I spent some days muddling and loafing in cheap but nice accommodation in Ponferrada and then in Cacabelos, not far distant. There’s a guy who patrols the track after Ponferrada giving out pamphlets for an albergue in Villafranca, which he says is just the best, the others stink, and if you don’t believe him, see for yourself etc etc. When he met me a second time three days later, still waddling along short of Villafranca, his salesmanship deserted him for a moment:
“But…but…you’re the same guy I saw…what?…”
A triumph for dawdling!
Not much to tell of the trail to Villafranca, which is, of course, one of the most interesting stops on the Camino, and deserves a post of its own.
If you look back at Ponferrada from the north, the geography shows itself; the mountains really loom.
Leaving the city, the suburbs you pass through are calm, almost posh. A chat with an elderly local lady who chose to stroll along with me confirmed my impression of bercianos. They’re a confident, open lot.
The smaller towns before Cacabelos have quite a high population compared to those of the meseta, perhaps due to the presence of some substantial industries here. But I won’t shock purists with any industrial snapshots. Instead, some postcards: a scrumptious bell-tower, and rolling wine country.
Cacabelos is near the ancient site of Bergidum Flavium, a Celtic then Roman capital which originated at Castro Ventosa, now an archaeological dig, and was transferred closer to the present town. It was a prime target of Muslim forces, and was finally wrecked. A pillar in Cacabelos stands as a monument to Bergidum.
If you stop in Cacabelos, chat to the locals. You’ll find them especially courteous. It’s not bursting with architectural and historical interest – that’s mostly out of town – but Cacabelos rewards a stroll.
At times there is a very welcoming pilgrim office running out of this little ermita. If you see some old guys hanging about there, definitely say g’day.
Approaching Cacabelos, you’ll see a number of hoardings promoting a three star hotel at very good pilgrim prices. What’s the catch?
There’s no catch. Margarita and staff are charming bercianos, full of pride in their region, and, though they have to keep things tight at the price, you could add an extra star for the Hotel Villa de Cacabelos.
Leaving Cacabelos, we pass an albergue integrated with an impressive eighteenth century church.
Now this is cute.
The Cabernet Franc grape is said to have been brought here by a French pilgrim, and to have evolved into the increasingly popular Mencía strain. The name Villafranca means “Town of Franks” and there’s no doubt that French or Frankish immigrants came to the region. I see their point.
And it’s to deep-folded Villafranca that we now come.