A Cinematic Journey on the Camino de Santiago

It's not often that hiking is featured prominently on the silver screen. Or that a major film takes its name from a trail. But both happen this weekend, when The Way opens in theaters nationwide.

Martin Sheen in The Way.

The Way traces the journey of an American doctor (Martin Sheen) who goes to France to retrieve the ashes of his son (played by Sheen’s real-life son, Emilio Estevez), who died in a storm while hiking the Camino de Santiago, a European long distance trail also known as The Way of Saint James. After collecting his son's remains, Sheen's character decides to walk "the way,” scattering his son's ashes as he hikes 500 miles from France to Spain.

The Camino de Santiago is a collection of trails that evolved from ancient Roman trade routes. They are the traditional routes of Christian pilgrims, who journeyed from their homes to the site of St. James’s supposed burial, a cathedral in the Spanish city Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims take different routes, but one of the common choices begins near the Pyrenees in the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, heading generally west into Spain.

The Camino isn't like the Appalachian Trail or other American long-distance hiking trails. Rather than emphasizing a wilderness experiences, the Camino de Santiago is a cultural and spiritual journey. Since much of the route is through small towns and cities, and most pilgrims sleep inside, it's seldom necessary to carry a stove, tent, or other backcountry gear. Rather than energy bars, pilgrims can enjoy local sausage, wines, fresh baked bread, and country hams. Pilgrims can apply for a Credencial,or pilgrim's passport, which is traditionally stamped by small churches along the route. The Credencial provides free or discounted rates at small hostels called refugios in Spain, or gite in France.

The Way
Sheen and Estevez on location along the Camino de Santiago.

Rather than narrow single-track, the Camino de Santiago winds over a system of ancient Roman roads that crisscross most of Europe, though some sections over the Pyrenees are reputedly quite rugged. Upon completing a walk of at least 200 km, pilgrims are entitled to receive a formal church document called a compostela, commemorating their journey.

While most viewers of The Way will focus on Martin Sheen's acting, or the lovely scenery, hikers will be in wonder of a long-distance trail with running water, a bed every night, local sausage, and plentiful wine!

Learn more about the Camino de Santiago:

Have you considered a European hike? Do you like to add a cultural element to your hikes? Join the conversation below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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0 reviewer rep
4 forum posts
October 7, 2011 at 11:24 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the heads up, hadn't heard about it.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
848 reviewer rep
3,901 forum posts
October 7, 2011 at 4:19 p.m. (EDT)

How had I not heard of this? I want to see it too.

2,987 reviewer rep
946 forum posts
October 9, 2011 at 6:45 a.m. (EDT)

I'll be looking for it too!

In 2006 i hiked the Tour de Mont Blanc with my family -- all the way around the Mt. Blanc Massif through starting and finishing in Chamonix and passing through parts of Italy and Switzerland. No tent or cooking gear and hostel-type sheet bags instead of sleeping bags. We stayed at several alpine club huts but also passed through and sometimes stayed in gites d'etappes (basically hikers hostels) in or near some old mountain towns. Random memory: locally made ice cream during a siesta on a sweltering afternoon in the old stone-and-cobble town of Courmayeur in Italy. It's a whole different way to hike, a mixture of high mountains and mountain culture.

Jake W
3,760 reviewer rep
954 forum posts
October 9, 2011 at 8:12 a.m. (EDT)

Looks cool, I'd never heard of it before either. Thanks Seth.

Seth Levy (Seth)
625 reviewer rep
1,178 forum posts
October 10, 2011 at 12:02 p.m. (EDT)

Good to hear the level of interest.  There are a lot of amazing European trails out there - from the Coatswolds way, to the Highland Way, a whole mess of them really.  When you add some of the via feratta routes in Italy - you realize that several lifetimes are needed to experience them all!

153 reviewer rep
235 forum posts
October 10, 2011 at 3:06 p.m. (EDT)

Wow! I'll have to watch that.

102 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
October 11, 2011 at 1:21 a.m. (EDT)

I have not done much trekking in Europe, but found the most enjoyable trips were in the Pyrenees.  The hospitality of the hosts of the hut system there made the experience what it was.


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