The small town of O Cebreiro, caressed by the cold wind in winter, features in a few damp stone streets and the fog all the necessary components to become one of these unforgettable places for any pilgrim heading to Santiago along the French path. It is without any doubt one of the iconic towns of the Jacobean route, initial point for many walkers and an extraordinary balcony, 1.293 meters high, from where you’ll delight with the astonishing landscapes of the Ancares mountain range. A place with its own history and architecture where there’s no shortage of magic and legend.
One of the main attractions of O Cebreiro is its characteristic “pallozas”; houses with an elliptical base made of large stones with a huge thatched roof. These unique structures, designed to resist the harsh winters, where people and animals coexisted alongside had been inhabited not so long ago. Nowadays they’ve become an historic and ethnographic heritage that you’ll be able to visit, as it’s now reconverted into a small museum.
In O Cebreiro you’ll also find one the most renowned (and photographed) monuments of the Camino: the sanctuary of Santa María la Real, a pre- Romanesque church dating from the 9th century where a chalice, considered by some authors as the very Holy Grail, is exposed. Whether this is true or not, the sanctuary enjoyed the dynastic protection. By the year 1.072 the king Alfonso VI invited French monks of the Order of Cluny to take care of it. Its point of origin, the city of Aurillac, also gave its name to another mythical building of O Cebreiro; the hostelry of San Giraldo de Aurillac, operating since 11th century.
In the magical aspect, which is inherent to the Camino de Santiago, the legend tries to support the theory of the Galician Holy Grail. It says that around year 1300 a neighbour of the nearby village of Barxamaior came up to hear mass amid a heavy storm of wind and snow. The priest disdained such excessive faith at which point the host he was consecrating transformed into the body of Christ and the wine became his blood. It is the miracle of O Cebreiro.
Surrounded by magic, legend and history, many of you will start in O Cebreiro their route towards Santiago. The first stage of the French Path on the Galician territory will take you to the town of Triacastela. 21 kilometres with medium-high difficulty characterized by pronounced climbs and descents. No wonder in this stage you’ll find the highest point of the Camino; the Alto do Poio, with its 1.370 meters. Before reaching the top you’ll also have to pass through the Alto de San Roque, where is located the famous statue of the medieval pilgrim that seems to walk against the wind. You’ll continue your walk on a route sprinkled with typical churches of this area, made of stone with an austere Romanesque style, beautiful landscapes and small villages where you’ll find easily coffee-shops to recover strength.
You’ll have to complete 6 kilometres of a pronounced descent to Triacastela before the end of the stage. A well-deserved breather before you continue the Camino through the land of the fortified settlements.