Introduction

The Camino de Santiago, specifically the Camino Francés, is one of the most renowned and ancient pilgrimage routes in the world, steeped in history, spirituality, and cultural significance. Originating in the medieval period, this route has been a beacon for pilgrims and travelers for centuries, drawing people from across the globe to traverse its paths.

The Camino Francés, or the French Way, begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France and stretches across the Pyrenees, traversing the rich and varied landscapes of northern Spain before culminating at the revered Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. This journey, covering approximately 780 kilometers (about 500 miles), is more than a mere trek; it’s a journey that combines physical challenge with spiritual and personal introspection.

As pilgrims walk the Camino, they encounter a mosaic of landscapes, from the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees, the vineyards of La Rioja, the vast plains of the Meseta, to the lush greenery of Galicia. Each region presents its unique beauty, challenges, and opportunities for reflection.

Moreover, the Camino Francés is a journey through history. Pilgrims pass through ancient towns, medieval villages, and cities brimming with historical monuments, reflecting the route’s significance over the centuries. Iconic stops such as Pamplona, known for its running of the bulls, the historic city of León with its stunning Gothic cathedral, and the picturesque town of Burgos, home to the majestic Burgos Cathedral, are waypoints that blend the journey’s physical and cultural dimensions.

The Camino is also a profoundly social experience. Pilgrims, known as ‘peregrinos,’ come from all corners of the world, each with their stories and reasons for walking. The camaraderie on the Camino is legendary, with the common greeting “Buen Camino!” echoing along the trails. Many pilgrims find the interactions and friendships formed along the way to be as impactful as the journey itself.

The spiritual aspect of the Camino cannot be understated. Originally a Christian pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle, the Camino today welcomes people of all faiths and beliefs, each seeking something personal – be it spiritual enlightenment, a test of endurance, or a journey of self-discovery.

The Camino de Santiago, especially the Camino Francés, is more than a hike; it’s a unique blend of physical journey, cultural exploration, and spiritual quest, offering an unforgettable experience that leaves a lasting imprint on all who walk its path.

Where to Begin

The traditional starting point for the Camino Frances is St. Jean Pied du Port, France. A small French Basque village in the Pyrenees mountains, although you can start anywhere you like, you only need to walk the last 100 km to receive your Compostela.

Example Stages from John Brierley’s Guide

John Brierley’s guide to the Camino Francés, part of the Camino de Santiago, outlines a popular route divided into manageable stages, each with its own distance in kilometers. The first stage is often broken into two parts, with an overnight stop in Orisson for those who prefer a gentler start to their journey over the Pyrenees. Here’s a list of the stages with their respective distances:

  1. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Orisson: Approximately 8 km. This is a steep ascent and a good option for a shorter first day.
  2. Orisson to Roncesvalles: About 17 km. This continues the climb over the Pyrenees and then descends into Roncesvalles.
  3. Roncesvalles to Zubiri: Roughly 22 km, descending from the Pyrenees.
  4. Zubiri to Pamplona: Around 20 km, leading into the historic city of Pamplona.
  5. Pamplona to Puente la Reina: Approximately 24 km, crossing the Alto del Perdón.
  6. Puente la Reina to Estella: About 22 km, through the rolling hills of Navarre.
  7. Estella to Los Arcos: Roughly 21 km, passing the Irache Wine Fountain.
  8. Los Arcos to Logroño: Around 28 km, entering the wine region of La Rioja.
  9. Logroño to Nájera: Approximately 29 km, through Riojan landscapes.
  10. Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada: About 21 km, a relatively flat stage.
  11. Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado: Roughly 23 km, transitioning into the Castilian plains.
  12. Belorado to San Juan de Ortega: Around 24 km, a rural stretch.
  13. San Juan de Ortega to Burgos: Approximately 26 km, entering the city of Burgos.
  14. Burgos to Hornillos del Camino: About 21 km, beginning the Meseta section.
  15. Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz: Roughly 20 km, across the Meseta.
  16. Castrojeriz to Frómista: Around 25 km, including the climb up to Mostelares.
  17. Frómista to Carrión de los Condes: Approximately 19 km, along the Canal de Castilla.
  18. Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios: About 26 km, a long stretch with minimal shade.
  19. Terradillos de los Templarios to Bercianos del Real Camino: Roughly 23 km, continuing through the Meseta.
  20. Bercianos del Real Camino to Mansilla de las Mulas: Around 27 km.
  21. Mansilla de las Mulas to León: Approximately 18 km, approaching the city of León.
  22. León to San Martín del Camino: About 24 km, leaving León.
  23. San Martín del Camino to Astorga: Roughly 23 km, into the region of Maragatería.
  24. Astorga to Foncebadón: Around 26 km, starting the ascent to Cruz de Ferro.
  25. Foncebadón to Ponferrada: Approximately 27 km, descending from Cruz de Ferro to Ponferrada.
  26. Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo: About 24 km, through the Bierzo region.
  27. Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro: Roughly 28 km, a significant climb into Galicia.
  28. O Cebreiro to Triacastela: Around 21 km, through the Galician mountains.
  29. Triacastela to Sarria: Approximately 19 km, with a choice of two routes.
  30. Sarria to Portomarín: About 22 km, entering the final 100 km of the Camino.
  31. Portomarín to Palas de Rei: Roughly 25 km, through the Galician countryside.
  32. Palas de Rei to Arzúa: Around 29 km, where the Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo merge.
  33. Arzúa to O Pedrouzo: Approximately 19 km, the penultimate stage.
  34. O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela: About 20 km, the final stage into Santiago de Compostela.

These distances are approximate and can vary slightly depending on the exact route taken and the location of accommodations. There is no set distance you must walk. This is simply an example of a way to walk the Camino. Your choices may differ and that is completely okay.