Ponferrada has more to offer than initially meets the eye. The Templar castle is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind and offers a good glimpse into what castle life must have been like. The Iglesia de Santa María de la Encina is named after a Templar legend according to which her image was found in the trunk of an Oak tree. It is located in the oldest part of town, near the castle.
History: Ponferrada was at one point one of the most important of the Roman settlements due to its location at the junction of two rivers (The Sil and Boeza) in a valley both fertile and rich in minerals. Its name derives, much like Puente la Reina, from its bridge. Built in 1082 it was one of the first to be decorated with iron and so Pons Ferrata became Ponferrada. The original bridge no longer exists, but much else does. Most notable and enigmatic is the Medieval Castle.
The Road: We begin in Ponferrada at the Albergue de Peregrinos where you can pick up a credential and a very basic map of the camino as it passes through El Bierzo. Turn left out of the albergue gate and continue to the first cruceiro. On the sidewalk across the street is the first mojon marking the Camino de Santiago de Invierno. It will take you to your left, down a hill, and across a bridge.
Just over the bridge arrows will take you to your right, and geographically speaking you will have Ponferrada and the river on your right-hand side. It is not the prettiest walking to begin with, and already the arrows grow scarce. You have begun walking on an asphalted road at this point, and although the yellow arrows have ended, there is a bounty of other markings which soon crop up. Among them is a red/ blue arrow on a field of white. NONE of the other arrows are of use, even though some of them share the camino. Stay on this road until you get just past “Embutidos Pajariel,” a factory on your left. Shortly after that, the road runs into a dirt section, and another trail marked with white arrows will want to lure you towards the right-hand side. NO NOT GO RIGHT (there is a trail there which will walk you right back to where you started, and take up an hour of your time). Instead, keep on to your left where you can see a building in the distance. Soon the mojons will reappear and continue to guide you up a slope.
Saturday is market day.
The Fiesta de La Encina is held September 8th and celebrates the patron Saint of El Bierzo, La Virgen de La Encina (oak). It lasts a week.