FAQ : Where


                                                                Where, from where


  Confraternity of Saint James of South Africa



  What 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 Europe.

- 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.


  What 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, all over.

- 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 sunshine.

- 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 alternatives.


- 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 direction.




• In Spain:

- 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)


• In France:

- 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)


  How does one get to the starting point?


 (Prices and transport schedules are subject to change)


 To start from Le Puy, France

- From Lyons: Take a train to St Etienne, then another to Le Puy. (this is possible in 1 day)


 To 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 or Biarritz.

- 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: apcaroline@hotmail.com (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)


Tips about starting at St. Jean Pied de Port:

The 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: refuge.orisson@wanadoo.fr 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.


 To start from Roncesvalles

- From Pamplona: take a taxi or bus.

- From St. Jean: take a taxi.


 To 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


 To start from Burgos

- From Madrid:

(a) Catch the underground to Avenue America, then Bus (Continental Auto) (takes 3 hours)

(b) You can fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from both Burgos, and then catch a bus.

(c) Catch a train


 To 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.


 To 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.


 To 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


 To start from Sarria

- From Madrid: Catch an ALSA bus to Lugo, then a local bus to Sarria.


    American Pilgrims FAQs          



  Which route should I follow?

- There 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 its borders.

- 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.


  Where should I start?

- Once 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.


  How do I get from the airport to my starting point for walking?

- The public transportation systems in Europe are a marvel for North Americans and in Spain that includes both rail and bus.

- To 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 or taxi.

- 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 frequently.

- 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 from Paris.

- 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.


- It 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 train.

- 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.

- After 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.


  How to I return home?

- Traveling 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.


  What kinds of transportation are available on the Camino itself?

- There 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).


  Confraternity of St James : Planning your pilgrimage: some practical tips



  Where should I start from ?

- Work 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.


Some 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 /

Ponferrada 200 km / O Cebreiro 150 km / Sarria 100 km


St 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


Other 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 starting point.

- 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.


  Confraternity of St James : Frequently Asked Questions  



  Which 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 to Santiago


and more detailed descriptions of the individual routes


- Remember that Guides to all the routes are available through our on-line Bookshop.


  What 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 highway).

- 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 still visible.

- 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.


  How 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.


  I have limited time, so where should I start from ?

- Many 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 !

- Pilgrims 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 journey.


  Is there a minimum distance ?

- To 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


- A certificado is available for those who arrive at Santiago as pilgrims, but not meeting the Cathedral's requirements for the compostela.


  What 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

and 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: http://www.pilgrimstorome.org.uk/ . 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


                                                     Camino Routes

                                                Richard W. Tripp, Jr. 2011




  Authenticity of Routes

- 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 accommodations.

- 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 byways.

- 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.


  Les 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 Spain.



- 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.


  Route from Paris

- 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.


  Route from Vézelay

- 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.


  Route 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.


  Route from Arles

- 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


  Brief Introduction

- 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.

- 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.


  The 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 to Roncesvalles.

- 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.


  Camino Primitivo

- 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 from León.

- 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.      


  Camino del Norte

- 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.


  Camino Inglés

- 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.


  Ruta 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 or Canadian.

- Along this route, there are albergues in Padrón, Teo and San Lázaro plus commercial lodgings.


  Camino de Fisterra-Muxia

 - “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.)


  Camino Portuguese

- 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.


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  Summary Table


- The following summarizes the principal routes to Santiago within Spain.


  Camino 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.


  Camino 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.


  Camino 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.


  Camino 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.


  Ruta 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.


  Camino 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.


  Ruta 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.



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