WHY CHOOSE THE FRENCH WAY TO SANTIAGO.
The French Way to Santiago in España-Spain is home to an extraordinary amount of monumental attractions and landscapes. However, a large part of them are not enjoyed, because a vast majority of pilgrims do not complete the whole trajectory from the border and instead begin in places like León or Astorga. In this French Way page, we give you ideas for full and maximum enjoyment according to the constraints of each traveler. In the past, the pilgrim adapted to the topography and climate of the region as well as the accommodations. In the 21st century, the means of travel, cultural objectives, environment, and even sport make it possible that the stages can and should be designed to suit the needs of each pilgrim. Today, it is fully possible to enjoy marvellous localities as well as make detours to discover towns slightly off the path. Sometimes it is appropriate to dedicate an entire day to enjoying a specific place and therefore fusing two steps by bike or even by car (for age, disability, or time restrictions). For this reason, some of our beginning and end suggestions may not match other recommendations.
HISTORY. This French Way was not the first journeyed —as the primitive path, starting from Oviedo, is the oldest— but it has been the most popular over the centuries. Actually, more then 200,000 people make this journey annually, a figure that continues to grow because religious motivations have joined with cultural, sport, culinary, and naturalistic reasons.
WEATHER. The French Way is cold in the winter —with the possibility of snow in the Pyrenees, Central System, and the Galician Mountains— and hot during the months of July and August throughout the Castilian Plateau.
NATURAL SPACES. One of the main attractions of the French Way to Santiago are the landscapes, which have barely changed since the medieval times. One of the first is the Selva de Irati, next to Roncesvalles. A little before arriving in Pamplona, you’ll also find the group of the Robledales de Ultzama, Basaburua, and the Orgi forest. After passing through Logroño, a few kilometres to the south is the beautiful group of canyons and geological formations of the Peñas de Iregua, Leza and Jubera. Throughout the Castilian Plateau, you’ll also find the sierra de los Ancares leoneses and the sierra de los Ancares gallegos, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
SAINTS OF THE CAMINO. The French Way was a very important religious destination during the Middle Ages. In Navarra, the future Saint Veremundo founded a monastery with a pilgrim hospital near Estella where you can find the image of the Virgen of Puy. Domingo García became a patron of the public works and his Holiness lead to a Rioja town called Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Here Domingo left a stone bridge, a hospital, and a church that prompted the passage of pilgrims. Among the Burgos locations of Villafranca Montes de Oca and Ibeas de Juarros (the great prehistoric site of Atapuerca), is where Juan de Quintanaortuño (would end up becoming Saint Juan de Ortega) built a monastery and helped the town with their engineering works.
CATHEDRALS AND MONASTERIES. There is an impressive amount of extraordinary temples along the French Way to Santiago. As we have mentioned, those of Irache (Estella), Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and San Juan de Ortega were founded by saints. Other important cathedrals include those of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos*, Palencia, León*, Astorga, and Santiago*. Other important monasteries and hospitals were founded in Samos and Carrión de los Condes.
HISTORIES AND LEGENDS. The passing of centuries and pilgrims have left an interesting paper trail; some of which have become popular events. It began with the miraculous arrival of the body of Santiago to Compostela, later producing the vote making Santiago the patron saint of Spain (which resulted in huge amounts of money to construct the Santiago cathedral). The Camino would also be very beneficial for the foundation of a knighthood ordered to protect the path. In addition, there are two famous miracles; the miracle of Chori in Puenta la Reina and the miracle of the Virgen del Puy in Estella. In addition, some of the most famous stories of the Middle Ages were inspired by the French Way such as the story of the Condesa traitor. Finally, because of the large amount of travellers through the bridge of the Hospital de Órbigo, the Suero de Quiñones knight set up his celebrated store Passo Honroso (a passage of arms between knights, similar to a tournament).
GASTRONOMY AND LODGING. The French Way to Santiago crosses over many regions with excellent gastronomy; predominantly grilled meats, vegetables, and excellent wines from Rioja, Navarra, and Galicia. Because the French Path is the most popular way to Santiago, there is the best offering of shelters as well as the best prices. For those who wish to enjoy a pleasant stay with great services, we have prepared a section at the end of this page with some of the best places to stay along the path and traditional dishes to try at each one.
ENVIRONMENT. In the summer months, when there is a constant flow of pilgrims, those who make the entire journey from the border have the opportunity to meet many people on the Camino. It attracts people people from allover the world, from different ages, and with a wide variety of motivations for completing the Camino. This usually generates interesting conversations among pilgrims during the journey as well as over meals and visiting monuments…many pilgrims leave the trail with new friends.
KEY TIPS FOR MAXIMUM ENJOYMENT ON THE FRENCH WAY TO SANTIAGO.
There is a huge variation of attractions in many zones of the French Path. This has resulted in a large concentration of pilgrims in some zones. Here we will highlight the places and sections worth dedicating special time.
Crossing the Pyrenees. The beginning of the Camino in the French town of Saint-Jean Pied de Port is very interesting and emotional, where you can find plenty of pilgrims arriving from allover the world especially during the summer months. Here you will begin your journey through the mouth of the Luzaide River until reaching the town of Valcarlos. After, you must follow the road that goes up until the Ibañeta port, where the road descends until Roncesvalles; a historic town where a famous 8th century battle took place, immortalising the famous Roldán song.
Pamplona. This city was one of the most important of the French Way, coming to form neighbourhoods with pilgrims that would eventually settle to establish trade along the French path. Pamplona deserves an entire day to visit and you can find more about its history and must-sees on this special page.
Puente la Reina. This bridge unites the French Way with the Aragonés Path. Here you can cross the historic bridge, which was constructed to facilitate the passage of pilgrims over the years. Check out more information about this city on our Puente la Reina page. It is worth dedicating a few hours in this town. The nearby Estella was originally a rival town to attract pilgrims crossing the river to pay the bridge toll. The immigration of French across the Camino during the 11th and 12th centuries as well as the name Virgen del Puy denote the town’s Jacobean origin. You can adequately visit this gorgeous town in half a day.
Logroño. The capital of la Rioja has an interesting history and some important monuments. Stop here for half a day and don’t forget to have a drink or a bite to eat in the famous bar zone.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada. This Jacobean town is a very historic and spiritual area of the French Way. Find out more about its history and traditions here.
Slightly to the North of the town of Ibeas de Juarros, you can find the extraordinary prehistoric site of Atapuerca. Here, you’ll find an interpretation center that organises visits close to the city.
Burgos. The head of Castile has attractions that can take a couple of days; its cathedral and Evolution Museum are absolute must-sees. Find out more about Burgos here.
Frómista. An isolated town with a beautiful temple. As it is very small, you do not need too much time to see the city. Find out more information here.
León. This town has amazing temples and museums as well as a great nightlife. León is definitely worth a two-day stay. Our recommendations.
Órbigo Hospital. Its own name suggests the resting place for many pilgrims. Its main attractions include its history and its environment. Read our page to plan your journey.
Astorga. An ancient Roman city with beautiful monuments and a great environment. Dedicate at least half a day here.
Ponferrada. Templar fortress with a templar castle and an old town that can take half a day’s visit. Check out our page.
Villafranca del Bierzo. This small Jacobean town has important monuments and a great environment. Read more here.
O’Cebreiro. One of the most emblematic and authentic places on the French Way to Santiago. Learn more about its history, places, and primitive environment.
Monasterio de Samos. A Jacobean Hospital in an isolated environment full of spirituality and art. Read more about our suggestions for this place.
Santiago de Compostela. The end of the Camino as well as the capital of Galicia is definitely worth taking your time to celebrate your pilgrimage and enjoy its numerous attractions. Here is our page about the city.
FASCINATING PLACES TO STAY AND SLEEP ON THE FRENCH WAY TO SANTIAGO.
We have prepared a page with sections pertaining to local gastronomy and lodging for each town along the French way to Santiago (please note that some of the links provided will lead to pages in Spanish). There are plenty of options for pilgrims who want to sleep near the French Way during their journey. These options include hotels as well as rural houses (called “agroturismos” in Navarra). The cities appear in order from East to West.
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NB: Some of the links provided will lead to results in Spanish.