Ponferrada to Las Medulas:
We arrived in Ponferrada in time to visit the beautifully restored Templar Castle founded in 1178.
Stayed at Albergue Guiana which was the first time we shared a dormitory after 17 days on Camino Levante from Valencia to Toledo where we never saw another pilgrim.
The word is that the pilgrims have returned in droves to Camino Frances so we will veer off on to the quieter Camino Invierno(The Winter Camino). In medieval times pilgrims would sit out the winter before O Cebreiro while some would take the Winter Route which was usually passable as it followed the more temperate River Sil Valley. While tens of thousands walk Camino Frances each year, the Invierno gets only about 1,000 annually. Camino Frances had 189,000 pilgrims walking in 2019 though the numbers decreased dramatically to 98,090 in 2021. While Invierno had just over 1,000 in 2019 and 912 in 2021.
We packed up and set out at 6:30AM and for the first time in 3 weeks it was actually cool and crisp. Pleasant after enduring the heat of Valencia and La Mancha. We saw a few pilgrims on Camino Frances but once we veered onto Invierno it got quiet as we walked into the mountains. It took a while to lose the view of Ponferrada on our right.
The trail was filled with trees, bushes, and vines loaded with yellow plums, blackberries, grapes and other delicious fruits which the locals were happy to share.
After about 15K the path followed a trail higher into the mountains to what was originally a Roman mountain fortress and than a Templar Castle; Castelo de Cornatel.
Unfortunately it was closed but cool to just be there by ourselves taking it in and enjoying the magnificent views of the valley below. The latter half of the walk had less shade and the afternoon sun brought hotter temperatures but still mild compared to Levante.
After 28K we arrived in Las Medulas, a Unesco World Heritage site. Once the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire. At it’s peak had 20,000 working, mostly slaves of course.
Las Medulas is a popular tourist destination and fairly crowded but it quieted down late in the afternoon and was almost empty walking up to the mines for the sunset.
Stayed at Restaurant/Hostal Agoga where our dinner included a bottle of the unlabeled house wine. We were told by our waitress, Stephanie, it was her father’s homemade wine. Very nice. 30K counting the walk up to the gold mines.