APRIL 2017: please note that this website is currently in construction and I haven't yet had time to add all the content.
The route followed by the Vía de la Plata was originally a Roman Road linking Asturias in the north of Spain with the port of Cádiz in the south. Its name, which means The Silver Route, is first documented in the 15th century and is based on the belief that the Romans used this route to transport silver from Asturias to the Mediterranean port of Cádiz. However, given that the mines of Asturias mostly produced gold, a more likely explanation is that plata is derived from the Arabic word al-balat, meaning the road.
Beginning in about the 9th century, as Santiago de Compostela was becoming known as a Christian pilgrimage site, this route began to be used by pilgrims travelling to and from the tomb of St James the Apostle.
Starting in the 1980s the revived popularity of the Camino Francés as a walking pilgtimage route led to renewed interested in the Vía de la Plata. Since then numbers of pilgrims have increased slowly reaching a peak of 14,197 in Holy Year 2010. Then 8,061 in 2011, 8,163 in 2012, 9,016 in 2013, 8,491 in 2014 and 9,221 in 2015 (these are figures for pilgrims arriving in Santiago). In contrast to the Camino Francés which is busiest in summer, the busiest times on the Vía de la Plata are spring and autumn. The extreme summer heat in southern Spain makes June, July and August the preserve of a small number of hardy souls.
Today the Vía de la Plata is a popular alternative to the Camino Francés for people looking for solitude and a more authentic Camino experience (with its accompanying difficulties).
This guide covers the Vía de la Plata from Seville to Astorga, and the Camino Sanabrés, which branches from the Vía de la Plata and arrives in Santiago through southern Galicia. People often use the term Vía de la Plata to refer to the combination of these two routes.
I started writing this guide after I can back from walking the Vía de la Plata from Seville to Santiago via Astorga in the winter of 2009, and finished it after returning to walk the Camino Sanabrés in 2012. Preparing for my walk I had been unable to find any reliable information in English about the routes and accommodation along them. This didn’t deter me and I managed fine with a print out of accommodation from a Spanish website and some Google maps of the towns with the route roughly sketched on them. However, if I hadn't been able to access information in Spanish I would have been lost, and I probably wouldn't have even attempted this walk. Based on this experience I decided to try to make information more widely available in English.
I started by making the guide available as a free download from my website, www.CaminoGuide.net. Thanks to the positive feedback and encouragement I received from other pilgrims who used it, I decided to try publishing it on Amazon (with the addition of maps). This has enabled me to bring the information to a far wider audience.
From the beginning I appealed to pilgrims to send me updates and corrections to help me keep the information up-to-date. Many people responded to my call, and this, together with the wealth of information available online, allowed me to keep track of new hostels and route changes. This system isn’t perfect and I would prefer (in fact I would love!) if I had the time and money to walk the Vía every year and do the updates as I go along. But I don’t, and given the small number of English-speaking pilgrims walking this Camino, it’s unlikely this or any other guide will ever make enough money to cover a full, yearly update (such as the German guides manage).
I set out to create a source of the essential information someone will need to walk the Vía de la Plata, and this book is still that, the essential information: distances, pilgrim hostels, places to buy food, places to eat, and notes about those few places where the yellow arrows may not be sufficient for you to find your way.
The Vía is very different from the Camino Francés in that it is longer, lonelier and less scenic. It is closer to the original experience of long-distance pilgrimage than the commercialised and 'tamed' Camino Francés. You can walk the Camino Francés on 'autopilot', by which I mean, without planning ahead or really paying much attention, and I don't mean that in a negative way, one of the great things about the Camino Francés is that it's accessible to people of all levels of ability and commitment. But, if you approached the Vía on 'autopilot' you'd quickly find yourself lost, hungry and thirsty. As a consequence, the people who walk the Vía tend to be a hardy, self-reliant bunch.