5. Azofra to Ages 63 km

 

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La Rioja vineyards Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

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.

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Azofra to Ciruena Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

After 7.90 kilometres of riding without seeing a single house you will then see the golf club (café) and arrive in the village of Ciruena (718m; 7.90 km6.80 km to Santo Domingo de la Calzada) with a restaurant and an albergue:

Albergue Virgen de Guadalupe, 23 beds, opens from mid-March to mid-October, heating, 7 Euros (albergue doesn’t have good reviews on the Internet)

Albergue Turístico Victoria, 16 beds, opens from March until November, heating, 10 – 20 Euros

Azofra to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Azofra to Santo Domingo de la Calzada Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

Continue riding through the la Rioja countryside, uphill for the first kilometres. When the Camino joins the LR-204, switch to the road and after the roundabout when the road forks; go straight (like the Camino) and a minute later you will get to the entrance (closed for cars) of the historical centre of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The street will lead you to the Cathedral and an ancient hospital for pilgrims.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada 641m; 14.70 km6.60 km to Granon

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Romanesque polichromed recumbent statue of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, The Cathedral, Below: Hospital/Parador Santo Domingo de la Calzada Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

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. IMG_7769Devoting 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.

Cathedral

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Gothic henhouse and its inhabitants white hen and white rooster. Below: David playing the lyre, The Cathedral, Santo Domingo de la Calzada Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

The architect and author of the first church was Santo Domingo himself. The edifice was consecrated two years before his death. When the church burned down in the mid-12th century, a new one was built in its place. Over the years it underwent a lot of transformations as well as other changes in the 14th and 16th centuries.

Looking from the outside you might feel a bit disappointed by the church’s exterior, which looks much more like a fortress than a cathedral. The thing is that La Rioja’s history was so tumultuous that making a stronghold out of a cathedral was a very sensible decision. So, in the 14th century, the church was solidly fortified, which didn’t help its looks. But don’t judge it by its appearance. When you go inside you will be surprised once again but this time by the ravishingly spacious interior.

The apse and its ambulatory. In the mid 90’s when the main altar was removed beautiful Romanesque sculptures were discovered. 113They decorate the pillars separating the apse from the ambulatory. Amongst other things, there are representations of the wise and foolish virgins and David playing the lyre. They date from the 12th century.

Choir. The other highlight is a very decorative Plateresque choir carved in walnut by Andres de Najera and Guillen de Hollanda (16th century). Portrayals of saints are surrounded by mythological and fantastic figures. Every single seat is decorated differently to the others.

The tomb of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The recumbent statue of the Saint with gently carved features is one of the best examples of 12th-century polychrome Spanish sculpture. It is covered with an alabaster Gothic canopy dating from 1513. Part of the tomb is an 18th-century sculpture of Saint Dominic with silver hens. This image is used with obsessive persistence in all leaflets/souvenirs from the town. Which is a shame as this sculpture is awful, unlike the distinguished 12th-century one. I am considering writing a letter of complaint to the town hall.

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. IMG_7764When 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.

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Traditional confectionery from Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Milagros del Santo and above The Hanged Man, Santo Domingo de la Calzada Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

So now the henhouse is an integral part of the church, just like its inhabitants – white hens and white roosters. They are exchanged every 20 days and happily live out their days under the protective wings of the Confraternity of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
The altar. The former main altar is the work of Damian Forment. A golden, nine metres high retablo is a first-class example of Spanish Renaissance.

Cloister. This part of the church is now a place for an exhibition of the cathedral’s collection. Amongst other treasures is a stunning Flemish sculpture of Veronica from the 15th century.

Baroque church tower. Very untypically the church tower stands alone across the street.

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The Cathedral and its bell tower, that prefers keep the Cathedral at a distance, Santo Domingo de la Calzada Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

However, it looks as if it was destined to be separated from the church as the first one within the edifice was damaged by lightning and the second was dismantled at the last minute before it crumbled away. The third one however luckily stands across the street for over 250 years.

Putting it mildly, a favourite of mine author of the 12th-century guidebook to Santiago doesn’t have much good to say about Spain nor its saints. It goes without saying that nothing looks good compared to his beloved Poitou. It always makes me smile the huge disproportion between the description of French and Spanish Saints. Aymeric dedicated 28 pages to a deeply personal, flowery and passionate description of French saints and a meagre half a page for a simple enumeration of the Spanish ones. One of four lucky-to-be- mentioned Spaniards is Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

Important: if this guidebook is serving you well, for instance, you feel grateful that you didn’t enter Pamplona by that dual carriageway like the group of cyclists from X, or unlike the pilgrim from Y, you didn’t push your bicycle on the dirt track all the way to Alto del Perdon; and you didn’t wander around Huarte for half an hour looking for an albergue but got the last bed just before the pilgrim from Z, also on a bicycle; then please light a candle in the cathedral of Santo Domino de la Calzada for the general well-being of the author of the guidebook. Not feeling that grateful? Ok, give it a few more days…

Hospital/Parador

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Hospital/Parador Santo Domingo de la Calzada Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

As said above, Santo Domingo de la Calzada himself built the first, very simple hospice for pilgrims. It was later replaced by a three-naved building in the 15th century. The Medieval hospice received pilgrims until the 19th century and then was changed into a hospital for the poor.IMG_7772 In the 1960s it was raised from ruins by a luxury hotel chain called Parador National. An impressive main hall with huge Gothic columns is the only remaining part of the old hospital.

The hospital and cathedral face each other. Just behind the church, there is a pleasant Baroque town hall.

Both of the town’s albergues are on Calle Mayor, the street leading to the cathedral and Parador. Closest to the church is the one run by the Confraternity of Santo Domingo, the people who take care of the hens. Which means you will be well looked after…

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Pilgrims under the protective wings of Confraternity of Santo Domingo de la Calzada Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Casa de la Cofradía del Santo, 217 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 7 Euros (the albergue is a new, shiny, fully-equipped establishment and the old one is used off-season or if the new one is full)

Albergue de la Abadia Cisterciense, 32 beds, opens from May until the end of September, a kitchen, 8 Euros

Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Villamayor del Rio
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Villamayor del Rio Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

How to get out of Santo Domingo de la Calzada? The Camino in the historical centre of the town is marked with scallops set in cobbles. From the cathedral, the route runs through the streets all the way to the bridge and later on goes through fields. The route is quite obvious and for a while parallel to the N-120. Some disruption may occur near the building site of the A-12. Here just follow the people with rucksacks or simply ride in the same direction. For the last kilometres the Camino wanders off the highway and then comes back again. 6.60 kilometres from Santo Domingo de la Calzada you will get to

Granon 728m; 21.30 km3.70 km to Redecilla del Camino

13. Granon, La Rioja, Amazing albergue in church tower run by volunteers. They never send anybody away
An amazing albergue in church tower run by volunteers, Granon Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

In the past Granon was an important point on the map of the region. It has two monasteries and even a hospital for pilgrims built in the 11th century. Even though nothing remains of these buildings, the town safeguards the tradition of caring for pilgrims. The albergue here is very special – placed in the church tower and run by volunteers, never sends anybody away. Everything is quite simple; you will sleep on a mattress and maybe stand in a queue for one of the two showers. There is a communal dinner, breakfast and an extraordinary atmosphere. The albergue in Granon is one of many fantastic places on your route true to the spirit of community and brotherhood: A true spirit of the Camino.

Albergue parroquial San Juan Bautista, 40 beds, open all year round, heating, shared dinner and breakfast, donation

Albergue Ave de Paso, 10 beds, open all year round (off-season you have to book, avedepasoalbergue@outlook.es), heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros

Albergue La Casa de las Sonrisas, 28 beds, open all year round, heating, microwave, shared dinner, donation

Albergue Municipal Nuestra Señora de Carrasquedo, 42 beds, a heating, 6 Euros (free to use bike workshop)

There is a nice place for a picnic at the town’s exit. Stay on the Camino which between Granon and Redecilla is a comfortable dirt track. The fields you cycle through are quite hilly and it will stay like this all the way to Ages. You will probably get tired but still be able to do a fair few more kilometres today. 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.

Redecilla del Camino 739m; 25 km1.60 km to Castildelgado

Heavenly Jerusalem
Romanesque baptismal font in the shape of Heavenly Jerusalem. Redecilla del Camino Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

The first evidence that you are in the well-organized-and-prepared-for-the-thousands-going-to-Santiago Castile is that at the entrance of the village you have an excellent Pilgrim’s Information Office and a few steps away a display-board as described above. But don’t worry – the fact that you have all the information on your doorstep doesn’t mean that all of a sudden, the road to Santiago becomes as easy as ABC. Like every handsome knight in every tale has some “surprise” up his sleeve, Castile also has its surprises. We will talk about that later; for now, let’s enjoy the freshly painted arrows, signposts, bars and restaurants.

Albergue municipal San Lazaro, 40 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros

Albergue Essentia, 10 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros

Redecilla is also mentioned in the 12th-century guide. There is a parish church with an amazing Romanesque baptismal font in the shape of Heavenly Jerusalem. Redecilla del Camino is the first town in the Province of Burgos, part of the autonomous community of Castile and Leon.

The Camino dirt track runs parallel to the road. In less than 1.60 kilometres you will get to Castildelgado 768m; 26.60 km1.80 km to Villoria de Rioja

This small town was renamed after its most famous inhabitant – bishop Francesco Delgado. One of the chapels in parish Gothic church is dedicated to him.

Albergue Bideluze, 18 beds, opens from 1st March until the end of October, heating, 10 -18 Euros

The route to Villoria is a dirt track parallel to the main road for the first kilometre and later on, it becomes a local tarmac road. 1.80 km on you will be in the hometown of Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Villoria de Rioja 791m; 28.40 km3 km to Villamayor del Rio

The small town is proud of its son, a great man of the Camino. Santo Domingo was baptized in the local church

Albergue Parada Viloria, 16 beds, opens from 1st March until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros

Albergue Accacio y Orieta, 10 beds, opens from April until the end of October, heating, 5 Euros

Tarmac road runs along fields. You are still cycling up and down hills. When your tarmac road crosses the N-120, the Camino turns left. There is a broad field track made especially for pilgrims, parallel to the main road. Three kilometres on you will get to

Villamayor del Rio (780m; 31.40 km4 km to Belorado) with its shabby, but charming grapevine-clad buildings.

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Villamayor del Rio Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Albergue San Luis de Francia, 26 beds, opens from the end of March until the end of October, heating, 5 Euros119

You are still cycling on the pilgrim’s path with the N-120 all the time to your right. The terrain is less hilly than before and after 4 kilometres of relatively easy riding you enter

Belorado 770m; 35.40 km5.80 km to Tosantos

Just before the town the Camino crosses the main road and passes next to an albergue with a nice restaurant. You can eat your lunch/dinner here, as they have menu del pelegrino on offer. Minutes later you will pass four other albergues. I have listed them in the order you pass them:

Albergue A Santiago, 98 beds, opens from March until October, heating, a kitchen, 5-7 Euros

Albergue municipal El Corro, 45 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros

Albergue parroquial Santa Maria, 20 beds, opens from April until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, donation

Albergue Caminante, 26 beds, opens from March until the end of October, heating, microwave, 5 Euros

Albergue Cuatro Cantones, 65 beds, opens from March until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 8 – 12 Euros

Albergue El Salto (on the outskirts of town), 24 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, bike workshop, 15 Euros

Belorado was a strategic point on the map of Castile thanks to its geographical situation at the small pass on the border with la Rioja. Since the 10th century, the town was showered with charters. In its glory days, the town had eight churches and two hospices for pilgrims – one at the entrance and the other at the exit of the city. Many of these buildings don’t exist today – Hospital de San Lazaro was demolished in the 80s, the other hospital was also wiped off the surface of the earth; of the San Nicolas church only, the clock tower remains, and the former convent of Saint Francis was converted into a block of flats. As it is today Belorado is a pleasant town that unfortunately lacks first-rate monuments. Saying that it is quite cosy, which compensates for its shortcomings. You might like cycling its narrow streets and be tempted to have a coffee at Plaza Mayor (behind the fourth albergue).

Yellow arrows will lead you out of the town (Calle de Hipolito Lopez Bernal, Calle del Camino de Santiago, Camino del Matadero). There is a Monastery of Santa Clara by the exit; a good place to sit down if you need peace and quiet.

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Beldorado to Tosantos Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Behind the bridge, 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. At certain times of the day it can be deserted, so if you don’t feel ok, just switch to the N-120. 5.80 kilometres further on you enter

Tosantos 820m; 41.20 km1.90 km to Villambistia

Albergue parroquial, 30 beds, opens from April until mid- November, heating, a kitchen, shared dinner, donation

Albergue Los Arancones, 16 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 Euros

Now the Camino moves further away from the N-120 and after less than 2 kilometres you will get to Villambistia (768m; 43.10 km1.30 km to Espinoza del Camino), a small village with a bar/albergue:IMG_3034

Albergue municipal San Roque, 14 beds, open all year round, heating, 6 Euros

A dirt track leads back to the N-120 and after cycling it for 1.30 kilometres you will reach small and partly ruined village Espinoza del Camino (895m; 44.40 km3.40 km to Villafranca Montes de Oca). There is a small albergue over there, but it doesn’t have good reviews on the Internet.

From this point, the landscape around you starts to change. You will notice mountain flora under your bicycle wheels. Now you enter a mountain range called Montes de Oca. At first, the narrow track widens and meanders up the hills.

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On the way to Villafranca Montes de Oca Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

About 2 kilometres later, on your right, you will see a single arch. That’s everything that remains of the early Middle Ages church and monastery of San Felices de Oca. It is hard to believe that in its glory days it was one of the most important religious centres in Spain. 1.40 kilometre further and you get to

Villafranca Montes de Oca 937m; 47.80 km11.70 to San Juan de Ortega

For a short time, the town was a see. It was known for its 14th-century Hospital de la Reina (or Hospital de San Anton Abad) that for ages was overcrowded with pilgrims. In the 16th century, it received about 200 walkers a day. The building was extended over the centuries and today serves as a hotel as well as an albergue. Some bits and pieces remain from the old construction, so you might want to have a look as you pass by it.

There are a restaurant and café there as well:

Albergue San Anton Abad, 49 beds, opens from mid-March until mid-November, heating, microwave, 5-15 Euros

Albergue municipal (by the main road), 60 beds, now apparently closed, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros

Villafranca 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.

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San Juan y Ortega prays during the storm at sea, Saint’s tomb in the Church of San Juan de Ortega. Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

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. So, voila:

Main route

 

Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega
Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan Ortega Copyright OpenStreetMaps Contributors

The best option is cycling on the Camino, which involves around one kilometre of bike pushing in total (there are these two-impressive super steep sandy hills on the way, just impossible to cycle). This route is 11.70 km long and goes through mountains and woods.

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Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega. Below: Very steep sandy hill on the way to San Juan de Ortega Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

It involves some climbing at the beginning (1161m; for about 4 km), then cycling in the forest on a more level, but deep cut muddy road and finally around 6 km long very pleasant descent. IMG_1101The route is well way-marked, scenic and I have to say that that I like it a lot, but it should only be done during the day when there are a lot of pilgrims on the Way as it is completely isolated meaning absolutely nothing for 12 km. You won’t be able to do it after weeks of heavy rain either because you will bury yourself in mud (Spanish friends on their mountain bikes were hard to recognize after biking this trail on a rainy September afternoon). But if all the requirements above are met that’s your route (11.70 km).

Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega. Elevation. 1 PNG
The Camino from Villafranca Montes del Oca to San Juan de Ortega. 1164 m max elevation

Route two: the N-120 is a charming road which meanders up the hills. There is a forest on both your left and right: Just you and nature. I am writing this to inform you as I am almost sure you won’t notice it while trying not to be knocked over by trucks: Or rather, a hundred TIR lorries. So, if you always wanted to play Russian roulette but never really had the chance, this is your closest alternative.

The N-120 turns constantly to the right and to the left. You will cycle uphill for 5 kilometres until you see a sign „Puerto de la Pedraja 1150 m”. The road becomes flatter for one kilometre and when you pass the picnic stop it starts to rise again. After about 8 km from Villafranca Montes de Oca the N-120 settles down and for the last kilometres makes a gentle descent. At 14, 5 km turn right onto the provincial road, the BU-V- 7012 signposted to Santovenia de Oca. You will pass this town 500 meters further on and then after cycling for about 3, 5 km on a deserted tarmac road you get to San Juan de Ortega (18.50 km)

If you cycle this route, have your fluorescent jacket on, as you might not be seen from behind a bend. Cycle only on the narrow hard shoulder and don’t rush; give yourself a chance to escape if a truck passes you too close – and I guarantee that at least one will. Remember that there are about two-minute gaps between large groups of TIR-lorries, so you can use this time to speed up or negotiate a sharp bend.

Route three: You will cycle along the BU-703 and BU-701 provincial roads. This is a beautiful and scenic route; the problem is that it is very isolated, which can attract unwanted attention – well, this happened to me while cycling it. So, if you are female and cycling alone, take route number one or two. Trucks are easier to handle. However, if you are cycling in a group – this is your road.

The second route is six kilometres longer than the first but is much easier to cycle, has nice descents, excellent views, good surfaces and no trucks in view. If you take this route look for the truck park at the entrance of Villafranca Montes de Oca – finding it is not difficult. Turn right onto the tarmac road marked the BU-703, adjacent to the truck park. The road planted with trees and bushes runs in between fields. You will see lovely hills to your right. The road descends slightly, so is very pleasant to cycle. After 5, 50 kilometres you will pass Villanasur Rio de Oca, at 6, 50 km Villalbos, and after another kilometre Villalmondar. 500 metres further on, at about 8 km turn left onto a narrow tarmac road signposted to Cerraton de Juarros (the BU-701). The road is almost flat for the first two kilometres then climbs up the hillside for another three and makes a gentle descent before Cerraton de Juarros (13 km). You will cycle uphill for another 7 kilometres, passing Villaescusa la Sombria (17 km) and Hiniestra (20,50 km). When you pass this last village look for a small tarmac road on your left signposted San Juan de Ortega. Three kilometres cycling in the forest (not 2, 50 km as the signpost promises) and you find yourself at the entrance of the monastery and church of San Juan de Ortega (24.50 km)

So, these are the three options and whichever one you choose will get you to the lost-in-the-mountains monastery with a sepulchre of a man who spent his whole life caring about the safety of pilgrims. As you already found out he did it for a good reason.

San Juan de Ortega 1017m; 59.50 km (route two 66.3 km; route three 72.30 km)3.50 to Ages

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Gothic sepulchre of San Juan de Ortega, The Church of San Juan de Ortega. Below: The Church and the Monastery  Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

San Juan built a hospice here for pilgrims. His devotion to the cause of the Camino drew the attention of the high and mighty of this world. The small monastery and hostel for pilgrims were soon taken under the Royal wing. Despite this, the place could hardly make ends meet until the Hieronymites were put up here. The order was very popular on the Iberian Peninsula, well-administered monastery and opened a famous pharmacy in the region.125

The church’s oldest parts are the 12th-century apses probably built by San Juan de Ortega himself. Its pilasters are decorated with fine Romanesque capitols; pay attention to the one showing three events from Mary’s life – the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity. The architects of that particular capitol had to have good astronomy knowledge as the scene of the Annunciation receives a natural complement in the form of a beam of sunlight that falls on the figure of Mary twice a year – on the spring and autumnal equinox.

Juan de Colonia, an architect from the nearby Burgos cathedral finished off the building of the church in the 15th century in Gothic style. Another piece of his work is the baldachin over San Juan de Ortega’s tomb, the first thing you see when you enter the church (in the crypt there is also an old Romanesque tomb of a saint).
John de Ortega is not the only saint present here.

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The Cloister. San Juan de Ortega Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

There are also relics of another – the hero of Christmas, St Nicolas. San Juan took them from the Holy Land and during the shipwreck, he prayed to St Nicolas to be saved from death. Queen Isabella Catholica built a special chapel for his relics at the end of the 15th century.

As I mentioned above, in the 15th century a powerful bishop of Burgos Pablo de Santamaria brought Hieronymites here. Their partly ruined cloister remains. You will also find another hint of the brother’s presence in the Plateresque altar telling the life story of Saint Hieronymus.

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.

There is quite a basic albergue and bar/restaurant in San Juan de Ortega:

Albergue de San Juan de Ortega, 68 beds, opens from March until November, heating, 10 Euros

From San Juan de Ortega to Ages take the Camino. The dirt track leads through woods and although it lacks arrows the route is quite obvious. Ignore signs for the alternative Camino (leading to Santovenia de Oca). After about two kilometres in the forest, you enter a glade. A hundred or so meters downhill on stones and you get to

Ages 981m; 63 km2.30 to Atapuerca

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Ages Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

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:

Albergue municipal, 36 beds, open all year round, heating, 9 Euros

Albergue El Pajar de Ages, 34 beds, opens from March until mid-November, heating, 10 Euros

Albergue San Rafael, 16 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 Euros

There are no shops in San Juan de Ortega and Ages, so if you would like to prepare your own dinner then you should shop in Villafranca Montes de Oca. Although the albergues in Ages are not equipped with kitchens, all serve menu de pelegrino; you can also eat in the bar in San Juan de Ortega. I loved paella in El Pajar.

Just in case you feel like continue cycling – getting to Burgos takes less than one hour and the half…albergue municipal is comfortable…the Cathedral breath-taking…Cartuja stunning…