El Bierzo is one of my favourite areas in Camino de Santiago. El Bierzo is a shire within Leon province located in a fertile and green depression surrounded by mountains. The Bierzo wine made with the local grape variety Mencia is quite difficult to find on stores outside the area but it is very appreciated by the pilgrims and it is obviously on one of my reasons for liking this shire of El Bierzo.
After Molinaseca it comes Ponferrada which is a big industrial city and capital of el Bierzo. I didn’t like the city itself but its Knights Templar castle is really remarkable. In 1178, Fernando II of Leon donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims who walked through El Bierzo along the Camino de Compostela. That is how the Knights Templar established them in Ponferrada.
All the way to Villafranca del Bierzo from Ponferrada goes through a nice path mostly in between vineyards and through nice villages such as Cacabelos which also has albergue.
Villafranca del Bierzo used to be the capital of el Bierzo and it is a very monumental village full of churches and monasteries. In 1186 the bishop of Astorga obtained a papal bull by which the Church of Santiago was to be built in Villafranca del Bierzo with the “Forgiveness door” so that the sick pilgrims of Camino de Santiago, that couldn’t continue to Santiago de Compostela, could gain there the Jubilee.
El Bierzo is funny to me because one can find many independentist graffiti. Some graffiti in the province of Leon already claim independence from Castile region, and then the graffiti in El Bierzo, which is still part of Leon province, claim independence from Leon. Therefore, the next step would be a small single Bierzo village claiming pure independence from the rest of the world!
Villafranca del Bierzo has also a fluvial beach in the Valcarce river which is really fun in summer. The town has really good food tradition and several pilgrim’s hostels, shops and restaurants.