A Heavenly Stop – Burgos, Spain
When I first planned this mini-trip to Spain I had one main destination in mind, or rather one spot I knew we could not miss.
It was a spot I’d chosen based on a combo of inputs including some basic Googling of the best stuff to see along the Camino De Santiago, my fathers deep love of churches, and Paul’s (most excellent) insider info on spots he’d seen along the walk that seriously warranted a stop.
The latter of course, carried the most weight. Paul and his dad had just completed this entire route by foot so they’d REALLY seen it all, and this place was one of the ones that had topped the list for them. So now that our meeting with the boyz in Hospital De Orbigo was over, we were on a MISSION. The next days would be all about the very best of the Camino, the creme-de-la-creme of spots to see along the trail, and it was all going to start with this particular drive.
That made TODAY, a very exciting day indeed…..
We Start The Camino In Reverse, On The Meseta
We get on the road early to avoid the heat, rolling LMB onto the main highway East, our first drive in reverse (pilgrims walk the other way) on the Camino De Santiago.
During the first hour or so we cross the Meseta, a dreaded (or sometimes loved) part of the Camino that passes through the high plains of central Spain. It’s flat, dry desert of around 220 km that’s basically a whole lotta nothing. The unique geology of the place means it’s either freezing (in winter) or boiling hot (in summer) with very few in-betweens. Plus it’s very sparsely populated with limited shade which means long slogs of monotonous walking between towns.
Many Camino pilgrims choose to skip this section altogether, taking a bus from Burgos to Astorga, but others call it the best of the trail, the part where you mind can finally free itself into a meditative state. Everyone either fears it or looks forward to it, but no-one is foolish enough to dismiss it.
I have to admit that driving through it was something else.
This is a super harsh landscape with horizons of dry that seem to go on forever, and almost zero features to grasp your eye or green to soothe your soul. It’s super easy in the camping car, just a few hours of air-conditioned driving along a flat and practically empty road, but walking it seems pretty crazy. I’ve already got tons of respect for those that do.
Then We See Green! And Burgos!
As we approach our destination for the day we start to see a change. The dry plains morph into rolling hills, that suddenly explode in shades of soothing green. It’s a most pleasant change and we start to spot pilgrims along the trail too (it passes closer to the road here), chugging along with their packs in the opposite direction towards the desert. Poor souls! But our destination is finally here and it’s a beautiful sight!
The Cathedral of Burgos (official name Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the historical center of Burgos in the northern Iberian Peninsula.
It’s unique for many reasons. It’s the only cathedral to claim World Heritage in it’s own right in Spain (for example, Santiago De Compostela is also a UNESCO Site, but that includes the old town and not just the Cathedral). It’s massive, covering 1.03 hectars and it’s outrageously flamboyant, the result of 346 years (!!!!) of construction from 1221 to 1567 (mind you, they did take a ~200 year break in the middle of all that!). It was also updated and embellished multiple times from the 13th to 18th centuries and thus has influences from all over including a French Gothic-inspired facade, Germanic-influenced spires, a Plateresques-Renaissance-influenced portal as well as a plethora of stunning artwork, murals and carvings in the interior.
This Cathedral is not just a church, but rather a fine collection of architecture and art from multiple centuries.
Parking Is No Picnic, Especially On a Sunday
The only issue with visiting Burgos is where to park the motorhome.
There is a municipal campground around 4 km from town which is where most people base themselves, but it’s too far for us if we want to walk into town together with the dog. So we set our sights on a parking lot just east of town, which looks like it has ample space from Google.
Unfortunately we run into two main problems. The long parking sites that I’d seen on satellite view are for buses only and it’s a Sunday, so the place is CRAZY and literally over-flowing with cars and people. We drive LMB into the lot and wait around for a while, but quickly realize there’s no hope we’ll be able to stay here.
Feeling a tad defeated we continue across the bridge and east along the river towards the general direction of the campground. There’s lots of parking here too, but car-size only and it’s also packed to the brim. So it’s a massive surprise for us both when we see an open spot, not only the only free site we’ve seen since we got into town, but literally the exact size to fit us. We slot in perfectly, thanking the Parking Gods and blessing LMB for her slim size (she’s around 20 cm narrower than most motorhomes, which means she can fit into a standard width spot). We’re only around 1 km from town too, easily do-able for both doggie and dad. Clearly the heavens are with us today!
We Spend Hours In Burgos Soaking In The Town
For the next 3 hours we walk around Burgos and soak in the town.
Our first stop is the main entrance to the Cathedral where we score a table at a restaurant directly on the square and enjoy a delicious lunch in full view of the fine lady. A lovely start!
Then we both visit the Cathedral one by one (no doggies allowed inside), taking our time to explore the ~15 or so chapels inside the structure.
It’s an overwhelming place and possibly one of the most well-preserved and interesting churches I have ever seen. The central dome and main archways are suitably impressive, but the chapels are a special treat, each one a mini-church in its own right with a unique history and flavor. The rooms are like an elaborate maze and there’s so many of them that after a while you completely lose your orientation and become almost over-saturated with the richness of it all.
Plus everything is SO well preserved, and because it costs a smidgen to get in (only EUR 7, but that’s enough to curb the masses) it’s really not crowded at all. That means you can enjoy it all without having to squeeze your way through a wall of people. Such a treat!
I’ve seen many incredible churches in my travels (Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur (France), St Pauls, Westminster Abbey (UK), Florence Cathedral (Italy) etc.) and IMO Burgos tops the lot. Visually and artistically I can’t recall any other place quite like it.
We both absolutely love the visit, but we also both agree that one time through is really not enough. There’s so much to see here that you’d need multiple visits to fully absorb it all.
Alas the day was running on, so we decide to spend the rest of our time walking around town. Of course there’s many more churches (can’t just be one in a place like this!), a few monasteries as well as lots of pretty streets and interesting museums. We decide to hike up to the top of the hill behind town to the main overlook (Mirador Del Castillo) by the castle (yes, there’s one of those too). It’s steep with lots of steps and the day is getting really warm so all of us are dragging by the time we get to the top, but the view is well worth it. A completely open 180-degree panorama of the city!
I take my last pic of the day from the overlook, a rare selfie with dad and me. Not my best shot (my arms are just too darn short for good selfies), but you can tell we’re both super happy.
We Overnight At A Lovely Municipal Campground
After 5 miles of walking (!!) we finally make it back exhausted to LMB and drive the short couple of extra km to get to the municipal campground (Camping Fuentes Blancas).
It turns out to be a lovely little spot with large, shaded green pitches and a nice little restaurant & grocery store on-site. It’s inexpensive (only EUR 20/night with our trusty ASCI card) and wonderfully quiet too, a balm to the soul after our hectic day.
We slot into our site, pour our traditional end-of-day gin and tonic, break out some cheese and ham and call it a night.
We’ve had an awesome day! I had looked forward to this visit since we started our mini-trip to Spain and it did not disappoint. Thanks to some heavenly parking luck and an abundance of good weather we were able to enjoy our day in Burgos together with the dog, exploring and taking our time as we saw fit. The Cathedral was spectacular, the town was interesting, and we’d truly enjoyed it all.
There would be much more goodness to come, but this was definitely a highlight of our trip and would remain one of our best memories of our time in Spain. Thank you Burgos!
Coming Up Next -> We continue along the Camino trail, exploring ever smaller towns and aaaalmost getting stuck….