Back in the glory days of cigarette advertising, one brand's slogan was "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." OK. So, today, how far would you walk for a perfect potato omelette, some wild strawberries, a dish of country-style chicken with chestnuts, or a $600 bottle of red wine? If you're José Andrés, the answer is: about 160 miles.
Since medieval times, Catholic pilgrims and the otherwise spiritually inclined have trod El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James — a series of routes from all over Europe leading ultimately to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in the far northwest of Spain. The St. James in question — called Santiago in Spanish — was one of the Twelve Apostles, known as St. James the Greater, or Elder, to avoid confusion with another, lesser, younger James who ran with the same posse. James the Greater was beheaded by the Romans in Jerusalem in 44 A.D., and his remains are said to have somehow subsequently found their way, for one reason or another, some 2,500 miles or so to the west to be interred in this Galician city, and specifically in the 11th- and 12th-century Romanesque cathedral that today bears Santiago's name.
Though their numbers have lessened considerably over the past century or two, tens of thousands of pilgrims still annually make the trek, or at least certain portions of it, going on foot or, nowadays, by bicycle through this corner of Spain, stopping to eat and sleep at an informal network of albergues, or pilgrims' inns, and collecting visa-like stamps on pilgrim passports along the way. Those who walk at least 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) or cycle at least 200 (about 124 miles) receive a certificate of accomplishment, or compostela; as many as 100,000 are awarded each year, to pilgrims from more than 100 countries. Under some conditions, Catholics may also be granted indulgences, basically blanket forgiveness of their past sins.