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French Way

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The French Way

The French Way, also colloquially called the French Camino is the most popular of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, known collectively as the Way of St. James. Each year, at least half of the pilgrims that finish walking the Camino at Santiago de Compostela walk along the French Way, 50 percent of which start from the final 100 kilometers at Sarria & another 15 percent from the official start of the route at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France which gives the path its name, 769 kilometers away.

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, one must walk at least 100 km or bike at least 200 km, regardless of how long it takes to cover the distance.

Understand[edit]

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.

While it has for long been popular for the religious pilgrims for being one of the few accessible routes from the rest of continental Europe, its popularity has been amplified recently thanks to its depiction in many forms of entertainment, such as The Way (2010) starting Martin Sheen and Paulo Coelho's The Pilgrimage (1987), enticing many non-religious to also take the walk.

The number of hikers generally fluctuate between the year, most popular being from April to October when the weather is warm and comfortable enough for a walk. During a designated Jacobean Holy Year, you will need a little more effort or time ahead to search for accommodation, especially if you are expected to arrive in Santiago de Compostela around July 25th, the feast day of Saint James. In 2022, a Holy Year extended from 2021 and as restrictions were eased after the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of more than 200,000 people were registered at the pilgrim's office in Santiago de Compostela as completing their journey through the French Way.

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

Prepare[edit]

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 twenty years a great deal of effort has gone into improving the trail, and most of the route is now well waymarked, reasonably well surfaced, and separated from the increasingly heavy traffic on Spanish roads. 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.

You have to be in reasonably good condition and to have good hiking shoes (trail runners). If you wish to camp, you need to carry clothing and a sleeping bag in a comfortable backpack. Most pilgrims stay in hostels (called albergues or refugios) at little cost. Unless you plan to camp in the most crowded months of the summer season, it is unnecessary to carry camping and cooking gear. "Wild camping" is illegal in most parts of Spain, and very few official campsites are to be found along the route.

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 of snacks (or protein bars) and plenty of water with you. Don’t bring too many clothes (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 is best to avoid distractions.

Get in[edit]

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

The four main pilgrimage routes from France begin at Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles. Each of these is fed by a number of subsidiary routes. The route from Paris goes via Bordeaux, which served as a port for pilgrims coming by sea from England and coastal areas of Brittany and Normandy. The three western routes converge at Ostabat, crossing the Pyrenees via the Ibaneta pass between Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port – where this itinerary begins – and Roncesvalles. The eastern route from Arles uses the Somport pass; the two routes join a few days' journey later in Spain at Puente-la-Reina.

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 for 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.

Do[edit]

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

Once on the Camino, the pedestrian pilgrim has three duties: to sleep, to eat, and to walk. 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 scallop-shell signs, or the yellow arrows painted on tree-trunks, fenceposts, or walls.

It is possible to walk the Camino using a number of different travel companies that handle all the logistical arrangements (including organising your luggage transfer for you), leaving you free to enjoy the Camino in style.

Route[edit]

Pilgrims and landscape in Alto de Perdón, Navarre

The towns listed here are major checkpoints where pilgrims normally stop and are also referred to by most guide books. Albergues and other accommodations are peppered at towns along the way and all change with time. The list here is therefore not exhaustive.

Along the way, the paths are marked by a yellow shell on a blue background, with numbers in descending order indicating the walking distance to Santiago de Compostela.

1 Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France[edit]

  • 769 km to Santiago de Compostela

The official start of the French Camino is the second 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. You want to get here early afternoon to be able to pick up your passport, purchase any last minute hiking supplies, check in to an Albergue, and see the village before dinner.

2 Orisson, France[edit]

  • 759 km to Santiago de Compostela
  • 10 km from SJPdP

At only about a 10-km walk from SJPdP, Orisson is the first 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. A newer albergue has been added down the way and if both are full the Mountain Shuttle can take you to back to SJPdP for the night and bring you back in the morning to continue on to Roncesvalles.

Sleep[edit]

  • 1 Refuge Orisson (Albergue D’Ornisson), Orisson, 64220 Uhart-Cize, +33 6 38 26 97 38, . The refuge is reserved for people who walk. People who are transported will not be accepted. You will find accommodation for walkers to rest and a restaurant that highlights local cuisine using local produces. If the path through the mountain is not passable you can ask for transport: by minibus after breakfast on the way from the valley to the Spanish village of Valcarlos. €40 per night.
  • 2 Gite Kayola, Route Napoleon (about halfway between Huntto and Refuge Orisson), +33 06 81 49 79 56, . Dormitory cottage run by Refuge Orisson. Basic accomodation; no meals available. €17.
  • 3 Auberge Borda, D428 sur le GR 65, 64220 Saint-Michel, France (9 km south of SJPdP on D428), +33 6 61 92 97 43, . 12 beds. Communal dinner. €40 per night.

If both albergues are full the Mountain Shuttle can take you back to Saint Jean Pied de Port and bring you back in the morning to continue on to Roncesvalles.

3 Roncesvalles, Spain[edit]

  • 744 km to Santiago de Compostela
  • 15 km from Orisson

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 25 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.


Sleep[edit]

  • 4 Casa Sabina (corner of N-135 Iruña-Frantzia (Luzaide) / Pamplona-Francia (Roncesvalles) and Orreagako Gure Anderea karrika), +34 948 760 012, . This is a privately owned hotel with 10 beds, a bar and a restaurant.
  • 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.
  • 5 La Posada, Carretera N-135, (South side of town), +34 948 760 225, . This is a high end hotel with 48 beds, restaurant and bar. Prices start at €40 a night.
  • 6 Pilgrim's Hostel (Albergue de Peregrinos), Orreagako Andre Mariaren karrika (northeast side of town next to Iglesia Colegial de Santa Maria), +34 948 760 000, . Check-in: Closes 22:00. 72 beds. €14 per night, €11 dinner, €5 breakfast.
  • Camping Urrobi, Ctra. Pamplona-Valcarlos, 31694 Aurizberri-Espanial, +34 948 760 200. Prices start at €5.15 per person.

4 Zubiri, Navarre on Wikipedia Zubiri[edit]

  • 47 km from SJPdP
  • 22 km from Roncesvalles

Sleep[edit]

5 Pamplona[edit]

  • 59 km from SJPdP
  • 22 km from Zubiri

Sleep[edit]

6 Uterga[edit]

  • 83 km from SJPdP
  • 17 km from Pamplona
Alto del Perdón

Before reaching Uterga, you will go up the hill and pass Alto del Perdón (lit. Mount of Forgiveness), an iconic spot with metal structures of parading pilgrims erected in 1996. It symbolizes the groups roaming the route throughout history, starting from the pioneers on the left, tradesmen on horseback in the Middle Ages, a gap of dwindling interest in the Camino for five centuries, and ending with backpackers today on the right. Also inscribed within the structure is a Spanish phrase, " Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas." (lit.: "Where the path of the wind crosses with that of the stars.")

7 Puente la Reina, Navarre on Wikipedia Puente La Reina[edit]

  • 73 km from SJPdP
  • 7 km from Uterga

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue de Los Padres Reparadores

8 Estella-Lizarra on Wikipedia Estella[edit]

  • 94 km from SJPdP
  • 21.5 km from Puente La Reina

Do[edit]

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue Parroquial San Miguel Archangel
  • 11 Albergue de ANFAS, 7 Cordeleros Stret Estella 31200, +34 639 011 688. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 22:00. 34-bed donativo.Albergue de Anfas de Estella
  • Hospital de Peregrinos de Estella

10 Los Arcos on Wikipedia Los Arcos[edit]

  • 116 km from SJPdP
  • 22 km from Estella

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue de Peregrinos Isaac Santiago

11 Logroño[edit]

  • 144 km from SJPdP
  • 28 km from Los Arcos

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue Parroquial de Santiago

12 Ventosa, La Rioja on Wikipedia Ventosa[edit]

  • 178 km from SJPdP
  • 21 km from Logroño

Sleep[edit]

13 Nájera on Wikipedia Nájera[edit]

  • 188 km from SJPdP
  • 10 km from Ventosa

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue de Peregrinos Municipal de Nájera

14 Santo Domingo De La Calzada[edit]

  • 209 km from SJPdP
  • 21 km from Nájera

15 Grañón on Wikipedia Grañón[edit]

  • 214 km from SJPdP
  • 6 km from Santo Domingo De La Calzada

Sleep[edit]

16 Belorado on Wikipedia Belorado[edit]

  • 231 km from SJPdP
  • 16 km from Grañón

Sleep[edit]

  • Refugio Parroquial de Belorado
  • Albergue Municipal El Corro

17 Villafranca Montes de Oca on Wikipedia Villafranca Montes De Oca[edit]

  • 243 km from SJPdP
  • 12 km from Belorado

18 San Juan de Ortega[edit]

  • 255 km from SJPdP
  • 12 km from Villafranca Montes De Oca

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue Parroquial de San Juan de Ortega
  • El Descanso de San Juan

19 Burgos[edit]

  • 278 km from SJPdP
  • 26 km from San Juan de Ortega

This is a good place for a rest day as there are opportunities for local exploration.

20 Tardajos on Wikipedia Tardajos[edit]

  • 289 km from SJPdP
  • 11 km from Burgos

21 Hornillos del Camino on Wikipedia Hornillos Del Camino[edit]

  • 298 km from SJPdP
  • 10 km from Tardajos

Sleep[edit]

  • 14 Casa Rural de Sol a Sol ('Albergue de Sol a Sol), Calle Cantarranas 7, +34 649 876 091.

22 Hontanas on Wikipedia Hontanas[edit]

  • 309 km from SJPdP
  • 11 km from Hornillos Del Camino

23 Castrojeriz on Wikipedia Castrojeriz[edit]

  • 318 km from SJPdP
  • 10 km from Hontanas

Sleep[edit]

24 Itero del Castillo on Wikipedia Itero del Castillo[edit]

  • 9 km from Castrojeriz
  • 327 km from SJPdP

Sleep[edit]

  • 16 Hospital of San Nicolas Church (Albergue Ermita de San Nicolas de Puente Fitero) (South of town just south of Puente Fitero). Check-out: wake-up by candlelight at dawn. 12th century hermitage operated by an Italian confraternity. Unique albergue run in 12th-century fashion with no electricity. Dinner is served to pilgrims staying here. donation.

25 Boadilla del Camino on Wikipedia Boadilla del Camino[edit]

  • 337 km from SJPdP
  • 10 km from Itero del Castillo

Sleep[edit]

26 Frómista on Wikipedia Fromista[edit]

  • 343 km from SJPdP
  • 6 km from Boadilla del Camino

27 Ledigos on Wikipedia Ledigos[edit]

  • 386 km from SJPdP
  • 23 km from Carrion De Los Condes

Sleep[edit]

28 Sahagún on Wikipedia Sahagun[edit]

  • 401 km from SJPdP
  • 15 km from Ledigos

29 Bercianos del Real Camino on Wikipedia Bercianos del Real Camino[edit]

  • 411 km from SJPdP
  • 10 km from Sahagun

30 Mansilla de las Mulas on Wikipedia Mansilla de las Mulas[edit]

  • 437 km from SJPdP
  • 27 km from Bercianos del Real Camino

31 León[edit]

You will pass the León cathedral on your way when passing the city.
  • 301 km to Santiago
  • 456 km from SJPdP
  • 19 km from Mansilla de las Mulas

This is a good place for a rest day as there are opportunities for local exploration.

32 San Martín del Camino[edit]

  • 475 km from SJPdP
  • 26 km from León

33 Astorga, Spain on Wikipedia Astorga[edit]

  • 496 km from SJPdP
  • 24 km from San Martín del Camino

This is a good place for a rest day as there are opportunities for local exploration.

34 Foncebadón on Wikipedia Foncebadón[edit]

  • 521 km from SJPdP
  • 26 km from San Martín del Camino

Do[edit]

  • 1 Cruz de Hierro (Cruz de Ferro). Also known as the Iron Cross, it is set on a gently sloping hill that also happens to be the highest point of the French Way, marking the way for pilgrims who walked the Camino Frances during the winter when everything is covered in a thick layer of snow. According to custom, if you bring a small piece of your own home town along with you, you may place it at the foot of the hill and symbolically “leave your burdens behind”.

35 Ponferrada on Wikipedia Ponferrada[edit]

  • 548 km from SJPdP
  • 27 km from Foncebadón

36 Villafranca del Bierzo on Wikipedia Villafranca del Bierzo[edit]

  • 570 km from SJPdP
  • 24 km from Ponferrada

37 Trabadelo on Wikipedia Trabadelo[edit]

  • 580 km from SJPdP
  • 10 km from Villafranca del Bierzo

Sleep[edit]

38 Vega de Valcarce on Wikipedia Vega de Valcarce[edit]

  • 585 km from SJPdP
  • 6.9 km from Trabadelo

Sleep[edit]

39 O Cebreiro[edit]

  • 603 km from SJPdP
  • 17 km from Vega de Valcarce

Eat[edit]

  • 1 Venta Celta, Estrada do Cebreiro a Zanfoga 19, +34 667553006.

40 Triacastela on Wikipedia Triacastela[edit]

  • 620 km from SJPdP
  • 23 km from O Cebreiro

41 Sarria on Wikipedia Sarria[edit]

  • 113 km from Santiago
  • 25 km from Triacastela

Many pilgrims that only have less than one week to explore the French Camino, yet looking forward to obtain a Compostela at Santiago, start their journey here. Hence, it is usually easy to find a bed in the many albergues and some pensions, many of which can be found along Rua Maior to the direction of the Magdalene monastery up the hill.

Sleep[edit]

  • Albergue Municipal, Rúa Maior, 79. Public albergue of the town. Capacity: 40 beds. €8.
  • Albergue Monasterio de La Magdalena, Avenida La Merced, 60, +34982533568. A private but large albergue at part of a monastery, situated on top of the hill, just before the path leaves town. Also has kitchen and vending machines. The monastery can also be visited as part of a tour. Capacity: 110 beds. €12.
  • Albergue San Lazaro, Rúa San Lázaro, 7, +34659185482. A rustic Albergue with shared bunk beds as well as private rooms, and a common kitchen. Capacity: 36 beds
  • Hostel Andaina, Rua Calvo Sotelo, 11, +34628232103. A hostel near the train station with sturdy capsule bunks. €14.
  • Hotel Novoa. Family operated small hotel located on the way uphill to the Marian monastery. From €55.

42 Portomarín on Wikipedia Portomarín[edit]

  • 660 km from SJPdP
  • 22 km from Sarria

43 Palas de Rei on Wikipedia Palas de Rei[edit]

  • 684 km from SJPdP
  • 25 km from Portomarín

44 Melide, Spain on Wikipedia Melide[edit]

  • 698 km from SJPdP
  • 14 km from Palas de Rei

Eat[edit]

45 Arzúa on Wikipedia Arzúa[edit]

  • 712 km from SJPdP
  • 14 km from Melide

46 O Pedrouzo[edit]

  • 732 km from SJPdP
  • 19 km from Arzúa

47 Santiago de Compostela[edit]

  • 749 km from SJPdP
  • 19 km from O Pedrouzo

The official end of Camino Frances. Some pilgrims choose to continue on to "The End of the World," Fisterra, via El Camino Finisterre.

Stay safe[edit]

Go next[edit]

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