Camino: The trip of a lifetime

It has never been easier to plan a walk of The Camino where you can travel through breathtaking sites and sleep in luxury, writes Ciara McDonnell

Whenever someone tells me that they are taking to The Camino, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost To Found on the Pacific Crest Trail immediately springs to mind. I think of Reese Witherspoon — who played Strayed in the screen adaptation — taking on her own personal demons while hiking in paradise. It has always seemed to me like quite a good idea.

While there’s no doubt that lots of people make their pilgrimage along a stretch of Camino in order to find inner peace, the motivation of travellers has changed in recent times, with Irish people taking to the trail with a vigour not seen before.

The demographics of pilgrims are as diverse as the trails themselves; walkers range from those with religious intentions to groups of young parents who need a week to unplug from the relentless demands of work and home life.

Last year, 7,548 Irish people got their Camino ‘Compostela’ certificate, according to statistics from the Pilgrims Office in Santiago.

The most popular route of Brand Camino remains the Camino de Santiago, and of that, the Camino Frances is the road most travelled. One of the most fascinating and lesser known trails is the Camino to Rome or Via Francigena; a route which takes pilgrims on a journey from Canterbury in England across the channel to France and through Switzerland before crossing Italy on their way to Rome. Like the Camino de Santiago, this is a historic medieval route and takes walkers to some of Europe’s most stunning regions like Champagne in France, the Alps and Tuscany.

The trail is a relatively new addition offered by Caminoways.com, a company specialising in trips that take the hassle out of the Camino. “Our aim is to make the trips as easy and manageable as possible for our customers,” explains Maria Golpe from Camino Ways.

We move the luggage from one stage to the next, which means you only have to walk with your water and your snacks for the day.

“We want you to be able to enjoy the walk without worrying about these things.” The holiday focuses on the section of the Via Francigena between Lucca and Siena, one of the most popular and spectacular stretches of the Camino to Rome. The pilgrimage is 133km long, and you will walk around 25km per day. Travellers can choose either a self-guided tour, which we are recommended to travel between April and October, or a guided tour, which departs on specific dates in May and September for six days.

The type of holiday you choose depends on what you require from your trip on the Camino, says Maria Golpe. “A self-guided trip allows more flexibility for the traveller, because you can go with a friend or a group or even on your own and you can choose your dates. We will then adapt the package to the dates you want to go.” Guided holidays are a wonderful option for first-time Camino pilgrims, according to Maria. “Guided trips suit those who may be a little apprehensive about the trip or are going on their own but don’t necessarily want to walk on their own. Some people like travelling on their own, but don’t like spending the days on their own.”

Of course, the great thing about booking a holiday like this through a company like Camino Ways is that you lay the ground rules for your own trip. Don’t fancy walking 25km a day? No problem, your trip will be tailored to take in less distance, and more down time. Want to stay in super luxurious hotels? Worry not, you can choose a package that will ensure accommodation at the top end of the scale.

Accommodation really matters when you’ve been walking all day, and all the hotels, farm houses and B&B’s along the Camino have been chosen with comfort in mind. Tuscany is an area of agri-tourism, and lots of farmers also offer accommodation, meaning that after a good night’s sleep, you could have the opportunity to sample some of the region’s finest olive oil or cheese.

The Lucca to Siena stretch is a wonderful introduction to the world of the Camino, says Golpe. “You will not come across as many pilgrims on the Tuscany route as the others, because it is not as widely known, and it is absolutely stunning.”

You’ll be walking through the heart of Tuscany, across beautiful rolling hills and woodland, stopping in picture perfect villages and towns to refuel and rest before taking off again.

You’ll explore the tiny walled hilltop town of Monteriggioni and two impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The breathtaking town of San Gimignano, where in its medieval heyday, the rich families of the moment constructed 72 tower houses as a way of displaying how wealthy and brilliant they were. While only 14 of these medieval skyscrapers remain, San Gimignano is a must-visit — it is also famous for a delicious white wine called Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which offers a wonderful way to relax after hiking.

San Gimignano Towers. The breathtaking town of San Gimignano is a must-visit — famous for a delicious white wine called Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
San Gimignano Towers. The breathtaking town of San Gimignano is a must-visit — famous for a delicious white wine called Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

A UNESCO listed city, and Italy’s third greatest draw for tourists, Siena is a fantastic place to end your journey on the Camino. Famed for its gothic architecture, narrow streets and the spectacular Palio horse race each summer in the iconic Piazza del Campo, this is a city you will want to explore, despite your tired feet. Whether you are interested in travelling through the summer months to enjoy the full bloom of the Tuscan countryside, or choose autumn as a time to visit so that you can sample some of the region’s famous white truffles, walking the Via Francigena is a chance to explore an area that is so arresting, the only way to truly absorb it’s impact is on foot. Whether it’s a guided tour or a self-guided adventure you crave, you’ll have the chance to go Wild like Cheryl Strayed and contemplate your life while walking — the only difference, is that you’ll do it in the heavenly surroundings of the Italian countryside.

THE DETAILS:

A seven night self guided walking holiday from Lucca to Siena with Camino Ways costs from €750 per person. The trip includes Holiday Pack and maps, selected accommodation with private bathroom, 24/7 support during your trip and GPS data files. You will also have the option to add or remove the Luggage transfers (one bag up to 20kg per person), dinners (where available), bike rental and airport transfers.

A six night guided walking holiday from San Miniato to Siena departs on May 18 and September 14 and costs from €750 per person. The trip includes luggage transfers (one bag up to 20kg per person), dinner each night, friendly English speaking guide, holiday pack and maps, all en-suite rooms, 24/7 support during your trip and GPS data files.

- For more information see caminoways.com

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