The French Way or Camino Francés (#caminofrances)
This is the most famous of all the Camino de Santiago routes, featuring in many documentaries, books and movies such as ‘The Way’. While St Jean Pied de Port is the official starting point of the French Way, many also choose to start their Camino from other points along the route. The most popular starting point is the town of Sarria, in Galicia, 111km away from Santiago.
The last section of the French Way from Sarria to Santiago is also the most social part of the route, where you will meet many fellow pilgrims and find the real spirit and camaraderie of the Camino! Along the French Way, you will discover beautiful cities, charming medieval towns and stunning landscapes: the Pyrenees, the vineyards of La Rioja, the vast open spaces of the Meseta, the rugged mountains of Léon and O Cebreiro and finally the peaceful hills of rural Galicia before reaching Santiago de Compostela.
You can walk the full length of the French Way, 790km, in over a month or you can choose to walk different sections for a week or two at a time. Read more articles about the Camino Frances on our Camino blog or talk to our travel specialist for advice.
Please note, in order to get your Compostela pilgrim certificate in Santiago you will need to walk a minimum of 100kms into Santiago (we suggest you start in Sarria) or cycle at least the last 200kms of the route (we suggest you start in Ponferrada).
Please see below for our suggested itineraries. You can select the French Way to customise your route (start point, finish point and options that you would like to have). You can walk or cycle any of our ways.
The French Way follows an ancient pilgrim path across the North of the Iberian Peninsula, passing 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 Léon and Ponferrada with its Templars Castle. From Ponferrada, the Camino de Santiago enters Galicia through the mountains and picturesque village of O Cebreiro.
The gorgeous red and white town of St Jean Pied de Port is the starting point of the French Way. 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. Many also choose to start their Camino from other points along the route, the most popular being Sarria(100kms away); followed by the city of León and the picturesque mountain village of O Cebreiro.
The French Way is the most traditional of all the pilgrim routes to Santiago and the best known internationally. 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 took care of its construction and promotion. The main routes of the Camino in France and Spain were described in detail around the year 1135 in the Codex Calixtinus, an essential reference work providing details of the pilgrimage.
Book V of this Codex is the first ever guidebook to the pilgrimage to Santiago. The book lists the different stretches of the French Way 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 French Way 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 with the political and religious avatars in Europe, the French Way route lost much of its former influence. It was not until the end of the 19th century when interest in Saint James and the Way experienced some resurgence. Interest continued to grow in the second half of the 20th century, with the progressive restoration and recovery of this ancient trail, which has been internationally recognised as one of the historical symbols of European unity – and was chosen as the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987.