Those who choose to spend a month walking the Camino de Santiago may be left with many things: perhaps a new perspective on life, new friends, or a new feeling of spirituality. The one thing that they will certainly have is sore feet.
The Camino is in fact several pilgrim routes in northern Spain that eventually find their way to the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle St James are apparently buried in the magnificent cathedral.
Since 1211, when St James’s body was supposed to have been interred, people have walked the month-long route. Today, it is a favourite with tourists, the adventurous and the recently divorced.
Those wanting to show their devotion to St James without the 455-mile preamble, have always been given short shrift. Until now, that is.
Next month, Spain’s national rail company, Renfe, will put its luxury Al Andalus train, which ordinarily tours the sites of Spain’s Islamic history in the south of the country, to work on the pilgrim trail. It could not be more different to the blisters and cheap hostels that walking the Camino normally entails.
Known as “a palace of wheels,” the Al Andalus train carriages were originally built in France in 1929 for the British monarchy when they slipped out of London for the summer. After catching the boat to Calais, the train would then take George V and his family through France to the French Riviera for the summer.
A six-day trip with a stay in the Deluxe Suite will set train-travelling pilgrims back a princely €3,740 (£2,679) per person. By contrast, websites dedicated to the pedestrian version reckon that walkers can do the whole month-long journey for as little as €1,000, although most recommend about €3,000.
There are several routes typically taken by walkers, as well as those who cycle, and in some cases take the most traditional mode of transport – a donkey. The most popular – the French Way – actually begins across the Pyrenees in the commune of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. After winding their way through the mountains, modern-day pilgrims have already covered 267 miles when they arrive in León, more than half way to Santiago de Compostela. But it is only here that next month’s rail-bound pilgrims will start their journey – beginning with a multi-course dinner and several fine wines to set them up for the first day’s train travel next morning.
The best places to travel alone
The best places to travel alone
Frui offers photography courses for small groups of singles only in Abruzzo - there are painting and gastronomy weeks too. http://www.frui.co.uk
Join a singles-only house party with your own room with Friendship Travel. There are no age limits but guests tend to be between 35 and 65 years. http://www.friendshiptravel.com/era.html
A group tour is the best way to see India if you're travelling solo. Cox & Kings has introduced a range of tours for singles only with an average age of 55+. http://www.coxandkings.co.uk
Cortijo Romero, a converted farmhouse in Andalucia, offers personal development courses year-round with the majority of guests travelling solo - including Pilates, Yoga, creative writing, mindfulness and dance. http://www.cortijo-romero.co.uk
5/10 St Lucia
The BodyHoliday in St Lucia has a wing of rooms for solo travellers each with a Queen sized four poster bed. There's a 50-minute spa treatment each day, included in the price. http://www.caribtours.co.uk
6/10 Sri Lanka
Mercury Holidays has negotiated no single supplement year-round at a wide range of three and four hotels worldwide, including 13 in Sri Lanka. https://www.mercuryholidays.co.uk
Dip your toe in the solo travel waters on a short break in the UK - great options include cycling with Saddle Skedaddle, wildlife weekends with NatureTrek and walking with Ramblers Countrywide Holidays. http://www.naturetrek.co.uk
Head to Peru with Journey Latin America on this comprehensive small group tour which includes time in Bolivia as well as Peru's hotspots. There's a free twin-share service or you can opt to pay a single supplement. https://www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk
Get under the skin of Vietnam with Travel Indochina - it's one of the most popular choices for solo travellers. Over 30% of people on their small group tours travel solo and there's a free twin-share service. http://www.travelindochina.co.uk
Head to Crete or Santorini where Solos Holidays has exclusive use of charming 'ClubSolos' hotels for singles only. One week costs from £575 including some meals with departures for all ages, 45 years and over and 30-59 years. http://www.solosholidays.co.uk
“For the duration of the journey, the Al Andalus will become your living room, your transportation, meeting place, bar, bedroom: a hotel on wheels in which you sleep and wake up in a different place every day,” says the marketing on Renfe’s website. “The landscape passing by the window of your suite or the lounge where you are having a coffee is never the same. That simple fact makes the trip itself unique and unlike any other experience.”
Those toiling with a backpack, filled with enough clothes to last a month, and blisters the size of golf balls on the soles of their feet may beg to differ.
Walkers who have completed the Camino say that arriving in Santiago feels like a spiritual event, even for the non-religious. Whether arriving at the grey-brick station at Santiago de Compostela will engender the same emotion for train-travelling pilgrims remains to be seen.
More than 200,000 people completed the Camino in 2013, including 66 who made the journey in a wheelchair. More than 15 per cent are aged over 60. While the Al Andalus train may offer a luxurious alternative to 30 days walking, it does rather diminish from the achievement of those who trek the whole distance.Reuse content