Pól Ó Conghaile: There's a lot more to the Camino than the French Way
More and more pilgrims are taking to the Camino's main path, our travel editor writes.
It's the world's greatest walk. But at times, particularly in peak summer months along the final 100km of the French Way, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's the world's most crowded.
Walkers are flocking to the Camino de Santiago, and we are no exception.
In 2007, 1,090 Irish pilgrims received certificates from the Pilgrims' Office in Santiago. In 2017, it was 6,643. And that's just those who finished their Caminos in the city.
I'm not surprised. Travel is on an upswing, and word is well and truly out on the Camino's transformative effect on walkers of all abilities and creeds. The French Way is now a well-trodden tourist path, chosen by over 60pc of all pilgrims.
The good news is that you can dodge those crowds. Skip the peak months of June to September, for example, and you'll find quieter paths and fewer snorers in hostels (though the weather is more variable). Or you could look beyond the Camino Frances entirely - which is where this week's travel special comes in.
Did you know you can take a Camino in Italy? Yvonne Gordon does that on the Via Francigena. Or that one in five pilgrims start their journeys in Portugal (Isabel Conway joins them on the Portuguese Camino).
What about Galicia's new Lighthouse Way, a 200km coastal route connecting farm tracks and fishermen's paths? Or the Camino de Invierno, so off-radar that only 555 pilgrims took it en route to collecting their Compostela certificates in Santiago last year?
Killer caminos branch out like veins over the Iberian Peninsula... and beyond, as Nicola Brady outlines in her round-up of alternative camino routes.
Before you go, it's worth checking in with specialist tour operators who know the ins and outs of these less-travelled routes - Irish-based companies like Camino Ways (caminoways.com), for instance, or guides like Magic Hill Holidays (magichillholidays.com) or Michael Grainger (michaelgraingercaminowalking.com). Touch base with the Camino Society Ireland (caminosociety.com) too, a voluntary society founded by returned pilgrims who wanted to "give something back".
Finally, why not take a look at pilgrim routes here at home - for Camino training or their own sake. Did you know you can get an Irish Pilgrim's Passport by completing 125km on five flagship routes including Tochar Phádraig and St. Kevin's Way (pilgrimpath.ie)? Or that a 'Celtic Camino' initiative allows you to count 25km on an Irish trail towards the 100km required to collect a Compostela in Santiago?
Go n-éirí an bóthar leat!
Read more:10 tips for the Camino de Santiago