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French Way

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cultural property in Puente la Reina, Spain
The French Way
This article is an itinerary.

The French Way is the most popular of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, known collectively as The Way of St. James.

While there are many stopping points along each route, none are mandatory; the ultimate goal is to walk to Santiago de Compostela while resting as needed. The stopping points listed will vary for each peregrino, just as each peregrino's experience will be different. The route listings are by no means complete, but are an attempt to share information about the possibilities.

One may start at any point along the route; to get a ‘’compostela’’ certificate, they must walk at least 100 kilometers or bike at least 200 kilometers, regardless of how long it takes to cover the distance.

UnderstandEdit

This itinerary covers The Way of St. James from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, near the border to Spain, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain, where all these pilgrimage routes lead. For routes to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, see Routes to Santiago de Compostela from France. The other main routes to Santiago de Compostela are the Northern Way (closer to the coast) and the Portuguese Way (from the south).

Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried in the cathedral, after his body was taken to Galicia by boat from Jerusalem and carried inland to where Santiago de Compostela is now located. The pilgrimage is believed by some to be one of three pilgrimages for which the sins of the pilgrim will be forgiven.

For general information on the pilgrimage, see Way of St. James.

PrepareEdit

This walk from the French border to Santiago de Compostela on the main routes of the French Way takes about a month. Speed hikers can make it in as little as two weeks (about the time bicyclists usually require), but that requires walking 40 km or more each day.

While most of the route is fairly gentle with only a few long ascents, some days can be challenging. Over the past 20 years a great deal of effort has gone into improving the walkers' route, and most of the route is now well marked, reasonably well surfaced, and separated from the increasingly heavy traffic on Spanish highways. If one begins in France, the route passes over two major mountain chains and several smaller ones. There is a joke that the Camino never meets a mountain it doesn't cross. While that is not really true, there are many ascents and descents, and some of the latter can be quite steep.

One needs to be in reasonably good condition and to have good hiking boots. If you wish to camp, you need to carry clothing and a sleeping bag in a comfortable backpack. But you can stay in hostels (called albergues or refugios) for low cost. Unless one plans to camp in the most crowded months of the summer season, it is unnecessary to carry camping and cooking gear.

As all of the journey involves walking or cycling to a very good distance while staying in rudimentary hostels, most pilgrims would usually travel in backpacker style. Have a couple snacks (or protein bars) and plenty of water with you. Don’t bring too many clothing (you can wash and dry them overnight at most lodgings) but add a layer when the weather gets cool. A camera is highly recommended to capture some fascinating spots along the way or even memories with a fellow pilgrim you just met, but leaving your laptop or tablet at home are best to avoid distractions.

Get inEdit

 
The medieval bridge Puente la Reina, which gave name to the town where the Aragonese and French Way converge, built for the pilgrims by queen Muniadona of Castile

The four main pilgrimage routes from France began at Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles respectively, and each of these was fed by a number of subsidiary routes. The route from Paris goes via Bordeaux, which served as the port for pilgrims coming by sea from England and coastal areas of Brittany and Normandy (and not going by sea all the way). The three western routes converged at Ostabat, crossing the Pyrenees by means of the Ibaneta pass between Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port – where this itinerary begins – and Roncesvalles, whilst the eastern route from Arles used the Somport pass; the two routes join a few days onward in Spain at Puente-la-Reina. The total length identified as being associated with the pilgrimage is over 5000 km.

See Routes to Santiago de Compostela from France for some information on these routes.

Due to time constraints, many non-Europeans (and many Europeans from farther away) begin at St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France or Roncesvalles in Spain. Beginning in the French city means the first day of walking requires a long and steep climb, perhaps the most arduous single day on the route. Roncesvalles, steeped in history and the site of the defeat and death of Charlemagne's lieutenant Roland, is a usual starting point for Spaniards. The routes from Jaca and Barcelona also join the French Way.

As both France and Spain are part of the Schengen Area a visa to one of them is good for both. See Travelling around the Schengen Area for details. See the article on your starting point about how to physically get there.

DoEdit

To earn the compostela (certificate of accomplishment) one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. For walkers, that means in practical terms starting in the small city of Sarria, as it has transportation connections by bus and rail to other places in Spain.

Once on the Camino, the pilgrim has three duties: to sleep, to eat, and to walk / cycle. Those duties are made less onerous by paying attention to the quality of the path, a large number of bars, restaurants, and cafés, and the albergues.

If you choose to cycle, you can rent a bike). And anytime you want to get back on track, follow the blue and yellow seashell signs.

Alternatively it is possible to walk the Camino using a number of different travel companies that take all the organisational work out (including organising your luggage transfer for you) leaving you free to enjoy the Camino in style.

RouteEdit

 
Pilgrims and landscape in Alto de Perdón, Navarre

This section is an attempt to encourage sharing practical information about travelling the Camino. Peregrinos (Spanish for "pilgrim" in English or "pèlerin" in French) as they are called in Spain should feel free to use the information in this section and contribute to it. Albergues, restaurants and other accommodations all change with time, and this information should be updated accordingly.

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-PortEdit

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the most popular starting point for peregrinos, as it is the first town over the border of France and Spain that is along the Camino. Peregrinos usually start here to be able to say they hiked or biked from France through the entirety of Spain

EatEdit

SleepEdit

  • Refuge Municipal, 55 Rue de la Citadelle. 32 beds.

Orisson, FranceEdit

Orisson, at only about 10km walk from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, is the first albergue stop for hikers who started in St. Jean. Hikers who wish to ease into the hike will want to stay here, as it breaks up the climb over the Pyrenees (the most difficult climb of the Camino and the first day of walking) into two sections. But advance reservation at the albergue is a must, as it fills up about a week in advance.

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Roncesvalles, SpainEdit

This town is the most popular starting point for Spanish peregrinos, as it is the first main town in Spain on the French Way and just 27 km from St-Jean-Pied de-Port. Peregrinos who start here usually regret it because they can't say there hiked over a mountain in the Pyrenees or say they hiked or biked from France through the entirety of Spain.

EatEdit

SleepEdit

  • Refugio Itzandegia. It has 110 beds, is equipped with heating, hot water for showers and toilets. You can only spend one night except if due to difficult circumstances. On entry you must show your Pilgrim's Credentials. €6 a night.
  • La Posada, +34 948760225. This is a high end hotel with 48 beds, restaurant and bar. Prices start at €40 a night.
  • Camping Urrobi, Ctra. Pamplona-Valcarlos, 31694 Aurizberri-Espanial, +34 948 760 200. Prices start at €5.15 per person.

Larrasoana, SpainEdit

Larrasoana

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Pamplona, SpainEdit

Pamplona

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Uterga, SpainEdit

Uterga

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Puente La Reina, SpainEdit

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Los Arcos, SpainEdit

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Logrono, SpainEdit

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Ventosa, SpainEdit

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Santo Domingo De La Calzada, SpainEdit

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Belorado, SpainEdit

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Villafranca Montes De Oca, SpainEdit

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Burgos, SpainEdit

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Tardajos, SpainEdit

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Hornillos Del Camino, SpainEdit

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Hontanas, SpainEdit

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Castrojeriz, SpainEdit

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Fromista, SpainEdit

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Carrion De Los Condes, SpainEdit

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Terradillos De Los Templarios, SpainEdit

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Sahagun, SpainEdit

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Bercianos del Real Camino, SpainEdit

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León, SpainEdit

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Astorga, SpainEdit

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Ponferrada, SpainEdit

Ponferrada

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O Cebreiro, SpainEdit

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Sarria, SpainEdit

Sarria

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Portomarin, SpainEdit

Portomarin

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Palas de Rei, SpainEdit

Palas de Rei

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Santiago de Compostela, SpainEdit

See Santiago de Compostela for full details.

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