Walking Tour in France and Spain, Pays-Basque, Ainhoa and Santiago de Compostela
Only someone who has travelled the route to or from Santiago can understand that the so-called Route of St James, which ends in Santiago de Compostela, is more than just religion, culture, sport, history, art, gastronomy and countryside rolled into one.
It is all these things, but at the same time much more. It is hard to explain a phenomenon that is more than twelve centuries old in its current form, but which also incorporates myths and legends from people and traditions long predating Christianity itself.
Part of the answer lies in Galicia, a land prone to harbouring mysteries, spirits, witches, mandrakes and other hidden treasures. In the Middle Ages, when half a million pilgrims a year walked this path in spiritual quest, extraordinary monasteries, pilgrim hospices, and villages sprouted along the route to serve pilgrims' needs.
Our walking journey covers the most beautiful sections of "El Camino" on peaceful mountain paths and country lanes marked with the scallop shell, symbol of St. James.
Our walk begins in Ainhoa in Pays Basque in France which is very different from its neighbouring regions and best illustrated by the unique Basque language. As we walk these thousand year old trails, where 20th century intrusions are few, we relish Romanesque settings redolent with the air of pilgrimage. Following "The French Route", our journey ends in Santiago de Compostela, the Holy City reputed to hold the bones of fisherman-evangelist St. James.
Our Hotels and Cuisine
On this tour we exclusively use the Parador and Pousada Hotels in Northern Spain. They are state-run luxury hotels, mostly located in historic buildings. They are furnished with appropriate antiques and their restaurants concentrate on local specialties.
Our first few days are spent in Ainhoa, one of the most picturesque villages in Pays Basque. Our cozy hotel, classified as a historical monument, dates back to the 17th century and has served as a hostel along the "French Route" of the Plgrim's Trail. It is extremely comfortable with a secluded garden, swimming pool and sauna. It is renowned for its elegant dining and has in recent years earned a Michelin* for its fabulous cuisine.
Having crossed the border into Spain, our next two days are in a Parador in the historic village of Sos del Rey Catolico, which has been declared a Spanish National Trust monument. Our hotel has an elegant interior and guesthouse. The gastronomic specialities are roast lamb, marinated rabbit and medieval cake - freshly made!
Our; lovely Parador in Santo Domingo de la Calzada is located in a former convent of San Francisco. The convent was rebuilt in 1595 by Juan Herrera and is composed of three different sections, the church, museum-workshop and guest house. The hotel is well known for its delicious; cuisine specializing above all, on local produce and washed down with an incomparable Rioja wine: artichokes with clams, sautéed vegetables with lamb, fine kid and suckling pig roasts and some of the best desserts, such as "ahorcaditos de Santo Domingo" - pears in wine with chocolate sauce.
Our next destination is Leon where we stay at the Parador "Hostal San Marcos". This amazing 5* hotel is one of the most important buildings in the Parador chain, being the former Hospital and Monastery of San Marcos, the headquarters of the Order of Knights of St. James. The tasty delights of Leonese cuisine, lamb dishes, local sausages, delicious trout and exquisite desserts are just some of the fine offerings of this famous hotel.
Our last two days are spent in a cozy Pousada in the pretty village of Portomarin. Directly on the pilgrims' trail, our hotel offers beautiful views of the vast landscape and distant mountains and introduces us to the Galician cuisine and the famous Portomarin liquors.
Walking Tour Combination
Departure dates have been arranged to allow both the "Pilgrim's Way" and "Pagnol's Provence" walks to be combined.
A truly fantastic experience. Clearly much research had gone into selecting the various walks, accommodation and restaurants. The two vehicles were perfect for carrying the relatively small group (15) and Graeme & Pascal were there to help in every way possible. My wife and I appreciated the fact that the tour saw no pressure on those unable to complete all the walking. I suffered from blisters and yet wasn't made to feel excluded even though I missed some of the walking. The gastronomic experiences, notably in Ainhoa, were outstanding and the pre-dinner gatherings for drinks really bonded a group of likeminded "adventurers". The Pilgrim's Way has my strongest endorsement. It was a truly wonderful and unique experience." Peter from Perth WA, Australia 
A fantastic insight into the journey of a pilgrim. Our journey began in the French Basque country where the scenery was fantastic, the walking challenging and the food delicious which seemed to go well together. The next part of the walk gave us snippets of the huge scale of the different landscapes, the steep hills and flat walking tracks that the pilgrim trail included. We went through some wonderful Medieval towns with lovely cathedrals and churches. Drank and ate Tapas at the many Bars and Restaurants, stayed at some very historic Paradors and Hotels. The meals were Gourmet and mostly included. I enjoyed the last few days before we ended in Santiago de Compostela, we met many pilgrims and shared their stories at the many Bars along the way. It was an amazing atmosphere at the end when the pilgrims arrived at their destination and the Pilgrims Mass was very emotional for all. I would like to thank Graeme and Pascal for looking after us all and making every day so enjoyable." Patricia from Mount Eliza VIC, Australia 
Diversity of Tour was really appreciated. We had a great group which combined with a great itinerary made for a special couple of weeks." Franck from Brisbane, QLD Australia 
Enjoyed the walks, and understanding of the pilgrimage. Our guide, Pascal added to the experience." Sandra from Brisbane, QLD Australia 
The experience of the Pilgrim's Trail tour exceeded expectations on so many levels. The fine dining experience at Hotel Ithurria in Ainhoa in the Pays Basque of south-western France was truly memorable with Michelin star food and an excellent wine list that also featured local Irouléguy wines, and a range of fine Armagnacs. At the same time the dining in the restaurants of the Parador Hotels and the Pousada De Portomarin was very good - tasty, regional, and sustaining after a day's trekking. Special mention is deserved for the dining experience in the city of Leon at Restaurante Bodega Regia, where a sumptuous 6 course meal of traditional rustic cuisine was enjoyed. It was wonderful sampling the local delicacies such as the Gateau Basque from Le Moulin de Bassilour, freshly grilled sardines in St Jean de Luz, the salami, ham, crusty bread at Venta Berrouet on the France - Spain border, tapas in Pamplona, the verdejo and rioja wines at Marques de Riscal, and the high quality / low cost cafe con leche throughout Spain. The history of the route of the El Camino Pilgrim's Trail is fascinating, combining ruins from Roman times, through relicts of the Middle Ages to the amazing architecture art, and significance of the cathedrals of Pamplona, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Leon, and Santiago de Compostela. And the detour to the walled stone town perched on a mountain top, Sos del Ray Catolico (the birthplace of King Ferdinand, father of Catherine of Aragon) was truly worthwhile. Many guests of the Gourmet Walkabout Pilgrim's Tour will have remarked on the scenery - spectacular views from the foothills of the Pyrenees looking over Pays Basque to the Bay of Biscay, bucolic scenes of well-fed cattle in lush pastures, wild ponies, gnarled grape vines of Rioja and Navarro, fields of grain swaying in the breeze and tall poplars standing guard beside local roads in La Maragateria de Astorgia, to the Galician slate villages and green moss covered trails on the way to Portomarin. Scenery so visually pleasing that it was easy to forget that we were walking significant kilometres of the El Camino. The variety of sections of the El Camino selected by Graeme provided a thorough introduction to the trail. Indeed Graeme's detailed knowledge of its history, of its topography, of its sites, and of the cuisines and wines of the regions we traversed, added colour and context to everything we did. Significantly Graeme's wide-ranging conversation, conviviality, good humour and hospitality enhanced our overall enjoyment of the experience." Steven & Jane from Gordon NSW, Australia 
The Pilgrim's Way is a completely different way to see and understand northern Spain. Apart from the magnificent scenery and fantastic location - the Paradors of Spain have to be experienced to be believed! - walking the Pilgrim's Way and having the opportunity to visit places like Leon, Burgos and Santiago de Compostela, as well as the villages along the way, gave me a whole new insight into part of Spain's history. Ainhoa in France and the Hotel Ithurria were also fabulous as our starting point. Even though it's been 10 years since I travelled (through Italy) with Walkabout Gourmet, WGA has lost none of its expertise in organisation, support, great company and showing off some of Europe's finest in terms of food, wine, walking trails, and places to stay. I've already been checking out the brochure for my next WG trip!" Lorne, Orange NSW, Australia 
We really enjoyed the Pilgrim's Path trip - beautiful scenery and lovely historic places to stay in. And Graeme was a very good guide as he always is and very helpful with David who developed muscle problems. We are hoping to go on walking next year with him - another Snail Trail like we did last year would be good! Keep up the good work and hopefully see you next year!" David and Helen, Prince Henry Heights, QLD, Australia 
This was my second trip with WGA, the first one being Follow the Gourmet Trail in Italy in 2014. The Pilgrims Way surpassed all my expectations. The cuisine was wonderful, as was the accommodation in the historic Paradores of Spain. However, for me, the highlight of the trip was the chance to experience the Camino. Walking with, and chatting to the pilgrims who walk the whole 790kms was something I will never forget - and has in fact inspired me to perhaps give it a go one day. Graeme, our guide, was fantastic. His knowledge of the Camino and his ability to impart to us the significance of this walk for the pilgrims made such a difference. Thank you, WGA! I look forward to my next adventure." Yvonne, Hobart, TAS, Australia 
I loved the variety on this walk, which covered some of the most scenic stretches of the Camino. We passed alongside patchwork fields of green and yellow, through wooded forests, alongside streams and in and out of history. Stopping in ancient stone villages and cathedral cities such as Burgos and Leon meant we got the best of both the walking and the historical. Accommodation highlights were the family run hotel in Ainhoa with its Michelin starred restaurant and the former monastery, now parador in Leon. Thank you Graeme for a wonderful trip, and special thanks to Pascal who was always caring and mindful of the different needs and abilities of the group." Penny, Melbourne, VIC, Australia 
This was our first guided walking holiday and we loved it. Just the right amount of walking through picturesque countryside of quaint Basque villages, farms and historical Spanish cities. The food was delicious if a bit too plentiful! Our guides Graham and Pascal were knowledgeable, warm & friendly; nothing was too much trouble. As the main holiday organiser of my husband and I what I really appreciated was that every last detail was taken care of. This meant I could completely relaxed. It was also great to be walking with 12 others; getting to chat and know others from different walks of life yet sharing the bond of the adventure together. Since our return I have been recommending Walkabout Gourmet Adventures to friends and work colleagues as we had such a wonderful, satisfying experience. We are in the midst of planning our next walking adventure with them..." Jennifer, Sydney, NSW, Australia 
We are still basking in the glow of having participated in The Pilgrim's Way', our third walk with Walkabout Gourmet. This walk has been so well-conceived and we feel exhilarated by the experience of walking the 'best parts' of the Camino. There are so may unforgettable aspects - the spectacular mountain scenery in the Pyrenees foothills; the walks through farmland past fields of wheat and through little villages; the camaraderie of our fellow walkers; the beautiful cathedrals and chapels; the superb accommodation and delicious food and wines; the exchanged greetings of 'Hola! Buen Camino!' with other 'pilgrims', some of whom were completing the entire Camino of 800km. Our sincere thanks to Graeme and Pascal for their care, attention and good company." Jen and Barry, Sydney NSW, Australia 
The impeccable organisation behind the scenes made the Pilgrim`s Trail a wonderful, stimulating experience. Both Graeme and Pascal's duty of care was evident the entire trip. Not only did they assist physically when required, especially myself, but they shared their cultural knowledge of each area which meant the walk was both educational and rewarding. The standard of accommodation was excellent, the opportunity to dine in local restaurants was appreciated as well as free time to explore and relax. Furthermore, I found the Pilgrim's Trail was spiritually rewarding, making me aware of those countless other pilgrims who had walked the same paths all those centuries ago. Finally, finishing the walk in the magnificent city of Santiago de Compostela (where I saw adult men on bicycles crying in sheer relief or sadness in the magnificent Cathedral Square) is something I will never forget. Thank you Graeme." Helen, Perth, WA, Australia 
The Pilgrim's Way was our first Adventure with Walkabout Gourmet Adventures and won't be the last. The combination of meeting like minded people, walking through interesting country side in regional France and Spain, staying at great Paradors and the fantastic wine and food made this holiday very special the best we have ever been on. Walking along parts of The Camino Trail, we saw many historic and interesting villages and chatted with several Pilgrims who were following the way of St James. We particularly enjoyed walking through the farms and past the houses of the local villages. The coffee shops and bars that we stopped at along the way were a welcome break where we enjoyed a hot cuppa or a cold ale. Showery days were few and only added to the adventure. The picnic lunches were a highlight where we could relax and enjoy our lunch in a convenient spot beside the track. At one time we were in the shade of an almond tree eating our fresh bread that we bought from the local village shop before the walk. It was a relaxing walking holiday where we could chat and get to know the others in the group. We enjoyed the company of a great group of people. Our guides, Graeme and Pascal went out of their way to look after us all. They were familiar with the areas and were very informative giving us history lessons as we went. Both were easy to talk to while walking along the trail and helped us out on many occasions with the foreign languages. Graeme went out of his way on one of our free days to help us find a shop and came with us to purchase some new boots. These little things added a personal touch to make the adventure most enjoyable." John & Cheryl, Hervey Bay, Qld, Australia 
Our group of fellow walkers were fantastic on this, our very first walking holiday. Graeme and Pascal, our exceptional and experienced guides, were always on hand to provide assistance and support, whether it be about walking tips and hints or advice on appropriate gear. Accommodation and food were always superb. Scenery was stunning and varied widely from coastal views to lush meadows and rich wheat fields. The experience was unforgettable, we walked through sunshine, mist and rain and enjoyed it all. We met fellow El Camino travellers, every one a humbling experience as we learnt of their journeys on foot, without excellent guides with comfortable vans. 6 days later, we are in Paris contemplating our 2015 experience with Walkabout Gourmet Tours." Maureen & Graham, Adelaide, South Australia 
I recently had a wonderful experience as I and eleven other travellers, enjoyed a taste of the Camino de Santiago. As we walked through the various sections of the northern Spanish countryside, meeting pilgrims on the Camino, we gained a real insight into life in those regions as well as the centuries old pilgrimage. And the scenery was magnificent At the end of each day we relaxed in the comfort and fascinating surroundings of our Parador accommodation; at times it was like staying in a museum. However, the grandeur of the Paradors was no match for the delightful family run Hotel Ithurria at Ainhoa, our base for four nights in the French Basque region, where we enjoyed nightly stories from our host Stefan on the local region, including the smuggling. Being on a walking holiday, I had expected to lose some weight during the fourteen days, however I had not allowed for the of the evening meals and local wines. Again, the culinary delights of the Hotel Ithurria need special mention. Above all, gilding the experience, were our two guides Sabine and Pascal. They were golden. They never stopped in their mission to ensure all was well for our group. Their attentiveness was wonderful and they did a great deal behind the scenes each day and evening ensuring that everything was as it should be. Thank you again Sabine and Pascal. Thank you Walkabout Gourmet Adventures - ten out of ten." Shirley, VIC, Australia 
Our fourteen days on the Paradors & Road to Santiago was most impressive. We entered the world of the pilgrims who had walked this way for hundreds of years. The whole road was geared to aid the pilgrims today as in ancient times. The team, Sabina and Pasquale, made themselves invaluable to us and we could not fault their patient kindness and assistance along with good humour and morale raising. Our group had differing capabilities but we were never made to feel how difficult this was for them. Their concern for our welfare was always felt and appreciated by us (especially on the mountain in the almost hurricane)!! The Paradors we stayed in were quite awe inspiring, historic of course and very comfortable and it was great to prowl around them, learning their history and how they fitted in to the towns in which they were situated. The Basque region in France we particularly enjoyed to start with. Our accommodation there, with its Michelin 1 star cuisine was much enjoyed - especially the cake, with beautiful presentation, made for my birthday. Also, there was the kind gift, card and hug from Sabina and Pasquale (and notified by Trish!!) Our group was very friendly and harmonious and everyone was helpful to each other along the paths. We were disappointed to miss out on our last Parador but the alternative accommodation was adequate and the staff made quite an effort for us. The scenery in the first days and last days was particularly lovely with often snow capped mountains hovering and it was good to be tramping there. Santiago our destination was a fabulous ending to an inspiring holiday. Best Wishes and our thanks Graham, Sabina and Pasquale. Val and Peter, Merricks North, VIC, Australia 
This was our 2nd Gourmet Wwalkabout Tour. Our initiation was your 1st walk in Corsica. The scene this time was set after our first morning together as a group out of Biarritz, with delightful group of fellow Pilgrims and two very special guides, Sabine and Pascal who couldn't do enough to make our tour so memorable. Together, we walked nearly 130km of the Camino, experienced some fabulous food and wine and stayed in some very different accommodation. Our hotel in Aiahnoa, certainly set the benchmark for the tour. A family owed hotel with a one hat Michelin chef! As you would expect their were some real personalities in our group which always made for plenty of laughs. The two weeks flew, culminating in our final night at the Parador at Santiago de Compostela. Whilst we may not have qualified as real Pilgrims, by walking the last two hundred kilometers, we loved every minute of it and it provided plenty of inspiration for our next trip. Thanks to Graeme and Gabriella and their team, another winner! Sue & Peter, Newport, NSW, Australia