Last updated on July 28th, 2022
Explore the Camino de Santiago through the eyes of these incredible women
By Carolyn Ray, JourneyWoman
Walking the Camino de Santiago is one of the top seven once-in-a-lifetime experiences recommended by women, and there is no shortage of books about the impact this journey has on women’s lives. Our book club is reading The Long Road Home but I didn’t want to neglect other books that might inspire you to take the first step on your own journey.
1. The Long Road Home: One Woman’s True Story of Reclaiming Her Life Along the Legendary Camino de Santiago by Alesa Teague (2014)
When Alesa sets off on a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago, she can’t yet fully express why she would undertake such a challenging trek. All she knows is she needs to get far, far away from her pain and everything she knows … an irretrievably broken marriage, a traumatic bout with cancer, a deep river of depression leaving her little desire to even continue living and isolating her further from her beloved teenage daughter. Desperate to reconcile her past and find meaning again, she sells her business and abandons her life for five weeks to walk the Camino with just a backpack and a prayer. Little did she know that something had to die on the journey in order for her to really live again.
This was our August 2021 Book Club read. Learn more about the JourneyWoman Book Club here!
2. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas
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 categorised 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.
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 the spring of 1999, Kathryn Harrison set out to walk the centuries-old pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.
“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.
There is no shortage of incredible travel memoirs written by women. Here are 23 of our favourite authors, as recommended by our readers.
4. Return to Glow, A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy by Chandi Wyant
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
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 five-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 refugio (hostel) life, learn about the food and wine of the regions, and enjoy reading some of the mythology and customs of the people.
6. Unbound Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth and Beyond by Amit Janco
Four years after falling from a bridge in Cambodia, Amit Janco set off, like thousands before her, on a journey of healing along the legendary Camino de Santiago. What was slated to be little more than a restorative hike across the undulating terrain of northern Spain would become an unexpectedly gratifying, comical, and, at times, tumultuous odyssey through physical and emotional recovery, into the very heart and soul of her existence.
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