Somebody once said: “Farmers are the gardeners of the world.” I can’t agree more. Today they’ve prepared us a stunning bouquet of vineyards, canola fields and 50 shades of green. The setting is picture perfect. Colour, light, clouds … God is not a DJ. He’s a DP (director of photography). My smart phone goes into overdrive. Every snapshot is a painting.
The peloton is in a cheerful mood. After two 30 km marches, today's 20 feels like picnic. Although most pilgrims prefer to walk in solitude, there’s tons of catching up at every cafe along the road. ‘Et alors, les pieds?’ ‘Pies?’ ‘En, de voeten?’ Everybody asks about my blisters in every possible language. Much better, thank you so much. We photograph our way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, another hidden marvel reserved for pilgrims. The medieval town is named after Saint Dominic de la Calzada, the local Bob the Builder. In the 11th century he constructed a bridge, hospital and hotel for pilgrims. His building-frenzy made him the patron Saint of civil engineers.
Once I reach the city gates, I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I go mega or musty? The freshly renovated Casa del Santo is one of the best hostels along the Camino. But I really had my share of mega-snoring-factories. I prefer to choose the lesser evil: the rustic Albergue of the Cistercian monastery. The hostel is a series of small, musty rooms with 3 to 4 beds. When I arrive into my room, a girl is lying in an awkward yoga position, with her legs behind her ears. “Eh … hello there.” Her boyfriend gives me a nasty stare. He clearly fancies a little group exercise, so I politely leave the lovebirds alone. Namaste.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a labyrinth of medieval streets, charming squares and grand monuments. The cathedral of Saint Dominic is the jewel of the crown. You’ll immediately notice the freestanding tower. This is actually tower number 4. The 3 before all vanished. The first tower was destroyed by lightning in 1450. Its replacement collapsed in the 18th century. Number 3 was so unstable, it had to be dismantled one year after its construction in 1760. This trial and error was getting out of control. Something had to change. Architect Martin de Beratua wisely moved to more solid grounds, 8 meters away from the cathedral. The final tower is 69 meters tall and a copycat of the twin towers of Santa Maria la Redonda in Logroño.
You don’t enter the cathedral through the 18th century portico, but via the cloister on the north side, now housing the cathedral museum. The star exhibit is an ‘Annunciation’ by Joos van Cleve, an artist caught between two worlds. The porcelain faces, refined garments and sharp perspective are old school Flemish. While the symmetric composition and roman arch in the background announce the Renaissance. The rest of the museum is mostly filled with Gothic polychromic sculptures. Freaky stuff. I quickly walk into the actual church.
The Gothic cathedral was built in the 12th century over the original romanesque church of Saint Dominic. Over the next few centuries, different elements were added, giving it that unique blend of romanesque, plateresque and gothic. A top spot is reserved for the mausoleum of the patron saint. More unusual residents are a rooster and a hen, sitting in a richly ornamented cage. Their presence goes back to an old legend.
Back in the days, a couple from Cologne was walking the Camino with their son. When they spent the night in Santa Domingo, a local barmaid fancied a little hanky-panky. But the boy - either extremely pious or extremely shy - wasn’t interested. The flirty girl was not amused. At night, she sneaked a silver goblet into the boy’s luggage. The next day, she accused little Fritz of theft. His luggage was searched and gotcha! The verdict of the local judge was a no-brainer and the boy was hanged. His heartbroken parents continued their journey to Santiago, where they prayed to Saint James for the soul of their son. On their way back, they once again passed by Santa Domingo. Now, here it gets kinda tragicomical. When they reached the town, they were surprised to see their son still hanging from the gallows. Even more surprisingly, the boy was alive and kicking. The parents quickly rushed to the judge to tell him what happened. The magistrate didn’t appreciate the Germans interrupting his lunch and pointed at his plate: “Your son is as alive as these roast chickens I am about to eat” Right at that moment, the two dead birds jumped up and flew away. Since this miracle, two featured friends have been kept in the cathedral. I thought the Lord was just a shepherd.
From Najera to St. Domingo de la Calzada is only 21 km. A walk in the park. You’ll pass 2 villages for drinks: Azofra (km 6) and Ciruena (km 15).
Where to sleep in Santo Domingo de la Calzada?
There are only 2 albergues:
- Albergue de la Abadia Cistercians Nuestra Senore de La Annunciation - Calle Mayor 31, right at the entrance of town - open May-Sept: noon to 10 pm - 33 beds spread over different musty rooms, 7 euro (not 5 euro as indicated in guidebooks). Spacious kitchen. Big garden in the back, where you can do your laundry or chill in the sun. Modest WIFI.
- Albergue Casa del Santo - Calle Mayor 38-42, a little further - open all year, from 11u30 am to 10 pm - 211 beds, 7 euro. Top location. Top facilities. One of the best hostels along the Camino. Facing a laundrette with automatic machines.
Score a handy map at the tourist office in the Calle Mayor (can’t miss it)
The Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calazada, entrance 4 euro. If you’re cool, the guy at the entrance will let you in for 3. Opening hours:
Winter, from Nov 4 to Mar 31. Mon-Fri: 10 am to 7.30 pm - Sat: 10 am to 7.10 pm - Sun: 10 am to 0.20 pm & 1.45 to 7.10 pm
Summer, from Apr 1 to Nov 3: Mon-Fri: 9 am to 8.30 pm - Sat: 9 am to 7.10 pm - Sun: 9 am to 0.20 pm & 1.45 to 7.10 pm
Other places of interest: the 12th century hospital next to the cathedral (now a Parador), the Monastery of the Cistercians and the city walls. Grab a beer or a bite at one of the many charming terraces in town.