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Künig Road, back to origins

By Alejandro Gonzalez | 16/02/2024

Künig Road, back to origins Image: Alejandro Gonzalez

Looking at Magar with so much machine on her shoulder, an old lady asks us:

“Are you hanging on the road?

We are pilgrims.

She looks at me, suspicious, but I smile and she does, and she says:



A pilgrim! The huge river of pilgrimages reduced, on the road of O’Cebreiro, to a pilgrim, and two years ago! Who would be?

This wonderful and endearing excerpt from the book “on the road of pilgrimages” written by Don Álvaro Cunqueiro in 1962, serves more than enough to get an idea of what the French way would be like before the boom of the first Xacobeo in 93, or even before that year Santo Compostelano in 1965 in which the Ministry of Tourism promoted the path of some pilgrim.

Today the Camino de Santiago is a mass phenomenon desired of a different “adventure” than when they land in Sarria they are diluted in the multicolored platoon of “pilgrims” in which the slightest hint of such adventure disappears just as sugar does in a hot coffee.

He who writes, after going through many paths and being more than satisfied with everything lived in them, always remained a little bit stuck, to have discovered late “the road” and not to be able to live a pilgrimage like those of the 60s, lonely, and with that point of adventure and survival that made them epic.

One of the many problems that suffers the road of Santiago, especially the French road, although other roads are not saved, is the “abuse” that entails the massification in terms of prices and treatment by the hosteleros, (not all of course) and the hartazgo of the paisano living on foot of the way and have to endure the multicolor snake of pilgrims, things like maletas troley making noise, songs at high hours

Throughout the many centuries of history of the Camino de Santiago there were always problems that affected the pilgrims of each time, so in the final section of the fifteenth century, a monk of the name Hermann Künig, belonging to the convent that the order of the Servants of Mary had in Vach (Vacha), in the present German state of Thuringia, decided to visit the north-west end of Santiago.

The monk left a guide to his long journey through territories currently belonging to Switzerland, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

In his pilgrimage through Spain he decided to take two different alternatives and not follow the steps of pilgrims' ords of that time for different reasons. The first was to avoid the highest and most difficult steps such as Monte Irago in Foncebadon and O'Cebreiro high to the entrance to Galicia. And the second, it was because it seemed on those hard sections of the road that abuses of pilgrims and mistreatment were on the agenda. So he decided to take those two deviations and put them into what was the first written guide for pilgrims in history. And it was like this.

“If you take the left side, you will reach Astorga without further delay.

But if you want to follow my advice, always stay on the right.

Then you won't need to climb any mountain, let them all go to your left.

Distrust of Rabanal del Camino, this is my advice.

On this road, you will soon reach Ponferrada.

First of all, you have to ask about the road to Santa Marina.

And leave Astorga three leagues to your left.

Then you will cross one village after another and you will be among good people and you will be able to make progress in all safety.

And they will give you good-grade wine and bread near Ponferrada.

In the city, there is a stately castle.

From here, you have three legumes until Cacabelos, then five legumes until Villafranca del Bierzo ; there you drink the wine quite rightly, because more than you burn your heart , which goes off like a candela.

From here, you have to cross a bridge, then another one; now, listen to me well: if you don’t want to take the road down Mount Faba, leave it to your left and at the height of the bridge turn right.

Two leagues away a village.

From there, you will walk five more leagues, then you will find a village that is situated on a steep mountain.

Four leagues further, you enter the city of Lugo."


And so to me, who I am looking for little roads and also try to go in times of little influx of pilgrims, Via Künig caught my attention. I already had references to the section between Las Herrerías and Lugo, a section that is perfectly marked and increasingly promoted, but looking for information I also saw the other section that made the German monk between San Martín del Camino and Ponferrada, totally virgin the latter and absolutely to be explored. It is exactly what we were looking for, and where I and my fellow people left without knowing what we were going to find and only having as reference the translation that from the medieval guide is made in the book “the road from Künig to Compostela” by Tomás Álvarez.

What we found was celestial music.

People to people, step by step, countrymen to countrymen all over the world asked us that if we were pilgrims, they would take pictures of us as we pass by, they would tell us that if we wanted to go to Astorga it wasn't there, like thinking we had lost, then we would tell them that we didn't want to go to Astorga, that we were doing the künig road. Others asked us if we were making a weird path from Santiago when we saw our backpack and our scallops. One day he even invited us to a few beers a good lady doing so good and trustworthy all that Hermman künig wrote about these people in his guide and that is still current today.

We find municipalities such as Benavides de Orbigo whose mayor “assaulted” us upon our arrival to the town astonished to see pilgrims making the Künig road and giving us a nice talk in which he showed us his intentions to mark the way and even to open a hostel.

Later on we were lucky enough to meet Jesus and Mariangeles in Quintanilla del Valle, tireless wrestlers to take the people forward and committed to making their lives loved by a multitude of activities. Now also committed to the road because we have had the great news of knowing that they have opened a traditional reception for pilgrims. If someone is thinking about changing the city for a village and doesn't know how to do it, let them know. They are a real example of “yes you can”, if you want to be clear!

And then we realized that this was “the way” to follow, that there is no point in being another pilgrim more than four hundred thousand, that there we were “the pilgrims”. So I understood that thank God that little girl who had been nailed for not having been able to make a pilgrimage in the 1960s, I had just taken it away and honored. So I understood that everything I did along the way, Bodenaya, Izarra, had done to bring back to the road all that I had given, and now I didn't know how to thank everything that I had experienced these days on the Künig road.

Pilgrim, if you are thinking of making a different path, if you have plan to live an adventure, if you don’t like to follow the flock, if you yearn for feeling a pilgrim to Santiago you have to know the following, in this way there is no transportation of backpacks, there are practically no infrastructures, I speak from November 2023, there are not many people to be able to talk to, if you find an open bar

As soon as the city halls are stacked by opening reception sites and with a minimum of proper signage (I speak of simple yellow arrows), gradually the Leonese stretch of the Künig road will leave its long lethargy and the river of wealth, not only monetary, left by the pilgrims as they pass, will water these wonderful lands. They deserve it.

Road, road and more way, that is what the pilgrim finds when walking the road of Künig.

And you? Do you want to be a pilgrim more than four hundred thousand? a number in statistics? Or do you want to live the adventure of the Camino Santiago?Are you going to miss it?

Good road to Künig.



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