We always talk about el Camino de Santiago or The Way as if there was one Camino only, when in reality, there are many -although not all of them are equally known. Some people are not even aware that there are so many Caminos. Anyway, when we hear el Camino (de Santiago), what most of us think of is actually el Camino Francés (French Way), so called because it comes from France.
In the past, pilgrims used to start their journey from their doorstep. Nowadays, we tend to follow established routes. The French one starts from Roncesvalles on the Spanish side. However, a large number of people these days start their pilgrimage in Saint Jean au Pied du Port in France. That means you have to cross the Pirineos (Pyrenees).
If that is your case, you need to keep in mind that there are two routes: Napoleón and Valcarlos. Napoleón route closes for the winter months, generally from the first of noviembre (November) till the thirty first of marzo (March). However, these dates can vary depending on weather conditions, so if you are planning to cross the Pirineos, make sure you know which route to take and you are well prepared. And always follow recommendations.
The Regions along the Camino Francés
El Camino Francés goes across most of Spain, from east to west, covering a distance of around 800km (500 miles). It takes between 4 and 6 weeks to complete, depending on your daily mileage and the rest days you take. As it covers such a long distance, the terrain and landscapes are varied: mountains, plains, forests, the Meseta (plateau)… It also goes through four different regions: Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León and Galicia.
- Navarra: el Camino Francés enters Spain through the region of Navarra. As I mentioned earlier, Roncesvalles is the start of this Camino in Spain. Other important towns in Navarra are Pamplona (the capital), Puente la Reina and Estella. Pamplona is famous worldwide for the bull running festival that takes place in July.
- La Rioja: this region is very well-known for its red wines. The Camino goes through its capital: Logroño. Enjoy its food and wines!
- Castilla y León: this is where the Meseta is. But what is the Meseta? It’s just a plateau or high plain. So why does everybody talk about it? Well, some people love it and some don’t. It can be a tough part of the Camino, since there are along stretches without any towns (no café con leche stops!) or shade.
But there are also towns along the Camino in Castilla y León: the main ones are Burgos, León, Astorga and Ponferrada. Both Burgos and León have very important cathedrals; Ponferrada is best known for its templar castle and Astorga has an important museum devoted to… chocolate!
Getting closer to Santiago de Compostela
- Galicia: you are getting closer to your destination. This section of the Camino is usually busier than the rest; Sarria is a very popular starting point for many: it marks the last 100km, the distance required to get a Compostela certificate.
For the types of accommodation that are available along the Camino, you can check these previous posts:
- ¿Dónde vas a dormir? – Hostales, pensiones, hoteles and some general info on albergues.
- El albergue – More detail info on municipal albergues.
- ¿Dónde vas a dormir? (II) – Casas rurales and paradores, as well as some useful phrases to use when looking for accommodation.
If you have already done the Camino Francés (or part of it), I’d love to hear your experience: best accommodation? favourite town? most delicious food you tasted? Anything you can think of!