The Camino Frances
When people mention the Camino de Santiago, it wouldn’t surprise you to learn that they are speaking about the Camino Frances. Also known as the French Way, this route is the most famous of all the Camino de Santiago routes.
No stranger to fame, the Camino Frances has featured in a number of books and movies about the Camino de Santiago, including the acclaimed 2010 film, ‘The Way’, starring Martin Sheen and the inspirational story of friendship portrayed in the documentary, ‘I’ll Push You‘.
An ancient pilgrim path across the north of the Iberian Peninsula, the full Camino Frances begins near the gorgeous red and white town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and finishes in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral of Santiago is believed to be the final resting place of St. James.
There is no shortage of attractions along the Camino Frances. The route passes through amazing cities and areas of natural beauty such as Pamplona, famous for its bull run; La Rioja wine region and its capital Logroño; Burgos with its magnificent cathedral; elegant Leon and Ponferrada with its Templars Castle. From Ponferrada, the Camino de Santiago enters Galicia through the mountains and picturesque village of O Cebreiro.
The Last 100km of the Camino Frances is the most popular section of this route. Pilgrims start their walk in Sarria and then make their way to Santiago. This is a great route for those seeking a social experience or for first-timers as the camaraderie of the Camino is very evident on the French Way.
The Camino de Santiago has been internationally recognised as one of the historic symbols of European unity. The pilgrim route was chosen as the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987. The Camino and the architecture along its routes are also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Highlights Of The Camino Frances
• Discover beautiful cities and charming medieval towns along the French Way, such as St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Ponferrada, and Sarria.
• Take time out to explore the wonderful old town of Santiago de Compostela.
• The Camino Frances boasts stunning landscapes: From the Pyrenees and the vineyards of La Rioja to the vast open spaces of the Meseta and the rugged mountains of Leon and O Cebreiro.
• Walk over the peaceful hills of rural Galicia on the last 100km of the Camino Frances from Sarria.
• Walk in the vineyards of La Rioja and sample some of the very best wines on the French Camino from Logrono.
If you are up for the ultimate challenge, you can walk the full Camino Frances, 790km, in over a month (35 nights) or you can choose to walk different sections of the French Way for as little as a week or two at a time. Discover more about the Camino Frances on our blog. You can also contact us for any help and advice.
Getting The Compostela Certificate on The Camino Frances
While the Camino from Saint-Jean-pied-de-Port is very popular, most pilgrims start their Camino journey from the town of Sarria, in Galicia. This is mainly because you will need to walk at least the last 100km of a route (and stamp your pilgrim passport along the way!) in order to receive your Compostela pilgrim certificate in Santiago. This is is also the most social part of the route where you will meet many fellow pilgrims and find the real spirit and camaraderie of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James.
For those cycling the Camino and wishing to receive the certificate, the minimum distance you must complete is 200km, so you must at least complete your Camino cycling from Ponferrada to get it. It should only take you one week to complete.
Camino Ways Route Planner
For over 1000 years, pilgrims from all over the world have walked the Camino Ways across Europe in their quest for spirituality. Making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, they encountered a variety of people, cultures and beliefs, leading to friendship and new experiences. This continues today with the Camino de Santiago being the most well known and well-loved walk in the world. More than just a walk, the Camino de Santiago is an unforgettable and unique journey for the body, mind and soul.
When To Go On The Camino Frances
The French Way has 3 types of weather:
- The first part of the route, from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-port to Pamplona, crosses the Pyrenees and the snow can block the way up until as late as March and as early as November. A small part of the Camino in Rabanal (after Astorga), and in O Cebreiro can also experience heavy snowfalls until March.
- The central part of Spain called the Meseta, the Camino between Logrono and Astorga, is a scorching hot plateau. In summer, temperatures of 40 degrees celsius in July-August is not unusual.
- Galicia (and the last 100km of the Camino Frances from Sarria) is wonderful year-round. Weather-wise, from mid-November to early March, it can be a bit wet and cold (5 or 10 degrees Celsius). The summer average is 25 degrees Celsius, which is acceptable. However, the most popular walking times remain spring and autumn due to the pleasant weather.
The Terrain On The French Way
With the exception of 3 days (St-jean to Roncesvalles, Ranabal to Ponferrada and Villafranca to O Cebreiro), the Camino is relatively easy. The only difficulty you will likely face is the fitness level required to walk a number of kilometres each day as the Camino requires walking an average of 20km per day.
In terms of ascent and descent, you can expect +/- 400m each day, which is OK but not really challenging (in terms of comparison, the GR20 or TMB give you 1500 to 2000m per day).
The Camino Frances takes you on a mix of dirt tracks (50%) and quiet country roads (50%). The Camino never runs on busy roads or highways. It is a traditional countryside experience.
The Sections Of The Camino Frances
This is the complete itinerary for the traditional stages of the French Way, also known as the Camino Frances. Please note that ‘split days’ have not been included in the list.
St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Pamplona
The first section of the French Way, the starts in St Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque Country and crosses the Pyrenees, finishing in the city of Pamplona, world-famous for its Bull Run, San Fermín. This is one of the most challenging but beautiful parts, especially if you take the ‘Napoleon Route’ over the Roncesvalles Pass (1450m). The views of the Pyrenees are worth the effort! Over 20,000 pilgrims choose to start their ‘way’ to Santiago de Compostela in Saint Jean each year, covering nearly 800km across the north of Spain.
Pamplona to Logrono
This section of the Way of St James starts in the city of Pamplona (Iruña in Basque), famous for its San Fermín Bull Run festival taking place from 7th July every year. The section finishes in Logroño, capital of La Rioja wine region, and a fantastic city to discover authentic Spanish tapas. From the pilgrim sculpture at Alto del Perdón, you will enjoy panoramic views of Pamplona behind and the vast countryside ahead, before continuing on your way. On this section of the Camino, you will walk across the mountains of Navarra and La Rioja vineyards, passing medieval bridges, castles, churches, and picturesque villages along the way, such as Puente de la Reina, Cirauqui, Estella-Lizarra and Viana. Stop at Bodegas Irache and the Wine Museum for a rest and a quick sip at the free wine fountain.
Logrono to Burgos
Logrono to Burgos continues along the French Way starts in Logroño, the capital of the famous Rioja wine region. Explore the city and treat yourself to ‘tapas’ in the lively Calle del Laurel before you start your journey. The terrain becomes easier than in previous stages of the Camino and you will walk sections across undulating farmland and vineyards, passing castles, monasteries and charming villages. One of the highlights is Santo Domingo de la Calzada and its historic centre, an important stop for pilgrims “on the Camino since the Middle Ages. You will finish your walk in the majestic city of Burgos, home of ‘El Cid’, where you should visit its magnificent cathedral, possibly the most beautiful in Spain.
Burgos to Leon
This section of the Camino starts in majestic Burgos, the hometown of ‘El Cid’ and considered the Gothic capital of Spain. This section of the French Way finishes in the village of Sahagún, in the heart of the Meseta with its vast wide-open landscapes. The sounds of nature and endless crop fields will be your companions for this section of the Camino de Santiago, dotted with hamlets, picturesque sleepy villages and Romanesque churches. Then, starting in the medieval town of Sahagún, section 5 of the Camino de Santiago along the French Way will take you across the Meseta, the immense Castilian Plateau (900m) and its villages.You will finish this walking section in the city of León, where you can admire the cathedral, the remains of its Roman walls, the Romanesque Royal Basilica of Saint Isidoro and Gaudí’s neo-Gothic Casa de Botines.
Leon to Ponferrada
Section 6 of the Camino de Santiago along the French Way (Camino Frances) starts in the lively city of León and finishes in Ponferrada, built by the Templars in the 12th century. Along the way, you will pass the hilltop city of Astorga famous for its chocolates and other sweet delicacies. After Astorga, you will start your ascent to the spectacular and unscathed León Mountains (Montes de León), passing rustic mountain villages and hamlets before reaching El Bierzo region. Your destination for this Camino section is Ponferrada, capital of El Bierzo region and the last city before Santiago de Compostela.
Ponferrada to Sarria
This section of the Camino de Santiago runs along the French Way (Camino Frances) starts in Ponferrada, with its imposing Templars Castle, and finishes in the market town of Sarria, the most popular Camino starting point. You will begin your journey heading to Villafranca del Bierzo, a gorgeous town surrounded by idyllic countryside. After Villafranca, a challenging ascent will lead to the mountains of O Cebreiro. You will enter Galicia via O Cebreiro, a stunning mountain village in a region of outstanding natural beauty. After O Cebreiro, the Camino will continue along forest tracks towards Sarria, just over 100km away from Santiago. An alternative route will take you by the impressive Samos Monastery.
Sarria to Santiago
This is the most popular walking tour of the Camino de Santiago, which is from Sarria. Perfect for those looking to capture the essence of the Camino: a nice walk, good food and wine, discovering local customs, meeting fellow pilgrims and enjoying the unique atmosphere of it all. You won’t forget a single minute of it! This section of the Camino de Santiago starts in Sarria and covers the last 100km of the Camino Frances, the minimum required to apply for your Compostela certificate. The Camino will take you across woodlands, farmland and rustic hamlets, following tracks and paths lined by granite stone walls. The green rolling landscape.
History Of The Camino Frances
The Camino Frances, and also called the French Way, is the most traditional of all the pilgrim routes to Santiago and the best known internationally. This is the Camino route featured in the famous movie ‘The Way‘ starring Martin Sheen. The trail was established in the late 11th century thanks to the efforts of monarchs like Sancho III the Greater and Sancho Ramírez de Navarra y Aragón, as well as Alphonse VI and his successors, who looked after its construction and promotion.
The main routes of the St James Way in France and Spain were described in detail in the Codex Calixtinus, an essential reference work providing details of the pilgrimage dating back to the 12th century.
Book V of the Codex Calixtinus is the first-ever guidebook to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The book lists the different stretches of the Camino Frances from the lands of Gaul and offers detailed information on the sanctuaries to be found along the way, including notes on the hospitality, the people, food, natural springs, local customs, etc. The entire work is written clearly and succinctly, as a practical guide for the Medieval pilgrim heading to Santiago.
This guide, attributed to the French cleric Aymeric Picaud, reveals the political and religious interest that lay behind promoting the sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela and making it easily accessible, yet it also bears testimony to the demand for this type of information.
At the time of writing, the Camino Frances and the pilgrimages had reached their heyday. Santiago became a destination for pilgrims from the entire Christian world. This surge of pilgrims was so intense that it prompted a Moslem Ambassador to state that “the throng of worshippers who travel to Santiago and back is so great that there is almost no room left on the road leading to the west”.
Over the centuries and due to political and religious turmoil in Europe, the Camino Frances route lost much of its influence. It was not until the end of the 19th century when interest in Saint James and the Camino experienced some resurgence.
Interest continued to grow in the 20th century, with the progressive rediscovery, restoration, and recovery of this ancient trail, greatly thanks to the work of Elias Valiña, the parish priest of O Cebreiro.