SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel walked along the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela on Sunday under bright sun in a highly symbolic show of unity with Spain and its arduous path to economic recovery.
Merkel, 60, joined Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the route as she prepared for a European Union summit on Saturday to decide who gets the top jobs in the 28-nation bloc for the next five years.
The two leaders took about an hour to walk a 6km stretch of the pilgrimage trail between the villages of O Pedrouzo and Lavacolla, near the airport at Santiago de Compostela.
Merkel, who wore white trousers and a white shirt, and Rajoy, 59, who was casually dressed in jeans and a blue shirt, talked as they walked at a brisk pace escorted by bodyguards.
Her two-day visit to the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela coincides with signs of a gradual, yet jobs-scarce economic recovery in Spain since it emerged from recession in mid-2013.
Viewed just two years ago as the wobbly financial domino of the eurozone, Spain is now heralded by some as a showcase of economic reform and budget restraint, despite its 24per cent jobless rate.
Indeed, Spain's 54-year-old economy minister, Luis de Guindos, is being touted as the next head of the Eurogroup, forum of the finance ministers of the single currency zone.
Rajoy's former agriculture minister, Miguel Arias Canete, 64, is also being tipped to be the new commissioner for agriculture and rural development.
Other key posts at the European Commission, which proposes and enforces laws for 500 million Europeans, include the commissioners in charge of trade, energy policy and competition.
The Spanish and German leaders will hold a news conference on Monday before visiting Santiago de Compostela's cathedral, the reputed burial place of Saint James, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
The pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago, Spanish for the Way of Saint James, has existed for more than 1,000 years.
The most travelled among several ancient routes leading to Santiago de Compostela is the Camino Frances, nearly 800km long.
It starts from the French side of the Pyrenees mountains and leads to Santiago de Compostela.
Thousands of people from around the world walk part of the trail every year. Many carry wooden walking sticks adorned with the distinctive scallop shells that symbolise the pilgrimage.
Growing numbers of people set out on the trail for reasons other than religion, attracted by the beauty of the landscapes, the medieval sights, or the physical challenge.