The most popular of the routes of the
Camino de Santiago
The Camino Frances or French Way is an ancient pilgrimage route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port starting on the French side of the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles on the Spanish side and then another 780km on to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Going through the major cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León a typical walk on the Camino Francés takes at least four weeks, allowing for one or two rest days on the way. Some travel the Camino on bicycle or on horseback.
This route of the pilgrimage ends in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. Legend has it that St. James’ 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 St Jean Pied de Port is the official starting point of the French Way, many also choose to start their Camino from other points along the route. The most popular starting point is the town of Sarria, in Galicia, 111km away from Santiago.
The last section of the French Way from Sarria to Santiago is also the most social part of the route
You will meet many fellow pilgrims and find the real spirit and camaraderie of the Camino. Along the French Way, you will discover beautiful cities, charming medieval towns and stunning landscapes: the Pyrenees, the vineyards of La Rioja, the vast open spaces of the Meseta, the rugged mountains of Léon and O Cebreiro and finally the peaceful hills of rural Galicia before reaching Santiago de Compostela. The Camino Francés is the most famous of all the Camino de Santiago routes, featuring in many documentaries, books and movies such as ‘The Way’.
The Way of St. James is said to have originated in France, where it is called Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. This is the reason that the Spanish themselves refer to the Way of St. James as “the French road”, since most of the pilgrims they saw were French. The origin of the pilgrimage is most often cited as the Codex Calixtinus, which is decidedly a French document. Though in the Codex everyone was called upon to join the pilgrimage, there were four main starting points in the Cathedral cities of Tours, Vézelay, Le Puy-en-Velay and Arles. They are today all routes of the Grande Randonnée network.
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, for it has transportation connections by bus and rail to other places in Spain.
Due to time constraints, many non-Europeans 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.
This walk from the French border to Santiago de Compostela on the main routes of the Camino Frances 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.
St Jean Pied De Port – This 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 (link to a Bike Hire Company for the French Way).
- Refuge Municipal, 55 Rue de la Citadelle. 32 beds.
- L’Espirit Du Chemin, 40, rue de la Citadelle, open: 30 March – 22 September. Also serves dinner with wine and breakfast.
Orisson, France – Only about 10km walk from St. Jean Pied De Port, Orisson 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.
- Refuge Orisson
Roncesvalles, Spain – This is the most popular starting point for Spanish peregrinos, as it is the first main town in Spain on the Camino Frances and just 27 km from St Jean Pied de Port. Peregrinos who start here usually regret it because they can’t say they hiked over a mountain in the Pyrenees or say they hiked or biked from France through the entirety of Spain. The official website of Roncessvalles provides information on places to eat and sleep.
- Casa Sabina, 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.
- La Posada, This is a high end hotel with 48 beds, restaurant and bar.
- Camping Urrobi, Ctra. Pamplona-Valcarlos, 31694 Aurizberri-Espanial.
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
- Pension The Way, A Brea 36, San Miguel de Cerceda, O Pino, A Coruna. Located in the hamlet of A Brea, 24 km from Santiago de Compostela. Ideal for the last night on the Camino, where a pilgrim can unwind and relax and get a good nights sleep before setting off on their last day walking the Camino to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Camino de Santiago • Locations & Activities