Which Camino do we walk?
In France and Spain we will walk the Camino Frances or the Camino Ingles. Occasionally (when there is a demand) we offer the Camino Aragones and the Camino Primitivo.
In Italy we will walk the Via Francigena from Siena to Rome as well as the Via Francigena in the Swiss and Italian Alps.
What if your walks are fully booked?
We can put you on a waiting list but if you are anxious to put your name down for a walk with a tour company, there are many other companies that offer walks in Spain and Italy. A quick Google search will result in many other sites and you'll be spoiled for choice.
Is this a Guided Tour?
No, we don't offer Guided Tours. This is an accompanied pilgrimage walk to Santiago or the Via Francigena with a Group Leader who will accompany you on the advertised walks.
This means that the Group leader will look after the logistics for you, like hotels, transport, reservations for meals in small villages where there aren't many options, and ensure that your luggage is transferred each day. Although our Group Leaders have extensive experience of the pilgrimage routes (which they love to share) they are not European registered Tour Guides with expert knowledge on every monument, town, city or Region that you will visit.
Guided tours of the monuments or historical areas are available in most towns - visit any Tourist Office for more information.
Invariably, on a guided tour, the group has to stay together, eat together, and be at certain places at certain times to continue with their tour. Although some groups gel into a tight family, the only times the Group Leader will expect you to stay together is on the days you get transport between cities.
Our walks differ from 'guided tours' in that you are free to start walking when you want to each day. You don't have to stay with the group during the day if yiu don't want to, meaning that you can walk with the group leader, or with the group, or at your own pace (the group usually does stay together in the Swiss Alps). You are not charged in advance for meals which you might not want. Usually the groups come together for the evening meal and chat about their day. If you want to take a bus or taxi on some stages you'll be free to do so. This is your pilgrimage and we want you to experience it your way!
Do we have to walk together?
Not if you don't want to. You are free to walk at your own pace or with other group members, bearing in mind that this is not a race. It is important that each member of the group have enough 'space' to
experience the spirituality of the landscape of this millennial old pilgrimage trail their way, but also have the opportunity of sharing the camaraderie with their group members - if they so choose.
Is this a religious tour?
No, although these are essentially Catholic pilgrimage trails, the Caminos and Via Francigena have become secular, spiritual journeys enjoyed by Christians, Buddhists, agnostics, secular humanists etc. One can enjoy it just for the wonderful hike through stunning landscapes, but we hope that it will be more than just a long trek! The majority of the important architectural monuments are churches, cathedrals and monasteries. Some offer the pilgrim a special blessings and others Gregorian Chants - all part of the rich tapestry of tradition that makes a pilgrimage walk so special. Many people walk the pilgrimage for deeply spiritual reasons and our walkers are sensitive to others in the group and people they meet on the trail. Most large villages and towns have regular services but some only on certain nights. Click here for a list of places on the Camino Frances that have mass.
Do I have to train for the walk?
Yes please! Even though we advertise some of the walks as 'Slower Trails' with reduced mileages, the Camino and Via Francigena are hiking trails with stages of between 15km to 20km (9-12.5 miles) per day on the Camino and an average of 15km per day on the Via Francigena. On the Camino Ingles most stages have been reduced to 15km per day.
Although there is no technical hiking (no ropes, scrambling or serious climbing) some of the paths are in challenging terrain with some steep uphill and downhill sections, mostly graded EASY or MODERATE on hiking scales. You don’t have to be an ultra-fit hiker to walk the Camino or Via Francigena but you should be fit enough to walk an average of 15km - 20 km (12.4 miles) per day.
The average time taken to walk each stage is approximate - most people walk 3km to 4km per hour (1.86 miles - 2.48 miles) - but this will depend on the terrain and your level of fitness.
If you find that you are unable to walk up to 20 km per day you must budget extra for bus and taxi transport. Many people who have not trained have found hiking the Camino physically challenging and you don't want to be so exhausted each day that you cant manage any sightseeing.
There are a few roller-coaster sections, with many up and down hills. Start walking short distances at least three times a week, building up to longer distances five times a week for a few months before you leave.
Will the group leader walk with us?
The Group Leader walks every day and for the first few days she will be the 'sweeper' - assessing the fitness of the group members and showing you how to follow the yellow arrows and shell markings on the route. You can walk with the group leader or with other group members if you want to, but you don't have to. On the Camino or the Via Francigena you might prefer to sleep in, take more time in the villages and towns or wait for a museum or gallery to open. You are free to do your own thing. Having said that, we have found that groups on the Via Francigena generally stay together. The group leader will let you know what time she leaves each day and will be in contact via WhatasApp, so we suggest that you take your mobile phone with you. You can keep it switched off all day if you want to but she will ask you to check it in the evening in case she has sent information to you. We like the group members to 'clock-in' at the end of the day’s walking, around 5pm, once everyone has checked into their accommodation. At occasional group meetings she will discuss the events of the day and share details of the following day’s route, sights, accommodation etc.
On the days that you are being shuttled on the Camino the group will have to stay together as the taxi will collect you from an appointed place to take you to your overnight accommodation.
Can I invite a friend or relative to join me for a few days?
Unfortunately the answer is no.
Although we can't stop a friend or relative from joining you on a part of the trail, one cannot invite friends to join the group as unregistered walkers who have not paid to walk with the group, or signed indemnity against causing injury or harm to other walkers in the group. In order to join the group they will have to complete the Registration and Indemnity Form.
Must I carry a backpack?
No, as we are staying in pre-booked hotels or inns you can have a small suitcase (up to 20kg) transported per stage ( +- 25 km) and you only need to carry a light day pack. It is often more comfortable to wear a regular backpack with padded shoulder straps and waist belt, and send your luggage ahead in a small, cabin bag sized suitcase on wheels. On all walks you should carry your medication and first-aid items. In the Alps you should carry a warm jacket and a light rescue blanket in case of a blizzard or hail-storm.
Do I need a sleeping-bag or towel?
All places provide bedding and towels but we recommend that you bring a small hand towel and soap.
What will the weather be like?
The weather is unpredictable but May is usually cooler than September and has a slightly higher rainfall. June/July can be warm but not as hot as August.
What should I pack?
A suggested list of clothing will be included in the first newsletter sent to you once you have registered for the walk. If you intend sending your luggage ahead you can pack more than if you are going to carry your pack every day.
What if I have extra luggage?
You can pay for an extra item of to be transferred from one place to the next, or you can send a suitcase or parcel to a Post Office (Correos), or the Camino storage center in Santiago. There isn't a similar service in the Aosta Valley yet.
Bags are transported from hotel lobby to hotel lobby, mainly by retired people, many of them women. Some historic buildings do not have elevators so the 20kg limit per bag is important for both you and the people who transfer your bag each day.
How How should I take my money?
Cash is King on the Caminos and in Italy especially in small villages and rural locations. In larger towns and cities places will take credit cards or debit cards. Most bigger towns and cities have ATM's where you can withdraw money, usually a maximum of €300 per machine per day. If you need more, try a different bank machine.
Where do we eat?
We do not charge you up-front for meals. Although many hotels in Italy are B&B only a few places in Spain offer breakfast. In some pensions and apartments you can make a light breakfast or communal evening meal in the kitchen.
Camino pilgrims usually have a breakfast stop after walking for an hour or so. Lunch can be a picnic on the side of the road or in a café-bar or restaurant, and dinner could be a communal affair with pilgrims chipping in or a special pilgrim menu in a restaurant or cafe-bar.
There are Menu del Peregrinos (pilgrims menus) offered all along the routes in Spain but not many in Switzerland or Italy.
The areas we walk through have wonderful regional dishes that you should sample, especially the tapas in Spain, little snacks served in the bars. When you reserve your place, please let us know if you are a vegetarian, vegan, glucose or wheat intolerant/ coeliac, diabetic or have any other dietary requirements.
How will I find my hotel if I arrive in the town first?
Our amaWalkers notes and Booklets have the address and contact details for your hotels as well as well as a photograph of the place where you will be staying. The hotels have a rooming list and will place you in the correct room but they might delay checking you in until the group leader has arrived, so no need to rush to get there!
Should I learn French, Spanish or Italian?
Many older people in Europe do not speak English (or German, Dutch, Portuguese, etc). Knowing some French, Spanish or Italian will be a great help and will be much appreciated by the locals who meet pilgrims from all over the world.
What if I get blisters or can’t walk?
You have the option of taking a bus or taxi to transport you between stages. If you need more than one day's rest you can use transport every day until you are able to start walking again.
What do we do after we have checked in?
You can do your washing, have a siesta, sight-see or do some shopping. A list of interesting places to see is included in your booklet.
What happens when we get to Santiago, Rome or Pont St Martin?
It is great to walk into the last place as a group but if this is not possible we can all meet at a pre-arranged time for a photo-shoot. If we arrive before mid-day in Santiago, we will visit the cathedral to perform the ancient traditions of hugging the saint, viewing his casket in the crypt below the altar and attending the beautiful pilgrims mass. In Santiago, if you are lucky you might see the Botafumeiro swing that day.
This is the last night that your group leader will be with you in her official capacity. Of course, you could take her out for a drink, if you like, to celebrate your wonderful achievement!
Can I have extra nights at the start and end of my walk?
We are happy to reserve an extra night for you, which will be at your cost. The following day you will be free to wander around the city or you could take a bus or booked tour to Finisterre – The End of the World – a fitting end to your magical Camino - or you might continue with your holiday in Spain or Europe.
What is the 'Credencial'?
The 'Credencial' is a pilgrim passport which you have stamped at each overnight stop or in café-bars, churches, tourist offices and so forth. When you get to Santiago or Rome you will need to present the stamped credencial at the pilgrims office in order to qualify for the ‘Compostela’. The Credencial also allows you to stay in pilgrim accommodation on the Camino.
What is the 'Compostela' and 'Testimonium'?
These are certificates of completion – based on medieval document in Latin – which are given to pilgrims who walk the last 100km (or cycle the last 200km) to Santiago/Rome and profess to having walked for a religious or spiritual reason. If you do not profess to either, you will be given a different certificate.
Other Certificates in Spain
You can also ask for a Group Certificate and a Distance Certificate. Your Group Leader will arrange for these certificates to be prepared for you. When you arrive in Santiago, you can either all go to the Pilgrim's Office to collect the certificates (there could be long queues!) or one or two of you could go to the office with her to collect all the certificates.
Is there anything else I should know?
As a member of a group you have a responsibility to amaWalkers and to the other group members which include:
1. Selecting a walk that is appropriate to your interests and ability and being sufficiently trained to do the walk.
2. Preparing for the walk by reading ALL the information on our website, and the material we send to you about the walk.
3. Respecting other members in your group, especially the group leader, as well as the laws and customs of the places you visit.
At the Group Leader´s discretion, a member may be asked to leave the group if the leader feels the person´s further participation may be detrimental to other group members or to the individual.
f you live in a part of the world that is 'hill-challenged' we suggest you devise a workout regime on flights of stairs at your local shopping mall, stadium or underground. If you have access to a gym, use the incline facility on a treadmill to simulate hill walking or use the StepMaster as well as the treadmill.