The Wikipedia entry for Santiago de Compostela (not to be confused with the capital of Chile and therefore most often referred to by its’ full name, but known to as S de C from here on in to save my typing fingers) states that the name could have come from the latin translation for ‘Field of Stars’ but it is more likely to be a derived from the vulgar latin for ‘Burial Ground’. Pilgrims, in their tens of thousands, have been making a bee-line here for well over a thousand years. They are so numerous that at the height of summer the cathedral operates a turnstile system for entry.
We’ve visited three times as part of our property searching, primarily because the airport is the most central for accessing the whole of Galicia, but also because on our first visit we liked what we saw, and as importantly, ate. Rather than dusty sandals, hair shirts and scallop shell covered staffs, we’ve always arrived in petrol powered luxury.
Google Maps reckons that it is a 188km (2 hours and 20 minute) drive from the house in Lineiras to the heart of S de C. The journey takes you past Lugo and Betanzos (more on both of these later as they are worth a visit in their own right) and then down the toll road (the E-1). With Galicias’ empty roads it is a pleasant drive on a mix of a-roads and motorways with plenty of places to stop and take a quick coffee.
S de C itself is, as the guide books say and we agree, a ‘must see’. It has the cathedral, monestaries, churches, museums, beautiful porticoed medieval streets, open spaces and parks, secretive little squares and all the restaurants/cafes/bars that any weary traveller could wish to find.
It is almost impossible to get a car into the centre, so park outside the ring-road and plan to spend at least half a day walking the street and visiting the many impressive medieval, baroque and gothic buildings. In particular start at the catherdal and walk south down Rua de San Francisco to make your mouth water at the culinary delights on offer, and plan where you will eat that evening.
We have stayed here on three occasions, the first time at the sensational Hotel Monumento San Francisco, and the other twice at Hotel Hesperia-Peregrino which while in a brilliant position, and pleasant enough for the price, is a couple of years past its ‘needs a refurbishment’ date. Their are seventy plus hotels here to suit every pocket, if you do plan to stay the night.
The place really comes alive at night, even in the depths of winter, with lively and bustling bars and restaurants and many pilgrims toasting their success at completing their long journeys.
On our third visit we were fortunate enough to stumble upon a midnight procession as part of Semana Santa. The streets were heaving, at midnight on a thursday, with people of all ages to witness the procession of Jesus around the cobbled streets. Over 100 hooded, and often barefoot, people carried the religious icon around the streets.
S de C is definitely worth the effort, one of the jewels in Galicias crown.