Prevue July-August 2017 - 61

Left: Courtyard at the Parador de Santiago Compostela
Right (top to bottom): Octopus dish at Casa Marcelo; Boarding a
replica of La Pinta; Restaurant at the San Francisco Hotel Monumento
(Top and middle photo credits: Johnalee Johnston)

"More and more people realize
that The Way is a meeting place; a
space where ideas, different beliefs,
cultures and even religions are
shared with other people."
away the witches. Groups that require a little magic can listen to
the Queimada spell's incantation and stare into hypnotizing spikes
of blue flames as the concoction is lit on fire. Of course, they'll also
need to take a sip, and that is the real test.
Witches aside, nearby Sarria is the most popular starting point
of The Way. The distance from the medieval village to Santiago de
Compostela is the minimum that pilgrims need to obtain Compostela,
or the official certificate given by the Church (written entirely in Latin)
that proves they have walked 100km (62 miles) of the Camino. Here,
groups will find many cultural treasures, and a fair also takes place
three times a month to highlight traditional products of the area.
South of Sarria, O'Cebreiro, where the French Way and
Galician Way intersect before reaching Santiago de Compostela, is
known for the Church of Santa Maria and the golden chalice that
held a miracle in the 12th century-the transformation of wine into
Christ's blood. Lesser known, is the inspiration it gave to German
composer Richard Wagner's "Parsifal" opera. The pre-Romanesque
church is one of the oldest on the Camino; it's regularly visited by
pilgrims, who also pause to take in the vast views of O'Cebreiro
valley and interesting cultural artifacts, such as the Ethnographic
Museum and its carefully preserved palloza, or Celtic dwelling,
which groups can tour. The energy here is contagious, as pilgrims
flit from place to place to capture new stamps on their pilgrim's
passports that verify their walks. The scallop shell was originally
used as proof of the pilgrimage, we're told, the lines representing
the routes leading into Santiago. Other more mystical legends of
the scallop's significance involving St. James also exist. Regardless,
this is a great spot for groups to buy and don a shell (some say
you're not a true pilgrim without one). We join in on the action and
receive a couple of stamps for keepsakes as well. This quickly
becomes the norm everywhere we go and adds to the authenticity
and excitement of the experience.
The last not to be missed stops on the French Way are the
Vilar de Donas church and UNESCO World Heritage Pambre
Castle in Palas de Rei. The massive red Romanesque doors of the
church are like a shot of carajillo (coffee with liquor) against the lazy
countryside, guarding important gothic frescos and tombs. The
church's history with the Order of the Knights of Santiago and the
Templars, who were also defenders of the road, takes author Dan
Brown's "Da Vinci Code" to a whole new level. The castle has its
own claim to fame as one of the best preserved medieval fortresses
in Galicia, but it's often its locally produced Arzua-Ulloa and tetilla
cheeses that groups long remember.

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