Follow the yellow arrows as you are now cycling on the Camino. The dirt track to Santo Domingo de la Calzada meanders in and out of farmlands and vineyards. The surroundings are hilly and quiet.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a cathedral town in La Rioja that sprang up around the hermitage of an extraordinary man. Saint Dominic was born into a poor family in Viloria de Rioja in the 11th century. He dreamt of being a monk but was expelled from the monasteries in Valvanera and San Millan de la Cogolla for his poor results in studies.
Rejected by the priories, he decided to spend the rest of his life as a hermit. Then he had a dream telling him to leave the hermitage and join San Gregorio Ostiense in Logrono. San Gregorio quickly noticed great value in this humble man and fulfilled his dreams of the priesthood. He ordained Santo Domingo de la Calzada a priest. Soon they started building roads (calzada in Spanish) and bridges together. Before these improvements, La Rioja region with its thick forests, dangerous swamps and one old Roman road was very dangerous to travel. Devoting himself to the cause of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Santo Domingo made La Rioja the safest part of the Camino building a new, comfortable road from Najera to Redecilla del Camino. He also used to feed pilgrims at a long table set on the banks of the river. The first hospice for pilgrims was also his work. When he died in 1109 at the age of 90, he left his disciple San Juan de Ortega who continued building bridges and roads for the pilgrims.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is unquestionably one of the greatest advocates of the Camino in history. He spent his whole life improving safety and travel conditions for those going to Compostela. Small wonder that the city that took his name is an absolute must-see.
Henhouse. The cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada is probably the only church in the world that contains a henhouse, approved by the Pope in the mid-14th century. It is a good example of what Gothic henhouses must have looked like – and always makes me smile a bit. The first question that crosses your mind is what hens are doing in a church. The answer lies in one of the saint’s miracles. According to legend, a certain German family with an 18-year-old son went on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. When they stopped for the night in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the daughter of the innkeeper fell in love with the young man. But he wasn’t interested – he simply didn’t want to start a relationship while on the pilgrimage. Rejected girl turned into a Fury. She falsely accused him of theft and the young man was immediately hanged.
The distraught parents prayed to Saint Dominic to save the life of their son. To their utter amazement, they saw that the hanged son didn’t die. So, they quickly went to the town official to tell him about the miracle. The official, annoyed about being disturbed while eating dinner and frankly speaking, not at all convinced of the truthfulness of the story, said that the boy was as alive as the roasted chickens he was eating. The rest of the story is a good example of how you can really say something at the wrong time because the roasted chickens flew off the plate and started to crow. After this traumatic experience, we can suspect that the official didn’t touch poultry for the rest of his life.
Somewhere between Granon and Redecilla del Camino, you will enter the third Spanish autonomous community Castilla y Leon. From this moment on at the entrance of every town and village you will see huge display-boards with useful information you might need: how many kilometres are left before Santiago, how many kilometres to the next stop, locations of the albergues, pharmacies, shops, monuments. You see these boards all the way up to some lost road in the mountains where you will then see a new signpost with “Welcome to Galicia” written on it…. then nothing is quite the same again.
Between Beldorado to Tosantos, the Camino becomes a comfortable wide gravel path, prepared for the jubilee year of 2010 and excellent for cycling. The Camino track is parallel to the main road but is at some distance.
Villafranca Montes de Oca is a good place to have something to eat and is chosen by many as a place to stay overnight. What I don’t like about the town, and I’m sure that all its inhabitants agree with me is the main road (the N-120). Not the road exactly– it’s just it’s the favourite route for all of the multi-tonne TIR lorry drivers going to Burgos. I mean it – all of them. I sort of understand– it is a lovely road in the mountains, so who could resist it?
The part of the Camino you are about to enter is closely connected to San Juan de Ortega – an extraordinary man and a close friend and brilliant follower of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. He made a promise to help those going to Santiago de Compostela when he survived a shipwreck on his way back from the Holy Land. He chose Montes de Oca for his mission; a dangerous and easy to get lost forested mountain range. Nine hundred years later this part of the Camino is still not so easy to cross. I have tried all the possible routes from Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega and I find all of them a bit unsafe. It amazed me and hacked me off to say this until I realized that it means to be uneasy.
San Juan de Ortega. The austere church and cloister of San Juan de Ortega is not only part of the glory days of the Camino de Santiago, but also made a large contribution to the development of the Way in the 20th century. In the 70s Jose Maria Alonso Marroquin, then a priest in Ages, started to look after the very rare at the times groups of pilgrims going to Santiago. Soon after he was relocated to San Juan de Ortega. Over the next 30 years, he became one of the greatest advocates of the Camino. He used to drive an old car along the Way checking if anybody needed help on the way to San Juan. Every evening he invited all of the pilgrims for a bowl of garlic soup. He served those going to Santiago until his death in 2008. Today he is a part of the legend of the Camino.
Ages (63 km from Azofra) This small town witnessed a fratricidal fight between the Kings of Navarra and Castile. King Garcia of Najera, killed by his brother Fernando I of Leon and Castile, was buried here after the Battle of Atapuerca in 1054. Later on, his mortal remains were moved to the Royal Pantheon in Najera. Modern Ages has three good albergues and a bar. The town is quite small but has a very good vibe and it’s worth staying for the night.