Pilgrim resting on St James Way

French Route


From the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, the French Way passes through the regions of Aragón, Navarre, La Rioja, Castile and Leon, and Galicia on a route followed by over 150,000 pilgrims every year. This pilgrimage first began when the tomb of Saint James the Apostle was discovered in the 9th century, and it became internationally known when it was described in detail in a 12th century travel book, the Codex Calixtinus.

In Spain, the French Way can begin in the village of Orreaga-Roncesvalles (Navarre) or Somport (Aragón), with both branches meeting in the small town of Puente de la Reina, and finally arriving at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral after another 800 kilometres. The journey passes through heritage towns like Jaca, Pamplona, Logroño, Nájera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Frómista, León, Astorga, and Ponferrada.  The French Way was the first route of the Camino de Santiago to become a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the first Cultural Route of the Council of Europe.

A stage in Aragon on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago


Approximate distance: 150 kilometres.Recommended stages: 6 or 7.You’ll see spectacular scenery as you descend from the high Pyrenees, from the Somport mountain pass to the green valleys on easy roads. The French Way in Aragón is the start of the adventure for many pilgrims, and passes through charming villages where the vernacular architecture has hardly changed for centuries. Villanúa and Castiello de Jaca are good examples. At Puente de la Reina, this part of the French Way joins the branch that begins in Navarre.Jaca is the largest town on this part of the route, and is often quite busy in late autumn and all through winter, thanks to its proximity to ski resorts. The cathedral and the citadel are must-sees.

Hikers in Hecho, a village with vernacular architecture in Aragón

You’ll like: - The amazing views as you walk through the Pyrenees. Take your time to enjoy the sweeping views from Mianos, Canal de Berdún, Arrés, and other vantage points as you walk down into the valleys.- The Romanesque religious architecture found all along the route. Some of the most interesting examples are Jaca Cathedral, the monasteries of San Juan de la Peña and Santa Cruz de la Serós, and the shrine of Santa María de Iguácel.- Looking at the sky… day and night. During the day you’re likely to see bird life - there are over 200 species of birds in the area (including Egyptian vultures, bearded vultures, and Bonelli's eagles), and when the sun goes down, a clear sky for stargazing.- The moments of inspiration and relaxation that come from this natural setting, with very different landscapes on view according to the seasons.World Heritage sites to visit: Pyrenees-Monte Perdido is a large natural area in Aragon and a World Heritage site. The French Way runs through a large part of this mountain range. And if you have time, further south in the region you can see another World Heritage complex: the many examples of Aragonese Mudéjar art in the provinces of Teruel and Zaragoza.The main stops on the French Way in Aragón: Canfranc – Villanúa – Castiello de JacaJaca - ArrésMore information: The French Way in Aragon

A stage in Navarre on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago


Approximate distance: 150 kilometres.Recommended stages: 6 or 7.Orreaga-Roncesvalles is the starting point of the French Camino in Navarre, and a good example of the route as a whole: pretty villages in stunning natural settings. It’s a long list, from Auritz-Burguete or Aurizberri-Espinal in the Pyrenees mountains to Ayegui or Torres del Río in the valleys, among wheat fields and vineyards.The main cities on the route are Pamplona and Estella-Lizarra, both with medieval town centres well worth taking a day to visit, and notable examples of Romanesque art.

 Left: Pilgrim’s backpack / Centre: Church in Burguete, Navarre / Right: Pilgrim arriving in the village of Cirauqui, Navarre

You’ll like: - Exploring the landscapes of the Pyrenees, with stunning sites like the Lumbier and Arbaiun gorges. Walking along flatter, easier paths, such as Nacedero del Urederra. Discovering some of Europe’s most extensive beech forests, like the Irati Forest.- Finding Romanesque art everywhere. Some fantastic examples are the churches of Santa María in Sangüesa and Eunate, the Santísimo Sepulcro church in Torres del Río, the bridge at Puente de la Reina, and many buildings in Estella, including the churches of San Pedro de la Rúa and San Miguel, and the Reyes palace (the only civil Romanesque building in the region).- Sitting around a table to enjoy the food and wine of Navarre. Notably, Idiazabal and Roncal cheeses with Designation of Origin, and the local fruit and vegetables. And a favourite on the Camino is chistorra sausage in a roll.- Places of spiritual interest. For example, Leyre Monastery, where you can often hear Gregorian chant during mass; Xavier Castle, home of the patron saint of Navarre and a pilgrimage centre; or Iratxe Monastery, one of the most important architectural sites in Navarre.The main stops on the French Way in Navarre: Orreaga-RoncesvallesSangüesaPamplonaPuente de la ReinaObanos - EstellaMore information: The Camino de Santiago in Navarre.

A stage in La Rioja on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago

La Rioja

Distance: 90 kilometres.Recommended stages: 4.This is wine-making country, and boasts a historic location connected to the birth of the Spanish language: the first written example of the Romance language which we now know as Castilian emerged in San Millán de la Cogolla. To reach this village and visit its monasteries of Suso and Yuso, we suggest a four-stage variant of the French Way in La Rioja.The Camino runs through the flat landscape of the Ebro valley, between the fields of cereals and vineyards making up much of the province. You’ll visit three especially significant places: First, the capital, Logroño. Next, Nájera, and its Monastery of Santa María La Real. And finally, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, one of the most iconic stages on the Camino, a small town on a medieval grid layout, with a notable cathedral, fortified walls, and a pilgrim hospital.

 Left: Harvesting grapes / Centre: Pilgrims among vineyards / Right: Sunset in the vineyards of La Rioja

You’ll like: - Rioja, Spain’s best-known wine. You’ll enjoy drinking it, of course, but you can also discover the culture that revolves around it. Visit wineries, tour vineyards or fly over them in hot-air balloons, or even take part in the harvest and the festivals that go with it. - Calle Laurel, a street full of tapas bars and a must-see on your stop in Logroño. - The natural landscapes you’ll see as you walk. The river Ebro is ever-present, and some places are especially pretty. For example, the Grajera dam and park, just 10 kilometres from Logroño; or the Berruguete pasturelands, with a viewing point looking out over the vineyards of the Rioja Alavesa region. - Discover a chicken coop in the cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and more importantly, find out why it’s there. Here's a clue: it has to do with the legend of a miracle on Camino de Santiago. World Heritage sites to visit: the monasteries of Suso and Yuso, in San Millán de la Cogolla. These two majestic Romanesque buildings are where the first work in Castilian Spanish was written, the Glosas Emilianensis. Gonzalo de Berceo, considered to be the first Spanish-language poet, also wrote his verses here. Both monasteries are just 10 kilometres off the French Way, where it passes through Cirueña. The main stops on the French Way in La Rioja: LogroñoNavarreteNájeraSanto Domingo de la CalzadaSan Millán de la Cogolla More information: The French Way in La Rioja

A stage in Castile and Leon on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago

Castilla y León

Distance: 380 kilometres.Recommended stages: 14.In Castile and Leon, the French Way has all the charms of rural tourism, a tranquil way of life and a connection to its environment. It runs through the provinces of Burgos, Palencia, and León. At first, there is a series of small villages with vernacular architecture recalling their medieval splendour (Redecilla del Campo and Villamayor del Río are good examples). In Atapuerca, you can visit the most important palaeontological site in Europe. Places like Frómista, Carrión de los Condes, and Sahagún are surprisingly rich in Gothic and Mudéjar heritage.The largest cities on the route are Burgos and León, and they are both worth setting a day aside to explore properly. The French Way crosses the popular Vía de la Plata or “Silver Route” in Astorga. The town has a rare work by Gaudí outside Catalonia, the Episcopal Palace. After that you soon reach Ponferrada and its notable Templar castle.

Left: Plaza Mayor square, León / Right: Views of the city of Burgos

You’ll like:- Walking through a cluster of little country villages which essentially came into existence because of the Camino de Santiago.- The Barrio Húmedo district in León, famous for its lively atmosphere and tapas bars. You should try some of its traditional local sausages, such as cecina and morcilla (they also make great sandwiches to keep up your strength along the way). And if you’re looking something truly local and full of vitamins, remember that the area is famous for its Reineta apples and Conference pears.- Unexpected Gaudí buildings on the Camino. Astorga has a building by the Catalan master combining Gothic Revival and Art Nouveau: the Episcopal Palace. And in León, the Casa Botines is a medieval-inspired Art Nouveau building which was initially designed by Gaudí.- Reaching the highest point anywhere on the Way of Saint James: Cruz de Ferro. This is at an altitude of 1500 metres, halfway between Astorga and Ponferrada. According to tradition, you should stand with your back to the cross and toss a stone at it, as an offering.

Left: Medieval castle of Ponferrada / Centre: Cruz de Ferro / Right: Astorga Episcopal Palace

World Heritage sites to visit: Burgos is the ideal spot for visiting two World Heritage sites. Its amazing cathedral is the only one to have earned a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. And just 20 kilometres away is the Atapuerca archaeological site, which you can visit from the city of Burgos thanks to the Museum of Human Evolution, which offers combined visits with transport.The main stops on the French Way in Castile and Leon: Belorado - AtapuercaBurgos – Hornillos del Camino – Castrojeriz – Boadilla del Camino – FrómistaCarrión de los CondesSahagúnLeón – Hospital de Órbigo – AstorgaPonferrada – Cacabelos – Villafranca del BierzoMore information: The French Way in Castile and Leon

 A stage in Galicia on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago


Distance: 160 kilometres.Recommended stages: 7 or 8.This is the most popular stretch of the French Way, especially from Sarria, because travelling along it entitles you to the Compostela (a certificate showing you have taken the Camino de Santiago, walking at least 100 kilometres). If you began the route earlier, you will arrive in Galicia via O Cebreiro, along a path which is quite difficult but extremely beautiful, where you can see the traditional pallozas (circular stone houses with cone-shaped roofs) and visit Samos and its monastery.Portomarín, Palas de Rei, Melide, and Arzúa are a few of the villages on the route. They are mainly notable for their religious buildings, their growth along the Way of St James, and their rural way of life. Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral await at the end of the Camino. You should plan to spend at least a day enjoying the end of your pilgrimage in this lively city.

 Left: Sierra de Ancares, Lugo / Right: Pallozas in O Cebreiro, Lugo

You’ll like: - Spending time gazing at the views from the viewing points along the way. For example, Alto de San Roque (in Liñares) or O Cebreiro, with views of the mountains of O Courel and Los Ancares, respectively. And of course, the Monte do Gozo, where pilgrims can see the end of their path, with Santiago Cathedral in the distance.- Discovering curious stories every day; for example, the village of Portomarín was completely relocated to make way for a reservoir, and its church of San Nicolás was moved stone by stone (if you look, you can still see numbers on the stones in the church). If you’re travelling in early autumn when the water is low, you can also see the original Portomarín emerging from the river.- The mysticism of rural Galicia. Legends of magic and witches loom large in the popular culture of Galicia. A good way to experience it is taking part in a queimada. This is a kind of ritual centred on a traditional drink and tales of witches, to be enjoyed occasionally after dinner.- The end of the Camino: the city of Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral. The continuous stream of arriving pilgrims and the university students make this city very lively; enjoy its squares and pavement cafés, and stroll around its cobbled streets.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Galicia

World Heritage sites to visit: the Camino de Santiago or St James’ Way is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site. Near the French Way, you can also see the city walls of Lugo (the site is on the Primitive Way). In A Coruña, the Tower of Hercules is the world's only Roman lighthouse still in use.The main stops on the French Way in Galicia: O CebreiroPortomarín – Palas de Rei – Melide – Arzúa – Santiago de CompostelaMore information: The French Way in Galicia


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