My daughter Róisín is studying in Santiago de Compostela for her Erasmus this term. Visiting her, to experience life in this special part of Spain, was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
The bus from the airport was packed to the rafters with walking types and their ‘stuff’ – rucksacks, walking poles, shorts, rainwear, hiking boots – in abundance.
In addition to being a beautiful place, Santiago de Compostela is very interesting from a branding perspective. It has become synonymous with the Camino. Regardless of people’s religious persuasion, there is a swift mental linking of the two. The scallop shell motif is apparent as soon as you land in the airport and is used throughout the route signage and on everything to do with the Camino. Even the tourist bags are adorned with shells – so essentially, you have visitors (the Camino ‘customers’) spreading the word and acting as sales advocates when they return home. This is the goal of branding – to take your customers on the journey of becoming aware of you, to trust, to loyalty and ultimately – to champion your brand on your behalf. It takes time to build this equity and they have done it very successfully in Santiago de Compostela.
I had four days to pack in all the things I wanted to do!
First off, head down to the Square and the Cathedral of Santiago (which holds the shrine of St James). This is the destination point of all the Camino routes and weary but excited and emotional pilgrims are arriving into the Square all the time. Phones and cameras are out all over the place, capturing the moment from every angle.
We bought tickets for the tour of the Cathedral and plugged in our earphones to hear the tour guide. All in Spanish, which Róisín understood and then relayed to me. It was unbelievable to see the workmanship and to think that it was built a thousand years ago.
Our group was led out onto the rooftop and my fear of heights promptly kicked in. So I plonked myself down on the roof tiles mid-tour and looked out over the city through squinting eyes! While the rest of the group proceeded up further into the tower, I chickened out and retreated downstairs!
Afterwards, we explored some of the old town and soaked up the atmosphere. There are lots of beautiful narrow winding streets, full of historic buildings and little shops.
And so to the Camino! Up early and on with the walking boots. Lunches packed for the day. We followed the Camino signs around the city, which were very plentiful at the start and then petered out a bit. We ended up losing the route (of course!), but that turned out to be a bonus, as we would not have stumbled across the Centre of Culture otherwise. Set on top of the highest hill in the city, it is an amazing group of buildings, which were designed to mimic waves reaching for the sky. I’ve never seen anything like it and highly recommend people to seek this out if you are in the area.
We walked around 20kms around the city and realised that the route we had taken was a subsection of the Camino de Santiago so we needed to get on one of the ‘big’ routes.
After Googling all the routes (there is so much information and so many websites that it is really difficult to do on a phone!) and trying to figure out where to locate the entry point into Santiago de Compostela, we chose to walk out to A Lavacolla and back again. On the way out, we passed lots of pilgrims walking the last bit of their Camino – some people looked like they were ready to drop and others were clearly on a high. I can understand how special it must feel for people who have been walking for days or weeks, to finally get to the end destination.
We stopped for coffee on the way out and on the way back! It was a holiday after all! Then added another stop for ice cream. The ice cream is really excellent and there are so many flavours to choose from.
Back to the airport and home to reality. I will definitely be back and take in a stretch of one of the Camino routes, complete with hostels and blisters! It is a walker’s paradise and I can see how so many people choose to go back time after time!