Six o’clock came early, as my dad says. We were walking out the door of the hotel at 6:45am, following directions from the man at the front desk, who assured us that the way he was sending us would shave 4 km off the day’s walk. On to Villafranca del Bierzo.
We spent about 30 minutes walking to the outskirts of the city. We met “Huan” or “Han” who is a 72 year old retired man from Korea. He started at the French border. He wasn’t sure he was on the right road until he saw us. He figured if he saw other pilgrims, he was on the right road – and we were thinking the same thing.
Once out of Ponferrada, we walked through several small towns that were “one-street wonders”. The camino towns, which are small many times only had one street – the one that the camino went through. These towns were like suburbs and weren’t very attractive. However, we did pass by some interesting old buildings, well-kept vegetable gardens and the like. After an hour and a half, we were out in the country and strolling through vineyards. Rolling hills and vineyards would be the landscape the entire day.
The Hermanos Jamon (Jamon Brothers) were on the lookout for cherries constantly. There was a cherry tree about every 100 feet. We learned that because of the cool weather, the cherry crop was late and the prices were low. So, people weren’t picking their cherries… except Tony and Dave.
The stage was nice because the weather was sunny, cool and breezy. And, the scenery was lovely. The rolling hills and gentle slopes were pleasant. We kept our eyes on a town which we thought was Villafranca and wondered why we weren’t getting closer. Turns out, Villafranca was below us in a valley and we could not see it until we were upon it.
Hotel San Francisco was on the Plaza Mayor and the town was quaint. Hotel was, too. WIFI there as well. Outdoor cafes on the main plaza were practically empty. There was a large church and a huge Jesuit building that looked important. The town was a typical Camino town in that it was once an important stop for pilgrims, but if it weren’t for the renewed interest in the Camino, it would be empty.
We ate at Meson don Nacho and enjoyed excellent food – fabada, rabbit, and trout. One of the best meals on the Camino. We drank Luna Beberide wine from Cacabelos, a nearby town in the Bierzo region. Wine recommended by the waiter.
The weather was dank and cold. Even the locals were grousing about the cold, wet weather… and asking each other when Spring or Summer would arrive! Our Camino friends rolled into town, too. They stayed at the albergue, and went to sleep early.
In a normal summer, the riverbanks of Villafranca del Bierzo are popular beaches for local people to swim. We passed by these swimming spots on the way out of town. Nobody would be there today. It was cold and wet.