The Camino Frances is the most popular of all the Camino routes to Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain, in English, it is known as the French Way. This Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route starts in St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and finishes about 780km later in Santiago. It will take most people about a month to walk and about two weeks to cycle – our walking guide is broken into 32 stages that you can see on the left side of this page. Each stage has maps, hostel information, and details of all the towns and villages along the route.
During most years more than 100,000 people walk this particular Camino route though most start somewhere nearer than St Jean Pied de Port. The route is very well supported by the Spanish Government and many of the regions that it passes through, especially Leon.
There are many pilgrim only hostels along the way, for a full list see the Camino Hostels page. These hostels or albergues as you will come to call them are staffed mostly by volunteers who want to give something back to the Camino, so please bear that in mind. However there is an ever increasing growth in private hostels. The private hostels are generally a bit more expensive, we are still talking less than €10 per night, whereas most of the official or municipal albergues are between €3 and €7 per night.
If it is your first Camino, the Camino Frances is a great place to start, yes many do go back and walk the same one again and many will return to walk some of the other Camino routes. The infrastructure along this route is very good and it is almost impossible to get lost. You can also start at any stage anywhere along the route, there is no official start points – just remember to have your pilgrims passport.
The Camino Frances is way marked in the countryside with big yellow arrows and in the town and cities with the scallop shell signs – you will find it almost impossible to get lost.
The route passes through a few major cities, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon; so you will be able to buy anything you have forgotten along the way. However, most pilgrims have the opposite problem – they normally start with far too much in their rucksack. Keeping the weight down is the best way to avoid getting hurt when walking long distances.
A little History
The first written description of the Camino de Santiago was completed by Pope Calixtus and known by the name Aimeri Picaud. This work was called Liber Peregrinations or Medieval Pilgrims Guide it is the fifth part of Liber Sancti Iacobi a compilation about St James.
This work explained the routes, named the towns along the way, told about the mountains and the rivers. One of the first travel guides, but not as we know them today.
Pilgrimages in the middle ages were for religious reasons; these pilgrims gave up the comfort of their homes and set out on what could be a dangerous journey. They suffered theft, beatings, and possible death. For more on the history see the Camino History page.
The biggest problems that modern pilgrims have are sore feet and finding enough time to walk the whole route. The Camino Frances is extremely safe, so safe that many will start on their own; you will meet and talk to others from day one.
Modern Pilgrimages seems to be a lot less about religion and more about peace, finding something in life, a time to think, and for some a challenge.
Where to go from here
The first stage of the French Way is St Jean to Roncesvalles.
Decide when you are going to start, try if you can and get a whole month and walk the complete route it is an amazing experience to do it this way. If you have specific questions join the Camino de Santiago forum and you will get great help from other members.
The following pages give a day by day guide to the Camino Frances. You will need a Pilgrims Passport, and why not check out the FAQ page for some of the usual questions we get asked.
These photos start in Bayonne, as Bayonne is one of the easiest places to get to in France for the start of the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port. St Jean does not have an airport and it is not very easy to get to. Bayonne is the nearest main train station and you can be pretty much guaranteed that a lot of your fellow passengers on the train from Bayonne to St Jean will be pilgrims.
You can get to Bayonne by train from Pamplona, it is the main station for Biarritz and then it is just a short journey to St Jean.
Click on the photos to enlarge.