The Camino Frances | The Most Popular Camino
The Camino Frances or French Way is the most famous of all the Camino de Santiago routes, featuring in many documentaries, books, and movies such as ‘The Way‘ and ‘I’ll Push You‘.
This Camino is an ancient pilgrim path across the North of the Iberian Peninsula, starting by the gorgeous red and white town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and finishing in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino Frances passes 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 Camino de Santiago has been internationally recognised as one of the historical 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.
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 100kms of the Camino Frances 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!
For those cycling 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.
Highlights of the Camino Frances:
- Discover beautiful cities and charming medieval towns such as St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Ponferrada, and Sarria
- Explore the wonderful old town in Santiago de Compostela.
- 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 Camino from Sarria
- Walking in the vineyards of La Rioja, Camino from Logrono
You can walk the full Camino Frances, 790km, in over a month (35 nights) or you can choose to walk different sections for a week or two at a time. Read articles about the Camino Frances on our blog or contact our travel specialists for advice.
Want to bring your family to the Camino Frances? Have a look at our Camino de Santiago Family Holidays below. See here, if you want a broader view of all the Camino for families holidays that we offer.
Families on the Camino Frances
When to go on the Camino Frances
The Camino Frances has 3 types of weather:
- The first part from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-port to Pamplona crosses the Pyrenees and the snow can block the way as late as March and as early as November. A small part of the Camino in Rabanal (after Astorga), and in O Ceibrero can also receive heavy snowfalls until March.
- The centre part of Spain, called the Meseta, the Camino between Logrono and Astorga, is called the Meseta, it is a scorching hot plateau, in summer. 40degrees in July-August is not unusual.
- Galicia (and the last 100km of the Camino Frances from Sarria) is wonderful year-round. Although from mid-November to early March it could be a bit wet and cold (5 or 10 degrees Celcius). Summer average 25deg Celcius which is acceptable. However, the most popular remains Spain and Autumn.
The Terrain on the Camino Frances
With the exception for 3 days: St-jean to Roncesvalles, Ranabal to Ponferrada and Villafranca to Oceibrero, the Camino is relatively easy. The only difficulty you will face is the number of kilometres each day. You must ask yourself, am I able to walk on average 20km per day? See our Camino Fitness guide. However, in term of ascent and descent, you can expect +/- 400m each day, wish is OK but not really challenging (in term 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 country-side experience before all.
What to bring on the Camino Frances
We have compiled the perfect companions to pack up for your Camino with our Free Camino packing guide ebook to download :)
The Sections of the Camino Frances
This is the complete itinerary for the Camino French Way (or Camino Francés), with traditional stages. Please note that “split days” have not been included in the table.
St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Pamplona
The first section of the French Way, Camino Frances starts in St Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque Country, crosses the Pyrenees and finishes 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 Pied each year, covering nearly 800km across the North of Spain.
Pamplona to Logrono
This section of the Camino de Santiago along the French Way, Camino Francés 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, 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 Francés) 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 Francés) 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 Francés, 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 Camino 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. 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 Francés 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.