The Camino Frances is the most popular route on the Camino de Santiago. More than 100,000 people walk it each year and 60% of the pilgrims who reach Santiago de Compostela choose the ‘French Way’.
The path has a long, proud history. It is first mentioned in the 12th-century manuscript, the Codex Calixtinus, and thousands of travelers completed the pilgrimage in medieval times. More recently, the route featured in the movie ‘The Way’ which starred Martin Sheen.
Why do people do the Camino de Santiago? Historically, pilgrims made the journey for religious reasons. Though many still do, there are numerous reasons why people walk the Camino Frances today. It could be to connect with nature, to meet new people, to relax, for the challenge, or just because they love walking.
The Camino Frances a well-trodden path and ideal for a first Camino. There are numerous places to stay and the big yellow arrows mean it’s almost impossible to get lost.
The Camino Frances route
The route takes you from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (French side of the Pyrenees) to Roncesvalles (Spanish side), then continues 780km to Santiago de Compostela. It takes around 30 days to walk the whole route, which allows a couple of rest days. Cyclists typically complete the route in 14 days.
It’s a breathtaking route which weaves through mountains, meadows, and monasteries. You also have the chance to visit fascinating towns and cities such as Pamplona, Burgos, Logroño, and Leon.
Nowadays, many people simply don’t have enough time to complete the whole route. This isn’t a problem. You can walk just a part of the route and choose where to start. To officially complete the pilgrimage, and get your ‘Compostela’, you need to walk at least 100km.
Where to stay on the Camino Frances?
There are many hostels along the way which are specifically for pilgrims. They are called albergues and are often run by volunteers. The normally charge a small fee of between €5 and €10 and include a basic breakfast. This makes it possible to complete the Camino on a very small budget.
The albergues work on a first-come-first-serve basis. This means that they sometimes fill up, especially in the busier months. If you plan to stay in the albergues you need to either arrive relatively early or complete the route off-season.
There are alternatives to albergues. There’s a growing number of private hostels which are more expensive but offer greater comfort and more facilities. Pilgrims with larger budgets often choose private hostels as the albergues are crowded and basic. €30 is fairly standard for a private hostel.
Top Camino Frances tips
The Camino Frances doesn’t require too much preparation. As long as you’re in decent shape it’s not too challenging. People have done it in their 80s and even 90s. If you don’t fancy walking too far each day, you don’t have to.
Dictate your own pace
Some people powerwalk and others slowly wander to the next location. Many want to walk as far as possible whereas others want to take time to see things. There’s no right or wrong way but there is your way. Don’t feel pressured by others.
You don’t have to walk it all
You don’t have to do the whole pilgrimage in one trip. Work out how many days you have and choose a part of the route which looks interesting to you. Many people complete a section then return in the future to continue or do a completely different part.
Explore the cities
The Camino Frances passes through some of Spain’s most fascinating places. Factor in time to discover the gems of the Camino such as Pamplona’s city walls, the Burgos Cathedral, and the old town in Santiago de Compostela.
When you’re walking long distances the last thing you want is to carry excess weight. What feels light at first can feel much heavier after 5 hours of walking! Take practical essentials and leave the rest. Remember you’ll be passing through towns and cities with plenty of shops.
Prepare for sunshine and rain
Though you should pack light you should also prepare for all eventualities. Some parts, such as Galicia, are notorious for unpredictable weather. Other parts can be fairly hot, particularly in the summer months.
There’s nothing worse than being kept awake by someone snoring and if you’re staying in a hostel, there’s always a snorer. Be kind to yourself and take earplugs. Don’t spend hours staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, wishing you had earplugs.
Walking with blisters is agony and it can ruin a Camino. Do everything you can to avoid blisters. Quality walking boots are important and breaking them in is even more essential. There’s nothing worse than brand-new boots. Walking socks which are designed to prevent blisters are also ideal.