San Martín of Frómista

Frómista is best known for its church of San Martín de Tours. construction of the church and its accompanying monastery (which has since vanished) began in the late 11th century at the instigation of the widow of Sancho el Mayor. her family was known for building churches and also commissioned the Catedral de Jaca and San Isidoro in León.

architects from the Jaca project designed San Martín as a reduced-scale model of the cathedral — a house of worship worthy of the Camino. designed in the Romanesque style, the large, evenly cut stones were quarried elsewhere and transported to Frómista; it also features an octagonal cupola, rounded apses, and remarkably detailed corbels and square metopes supporting the roof. the over 300 grotesques depict animals, vegetables, geometric knots and sirens (I thought I even spied a pineapple … but couldn’t decide whether that made sense in terms of chronology, trans-oceanic exploration, and native plants). 

those painstaking attentions didn’t hold out in perpetuity, however — by the 13th century the monks abandoned the monastery; several ownership changes in the next 200 years saw some additions and expansions to the structure but it began to decay starting in the 15th century and by the middle of the 19th century it was deemed unacceptable for celebrations.

that’s when things took an interesting turn: in 1894, the building was de-consecrated, restored, reopened and recognized as a National Monument. now it’s open to the public, as I mentioned, and draws scads of coach tours from all over Spain to admire it.

shin splints

another challenge on the hike from Castrojeriz to Frómista was the clumpy mud. the slick, clumpy, cakey, heave mud. sometimes a rich red color; sometimes more gray and clay-like; always heavy.

on most days, the gravel and dirt paths through the farmland all across Spain were great for hiking — easier on knees and feet than asphalt and better on ankles than the rocky paths through hillier or mountainous terrain. but with a little bit of rain … those usually wonderful, easy-walking paths turned slippery and mucky. most of the surface decided it would rather hitch a ride on the bottoms of our boots, on our pant legs, on anything that got within splatter distance, really.

this wouldn’t matter much for a kilometer or two here or there over the course of the Camino but the walk to Frómista was the second rainy day in a row and the paths proved much muddier than those to Castrojeriz. while we each experienced a variety of aches and pains, the shin splints that came with hauling around the extra mud-weight affected us both (though certainly not equally). for what seemed hours (but was probably only 3 or 4 kilometers) we clomped across the mesetas and plains, knocking mud off the soles of our boots ever couple hundred meters as shin splints got splintier and splintier.

and when you’re hiking 800 kilometers, shin splints are the gifts that kept on giving. removing irritants from inside shoes helped heal blisters; Compeed helped mitigate or prevent new ones; aloe, moisturizing lotion and liberal application of sunscreen helped heal and prevent sunburns; elevation and ice helped mend sprains … to an extent. but the best method for reducing or healing shin splints? stop the activity that caused the injury in the first place. not an option when one is challenging oneself to hike across Spain on a century-old pilgrimage trail. at least days of drier paths devoid of cakey mud don’t make things any worse, no matter how many kilometers each day has in store!


one of my favorite hotels was in the town of Frómista — memory foam beds and a vegetarian menu del peregrino!! if you ever find yourself there, might I recommend the Hotel Doña Mayor? you could tell them that I sent you but I don’t think it’ll mean much.

Frómista was the first town in the region of Palencia (the second of three provinces of Castilla y León through which we walked) in which we stayed. it’s located at the heart of one of the richest grain-growing areas in Iberia and its name likely derives from the Latin word for cereal. initially settled by Celts, Celtiberos later farmed it, the Romans established a farming community, and the Visigoths retained it as a town. while Muslims destroyed the town, they didn’t deem it worthy of developing a settlement as, sitting smack in the middle of flat farm terrain, it didn’t offer much in the way of defense.

in the 11th century, the doña Mayor, countess of Castilla and wife of Sancho III, invested in repopulating Frómista; a century later doña Urraca donated the entire village to the Cluiac Benedictines of Carrion de los Condes and for 300 years Carrion controlled the monastery while the town was run by its lords and citizens. in the 14th century, while the Jewish population of Frómista escaped persecution, Jews from the surrounding area swelled the city’s population and helped it thrive as a market town for many years. that ended, however, when the town expelled Jews in 1492 and the synagogue in the formerly-Jewish neighborhood was converted into a church. population dropped dramatically — from around 1,000 households before expulsion of the Jews to barely 500 by the end of the 16th century.

one of the most impressive sights along the walk from over the meseta from Castrojeriz to Frómista is the canal system. started in the 18th century, the extensive system of canals took over 50 years to complete and reversed the areas economic decline by improving irrigation, allowing faster transportation of grains and by powering corn mills. we walked along the canal from Boadilla del Camino to Frómista and had to cross over a lock to enter the town. I wish I had some pictures of them to share but … in light of the stupid horse eating trash and its consequences I haven’t any to share.

menu del peregrino

house wine in at the municipal albergue in Ages

as I wager many of you know, Spain is known for their late dining habits. restaurants routinely do not open for dinner until 9:00 p.m. or later, which proves monumentally inconvenient for peregrinos who start hiking by 7:00 a.m. each day and hope to be asleep, or at least in bed, by 9:00 p.m. to adjust for this, along the Camino many, if not all, restaurants offer a fixed menu del peregrino that gets served around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. for about 10 euro, you get a starter, an entree, dessert, bread, water, and wine.

our first experience with the menu del peregrino was in Roncesvalles; the upscale hotel next to the albergue advertised theirs well and had us walking through the door to reserve seats before we knew how big town might be. the advertised start of the meal was 7:00 p.m. but when we showed up at 7:02, or so, nearly all the  50 or so seats were filled — fellow peregrinos as hungry as we were anxious to get a jump on the meal. this particular meal was served family style on long tables, which fostered a communal feel that resulted in my receiving about six left-over dessert yogurts at the end of the meal. the main course was fish and when word made it down the table that I don’t eat fish, people passed the yogurt served as dessert that they either didn’t care for or didn’t have room to eat. I managed to eat about four before tapping out; it was the best yogurt I ate the entire time we were in Spain.

my favorite meal — at the Hotel Dona Mayor in Fromista

while occasionally we had family-style peregrino meals (usually at private hostels that also had menus or restaurants), usually we had a table to ourselves. the menu options were always fixed to three or four options per course and were never veg-friendly; even the uninspired iceberg lettuce salads came with hard boiled eggs and tuna. even thinking about it now exasperates me (and re-inspires me for the CSA salad I’m eating for tomorrow’s lunch). once I figured out how to manipulate the menu, I managed fine by ordering two veg-friendlier first courses — often soup and pasta with tomato sauce. after a while, the pork or beef stock they used to make the soup got frustrating, but it for a time it served as a welcome alternative to terrible salads. on one memorable occasion, I ordered pasta with tomato sauce without meat and, as often happened, it came out with ham and chicken in the sauce anyway; our server/owner of the establishment was aghast and swept the plate away before I could take another bite to make a plate without meat. I’m never one to make a fuss about meals not coming out as expected and would have eaten around the ham and chicken, but after two weeks it was nice to have someone look after my dietary preferences.