of Saint James of South Africa
route does the Camino follow
There are a number of recognised Camino routes which
start as far afield as Portugal, France, Spain and
in various parts of Europe.
Some peregrinos even start their pilgrimages walking
from home and join the main routes from all over
By far the most popular and well-developed one is
the Camino Francés route which covers a distance
of around 775km, and starts in the French Pyrenees
at St. Jean Pied de Port.
While the ultimate is to walk the entire distance,
sometimes time, money or physical fitness preclude
doing it all in one go. Some people come back year
after year and walk it in sections.
It is also possible to start the Camino Francés
routes at various points along the way. Some of
the main entry points are Roncesvalles, Pamplona,
Burgos, León, Astorga and Ponferrada.
Please see our Routes page for details on alternative
Camino routes and accounts from pilgrims.
Remember, though, that the Camino is not a competition.
Be true to yourself and your ideals. Each pilgrim
must chose his own options, and walk what he can
with the right intentions.
is the route like?
Very varied both in terms of scenery and terrain.
It includes mountain passes, ranges of hills, farmlands
and wooded areas, wheat fields and vineyards, fruit
orchards and industrial estates as well as open
plains and green, lush countryside.
The Camino Francés route varies in altitude and
gradient all along the way from 400m to the highest
point at 1517m near Manjarin and after that there
is virtually an up for every down through Galicia.
A good tourist map of Northern Spain from the Spanish
embassy, tourism board or a travel agent suffices
in most cases.
Some books also carry maps, but it really is not
essential as the Camino Francés route is well signposted
with waymarkers bearing the scallop shell, which
is the symbol of St James, or with yellow arrows.
Signs are found on walls, stones, special boards,
Most of the paths have been specially maintained
for pilgrims - some brick, some stony, some muddy,
some shaded and others open to the bright Spanish
A few sections next to freeways can be noisy and
one needs to be very alert to the speeding traffic.
The open sections through industrial areas and places
without the shade of trees can be very hot around
midday - even in the autumn.
At some points there are route alternatives giving
the pilgrim the choice of a shorter road route and
a more scenic (sometimes longer) option. See Route
A useful tip is to spend some time checking out
the start of the route the day before so that you
know the way out in the morning. It's not difficult
but it may be dark - or very busy - when you start
out, so a recce will help to point you in the right
Camino Frances (Roncesvalles)
Camino del Norte (Hendaye)
Camino Primitivo (Oviedo)
Via de la Plata (Sevilla)
Camino Inglés (Ferrol)
Camino Catalán (Montserrat to Fuentes de Ebro)
Camino del Ebro (Tortosa to Logrono)
Camino de Levante (Valencia to Lubian)
Camino Mozárabe (Granada to Medellin)
Ruta de la Lana (Valencia to Burgos)
Camino de Madrid (Madrid)
Camino de Fisterra (Santiago - Muxia)
Camino Aragones (Somport)
Camino de Andorra (Abalate to Fuentes de Ebro)
In Portugal: 1 route
Camino Portugués (Tui/Porto or from Lagos or Lisbon)
Via Turonensis (Paris and Tours)
Via Podiensis (Le Puy)
Via Tolosana (Arles)
Via Lemovensis (Vezelay)
Camino Piemont (Narbonne via Lourdes)
Via Gebennensis (Geneva to Le Puy)
does one get to the starting point?
and transport schedules are subject to change)
start from Le Puy, France
From Lyons: Take a train to St Etienne, then another
to Le Puy. (this is possible in 1 day)
Start from St. Jean Pied de Port, France
From Paris: Take a train from Paris/Montparnasse
to Bayonne, then the high-speed train south to Bayonne
From Pau: Take a train to Bayonne.
From Madrid: There are various options: (a) There
is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport.
Take the underground (from the airport or other
point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take
a train to Irún (Spanish side)/Hendaye (French side)
There are two connections per day. (b) Take a plane
or bus to Bilbao (c) take a train (underground from
airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx
9h00 & 17h00 (5 hours), or bus (5 hours) or
plane to Pamplona
From Bilbao: From the airport (good help at tourist
office there) take a bus to Plaza Moyua (1,15 €)
and it takes about 15 minutes. (a) Take an ALSA
bus (reportedly 6h30, costing 16.50 €) from the
terminus at St Mamos (can get there by tram or metro)
to Bayonne(duration 3 hours) (b) coach service to
Hendaye - ticket and bus stop at Termibus by the
Hospital Civile de Basuto. 1hr 50mins €7. (c) take
a train to Irún, and walk over the French border
to Hendaye. (d) To go via Pamplona or Roncesvalles,
take the 6h00 bus to San Sebastian (1 hour), and
the 10h00 train to Pamplona (2 hours) and the 18h00
bus to Roncesvalles.
From Irún/Hendaye: take a train to Bayonne (about
1 ½ hours). There are many options. Or take a bus
to Bayonne - the bus stop is just after the board
at the French Railway station.
From Biarritz: It is possible to fly into Biarritz:
(www.biarritz.aéroport.fr) - the airport is close
to Bayonne. You can catch a bus or a train to Bayonne
station. Another option is to take a half hour taxi
ride to St. Jean (about €54 for four people),
From Bayonne: A 1½ hour train journey to St. Jean
(three trains per day at approx 9h00, 15h00 and
18h00, only 15h00 on Saturdays - may not run on
Sundays) The train fare is 7.70 €. It's a slow train
through lovely scenery, and usually only used by
pilgrims - so you can start making your first Camino
friends! If you want to explore Bayonne while waiting
for the train, leave your pack at the Bayonne tourist
bureau office. On Saturdays there is a lovely market
in the town.
From Pamplona: There are a few options: (a) take
the Autocares Artieda (formerly Lamontanesa) bus
(18h00) to Roncesvalles (4.35 €) Tel. 948 330 581
Mon-Fri at 18h00 Sat: 14h00 (Not on Sunday) (b)
take a taxi to St. Jean (reported 20 € per person
- need to share with others). From the airport it
takes 2 hours. Luzaide/Valcarlos: Andoni 636191423;
From Garralda: Angel Mª 609411449; From Espinal:
Francisco 649725951 (c) Contact Express Bourricot
taxi service (see details below under Roncesvalles)
From Roncesvalles: take a taxi to St. Jean (Contact:
Caroline Aphessetche of Express Bourricot, St Michaelmas
road, 64220 Çaro. She is based in St. Jean Pied
de Port. Tel: 06-61-96-04-76 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(9 € per person). She also arranges luggage transfers
- see website for details. http://www.chemindecompostelle.com/ServicesGR65/TransfertBagages/TransfertBagages.html
From Barcelona: Take a train to Bayonne (10 ¾ hours)
about starting at St. Jean Pied de Port:
Route Napolean from St. Jean to Roncesvalles traverses
163m - 1440m in 27kms. If you are unfit, consider
taking the Road Route, or breaking this stage out
of St. Jean by staying at Hunto (7km) or Orisson
(10km). For Orisson, it is advisable to book ahead
at: email@example.com or Tel: 06-81-49-79-56
or 06-86-99-82-03: This route should not be done
in winter or in bad weather.
start from Roncesvalles
From Pamplona: take a taxi or bus.
From St. Jean: take a taxi.
start from Pamplona
From Madrid: Choose from: (a) There is a Renfe (train)
booking station at the airport. Take the underground
(from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the
RENFE station, then take a train take a train (underground
from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx
9h00 and 17h00 (takes 5 hours) (b) take a bus (takes
5 hours) (c) take a plane
start from Burgos
Catch the underground to Avenue America, then Bus
(Continental Auto) (takes 3 hours)
You can fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km
from both Burgos, and then catch a bus.
Catch a train
start from Leon
From Madrid: Options: (a) catch a train (4 hours)
(b) catch a bus (c) Fly to Valladolid, which is
about 130 km from Leon, and then catch a bus (d)
Fly to Leon with Iberia (40 mins) and then bus from
the airport (which is at Virgen del Camino on the
Camino route) into the city.
start from Ponferrada
From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus: 07h45 (7 hours) €28,55
or take a train: 9h15 (6½ hours) €29,00
From Madrid: Take a bus.
start from O'Cebreiro
From Madrid: Take an Alsa coach to Piedrafita (5km
from O'Cebreiro): 10h00 or 23h59 (5½ hours) €25.48
From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus to Piedrafita (5km
from O'Cebreiro): 7h45 (8 hours) €31.51
start from Sarria
From Madrid: Catch an ALSA bus to Lugo, then a local
bus to Sarria.
route should I follow?
are many routes, many Caminos, to Santiago de Compostela.
In the Middle Ages, pilgrims began their pilgrimage
from their front door, whether that was in Jaca
or Sevilla, Paris or Ostabat, Brussels or Vienna:
there were as many routes as there were pilgrims.
The best known route today, the one that most people
mean then they talk about "the Camino",
is the Camino francés, which crosses the north of
Spain from the French border through Pamplona, Burgos
and León all the way to Santiago.
But many other
routes have been marked and are available to modern
pilgrims, starting both inside Spain and beyond
Inside Spain, other well known Caminos
include the Vía de la Plata which begins in Sevilla
and passes through Mérida, Cáceres and Salamanca;
the Camino primitivo which begins in Oviedo and
passes through Lugo before meeting the Camino francés
shortly before Santiago; the Camino del Norte which
begins in Irún at the French border and follows
the northern coast before turning inland near Ribadeo.
There are now also recognized and well marked routes
in France, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium,
Austria … almost everywhere in Europe.
should I start?
you have decided on which route you wish to follow,
you will have to choose a starting point. Yes, you
can start anywhere you want.
In 2009 on the Camino
francés, about 20% of the pilgrims who eventually
arrived in Santiago began at the French-Spanish
border, at either St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France
or Roncesvalles in Spain. Another approximately
20% started at Sarria to just fulfill the 100-km
requirement for the compostela.
But no matter which
route you follow, remember that the Camino is, in
essence, just a long path, and aside from the 100
km requirement for a compostela, you can walk any
part of any route that you wish.
do I get from the airport to my starting point for
public transportation systems in Europe are a marvel
for North Americans and in Spain that includes both
rail and bus.
get to some common starting points:
To get to Roncesvalles
We will assume that you can
find your way by air, train or bus to Pamplona,
the closest city with extensive transportation connections.
To Roncesvalles you then have the choice of bus
The bus service is Autocares Artieda. To
use this site in the main menu select 'Líneas regulares'
then 'Consulta de rutas y itinerarios'. Select Pamplona
and Roncesvalles as your origin and destination
and your date (fecha). Leave the hour interval (horario)
open to see all possibilities.
City buses from the
airport to the city center and the bus station run
There is also taxi service to Roncesvalles:
Asociación TeleTaxi San Fermín (948 232 300), Asociación
Radio Taxi (948 221 212) and Francisco Igoa Martinez
(649 725 951). Obviously the taxi will cost much
more than the bus.
To get to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port
We will assume that
you can find your way by air, train or bus to Bayonne
(actually Biarritz BIQ in the case of air), the
closest city with extensive transportation connections.
One possibility is the TGV (high-speed train) service
There are then several trains every
day from Bayonne to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, 1 1/4
to 1 1/2 hours. Consult the SNCF site.
It is also
possible to travel by taxi from Pamplona. See the
information immediately above for Roncesvalles.
is also possible to use the bus (ALSA) from Madrid
to Bayonne (Bayona in Spanish) although there is
only one per day (16:00 to 00:45) as of June 2010.
It would also be possible to use rail with a combination
of the Spanish RENFE and the French SNCF with a
connection in Hendaye. You can consult the separate
systems or use the RailEurope site which operates
across international borders.
To get to O Cebreiro
The bus will be your best choice
from Santiago de Compostela, from Madrid or from
various transportation hubs on the Camino to the
east of O Cebreiro.
From Santiago the bus line ALSA
has a half dozen buses a day to the village of Piedrafita
O Cebreiro which is about 5 km from O Cebreiro itself.
ALSA also has service to Piedrafita O Cebreiro directly
from Madrid, about a six-hour journey and in addition
via an itinerary that passes through Burgos, Palencia,
Astorga and Ponferrada among other places. All of
those will have good connections from other locations
in Spain or along the Camino either by bus or by
From Piedrafita O Cebreiro you have two possibilities—simply
walk it (you're about to walk 150 km after all)
or take a taxi.
To get to Sarria
There are several options but the
best all involve RENFE, the Spanish national rail
system. There is service from Madrid and Barcelona,
perhaps the most likely entry points into Spain
for travelers arriving from North America.
you enter the RENFE site, in the drop-down menu
for "Origin" select your city of origin.
This list is only major stations in Spain. Then
select your day of travel. Then click "Search"
immediately beneath the travel year. You will then
be presented with a list of every station in Spain.
Click on "S" and then Sarria. A search
results page will appear. If there is a direct itinerary
(no transfer), this will be presented first but
if this is not to your liking, see if there is the
offer "Para buscar trenes con transbordo seleccione
fecha de viaje" ("To search for trains
with a transfer, select the date of travel").
You can select the date and click "Buscar transbordo"
("Search for a transfer") to see a list
of itineraries that involve a transfer.
to I return home?
from North America, you will probably have a trans-Atlantic
airline ticket with a fixed return date as open
return tickets can be extraordinarily expensive.
Usually this will dictate that the North American
peregrino will have to allow a few days of grace
time for walking or cycling in case the preplanned
schedule can't be maintained. It also implies that
getting from Santiago back to the city of departure
to North America is a concern.
Generally the advice
is that as soon as it is clear when arrival in Santiago
is going to occur and when departure from the same
is known, a train, bus or airline reservation should
be secured. Also, any travel agent can make these
arrangements for you.
kinds of transportation are available on the Camino
is bus or train service along most of the Camino
francés and it is actually quite common for peregrinos
to use transport from time to time for various reasons.
Perhaps a personal schedule restriction is looming,
perhaps an injury is preventing walking for a few
days, perhaps the weather has become untenable.
In places where there is no bus or train service,
usually a taxi can be arranged.
Please note that
this flexibility about using transport does not
extend to using transport within the 100 km limit
for obtaining the compostela (200 km if cycling).
This 100 km stretch must be completed on foot (200
km if cycling).
of St James : Planning
your pilgrimage: some practical tips
should I start from ?
out how many days you have available for walking
(taking into account the time it will take to get
to your starting point, the possible need for rest
days, your probable desire to spend a day or two
in Santiago, and the time to get home again), and
the distance you reckon to cover in a day: 20 kms
would be a moderate distance; 25 kms closer to the
average; 30 kms for the stronger and fitter. Multiply
the two: then think in terms of the main places
you can reach by public transport.
helpful rule-of-thumb distances to Santiago:
Le Puy 1,600 km / Conques 1,300 km / Moissac 1,090
km / St Jean-Pied-de-Port 780 km /
Roncesvalles 750 km / Pamplona 700 km / Logroño
612 km / Burgos 500 km / Leon 300 km /
200 km / O Cebreiro 150 km / Sarria 100 km
Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles ?
The Abbey of Roncesvalles, just below the crest
of the Pyrenees, is the great starting point, especially
for Spaniards, but increasing numbers of pilgrims
chose to start from St Jean Pied-de-Port, the last
town on the French side, accepting the steep climb
(1,200m) that this involves on the first day.
To reach St Jean Pied-de-Port: either fly to Biarritz
with Ryanair, take the airport bus to Bayonne
station, then the branch line train (up to 6 per
day in summer) to St Jean. Or take the Eurolines
coach to Bayonne. Or the Eurostar to Lille,
then change onto the TGV which skirts Paris to Bayonne.
To reach Roncesvalles: fly with Easyjet to Bilbao,
take the bus to Pamplona then the Autocares Artiedabus
(18.00 daily not Sun, 1600 Sat) to Roncesvalles.
Francisco Igoa Martinez (+ 34 649 725951) provides
an 8-seater taxi service from Pamplona to Roncesvalles,
and is a mine of useful local information.
NB that Ryanair, Easyjet and Flybe are flying to
more and more places: we'll try to keep you up to
date with the possibilities they offer: http://www.csj.org.uk/other-websites.htm#travel
Additional information on travelling to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
or other starting points, and for getting home again,taken
from the CSJ's Guide to the Camino Francés: http://www.csj.org.uk/camfrantravelnotes.htm
possible starting places
The other main towns are accessible from Bilbao
by RENFE train (infrequent) or ALSA bus (more frequest).
To reach O Cebreiro or Sarria: fly to Santiago and
then take a bus, maybe via Lugo.
And if you do decide to try one of the alternative
routes, make similar calculations to work out your
Click here for our links to the websites of most
of the transport companies you're likely to need:
If you decide to drive to your starting point (or
to leave your vehicle at a strategically-chosen
point from which you can reach both the beginning
and the end of your planned stage), remember that
French campsites will generally look after a parked
car or camper en garage mort for a greatly-reduced
fee. This ensures peace of mind while you walk.
You may be asked to leave your carte grise (registration
document) as a security.
of St James : Frequently Asked Questions
route should I choose ?
Until fairly recently, only the Camino francés (running
from Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees via Burgos and
León to Santiago) in Spain - and for those with
time and inclination to walk further, the route
from le Puy in the rench massif central, via Cahors
and Moissac, to the Pyrenees (GR65) - were sufficiently
developed for pilgrims to follow; and they have,
with the growing popularity of the pilgrimage, become
correspondingly crowded (more on this below)
The Via de la Plata (from Seville via Mérida and
Salamanca) and the Caminos del Norte (from Irún
along the north coast as far as Ribadeo, then turning
south - but with several alternative possibilities)
in Spain and the routes from Vézelay and Arles in
France (although these feed into the Camino francés)
are now well way-marked and have plenty of pilgrim
accommodation, and all four are wonderful walks
in their own right.
The attraction of the "traditional" routes
is understandable, and the alternatives have until
now mostly been used by second-time pilgrims. But
if the prospect of the crowds deters you, do give
serious thought to taking the Via de la Plata or
the Camino del Norte, or starting from Vézelay or
Arles, even for your first pilgrimage.
Follow these links for a general account of the routes
and more detailed
descriptions of the individual routes
Remember that Guides to all the routes are available
through our on-line Bookshop.
is the path like?
All the routes are varied, from footpath to metalled
highway. Some of the footpaths are gravelled, some
remain deep mud, some are strewn with boulders.
Some road stretches remain (though local authorities
along the Camino francés have recently made big
efforts to create separate pilgrim footpaths alongside
The pass over the Pyrenees from St Jean-Pied-de-Port
reaches 1,400 m, as do the Montes de León and the
pass at O Cebreiro. For the height profiles of the
le Puy route, the Paris route, the Camino Francés,
and the Via de la Plata, http://www.godesalco.com/iphp/perfil.php
The southern part of the Via de la Plata follows
the old roman road from Seville to Astorga. Many
sections of it are exposed; you cross several roman
bridges, and the many of the roman mile-stones are
The standard waymarks on all the Spanish routes
are yellow arrows, painted on walls, trees, telegraph
poles and rocks. They are generally plentiful, and
it's hard to get lost.
far is it?
Roncesvalles to Santiago is about 800 km i.e. 4-5
weeks walking or 2 weeks by bike. Seville to Santiago,
on the Via de la Plata, is 1000 km, walkable in
about 6 weeks. Le Puy to Roncesvalles is about 5
weeks walking, Vézelay similar. Paris to Santiago
is 2000 km. Arles to Puente la Reina is about 900
km. For descriptions of all the routes, click here.
have limited time, so where should I start from
people limited to more or less short holiday periods
make the pilgrimage in stages, picking up each year
where they ended the year before, and spreading
the journey over as many as 10 years (though 6 periods
of about a fortnight's walking, for example, would
be enough to walk all the way from le Puy). This
is a perfectly valid way to do it, though you should
ensure that your last stage is long enough (see
next question) to warrant the issue of the Compostela.
If you don't want to commit so many years ahead,
calculate your starting
point by working back from Santiago. Walkers can
make it in about a fortnight from León, and about
three weeks from Burgos, though all such timings
depend on your own pace and fitness.
Remember, if you are planning a minimal pilgrimage,
that it is quite catching. A number of people have
walked the last stages, enjoyed it so much that
they have returned the following year to walk the
previous ones, and end up making the pilgrimage
stage by stage, but in reverse !
who have started from their own front door, joining
one of the traditional routes at the nearest practical
point, report that this has added meaning to their
there a minimum distance ?
qualify for the Compostela, walkers and pilgrims
on horseback must have covered (without a support
vehicle) at least the last 100 km, and cyclists
the last 200 km.
For a fuller statement of the requirements
made by the Cathedral authorities
certificado is available for those who arrive at
Santiago as pilgrims, but not meeting the Cathedral's
requirements for the compostela.
about walking to Rome ?
Not officially our patch, but we are aware of a
growing interest in the Via Francigena, and have
added an Overview page: http://www.csj.org.uk/route-viafrancigena.htm
a couple of links to our list: http://www.csj.org.uk/other-websites.htm#rome
However, a fellow association, the Confraternity
of Pilgrims to Rome, came into being late in 2006:
. We extend them a warm welcome, and wish them buen
camino. Contact them at info*pilgrimstorome.org.uk
We also have a set of notes on images of St James
to be found in Rome, in case any of our Santiago
pilgrims should find themselves there ... http://www.csj.org.uk/rome.htm
W. Tripp, Jr. 2011
A pilgrimage consists of a starting point, a route,
a destination, and depending on the pilgrimage undertaken,
certain rituals undertaken before or during the
journey or at the destination. For the pilgrimage
to Santiago, the destination is the tomb of Saint
James, the Apostle. There is no prescribed route,
unlike some pilgrimages which seek to retrace the
path of a special person, although some people seem
to believe that pilgrims need to follow a prescribed
route to be authentic. The routes used to reach
Santiago depended on the origin of the traveler
and evolved over time as transportation improved,
including routes designed to provide a good path
for pilgrims. Indeed, it was a result of the millions
of pilgrims making the journey to Santiago over
the centuries that paths were improved, eventually
becoming roads, towns were established and bridges
were constructed. Although there was no fixed starting
point, people used certain routes because they were
better suited to their needs and provided better
During the middle ages, when the pilgrimage to Santiago
was at its peak, people traveled by foot (the large
majority), horse, and donkey. Even the land movement
of goods was limited to that which could be hauled
on a wagon by horses and oxen. Thus, a pilgrim traveling
on foot was not incompatible with other modes of
transportation and pilgrims shared the roads, if
they could be called that, with others. With the
advent of busses, cars, trucks and the construction
of highways, a foot traveler cannot follow the main
Although any route that a person could successfully
follow to reach Santiago, would be a valid one,
there are a relatively small number that are recognized
and, most important, marked and maintained. While
there are numerous road signs as well as maps for
the use of car and truck drivers, few maps or route
signs and route markings exist to support foot travelers.
However, to support pilgrims along the camino, various
associations of “Amigos” or “Friends” of the Camino
maintain the markings and even the condition of
the footpaths, ensuring that limbs and other debris
is removed in the spring. They also place temporary
markings to redirect travelers when the path has
to be altered because of such things as road construction.
In some areas, Galicia, in particular, permanent
markings have been erected.
As the routes approach Santiago, they converge and
merge. Even the many routes in France merge as they
approach the Pyrenees and the border between France
and Spain. The principal routes are: French Route,
Ruta de la Plata, Camino Primitivo, Camino del Norte,
Camino Inglés, Ruta del Mar de Arousa y Rio Ulla,
Camino Portuguese and Camino Mozárabe. All of these
will be discussed in some detail. Gronze is a site
which has very useful information about the different
routes, however it is in Spanish.
Be careful when using place names in this or any
other text and when referring to maps and, or, signs
and waymarks or asking directions. Spain has several
languages. The predominant and official language
is Castillian, commonly referred to outside of Spain
as “Spanish.” However, there are others which a
pilgrim may encounter; Basque in País Vasco and
Navarra, and Galician in Galicia. For example, the
town well known in the US for the running of the
bulls by its Castillian name, Pamploña, is called
Iruñea in Basque.
Chemins de St. Jacques
“Les Chemins de St. Jacques” is the French expression
for the roads to Santiago, i.e., the French equivalent
of “Caminos de Santiago.” Here it is used to refer
to those portions within France. The adventuresome
traveler with lots of time available can start within
France and follow one of the several historical
ways within that country. Until the 90's, these
routes were not well marked, but that is changing.
Those who are interested in doing so, should contact
the Confraternity of Saint James for the most recent
version of their guides to these routes. (See “Confraternity
of Saint James” for more information.)
Historically the four principal starting points,
were Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles. These constitute
the routes today. If considering one of these routes,
it will take from 4 to 6 weeks depending on the
starting point and the pace of the walker to reach
For more detailed understanding of these routes,
you should consult the appropriate Institute Géographique
National (IGN) Green series, 1:100,000 scale maps.
These can be purchased in good map stores in the
US or ordered from France. Their legend is printed
in English as well as French and German.
France has an extensive network (over 19,000 miles)
of Grandes Randonnées or long distance tracks. “Les
Chemins de St. Jacques” are part of this system
and the designation is GR-65. Topo Guides published
by the Federation Française de la Randonnées Pédestre
provide information on the tracks. See Reference
Information for contact information. They are in
French but much of the information, such as that
about accommodations, can be used by a non-English
speaker. They are marked with red and white stripes
painted on trees, rocks and other permanent objects.
The route from Paris to the juncture with the Vézelay
and Le Puy routes near Ostabat, while the longest,
is less topographically challenging. It crosses
the wide central plain that is the Loire drainage
area, that is the major agricultural area of France.
A quick look at a detailed map of France shows that
there are many towns and villages in this area.
All routes from Eastern France have to contend with
the Massif Central. The route from Vézelay has several
variations but they all generally stay to the northwest
of the more difficult portions of the Massif Central
and elevations are generally less than 1000 feet.
There is one variation, a more direct route between
Nevers and St.-Leònard-de-Noblat, that while shorter,
goes through higher passes, reaching an elevation
of 655 meters at Toulx-Ste-Croix and is more difficult.
from Le Puy
Le Puy is on upper reaches of the Loire River in
the eastern slope of the Massif Central. Le Puy
has an elevation of 650 meters. The route is generally
climbing until it reaches Aubrac with an elevation
of 1300 meters. Then it starts a general descent.
After Aubrac, the slopes drain toward the Lot River,
which passes by Conques, a principal stop on the
route. There is another, lesser, climb as the route
crosses to the Garonne River drainage basin but
it is hilly but not arduous the rest of the way
to the junction near Ostabat.
The route from Arles crosses generally level terrain
until after Toulouse. But the real ascent does not
begin until Oloron. Oloron has an elevation of 221
meters. The pass at Somport has an elevation of
1632 meters, with 1000 meters of that ascent made
during the last 19 kilometers.
There are varied facilities available on these routes
but there are fewer church supported lodgings similar
to those in Spain. This is changing and one should
consult the guides from Confraternity of Saint James
for more detailed and current information.
The French Route, entering through Roncesvalles
is the most historically significant and most popular.
Because of that, it is better supported and has
the best facilities. It is also the most crowded.
The French Route has one variation, which arises
from the different passes used to cross the Pyrenees
and enter Spain.
The Aragón Route is followed by travelers who cross
into Spain at Puerto de Somport, “Somport Pass”
after following the Chemin de St. Jacques from Arles.
This route passes through two historically significant
towns, Jaca and Sangüesa before joining the main
French Route at Puente la Reina. The Aragón route
is interesting and passes through some beautiful
country. Its main drawback in the past is that between
Jaca and Sangüesa, over 50 km, there were no hostels
and few places to stop. That has now changed. See
Gronce. There are a couple of variations to the
route between Jaca and Sangüesa that allow a traveller
with the interest to visit two lovely sites, the
Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña, and the Monasterio
de Leyre. The latter now has a small “hospedería”
where one can pay to stay.
French Route or Camino Francés
What is referred to in Spain as the Camino Francés,
the French Route, is the route leading from Saint
Jean Pied-de-Port, over the pass to Roncesvalles,
and thence to Santiago. Since it is fed by the Chemines
de St. Jacques from Paris, Vëzelay and Le Puy, it
was, and is, the principal route used by pilgrims
to Santiago. It is used by so many people, that
when someone talks about the Camino de Santiago,
they are usually referring to the French Route.
The three chemines converge into one at Ostabat.
This then leads to the lovely village of Saint Jean
Pied-de-Port, the last French town. From here, travellers
begin a steep climb to Ibeñeta Pass before descending
This first stage of the French Route in Spain is
of great historical significance. This pass is the
one used by Charlemagne and his army and Roncesvalles
is where they were attacked by the Basques and Roland
was slain in 778; leading to the Song of Roland.
The same route was followed by Napoleón when his
forces entered Spain. Millions of pilgrims have
passed through here on their way to Santiago.
The “Camino Primitivo” or Primitive Route is the
one first used by pilgrims. At the time of the discovery
of Saint James, most of Iberia was occupied by the
Islamic invaders, with the kingdom of Asturias the
only portion not in their power. Oviedo was its
capital and it is believed that Alfonso II made
the first pilgrimage from there following this route.
The route was safe and well frequented until well
into the 10th Century when the development of the
French Route and the shift of the capital to León
resulted in a decline in its use. However, because
of the significance of the collection of reliquaries
in the Cámara Santa de Santo Salvador de Oviedo
and also the Cathedral of Lugo, it became an important
alternative to the French Route for pilgrims continuing
For an American, there are three ways to consider
this route. One is as a variation on the French
Route, following the French Route to León, then
following a route across the mountains to Oviedo
and thence the Primitive Road through Lugo which
returns to the French Route at Melide. The others
are to take a train to either León or Oviedo and
pick up the path from there. The trip over the mountains
from León to Oviedo is spectacular but a difficult
way to start off.
The “Camino del Norte” or Northern Route was the
second route followed by pilgrims for it permitted
those from France and other countries to reach the
Kingdom of Asturias by boat, bypassing the difficult
crossing of the Pyrenees. The Camino del Norte follows
along the northern coast of Spain with two connections
to the French Route while the main route ultimately
going directly to Santiago. The first opportunity
to cross to the French Route comes at San Sebastián,
thence over the mountains through Vitoria and connecting
at Burgos. The route of this connection has recently
been marked and now has several albergues for those
who wish to follow the lesser used path—6.6% in
2010 . Bilbao and Santander are two cities further
along on the route can be reached by ferry from
Portsmouth and Plymouth, England respectively. Further
along the coast, at Casquita, just past Villaviciosa,
is the branch leading to Oviedo and the connection
to Santiago via the Camino Primitivo. The route
continues along the coast to Vegadeo where it heads
inland toward Santiago.
Historically, this route is of interest because
it was the one favored by pilgrims from the seafaring
countries of Northern Europe such as Denmark, and
Sweden as well as France and the British Isles.
Some English pilgrims would secure passage on French
ships returning from carrying wine to the British
Islands. These ships would return to Bayonne, then
follow the coast toward Cantabria, dropping passengers
at Santander and Santillana del Mar.
The entire northern coast of Spain is lovely and
green and travelers will not experience the extreme
high and low temperatures that those travelling
the French Route and the Ruta de la Plata do. However,
this is because the route follows the coast and
gets more rain.
The “Camino Inglés” or English Route is a relatively
short route that is probably of little interest
to most Americans. A Coruña and Ferrol, both in
Galicia, are the two starting points for the Inglés
Route. These are both seaports and were ideal destinations
for ships bringing pilgrims from England and Ireland,
as well as from other countries such as Denmark
Norway and Iceland. Ferrol has an excellent harbor
and would be a good destination for a maritime pilgrim
departing from the East Coast of North America.
del Mar de Arousa y Rio Ulla
The “Ruta del Mar de Arousa y Rio Ulla,” the “Route
of the Sea of Arousa and the River Ulla,” is another
route, like the Camino Inglés, that is seldom used
by other than people living in the area. However,
it is of interest historically and culturally for
two reasons. First, is that this is believed to
have been the route for the initial transport of
St. James body to Iria Flavia. The boat carrying
his body landed at Padrón, on the Ulla River, which
is one of the towns on this route. In addition,
this route was also followed by pilgrims who travelled
by boat through the Mediterranean and up the coast,
landing somewhere in the Bay of Arousa.
Sailing across the Atlantic, docking at one of the
towns on the Bay of Arousa and then walking to Santiago
would make an interesting pilgrimage for an American
Along this route, there are albergues in Padrón,
Teo and San Lázaro plus commercial lodgings.
“Fisterra” or “Finisterre,” depending on whether
one uses the Galician or Spanish spelling, was once
thought to be the western end of the world, hence
the name—Lands End. For this reason, many pilgrims,
after having reached Santiago and completed the
outward bound leg of their journey, would continue
to Finisterre, to look out over the sea toward the
end of the world. These people followed the Camino
de Fisterra. Unfortunately, in modern times, their
route has become highways, and while there has always
some semblance of a trail, it was not well maintained
until recently. Because of increased interest in
this route it has recently been waymarked with the
yellow arrows of the main camino. They now lead
you from the first yellow arrow by the Carballeira
de San Lourenzo in Santiago to Finisterre. It is
also waymarked back, to lead walkers back to Santiago,
which can be confusing to the unwary. People interested
in following this route are advised to contact the
Confraternity of Saint James for more detailed and
updated information. (See “Confraternity of Saint
James” for more information.)
The figure “Camino Portuguese” on page 65
shows the major network of routes that historically
were used by pilgrims from Portugal to travel to
Santiago. Today however, except in the northern
portion of Portugal, these routes are not used nor
marked as they are in Spain. There are several Portuguese
associations and there are routes marked leading
from O Porto and Viseau.
It is difficult to obtain reliable data upon the
number of people using these routes today, requiring
some detective work and assumptions to make an estimate.
The Xunta (Government) of Galicia publishes and
distributes maps of Galicia showing the Caminos
de Santiago. It also uses them in booklets published
in many languages for people interested in making
the pilgrimage. These maps show two routes entering
Galicia from Portugal; the route leading from Tuy
through Pontevedra and Padron is called the Camino
Portuguese. The other, is a branch connecting Chaves
with Verin, which lies on the Camino del Sureste
- Via de la Plata, which passes through Ourense.
There is also a route, not shown in the Galician
map, that leads from Bragança to Verin.
In 2009, the most recent Jubilee Year, the Officina
del Peregrino recorded 34,299 people following the
Camino Portuguese. As there were only 7,776 Portuguese
recorded as having completed the pilgrimage, with
no published breakdown as to which route they followed,
most must have been from other countries. In addition,
since qualifying for a Compostela only requires
a person to complete 100 kilometers on foot, many
of those recorded as having followed the Camino
Portuguese were probably Spanish who started within
Galicia, at Tuy.
The register in the Albergue in Cea, which opened
on 25 July 1999, is a source of information for
the other Portuguese routes. It is a very likely
place to stay for those following the route from
Chaves and Bragança. For the period 25 July 1999
to 5 May 2000, when I visited, only 16 Portuguese
(out of about 1200 people) were registered as having
visited. The overwhelming majority were Spanish
who started their journey in Ourense.
While it would be interesting to retrace the route
followed by medeival pilgrims all the way from Lisbon,
someone attempting to do so today would encounter
several difficulties: route selection, lack of hostals,
and lack of a pilgrim tradition. Due to recent increase
in the Camino, there are several associations associated
with the Camino Portuguese and there is active way
marking going on. For example, an association based
in Tavira is way marking a route north from Tavira
which will pass well east of Lisbon. It currently
goes to Mértola. There are now some guides available
and the Confraternity of Saint James has a good
overview on its website.
The route from Porto route is closer to the
coast throughout its length than any other of the
Caminos de Santiago except the Northern Route. It
does not have any high mountain passes, with the
highest elevation at about 275 meters near Mafra.
While there are parts that are relatively flat,
there are many hills. Because of the proximity to
the Atlantic, it receives ample rainfall and there
are lots of trees to provide shade. One of the difficult
aspects is the long distances in several areas between
locations with support services such as cafes, bars,
stores and hostals. In addition, because of differences
in land use and planning, there are many places
where there is no alternative to walking along the
side of a highway, which is often busy with only
a very narrow verge.
The following summarizes the principal routes to
Santiago within Spain.
Roncesvalles (Navarrese Route)
This is the principal route used over the
centuries. It is the route followed by pilgrims
coming from Paris, Vezelay or Le Puy, who would
arrive at Saint-Jean Pied de Port at the foot of
the Pyrennees. The Navarrese Route and the Aragonese
Route joined at Puente de la Reina and continued
to Santiago as the French Route.
Somport (Somport or Aragonese Route)
Pilgrims who came from further east, via Saint Gilles,
Montpellier, and Toulouse reached the Pyrenees by
way of the Bearnese valley, entering Spain through
Somport pass. Measured from Somport, this route
is longer (about 58 kilometers), and more difficult
than the route from Saint-Jean Pied de Port.
Frances (French Route)
This is the term used for the route from Puente
de la Reina to Santiago de Compostela. It is the
route used by most pilgrims over the centuries.
del Norte (Routes of the North)
These are paths used by pilgrims coming through
France that passed through Bayonne and St. Jean
de Luz, essentially following the coast through
San Sebasticn and on, and crossing the mountains
at various points to join the French route at various
points, such as Burgos, LeSn or in Galicia.
de la Plata
Those who lived in the southern region (remember
it was Moorish well into the 15th Century) used
to follow the Ruta de la Plata, a Roman road that
connected Andalucia with the north. It starts in
Sevilla and passes through such important towns
as Mérida, Caceres, Plasencia and Salamanca. It
joins the French Route in Astorga.
de Portuguës (Portuguese Road)
There were two routes followed by those that lived
in what is now Portugal. The principal one started
in Lisbon and followed the Tajo river to Santarém,
thence to Coimbra, Braga, Valença, and passing through
Pontevedra and Pardon before arriving at Santiago.
Maritima (Maritime Route)
The maritime routes were followed primarily by pilgrims
from the British Isles and Scandinavian countries.
Landing points were A Coruña, Padrón and Noia.
à Q.Pratique Avant