Last updated on November 19th, 2023
Midlife misadventures and more on the Camino de Santiago
By Carolyn Ray, Editor
The Camino de Santiago has no doubt inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of books about this world-reowned pilgrimage route, which traverses parts of southern France, Portugal and Spain. From popular memoirs from authors like Paulo Cohelo, Shirley MacLaine and Hape Kerkeling, to guidebooks like John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés), there is no shortage of wisdom and practical advice.
These six books about the Camino come recommended by JourneyWoman readers and share stories of self-discovery and unexpected misadventures, many from women in midlife. One of my personal favorites is our first book, What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim, our July 2023 JourneyWoman Book Club Book of the Month. Her first sentence, ‘Impulse is intuition on crack,’ sets the tone, as noted by Quill & Quire, which says: “This is the real deal . . . [Christmas’s] style is equal parts Nora Ephron and Bill Bryson, balancing pithy observation with the history of the trail and her own experiences upon it . . . The warts and grittiness of Christmas’s journey . . . are recognizable and relatable, much more so than a glossy religious experience or steamy love affair, and much more enjoyable for its accessibility.” Have other books about the Camino to recommend? Please leave them in the comments below.
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Six books about the Camino de Santiago
1. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas (2009)
To celebrate her 50th birthday and face the challenges of mid-life, Jane Christmas joins 14 women to hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Jane Christmas is a Canadian travel writer, who was a shortlisted nominee for the Stephen Leacock Award and the Word Awards in 2014 for her memoir And Then There Were Nuns. She has published five books of what has been categorized as travel writing but of which she prefers to call journey memoir. This book made me laugh throughout – I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Abstract: Who knew that a bottle of wine, an airline steward, and a rash of goosebumps would direct me to a 780-kilometre trek across Spain, despite the fact I had never backpacked or laced up hiking boots? I believe that every physical journey we take has a metaphysical one (or six) going on inside us simultaneously; for me, that year, those side journeys included healing a broken heart, grappling with the politics of female friendships, and trying not to be a whining middle-aged woman. Then, in the midst of it all, something wonderfully unexpected sprang up, and altered my universe. Never underestimate the power of goosebumps, but if it ends up involving 14 other women don’t say you weren’t warned.
2. Two Steps Forward by by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist (2018)
A story of mid-life and second chances from Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project, and his wife Anne Buist, soon to be a film produced by Ellen DeGeneres.
Abstract: Two misfits walk 2,000 kilometres along the Camino de Santiago to find themselves and, perhaps, each other along the way. Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past—for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce. Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago, in northwestern Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino—the Way—for centuries. Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal—physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover.
3. The Road to Santiago by Kathryn Harrison (2003)
Displaying her “real talent for conjuring far-flung times and places,” Kathryn Harrison tells the mesmerizing story of her 200-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in 1999.
“Not a vacation, ” she calls it, “but a time out of time.” With a heavy pack, no hotel reservations, and little Spanish, she wanted an experience that would be both physically and psychically demanding. No pain, no gain, she thought, and she had some important things to contemplate. But the pilgrim road was spattered with violets and punctuated by medieval churches and alpine views, and, despite the exhaustion, aching knees, and brutal sun, she was unexpectedly flooded with joy and gratitude for life’s gifts. “Why do I like this road?” she writes. “Why do I love it? What can be the comfort of understanding my footprint as just one among the millions? … While I’m walking I feel myself alive, feel my small life burning brightly.”
Throughout this deeply personal and revealing memoir of her journey, first made alone and later in the company of her daughter, Harrison blends striking images of the route and her fellow pilgrims with reflections on the redemptive power of pilgrimages, mortality, family, the nature of endurance, the past and future, the mystery of friendship. The Road to Santiago is an exquisitely written, courageous, and irresistible portrait of a personal pilgrimage in search of a broader understanding of life and self.
4. Return to Glow, A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy by Chandi Wyant (2017)
In her early forties, Chandi Wyant’s world implodes in the wake of a divorce and traumatic illness. Determined to embrace life by following her heart, she sets out on Italy’s historic pilgrimage route to walk for 40 days to Rome. Weakened by her recent illness, she walks over the Apennines, through the valleys of Tuscany, and beside busy highways on her 425-kilometer trek equipped with a nineteen-pound pack, two journals, and three pens.
Return to Glow chronicles this journey that is both profoundly spiritual and ruggedly adventuresome. As Chandi traverses this ancient pilgrim’s route, she rediscovers awe in the splendor of the Italian countryside and finds sustenance and comfort from surprising sources. Drawing on her profession as a college history instructor, she gracefully weaves in relevant anecdotes, melding past and present in this odyssey toward her soul. This gusty solo-female-travel memoir is about choosing courage over comfort, following the heart instead of the head, and recapturing joy after setbacks.
5. Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago Paperback by Susan Alcorn (2006)
Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago takes the reader along the ancient pilgrimage trail, the Camino de Santiago, as the author and her husband travel 400 miles through northern Spain’s hamlets, cities, arid plains, and mountains. The book combines intriguing historical background and rich cultural stories with the author’s engaging narrative to provide travelers with the inspiration and knowledge to make their own journey to the city of Santiago de Compostela and the famous cathedral where the remains of the apostle St. James are found.
Not everyone has the time or inclination to walk 500 hundred miles across northern Spain, but whether armchair traveler or active adventurer, readers will find that Camino Chronicle provides a realistic, non-embellished account of what such a trip involves. You’ll gain a picture of hostel life, learn about the food and wine of the regions, and enjoy reading some of the mythology and customs of the people.
Read More: On Spain’s Camino, Expect the Unexpected
6. Village to Village Guides by David Landis and Anna Dintamin
David Landis and Anna Dintaman have been working together since 2007 and have published 11 books about the Camino de Santiago. With titles like Camino de Santiago (Village to Village Guide): Camino Frances: St Jean – Santiago – Finisterre, or the Camino Portugués: Lisbon – Porto – Santiago, Central and Coastal Routes, these pocket-sized books about the Camino include full-color stage maps and city maps, detailed accommodations listings, pilgrim hostels (albergues) and private accommodations for each budget.
Landis and Dintaman have walked the 800-km length of the Camino Frances in Spain multiple times, visited countless historical and religious sites, and holed up in libraries surrounded by a fort of research materials.
Find for a Camino de Santiago tour here
Find a women-friendly tour on our Women’s Travel Directory.
Discover More From Spain
Once upon a time, not too long ago, pilgrims could walk the Camino de Santiago without a reservation and a phone. But is it possible now?
In Maria Duenas’ “The Time In Between”, we learn about the Spanish Civil War from the perspective of a seamstress turned skillful spy.
Jane Christmas’s funny memoir of her 780-kilometre trek across Spain on the Camino de Santiago to celebrate her 50th birthday and midlife.