It was fully my intention to take a bus or taxi into Leon, skipping the last handful of kms through what can only be described as industrial waste land and the outskirts of a big city! It was certainly not my favourite part of the Camino.
I had been walking with a friendly Spaniard who had taken me under his wing, making arrangements for me along the way, explaining Spanish history and extolling the virtues of various regions of Spain. Somehow, I ended up missing my “get out of jail free” card and walked the route into town. Evidence of the economic crisis was everywhere as buildings were boarded up, car dealerships closed…it was not the picturesque Camino that I had experienced, and knew I would experience again! This was a hard, long slog into town! Basically – the concrete jungle and the Camino de Santiago collide on the entrance to Leon.
By the time we got to the city centre, I was beyond exhausted. Somewhere, we had lost the arrows…thank goodness my friend was able to stop and ask for directions….in fact, he escorted me to my hotel before he went off to find his – a true gentleman!
We arrived in town as the rain started to spit – we had timed it well as we had left the previous town extra early in an attempt to miss the rain. Only my feet kept the clouds within reach as they seemed to slow with each step. Once again, I treated myself to a lovely 2 night stay in town at the Posada Regia and a chance to check out all that Leon had to offer. Similar to Burgos – if you have the time, it is worth the stay!
Ironically, staying at a proper hotel in Leon left me feeling rather lonely. The decadence of a sleep in was great, but I felt rather isolated from my fellow pilgrims. Thankfully, there were pilgrim dinners all over town and it was pretty easy to find friends to share dinner with! During the day, cafes and bars were also brimming with the easy to identify pilgrim (the pilgrim shuffle, backpacks and less than chic clothes almost always a dead giveaway!!!) The open and friendly ways of the Camino were most welcome in the big and bustling city of Leon.
The name Leon is derived from Legion. At one time, it was a Roman military garrison and base for the VII Legion. Every period and style is represented in Leon – no doubt as it was conquered and re-conquered many times throughout history.
The splendour of the Gothic Cathedral is worth of visit. Entrance to the Cathedral includes an audio guide that will cover the history of the church and the magnificent stained glass windows, which the Cathedral is famous for. In fact, it is the large number of stained glass windows that seem to defy the architectural laws of the time, letting more light in that any other church of its era. The windows tell a story – the purpose being that even those who were illiterate would be able to read the stories of the gospel.
If splurging on one night in a fancy hotel is in the cards – check out the amazing San Marcos Parador Hotel and cloisters on the way out of Leon. The Renaissance craftmanship and facade tells a story of the pilgrims with scallop shells and the sword of Santiago built in. While it was not convenient for touristing in town, the historic hotel certainly looked grand. I was only able to come in the entrance way, but I have heard from some of the hotel guests that it was worth every Euro! Apparently, breakfast is an all you can eat buffet – perfect to fuel you on the walk out of Leon!
The walk out of town, while not as bad as the entrance, was nothing special as the concrete jungle continued for over an hour….but it is always good to get back out on the Camino! Of course – the Camino could wait until after one more coffee shop – I just can’t get enough of the Cola Cao!