Working backwards from Monforte de Lemos we travelled along the Camino de Invierno (Winter Route) sometimes referred to as Camino Sur (South Route).
The castle was a stronghold of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. It’s said that the palace was home to the Grand commander of Spain, one of the six top posts within the Order. From here the knights provided protection for pilgrims journeying to Santiago.
The lane leading up to the castle is incredibly steep and difficult to climb but the views over the valley make the trek worthwhile. A few words of warning though, don’t forget your camera: you certainly wouldn’t want to make the climb twice. On the far side of the castle is the village of Os Novais with ancient, cobbled lanes, picturesque cottages with original wooden balconies, and a tiny church.
After leaving the castle, we continued in the direction of Ponferrada for a further 11km. The road passes through a modern tunnel after which there are signs to Tunel Romano de Montefurado (Roman Tunnel of
If you decide to follow the same route you will probably be looking forward to morning refreshments by now, as we were, and I know just the place. Sitting on a hilltop overlooking the town of O Barco is the Hotel Pazo do Castro. We took a seat under the covered terrace and ordered a cup of coffee. The more adventurous might like to try a glass of Viña Godeval: a fruity and acidic white wine from the area. We relaxed for a while soaking up the magnificent views across the valley.
Originally called Pazo do Florez, the hotel takes its name from the town of O Castro where it is situated. The house and its adjoined chapel were built in 1630 at the request of Don Pedro de Losada y Quiroga. In the latter half of the twentieth century it was declared a building of artistic and historical interest. Shortly after this the property was restored and converted into a luxury hotel
slowly ascending. We drove through a series of three tunnels, the last of which marks the border with the province of Castile and Leon. Immediately after passing through the final tunnel we turned right, signposted Las Medulas. Although Las Medulas is not on the official Camino Frances, it would be a travesty to travel all this way and not visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site. To fully appreciate the unique landscape, head for the Mirador de Orellan.
Mining began here after the conquest of Augustus in 25BC and quickly became the most important gold mine in the Roman empire. The spectacular landscape resulted from the use of the Ruina Montium mining technique. Using aqueducts from the nearby mountains and a series of reducing diameter pipes, they created high pressure jets of water that literally power-washed gold deposits out of the surrounding sedimentary rock deposits.
Before continuing on to Ponferrada, why not stop for lunch in the village of Orellan. The restaurant El Lagar provides a reasonably priced, three course, menu del dia which includes refreshments.The homemade deserts are a real treat. I can highly recommend the tarta de castañas (chestnut tart) and do try the local El Bierzo red wine. The house red is a full bodied mencia: inky red with deep fruity flavours and long lasting tannins.
The final stop of the day was El Castillo de los Templarios (Castle of the Knights Templar) in Ponferrada.
As with many strategically important sites, fortifications here date back thousands of years. However; in 1178 king Fernando II of Leon allowed the Templar Order to build a castle in the town in exchange for the protection of pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela. Give or take a few local squabbles, the Templar knights stayed on the site for another 200 years.
Over recent years the castle has undergone major restoration with many parts having been rebuilt. Before heading back home to Campo Verde why not take a stroll into Ponferrada's picturesque old town, you won’t be disappointed.
Copyright © 2009 Craig Briggs
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