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Two days on the Camino Lebaniego, July 2016

Dave

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
First: Camino Francés 2002; most recent: Via Podiensis 2015
#1
One of the highlights of my walk this summer was making a two-day detour from the Norte to follow the Camino Lebaniego to Santo Toribio de Liébana. The Camino Lebaniego "officially" begins in San Vicente de la Barquera, though you'll see some markers for it prior to that, as it's the major pilgrimage site in the region of Cantabria.

Why Santo Toribio? For those unaware, here's the short version: The monastery holds the largest piece of the True Cross, which was first brought to the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th/6th century (I've seen both claimed) and then relocated from Astorga to the Liebana Valley when Moors invaded northern Spain. It was a good hiding place--for reasons that will become immediately apparent as you go through this hike. Over time, as the region re-stabilized, the monastery emerged as a major pilgrimage site. Indeed, it's one of just five sacred places that the Church has accorded the the perpetual ability to bestow indulgences, right alongside of Santiago, Jerusalem, and Rome (and Caravaca de la Cruz, which was news to me!). BTW, next year is a Jubilee in Santo Toribio.

The Lebaniego route splits from the Camino del Norte in Muñorrodero, just after Serdio and roughly 11km from San Vicente. Serdio has an albergue, so that might make it a good spot to sleep before tackling the Lebaniego. Along this stretch, you'll see both the scallop shell for the Norte and the red cross for the Lebaniego.

==>Note: be careful where you turn for info about this route, as much of it is outdated! Gronze, for example, still indicates that the route splits in Hortigal and that the walk from San Vicente to La Fuente is only 27km. It's a lot longer now! If you go in expecting 27 you'll be bummed. (For the record, it's more like 37km.)

Soon after passing through Muñorrodero, the route joins a pedestrian track running alongside of the Río Nansa. And then the fun begins. As you leave a riverside park, you begin to follow the Senda Fluvial, a purpose-built, river-side footpath with green/white markings. It starts with a lot of wooden steps, but don't be deterred--it's mostly footpath after that start. It's a gorgeous walk, proceeding right along the river for the next 8km. There's a great cave on your left along the way, and then a deeper/calmer part of the river with a small waterfall near the end, so you're covered if you're hoping for spelunking or swimming.

The next 1.5km takes you uphill, with an optional detour to an even higher claim to a mirador--well worth it in clear weather. Otherwise, you'll descend back to a paved road where you have your first shot at food. Turn left and proceed uphill to Camijanes where Bar Gloria has some solid tapas available. (It's an 8-10 minute walk.) Food is much harder to come by on this route, so I'd encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity you find. Water is also tough at times, so fill up when you have the chance.

Backtrack to the route split and then proceed across a big ol' Romanesque bridge over the Nansa. Soon after, you'll pass by El Solaz de los Cerezos--a large Casa Rural complex. The next 6km--hillier than what has preceded it--will take you through the small town of Cabazón, along the edge of Otero, and then into Cades, which is your second opportunity for food, at Rest. Casa Mateo in the center. There's also an albergue here.

The next 10km is pretty much highway-bound, which sounds like a bummer. And it certainly would be nice to be on a footpath instead. However, the "highway" is little used and it climbs into a narrow pass through the mountains, with the river cutting its way far beneath you. The setting is stunning and the advantage of being on pavement is that you don't have to worry about footing--you can just savor the view the whole way.

At the end of that stretch, you arrive in La Fuente, which feels more like two neighboring villages than one unified town. The first cluster is centered on the old Romanesque church. The second cluster, 700m further on, has the albergue, which is located at the very end of the village--look for the old schoolhouse. This is a fantastic place. The Polish hospitalero, Mikal, is a fantastic host. The albergue itself is in immaculate shape (it helps, of course, to not get many pilgrims!) and Mikal offers a healthy dinner and breakfast. This year, room and board was a stunning 11 euros, total.

From La Fuente, you're looking at 28km to Potes and a further 3km to Santo Toribio. This is a much more strenuous and demanding walk, with a couple of significant ascents, and it's pretty much food-less. The day begins with a 5.5km up-and-down to Cicera, which also has an albergue, along with a bar (don't count on it opening early), a restaurant, and a posada (a veritable metropolis!). If you were making this walk in three days, this would be a wise place to stay, even though you'd be missing the great hospitality in La Fuente.

The next climb is harder, spanning the next 3.5km. I confess to being pretty wiped out at the end of it! But, the views at the top are fantastic, and I was fortunate to have the clouds part as I arrived. Sure enough, a long descent follows. All told, it's 7.5km to Lebeña, which has a fantastic, 10th century church--the Iglesia de Santa Maria de Lebena. Guided visits were required, but in the summer at least they're quite frequent. From this point on, the worst of the ups/downs is over.
I followed the highway out of Lebeña. At this point, it's worth mentioning the waymarks. There was no problem on this route with the frequency of waymarks. Instead, the lone problem, or perhaps complication is a better word, is the fact that the Santo Toribio waymarks sometimes come in conflict. It seems like there are two generations of waymarks. The older ones are the larger wooden signposts and red, spraypainted arrows. The newer ones are the red crosses and compact red arrows on square chunks of wood. I decided to follow the new ones throughout and had no trouble.
Cross the Río Deva and proceed south along the westside of the river. For the rest of the walk, you'll be operating within range of the Deva. It's 4.5km out to Cabañes (albergue), where you'll be farthest away from the river in this section, and then you'll immediately turn back towards the river. As you descend, you'll pass through Pendes (where a cheesemonger will likely offer you your first shot at food in a while), and then eventually arrive at the edge of Tama, roughly 11km from Lebeña. The route doesn't pass through Tama proper, but turn left over the massive Romanesque bridge and you'll soon arrive in the "center," which includes a couple of bars.

The last stretch continues along the westside of the river. Soon after Tama, you'll see the outskirts of Potes emerge. If you're hungry, it feels cruel--you'll see a supermarket, you'll see restaurants, and yet your route will stay removed from all of that. Finally, though, the route takes you across a bridge into the historic center of Potes. When you arrive at a T, with arrows pointing both left and right, go left and you'll arrive at the turismo soon after, on your left. Pop in for stamps, a map of town, and access to the albergue. Potes is a great town with all resources. Be sure to stroll along the river!

From Potes to Santo Toribio, the route follows the highway. After a little less than a kilometer, you'll turn left off the main road onto a smaller highway, proceeding uphill. Don't expect waymarks. Along this stretch, you won't see any, aside from one short stretch off the road immediately after a camping. However, it's all clear enough!

Finally, roughly 3km from Potes and 31km from La Fuente, you'll arrive at the monastery. (While you'll find references to an albergue in the monastery, it's currently closed.) The monastery is open 10-1 and 4-7. The bookstore has a stamp available for pilgrims.

I arrived around 3pm in the afternoon and discovered a huge pack of middle school-aged kids hanging out with six college-aged leaders trying to maintain control. It wasn't quite the quiet, peaceful experience I had anticipated, but these things happen. As we approached 4pm, more and more cars started arriving. When the church finally opened, there were probably 70 people there.

The crowd swiftly passed through the church into a side chapel, where the reliquary is displayed. A monk spoke to the group, sharing the history of the place. I had been slow in entering, so I found myself well in the back; unable to hear very well, my attention drifted and I started wandering through the church. After the monk finished his presentation, I saw that the crowd lined up; I assumed they were receiving a blessing. However, I quickly realized what was happening--the monk was holding the reliquary in his hand and each visitor was allowed to touch the large fragment of the True Cross. Mercifully, most resisted the urge to take selfies as they went through the process!

From Santo Toribio, you need to walk back or hitch into Potes. (Or, alternately, follow the yellow arrows from there along the Ruta Vadiniense to Mansilla de las Mulas!). From Potes, there are several buses per day to Unquera, where it's possible to continue along the Camino del Norte. If you're like me and want to walk every step of the way, it's easy to catch a taxi in Unquera to Muñorrodero--it cost me around 7 euros. And if you arrive late in Unquera, don't worry about the lack of albergues. The bus drops you at Bar La Granja, which has cheap rooms available (I got a single, en suite, for 15 euros.)

I really recommend the experience--particularly next year, when the jubilee will be in full effect. Pics available here.
 

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amancio

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances, Norte, Primit, Salvador, Portug, Arag, Ingles, VdlP, Lebaniego-Vadiniense, Invierno (2018)
#2
beautiful camino, Michal in Lafuente is a unique hospitalero, and the second stage is HARD, the total uphill being ove 1600 meters in total, plus the looooong descent onto Lebeña. Reading your story brought so many memories...
 

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