Are you strapped for time and looking for one section of the Camino to walk? If you want to experience some of the most picturesque and iconic scenery and towns, then look no further than Camino Frances Stage 4 — Leon to O Cebreiro.
Beginning in Leon, the third most populous, but arguably most scenic, city along the Camino Frances, this stage begins ominously with some arduous and unimpressive suburban walking. But once you have made it past this initial ugliness, it quickly transforms into one of, if not the, most highlighted section of the whole Camino.
Find the best restaurants
It begins with one of the most quintessential Camino towns, Astorga. A culinary connoisseur’s dream, this charming town is packed with some of the best restaurants on the Camino. Oozing charm, Astorga is also home to some wonderful attractions including ornate churches, a palace designed by Gaudi, and even a chocolate factory!
Head to the hills
The next stop is usually the delightful little hilltown of Rabanal del Camino. Full of character, this almost one street town boasts a restaurant serving the best hamburgers this side of the Mississippi!
The day’s walk between Rabanal and your next logical stop of Molinaseca is arguably the single most scenic, interesting and poignant days of the entire Camino. It begins with a steady but not strenuous climb up to the ethereal mountain village of Foncebadon. Once abandoned, this delightful hamlet has experienced a revival thanks to the foot traffic brought by the increasing numbers walking the Camino.
The Iron Cross
From there it’s on to probably the most poignant moment of the Camino, the Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross. Tradition states that you bring a stone from home to place at the foot of the cross, either as a tribute to a lost loved one or to symbolically represent the leaving behind of a burden or issue in your life. A very moving occasion for many pilgrims.
Other highlights on this day is the fascinating “town” of Manjarin, with a population of 1 (and a self proclaimed Knights Templar at that!). At 1530 metres, it’s the highest point of the whole Camino. The gorgeous hamlet of El Acebo has plethora dining options and some of the most breathtaking scenery of the whole Camino, matched only by the Pyrenees back at the beginning.
Some people will stop in El Acebo while others will continue on to Molinaseca, a town every bit as charming, only bigger! And the highlights continue as you near O Cebreiro. The Disney-esque Knights Templar castle in Ponferrada (worth exploring), the quintessential Camino town of Villafranca del Bierzo (good place for a rest day) and the string of lovely villages that appear one after the other as you close in on the climb to O Cebreiro.
Reaching O Cebreiro
But it’s the bluestone mountain top village of O Cebreiro that is the jewel in the crown. If you are lucky enough to be here on a day when the sun shines — admittedly a rare event as it has its own weather pattern and is often covered in snow — you just won’t want to leave. It’s a perfect ending for this highlight-packed stretch of the Camino that, just quietly, is one of our favourite sections of all the Camino sections. If time permits, it’s really a must do!
This section as part of RAW Travel’s Leon to Santiago Camino