The flat and open plains of central Spain. Just like crossing the pyrenees, the meseta can cause just as much worry for first time pilgrims. In fact many people decide to skip this section of the Camino Frances entirely, which is a shame, because this part of the way has more to offer than meets the eye.
The meseta is the name given to the large and expansive flat plains of central Spain. Beginning just after Burgos, and ending in Astorga, the Camino Frances travels through the northern point of the meseta for approximately 220km, the Via de la Plata route travels through the western part of it for approximately 180km. It is renowned for it's long stages, empty landscapes, and big skies, while often being very hot and dry in the summer and freezing cold in the winter!
Image Credit: Josef Grunig
The main concern is not the heat, as many pilgrims might think, but the lack of shade and rest stops along the path and the distance between facilities. The heat of summer doesn't help of course! The route can be tedious and tiring, but it is not the hardest part of the Camino physically; however it can be the toughest part mentally.
It's not as scary as some people make it out to be though. I had not even heard of the meseta until we were in Burgos! Well into the Camino Frances and only a few days away from it! A fellow pilgrim asked "Are you nervous about the meseta?" "The what?" I naively responded, thinking it was some sort of tribe or gathering. After having it briefly explained to me I replied, "Why would I be nervous?". And that's exactly how people should respond. As long as you have prepared for the next day you don't need to be. The key here though is PREPARATION.
• Distance Planning: Each night before bed we would plan the distance for the following days walk. We would usually have two different distance totals. One for an albergue (pilgrims hostel) that was 15 to 20km away and another that was further away incase we wanted to keep walking when we got to our first stop.
• Start Walking Early: This is particularly important if it's summer and you are not used to the heat. Many pilgrims set out early everyday of the Camino, we usually set out at around 7am. This gives you a chance to beat the hottest part of the day. You can be at your destination just after lunch if you choose to be. But don't rush, walk your own pace.
• Take Some Food: Whenever possible we would purchase food the day we arrived in a particular town, making sure we had enough to keep us going for the next days walk. Fruit and nuts are great options as well as a packet of biscuits to share (I'd even sometimes carry a baguette and cheese with me so we could sit and have that if we were really hungry!). You do need to keep the weight of your backpack in mind though so do what's best for you.
• Water: Take however much you need. We would fill up our water at the albergue before going to sleep each night, usually 1.5L each. I would recommend that as a minimum as some of the stages are long with nowhere to fill up your water. You are the best judge of how much water you need, so listen to your body and be prepared!
• Sun Protection: A sun hat and sunscreen are important. Sunglasses are also a good idea. I'm still puzzled by the lack of pilgrims who actually wore sunglasses on a sunny day! They make a real difference.
Because the meseta stages are so open with very little shade, it is often hot, particularly over summer. But it can also be cold (especially in the early mornings) with strong winds blowing and it's not uncommon for rain storms to develop either.
My personal opinion is that if you have the time, walk it, you can always take public transport if you really need to. Yes a lot of it is flat and it can be tedious at times (especially walking into Léon on the Camino Frances!) but it is very different from other stages of the Camino and an important part of the way. There are some amazing villages, beautiful ruins and other sights to see, the people are friendly, it's very affordable day to day and the Spanish culture in this area is fantastic. It is also considered a time of inner reflection for many. I think pilgrims who skip this entire section of the Camino are really missing out on a unique experience.
Josef Grunig image used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.