Excerpts from 1492 and all that!
By 1565 Philip II realised that he needed to find a supply route from Spain to the Spanish (or Habsburg) Netherlands.
Heading into the Eighty Years War with the rebel Netherlands provinces he was denied the most obvious seaward route up the English Channel. Instead he decided to interconnect his provinces and pass through neutral territories to create a new landward approach. This became known as the ‘Spanish Road’.
The route had to avoid mountainous areas, pass around deep forests, cross rivers and try to pick its way around places with ‘bandits’ of various types. It was mapped in 1566, but certain lesser-known stretches of it still necessitated the use of guides.
The route was developed so that military personnel and supplies could be transported from the Spanish Mediterranean ports to Spanish-controlled Italian ports. From Genoa they would travel by land through Lombardy to Milan. Then it followed several routes across Savoy to reach the autonomous city-state of Besançon in France-Comté that owed allegiance to the Spanish Empire. From there it went on through the Rhine valley or across Lorraine to reach Luxembourg, or took another route via Cologne (Köln), to reach the Netherlands.
It was first utilised in July 1567 by the Duke of Alba when he went to restore order in the Netherlands as Margaret of Parma ran into difficulties.
It was a journey of 1,000 kms that was taken at an average twelve miles per day, though in 1578 one force achieved an average twenty-three miles per day in a very cold February.
Between 1567 and 1620 some 123,000 men took the Spanish Road, compared with fewerthan 20,000 making the trip by sea.
Locals on the route mistrusted the armies travelling the road and were not keen to offer shelter. But merchants soon adopted the route establishing a system of étapes or staging posts where merchandise could be stored and sold. This was more a local initiative than one originating from the Spanish crown.
Later a falling out between Spain and Savoy meant the last time the Road was used was in 1622.