Concerning this region, the author of the 12th-century guidebook has only good things to say,
this is a country full of treasures, of gold and silver, fortunate in producing fodder and sturdy horses and with an abundance of bread, wine, meat, fish, milk and honey. It is, however, lacking in trees and people are wicked and vicious.
What has been said exhausts the subject – there are not too many trees indeed. For the next hundred kilometres, you will cycle on flat terrain, without a shadow of a shadow. Some walkers skip this part of the road, which, in my opinion, is a great mistake because it is a brilliant part of the Camino. The sky stretches out above your head from East to West and from North to South. It feels a bit like being in the desert. The intervals between towns seem to be longer than before and there is nothing in between. No great art, no beautiful views, only sky to look at. And that, believe me, is truly amazing and very reassuring.
To start you will have to cycle almost 17 kilometres to get to Calzadilla de la Cueza. The track used to be an absolute nightmare, let’s say like cycling on a cobbled street for 17 kilometres. Since the surface was changed the experience changed diametrically. Now it is very pleasant as you ride on bike-friendly fine-grained gravel.
Leave Carrion de los Condes by the main road following the Camino way-markings. Pass the church of Saint James on the right (100 meters of one-way street), cross over the bridge and pass the Monastery of San Zoilo on the left. At the first roundabout head for the N-120 and the Camino, at the next intersection go straight on, following the pillars with scallops. For some time you will be cycling on the narrow, local tarmac road with single houses and later on a gravel lane. This part of the track is completely isolated and the Guardia Civil may patrol in the morning.
However, in the evening/late afternoon, it is what it is – a long track in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything. So, if you have to cycle it late in the day it’s better to take the N-120 instead (the N-120 passes through Calzadilla de la Cueza). However, during the day, it is excellent. Open countryside on the left and right, the sky above you and the road in front of you.
The road is almost completely flat except for two little hills. After 17 kilometres of cycling you reach Calzadilla de la Cueza (860m; 17 km→6.20 km to Ledigos). This tiny village has two pilgrim’s albergues and bars where everybody stops for a drink and/or sandwich:
Albergue Municipal de Calzadilla de la Cueza, 34 beds, open all year round, heating, 5 Euros
Albergue privado de Calzadilla de la Cueza, 80 beds, open all year round, heating, 7 Euros
At this point, the Camino is close and parallel to the N-120. The path hedged with flowers and tall grasses goes gently up and down. 6.20 kilometres from Calzadilla de la Cueza you reach Ledigos (872m; 23.20 km→3.20 km to Terradillos de los Templarios).
Many houses in this small town are made of clay that gives you the feeling of being in real, non-touristic Spanish countryside-especially on lazy sunny days. The streets are narrow and at the top of the hill, there is a church with three statues of Saint James – as a pilgrim, Apostle and Matamoros. Ledigos was very closely linked to this saint –in the 11th century, the town was given to Santiago de Compostella. There used to be an ancient pilgrim’s hostel, nowadays there is a bar and two albergues:
Albergue El Palomar, 52 beds, opens from February to November, heating, a kitchen, 6-8 Euros
Albergue La Morena, 37 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 8 – 15 Euros
Just as before the Camino path runs parallel to the N-120 and soon you reach Terradillos de los Templarios (884m; 26.40 km→3 km to Moratinos).
The town used to belong to the Templars and according to legend, the brothers hid the goose that laid the golden eggs here. Unfortunately, the goose hasn’t been found yet although I have no doubt that repeated attempts were made to find it. This is not the only legend – some years ago in this area, one of the towns firmly believed that their parish priest was a Templar, despite resolute protests from the interested party. As a huge fan of the Knights Templar, I am sorry that buildings belonging to the Order did not survive, but I like this tiny town anyway.
Terradillos de los Templarios has two nice albergues with bars. Both albergues’ names emphasize their links with the Order:
Albergue Los Templarios, 52 beds, opens from the end of March to the end of October, heating, 8 -10 Euros or 16 -19 Euros (triple/double rooms)
Albergue Jacques de Molay, 50 beds, opens from February to 1st December, heating, 8-10 Euros
Between Terradillos de los Templarios and Moratinos, the track wanders away from the N-120 and meanders up and down the hills among farmlands. About 3 kilometres further on you reach Moratinos (861m; 29.40 km→2.70 km to San Nicolas del Real Camino), a small village with humble root cellars standing in a line. You will see them again on the outskirts of Leon, but those of Moratinos are the ones you will remember. You can have your credencial stamped in the brick church. There are also two albergues in Moratinos:
Albergue San Bruno, 18 beds, opens from April to January, heating, 7 – 9 Euros
Albergue Moratinos, 10 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 Euros (towel and toiletries included)
Follow the Camino dirt road for 2.70 kilometres until you get to San Nicolas del Real Camino (843m; 32.10 km→7 km to Sahagun). This village like the nearby Terradillos belonged to the Templars. There is a simple brick church and an albergue/bar:
Albergue Laganares, 22 beds, opens from mid-March until the beginning of November, heating, 9 Euros
The track returns to the national road. In less than two kilometres after cycling under the blue flyover you will say goodbye to Palencia.
You now enter the Province of Leon. A bit over four kilometres from San Nicolas, the Camino turns right and starts to run along the riverbank. The path will quickly lead you to a brick church with a picnic area (if it brings you to a small tunnel under the highway it means you are on the wrong bank of the river -the bad news is that you have to go back to the N-120 but the good news is that the trees and path are much prettier on the wrong than on the right bank of the river; incidentally right is left). The church you pass by is a shrine of Our Lady of the Bridge (the bridge is older than the shrine; its foundations come from Roman times) built in Gothic-Mudejar style. The track goes diagonally across the fields not under the national road and joins one of the back streets of Sahagun.
Sahagun 838m; 39.10 km→9.90 km to Bercianos del Real Camino
The name of the town is derived from the name of San Facundo, the 4th-century martyr who was killed and buried along with his companion San Primitivo on the banks of the river. Looking at this very friendly, but a bit dusty and tiny town you would never guess that for centuries Sahagun ruled not only all the surrounding land but also 90 monasteries across the Iberian Peninsula. The town had a huge population of Muslims, Jews and Christians and held a famous annual market. Its powerful Monasterio Real de San Benito given to the Benedictines of Cluny was finished in the 13th century. The massive building contained as many as four cloisters and was built in the Mudejar style. The town even had its own university established by one of the abbots in the middle of the 14th century. Unfortunately, the lavish monastery was completely destroyed during the wars. Today only the huge 17th century arch above the street is a nostalgic reminder of the once powerful Cluniac Priory.
It should be emphasized that Sahagun is a capital of the Romanesque-Mudejar style (12th and 13th century). The most beautiful example, the monastery, disappeared off the face of the earth however existing ones like the Church of San Tirso or San Lorenzo are excellent examples of Mudejar. Christian churches built by the Spanish Muslims in the early Middle Ages are rather light constructions made out of red brick. They are lacking a stone vault having a wooden ceiling instead. The brick bell towers have rows of arches and windows and the interior is decorated with horseshoe arches. Usage of the decorative sculpture is rather frugal.
Sahagun is an excellent place to stay overnight. When you get to the bridge over the railway turn left to a private albergue, each year more and more stylistically diversified, or right to the albergue municipal standing less than a hundred meters from the bridge and in the old brick church of the Holy Trinity. Both hostels are bicycle-friendly.
If you want to take a look at the Romanesque-Mudejar style, cycle along the street with the albergue municipal for a few minutes and you get to the Iglesia de San Lorenzo or continue cycling along the Camino meaning cycle straight on from the bridge and when you get to the main street turn left. When the road forks turn left as the Camino way-markings direct you. The Church of San Tirso is close by the huge arch over the street.
Even though Sahagun’s Mudejar style is mentioned in every art history book, the town hides a more precious treasure – one of the best patisseries on the Camino. The café called “Asturcon” is at the fork in road described above and is run by a lady who not only has a fantastic selection of cakes but also genuinely likes pilgrims. Frankly speaking, if I haven’t much time and have to choose between seeing the Mudejar style in flash or eating a cake in that patisserie I would go for the latter.
Albergue municipal ‘Cluny’, 65 beds, open all year round except around Christmas time and the beginning of January, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros (in winter time you will be lodged in a different location)
Albergue ‘Viatoris’, 60 beds, opens from March until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 5-18 Euros (single room)
Hospederia de la Santa Cruz (on the right; by the arch) 55 beds, opens from February to November, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros
Posada Albergue El Labriego (on the left; by the arch) 20 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, you have to pay for the shower separately, 8 Euro
The Camino arrows then direct you to yet another charming bridge on the opposite bank of the river Cea. The track for pilgrims runs parallel to the road that quickly becomes the N-120. Then track forks: the main track goes along some local abandoned road and is perfect for cycling and the alternative one turns to Calzada del Coto. I had some bad experiences on the alternative Camino, which goes through completely remote areas for many kilometres. I would highly advice against taking this one.
Where the Camino forks is quite well marked (4.5 km from Sahagun). There is a large information board; the alternative one runs across the bridge over the highway. To follow the main route don’t cross the bridge and ignore the signs for Calzada del Coto or N-120. Go straight on and then immediately turn right as the Camino arrows direct. Now you cycle for kilometres on a small, most of the time empty, tarmac road passing walkers whose trail is alongside. For me personally, it is truly the Meseta Central begging you – flat, empty, treeless, more often than not overwhelmingly hot, pretty amazing I have to say. After 9.90 kilometres from Sahagun and around 5.40 from the fork in the road you will pass
Bercianos del Real Camino (856m; 49 km→7.80 km to El Burgo Ranero) a small municipality that has a flag with St James’s scallop. The buildings are dusty, in earth colours and blend perfectly into the landscape.
Albergue Parroquial Bercianos, 46 beds, opens from April to 1st November, a kitchen, shared dinner/breakfast, donation
Albergue Santa Clara, 19 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 8-10 Euros
7.80 km later (the road is exactly the same as before), you reach El Burgo Ranero (879m; 56.80 km→12.70 km to Reliegos), slightly bigger, but other than that a similar looking municipality to the one before. There are two albergues close to the town hall, a shop where you can buy something to eat and a restaurant that serves dinner to pilgrims. El Burgo Ranero is just another pleasant stop on the road to Santiago de Compostela:
Albergue El Burgo Ranero “Domenico Laffi”, 28 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, donation
Albergue El Nogal, 30 beds, from April to 1st November, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros
The third one has many bad reviews on the Internet:
Albergue La Laguna, 28 beds, opens from March until the end of November, a kitchen, 8 Euros
The route between El Burgo Ranero and Mansilla de las Mullas (LE-6615) looks exactly the same as for the last 50 km or so, except for one or two gentle hillocks as you get closer to Leon.
Reliegos itself (835m; 69.50 km→6.30 km to Mansilla de las Mullas) is just another small municipality typical of the area with two bars serving food and snacks for pilgrims. There are also six albergues if you wish to stay overnight:
Albergue de Reliegos, 45 beds, open all year round, a kitchen, 5 Euros
Albergue la Parada, 40 beds, opens from mid-January to mid- December, heating, microwave, 7 Euros
Albergue Piedras Blancas II, 10 beds, opens from March to the end of October, heating, 9 Euros
Albergue Gil, 23 beds, opens from the Holy Week to the end of November, 8 Euros
Albergue de Ada, 20 beds, opens from March to the end of October, heating, 8 Euros
Albergue Vive tu Camino, 20 beds, opens from March to the end of October, heating, 9 Euros
With walkers on your right, cycle for another 6.30 km to Mansilla de las Mullas (805m; 75.80 km→4.50 km to Villamoros de Mansilla), another town mentioned in the “12th century Guide”.
Mansilla is a town of Roman origin and was one of the stops on the Empire road leading to Leon where the Roman legion was stationed. The town holds several festivals throughout the year. If you happen to be there at the same time as the day of Saint James (25th of July) you can take part in Medieval Festival complete with fair, tournament and live music. Mansilla de las Mullas (likewise Reliegos in the past) is also known for its tomato production. That’s why on one Sunday at the end of August a Tomato Fair is held which finishes off with a tomato fight. So, if you have always wanted to take a part in La Tomatina but maybe not to extent of buying a ticket to Bunol, you can try your luck in Mansilla.
Mansilla de las Mullas is a pleasant place even when there are no festivals. All major events take place on the square by the city hall. On arrival in Mansilla de las Mullas you will cycle through Puerta Castillo or rather that what remains of the gate (the upper part is missing, in a gate’s case –the crucial part) and a minute or so later you will reach the main square (Plaza del Pozo). More often than not pilgrims will be sitting here on benches or (not sure about the others but that’s what I always do) going to the bakery/patisserie on the left side of the square. It’s hard for me to say what makes Mansilla so cosy – maybe the medieval city walls surrounding the centre, the narrow streets or characteristic houses with arcades? Whatever the reason Mansilla, even if not a touristic destination, is a pilgrim–friendly town that after a whole day of cycling in flat and hot Meseta, will make you feel welcome:
Albergue de Mansilla de las Mullas, 70 beds, open all year round except in December, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros
Albergue El Jardín del Camino, 32 beds, opens from January until the beginning of November, heating, 8-10 Euros
Albergue Gaia, 18 beds, open all year round except in February, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euro