- This article is an itinerary.
The French Way is one of the main pilgrimage routes known collectively as The Way of St. James, the others are the Northern Way and the Portuguese Way. There are also many stopping points along each route, and none are mandatory. The stopping points listed will vary for each peregrino, just as each peregrino's experience will be different. The route listings are by no means complete, but are an attempt to share information about the possibilities.
This route of the pilgrimage begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France and ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. Legend has it that St. James' body was taken to Galicia by boat from Jerusalem and carried inland to where Santiago de Compostela is now located. The pilgrimage is believed by some to be one of three pilgrimages for which the sins of the pilgrim will be forgiven.
This walk from the French border to Santiago de Compostela on the main routes of the French Way takes about a month. Speed hikers can make it in as little as two weeks (about the time bicyclists usually require), but that requires walking 40 km or more each day.
While most of the route is fairly gentle with only a few long ascents, some days can be challenging. Over the past 20 years a great deal of effort has gone into improving the walkers' route, and most of the route is now well marked, reasonably well surfaced, and separated from the increasingly heavy traffic on Spanish highways. If one begins in France, the route passes over two major mountain chains and several smaller ones. There is a joke that the Camino never meets a mountain it doesn't cross. While that is not really true, there are many ascents and descents, and some of the latter can be quite steep.
One needs to be in reasonably good condition and to have good hiking boots. If you wish to camp, you need to carry clothing and a sleeping bag in a comfortable backpack. But you can stay in hostels (called albergues or refugios) for low cost. Unless one plans to camp in the most crowded months of the summer season, it is unnecessary to carry camping and cooking gear.
To earn the compostela (certificate of accomplishment) one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. For walkers, that means in practical terms starting in the small city of Sarria, for it has transportation connections by bus and rail to other places in Spain.
Due to time constraints, many non-Europeans begin at St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France or Roncesvalles in Spain. Beginning in the French city means the first day of walking requires a long and steep climb, perhaps the most arduous single day on the route. Roncesvalles, steeped in history and the site of the defeat and death of Charlemagne's lieutenant Roland, is a usual starting point for Spaniards.
This section is an attempt to encourage sharing practical information about travelling the Camino. Peregrinos (Spanish for "pilgrim" in English or "pelerin" in French) as they are called in Spain should feel free to use the information in this section and contribute to it. Albergues, restaurants and other accommodations all change with time, and this information should be updated accordingly.
Once on the Camino, the pilgrim has three duties: to sleep, to eat, and to walk. Those duties are made less onerous by paying attention to the quality of the path, a large number of bars, restaurants, and cafes, and the albergues.
Alternatively it is possible to walk the Camino using a number of different travel companies that take all the organisational work out (including organising your luggage transfer for you) leaving you free to enjoy the Camino in style.
This is the most popular starting point for peregrinos, as it is the first town over the border of France and Spain that is along the Camino. Peregrinos usually start here to be able to say they hiked or biked from France through the entirety of Spain (link to a Bike Hire Company for the French Way).
- Refuge Municipal, 55 Rue de la Citadelle. 32 beds.
Only about 10km walk from St. Jean Pied De Port, Orisson is the first albergue stop for hikers who started in St. Jean. Hikers who wish to ease into the hike will want to stay here, as it breaks up the climb over the Pyrenees (the most difficult climb of the Camino and the first day of walking) into two sections. But advance reservation at the albergue is a must, as it fills up about a week in advance.
- Refuge Orisson.
- L'Espirit Du Chemin, 40, rue de la Citadelle, ☎ +33 5 59 37 24 68. open: 30 March - 22 September. Also serves dinner with wine for €9 and breakfast for €3. €8 a night.
This is the most popular starting point for Spanish peregrinos, as it is the first main town in Spain on the French Way and just 27 km from St Jean Pied de Port. Peregrinos who start here usually regret it because they can't say there hiked over a mountain in the Pyrenees or say they hiked or biked from France through the entirety of Spain.
- Refugio Itzandegia. It has 110 beds, is equipped with heating, hot water for showers and toilets. You can only spend one night except if due to difficult circumstances. On entry you must show your Pilgrim's Credentials. €6 a night.
- La Posada, ☎ +34 948760225. This is a high end hotel with 48 beds, restaurant and bar. Prices start at €40 a night.
- Camping Urrobi, Ctra. Pamplona-Valcarlos, 31694 Aurizberri-Espanial, ☎ +34 948 760 200. Prices start at €5.15 per person.