Taxis seem to be a recurring theme here suddenly. A mix of recently problematic osteoarthritis in both knees, Plantar Fasciitis and weather meant we did taxi more than last time, but as we weren’t going for another Compostela and were really on a memory lane walk, it was something we were okay with. And if there is one part of the Astorga to Santiago stretch I am more than happy to skip, it is the walk out of Ponferrada! The 10+ kms of straight tarmac pavement walking is no friend of my feet and since 2012, when I walked it all, I have chosen to taxi from Ponferrada to the bodega/leisure area after Camponaraya, to where the Camino goes over the motorway bridge and then carries on through the vineyards towards Cacabelos and then Villafranca.
Winter had definitely given way to spring, and while we peeled off layers to cool down in the brilliant sunshine it was hard to believe we had been struggling through the wind and snow only a few days ago.
We stopped for lunch in my favourite café in Cacabelos, Siglo XIX right by the church on the way out of town. Food there always seems to be delicious and we soon decided we would stop and stay there next time. Or if I pass through on my own next time, I will try to get into the municipal albergue just outside of town, in a wonderful old building with a horseshoe shaped courtyard lined with two-bed cubicles – no top bunks and you only share with one other person. It is the same concept as in Azofra, which I really liked in 2012.
Then upwards and onwards further into the vineyards and fields on the way to Villafranca. This walk is so peaceful and gorgeous and I enjoy it so much, but I always feel a sense of loss even as I walk it, knowing it will soon be over and that it will be a long time before I can do it again.
Tonight’s accommodation was the first I had booked, when I came across an offer of reduced prices in selected Paradors throughout Spain and promptly bagged a room in the four star Parador in Villafranca. €60 was a bargain and I was really looking forward to it (and even brought swimwear for the two pools). A word of warning if you are already getting excited and want to splash out on a genuine Parador experience … this is one of the very few (or only?) new Paradors – no history, no atmosphere, just another boxy hotel. The room was nice and big and comfortable, but it certainly wasn’t what we were hoping for. As for the pool, it turned out you had to buy a cap and a pair of flipflops before they would let you use it, which we didn’t want to do.
Instead we walked into beautiful Villafranca and had a drink and a meal and a lovely time in a cheap and cheerful local restaurant, before we went back to our boxy four star hotel to rest up for the walk up the Pradela route …