The so-called Winter Way is an alternative to the southern French Way which extends from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela . In the past, it owed its success as an alternative route to the fact that during the severe winter months it was a good deal easier to travel this way, rather than passing through the mountainous regions of Leon and Lugo. This alternative route was therefore busiest during the winter period, when weather conditions made access to O Cebreiro difficult for pilgrims.
In some periods of history, the Winter Trail was not so much an alternative, but a necessity. In the eighteenth century, for example, temperatures dropped so dramatically that scientists refer to that period as a small Ice Age, thus making the section of the French Way between Leon and Lugo utterly impassable.
Among the pilgrims who travelled by the Winter Way, the best known is the Italian Buenafede Vanti, who made a pilgrimage to Santiago in 1717, leaving behind him a beautiful chronicle of his journey. Throughout the coming winter I shall be posting extracts from Vanti’s book, which is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the history of the Winter Trail.
Nowadays, the Winter Trail offers pilgrims natural landscapes of extraordinary beauty and singularity, such as the Medulas or the Ribeira Sacra, as well as an incredibly rich heritage that may be found in the numerous monasteries and monumental cities like Monforte de Lemos . Another attraction of this route is the food and wine, particularly the wine. Wine is a fundamental part of the regional culture and the route runs through territory with vineyards on either side of it. As many as five different denominations of origin cited in the Winter Trail!, wines that pilgrims or tourists can taste in monasteries, hotels, restaurants or wineries.
Finally, we cannot deny that a fundamental reason for the resounding success of the Winter Trail is that it offers pilgrims the possibility of living an authentic experience away from the crowd, which unfortunately plagues the French Way at certain times of year. Here for the pilgrim or tourist who chooses it, there the silence of the great outdoors and the solemn grandeur of medieval monasteries. A real luxury in this day and age!