General Description: The Camino de Invierno is an alternate route for the last portion of the Camino francés. For the peregrino the advantages are that it bypasses the height of O Cebreiro and the crowding that occurs starting at Sarria. 261 km from Ponferrada through Monforte de Lemos and Lalín, where the route joins the Sanabrés, to Santiago.
Waymarking: Soon after leaving the albergue in Ponferrada, there is a well-placed hito (pylon or “mile” marker) with a ceramic conch shell that indicates the start of the Camino de Invierno. From there, the Camino is extremely well marked. In the province of Castilla y León, for the first 35 kms or so, the markings are the traditional hito with scallop shell. Once in Galicia, there is some variation (wooden sign with green print, stick figure scallop shell and walker or painted yellow arrows), but the markings are consistently well placed and easy to follow.
Terrain: This route involves several days with some elevation gain. Four of the typical 7 or 8 days have elevation gain of more than 300 meters, but never more than a total of 600 meters. From Ponferrada to Las Medulas, there are two ascents, one up to the impressive Castle of Cornatel, and the other up to the eerie As Medulas, a World Heritage site which preserves the ruins of Roman gold exploration. From there, the Camino descends to Puente de Domingo Florez, where it parallels the Sil River until Quiroga. An ascent of 500 meters brings you to Monforte de Lemos, followed by an equal descent to the beautiful Minho River. Finally, there is one more ascent from the Minho River, and from there the terrain is not strenuous. There are many beautiful sections, along the Sil River, across the Minho River and through many parts of rural Galicia.
When to go: July and August will be hot and should be avoided. April into May and September into October are recommended. Climate tables for Ponferrada, Ourense and Santiago de Compostela.
Accommodation: There are a handful of pilgrim-specific albergues on the Invierno and on the Sanabrés after the routes merge. The site of the Asociación Amigos do Camiño de Santiago por Valdeorras has names and telephone numbers for all services and they provide two PDFs with locations of and distances between services. There are several intervals of 25 to 30 kms with no albergues, hotels or pensiones, although pilgrims are allowed to sleep in the municipal polideportivo (sports hall) in several towns. Planning will be required to be assured of arriving in a town with a place to stay
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