Beyond the Camino de Santiago: three alternative hikes in Spain
The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James) is one of the world’s most epic, scenic hikes, but it’s just one of many in a country threaded with long-distance walking routes. These similarly soul-stirring trails offer some spectacular alternatives.
1. Best for history: Mozarabic Way
If the more well-trodden Camino de Santiago routes seem too busy, short, or easy, then why not walk to Santiago de Compostela a different way by following the longer, tougher route taken by Christian pilgrims from Spain’s Muslim-held medieval south? Multiple paths lead inland from Málaga and Almería, merge to cross the Sierra Nevada, then link to the 620-mile northward stretch of the Vía de la Plata. The oldest sections trace ancient Roman roads, spanning the whole peninsula from snowy peaks to dusty plains and rainy green hills. St James Way Organized runs private tours on this route that include accommodation options.
2. Best for peace and quiet: Vías Verdes
Over 1,900 miles of disused rail lines have been repurposed to create the Vías Verdes (‘Greenways’): scenic routes for hiking and biking. Among the longest is the 63-mile Vasco-Navarro Greenway, crossing the Basque Country on a former narrow-gauge route, while the Ojos Negros Greenway follows the erstwhile Sierra Menera mining railway over ridges and across bridges around the town of Teruel. Along each line, former train stations now serve as rest areas, mini museums and pleasant backcountry inns. Cycling Spain offers guided tours on certain Greenway routes, while self-guided hikes and rides can be organised with assistance from the Spanish Railways Foundation.
3. Best for wildlife: Senda Pirenaica
Trekking the Spanish flanks of the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, takes about six weeks. Any part of that trail, the Senda Pirenaica, or GR11, is potentially life-changing for its beauty, variety and drama: stone-built villages, gorges and meadows; the skies home to golden eagles and bearded vultures; the slopes to wild boars, wolves, brown bears and ibex and endangered, semi-feral Pottok ponies. Sherpa Expeditions offers self-guided hiking packages on part of this route from £1,040.
Published in the June 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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