We took the road heading west from Logrono, the capital of Rioja Alta to Burgos. Taking the national route 120 otherwise known as the ‘French Route’ of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
Logrono is the wine capital of La Rioja and is an elegant tree-lined and flag-stoned centre of arcaded shops and bay windowed apartments. We peeked inside its small cathedral to admire a tiny painting by Michelangelo of the crucifixion. One euro bought a minute’s reflection on an intimate portrait of distress at the foot of the cross. It was deeply moving.
In 813AD the relics of St James ‘the beloved of Christ’ were brought to the north-western corner of Spain, at Galicia.
Legend holds that a Christian cathedral was built to house the apostle’s relics and by the Middle Ages, a services industry had built up serving mass and mattresses to the half a million pilgrims a year that crossed the Pyrenees from France and headed to Galicia.
On a surprisingly sunny early evening we drove up to 1150 meters to cross the pass at Puerto de la Pedraja.
The landscape, above the brown vineyards, was a startling green as arable fields stretched out to the misty, rain clouded horizon. The way of the pilgrims hugged the main road, although we saw no one along it. However, emerging in the watery sunlight across the hilltops on both sides of the road were squat stone churches.
The Romanesque style of the early Middle Ages in Spain is lovingly restored in the many chapels that line the Camino. We pondered upon the attitude of weary pilgrims having to divert from the way to hear a mass at every church.
Burgos’ heyday was earlier in history. It was the capital of the united kingdoms of Castille and Leon from 1073 until losing that honour to Valladolid after the final retreat of the Moors from Granada in Andalucia in 1492.
We crossed the wide river Arlanzon over the city’s main bridge, Puenta de San Pablo, and home to the gigantic statue commemorating Burgos hero, El Cid.
A charismatic character he was an opportunistic warmonger who initially fought for the Spanish King Ferdinand 1 before being banished from Castille for involving himself in the murderous affairs of the Kings’ sons. He switched sides and fought for the Moors, before turning coat again and capturing Valencia for the Christians in 1094. His tomb is in the city’s magnificent gothic cathedral.
A pricey entrance fee meant we didn’t visit inside, but instead we spent an hour or so wandering around its perimeter and climbing high up to the castle park to look down on the many carved stone facades of the cathedral, and its myriad of lace-like spires.
Although a cold and rainy day, the magnificence of the stone work seemed to shine out of itself and the sheer effort of its complicated construction over three hundred years awed us.
From up above the old town we could also see the beautiful stone work of the church of St Nicolas de Bari and the nearby Castifale Palace. Both sported enormous carved wooden doors under stone porticos.
We had a birds eye view perched amongst scores of nesting storks who had made their homes on the tallest spires and rooftops. The white stork migrates north each spring from its home in Africa to rear its young in Spain and in Eastern Europe. They avoid the Mediterranean as they find it difficult to fly over the sea; some go north-east, over Egypt and Turkey and across to Poland and Germany, whilst others go north-west, over Morocco and into Spain.
From the grand central square, lined with brightly painted and shuttered apartments above its arcaded sides, we wandered through the beautiful Arco de Santa Maria.
The impressive stone gateway was created in celebration for the occasion of a visit by King Charles V in the 1500s, and whose image is carved above the gateway surrounded by notable city officials and burghers of the time.
It opens onto a wide promenade alongside the river and lined with pollarded silver plane trees that seemed to dance their way along the banks, reaching out their brutally knotted limbs toward each other.
We spent a cold but enjoyable day walking more than 10 miles around, above and through the medieval streets of the Old Town retracing our steps many times and savouring the glorious sights of the centre.