role as one of the city’s strategic values, with quite a range of new facilities developing cultural and creative activities. The municipality is served by a network of three hotels, two with a four-star rate and a spa service, seven lodging establishments, and two tourism establishments in rural areas. Presently this tourist development offers 222 rooms with 478 beds.
O Courel is Galicia’s great green reserve, an unspoiled area of huge natural beauty and candidate to UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. All Galician endogenous species (except sea ones) are represented in this mountain crossroads, with the best of Atlantic and Mediterranean characteristics. There are chestnut trees around the villages and a stronghold of olives in Quiroga. Within this area tourists may find:
UNESCO Global Geopark of Courel Mountains, which includes the area of Quiroga. 578 km2 with an unique geological heritage, especially the geosite and European Natural Monument Campodola-Leixazós Geological Fold. Caves and tunnels spread around the park have a dedicated interpretation center in Meiraos.
Singular rural settlement of Parada do Courel, including the Uxío Novoneyra House-Museum, the Poet’s Forest, a group of centennial chestnut trees tagged as “singular species” and Poet María Mariño’s Old School.
The aforementioned resources configure the natural and cultural landscape integrating O Courel identity as a singular rural territory with a vast heritage to preserve. The natural landscape includes distinctive tectonic and geomorphic phenoma, Paleozoic formations, caves, canyons and valleys; high flora and fauna diversity, ancient species (centennial trees, remnants of prehistoric fauna and flora), etc. The cultural landscape ranges from the mining industries of the Romans to nowadays ethnographic values (oral traditions, ancient land-tenement systems, stone walling techniques, …). Thus, the area of o Courel provides a complex yet cohesive picture of a remote rural area still linked to its past and with a deep memory of the land. Remarkably, O Courel has become a Literary Territory, due to the work of poet Uxio Novoneyra, who thoroughly depicted the mountains and its inhabitants. His works provide a great interpretive opportunity for this territory, charging it with an epic dimension that connects it with readers-visitors through time and space, making O Courel a sort of universal representation of rural life. Under the rurAllure project the Uxio Novoneyra Foundation will work to disseminate the poet’s works as a way of understanding this territory, making it accessible and relevant, and raising awareness about its main distinctive values.
Regarding Vila do Conde, visitors may enjoy the charm of the traditional old town framed by an eminently rural and natural landscape, with the watercourses, pine forests as far as the eye can see and, walkways by the sea.
The council combines a beautiful seaside landscape with the rurality of the parishes further inland, along with the most remote legacies from the prehistoric period, examples of Romanesque architecture, rural and emblazoned manors, and a number of historic landmark buildings which the city council, over the past few decades, has held a series of important works of restauration and rehabilitation.
Part of this important heritage has been transformed into renewed cultural facilities such as the José Régio’s House and Documentation Centre, the Municipal Center of Youth, the Municipal Theater, the Solar Cinematic Art Gallery, the Living Science Center. Also, the opening of the Memory Center, installed in a rehabilitated impressive 17th-century Portuguese old manor, hosting the Municipal Archives, Archeology Department, the backbone of the Museum of Vila do Conde along with the Julio’s Gallery and Julio/Saúl Dias’s Study Center, the Environmental Education Center. Along with the reinstallation of the Municipal Library, the opening of the Center for Environmental Monitoring and Interpretation, the Activity Center and, also the Antero de Quental’s House, the municipality embraced a strong focus in increasing the diversity and the quality of the cultural activities, projecting Vila do Conde in the local, regional and national cultural scene.
Many of the above-mentioned cultural venues are related to literature, as Vila do Conde is a land of artists, where some renowned Portuguese and international poets and painters have chosen to live and work. José Régio and his brother Júlio/Saúl Dias, also painter, Ruy Belo, Eça de Queirós, Camilo Castelo Branco, Antero de Quental, Guerra Junqueiro, Agustina Bessa-Luís, Robert and Sónia Delaunay, both painters, spent a part of their lives writing and creating in this quiet and charming city.
The investment in the urban arrangement and in the cultural infrastructures that enhance the cultural and leisure offer, Vila do Conde has created propitious conditions for the emergence of unprecedented cultural and touristic dynamics in the region, presenting a high potential for quality tourism along with the undeniable scenic features, exceptional and diverse built heritage, and welcoming sociological environment.
The municipality, aware of the exponentially increasing number of pilgrims on the Route to Santiago de Compostela and the growing demand for city breaks, “health and wellness”, “cultural”, “nature” tourism, believes in the development of strategies that enhance the touristic and cultural promotion of the region. Therefore, the focus on the great historical richness of the built heritage, the wide cultural offer, natural sceneries, diverse traditions and festivities, and the special emphasis on the unique literary legacy, may assure and generate authentic and distinctive experiences.
The Way to Santiago is a consolidated tourist product extremely popular all over the world. Many pilgrims from around the world repeat this experience several times throughout their lifetime (even on a yearly basis) and there is a demand for “enriched” and expanded pilgrimage experiences with added value. Also, it is for many foreign visitors their first approach to Galicia, an area where they tend to return in order to explore it further. Thus, developing tourism products in O Courel and linking them to the Way answers these needs, while providing alternative routes and activities to prevent massification in highly pilgrim crowded locations (such as Pedrafita do Cebreiro) and developing opportunities in sustainable development for these territories.