Villafranca del Bierzo proves the saying “It’s not the destination, but the journey” both perfectly right and exceedingly wrong. Our walk today met all expectations–rolling hills through the Bierzo vineyards, fresh cherries hovering in the trees over our heads, and one much-celebrated white house, perfectly perched and overlooking the valley. Not to be outdone, Villafranca, all winding streets and endless flights of stairs, nestles itself between the mountains. The river cuts through the center of town–a river in which many happy pilgrims soaked their feet that day.
Descending into town, we pass the Puerta del Perdon, one of the main features of Villafranca. If pilgrims arrived and found that they could no longer continue on the Way and were willing to stay for mass and make a confession, the priests at the 12th century Church of Santiago were authorized to grant a plenary indulgence.
Not far from the church is the 16th century Castillio de los Marqueses. Home to the Osorio family until the present day, the castle served as the seat of power for the marquises of Villafranca del Bierzo, the first of whom, Pedro Alverez de Toledo, was heavily involved in the growth of Naples during the Spanish rule of the city in the early part of the century.
Villafranca comes to life, though, by means of the same thing that brought the first French Cluniac monks to the region in 1070–Bierzo wine. Our day concluded with a picnic on the river, complete with the best of Spanish cheeses, meats, and the classic regional delicacy–Oreos. We had picked up wines from the Godello vineyard on the way into town–a young, summer red with Mencia grapes, a crisp Godello white, and a crianza called, appropriately, Pilgrim. From the natural beauty throughout the day to the communal spirit which comes from sharing a meal at sunset, Villafranca proved a gorgeous stop along our Camino as we left Leon and Castille behind and travelled into the Gallican hills.