Accommodations are generally available, but it has become the practice to call a few days ahead and reserve. As a result, those who do not reserve during busy times have been finding "complet" signs on the door. In every case I was able to find alternative accommodations, always at a reasonable price.
No. you don't need to camp..... but pre-booking is the norm on the Le Puy route, even just a day or two ahead. Groups of French people who are walking on the route, whether as pilgrims or 'randonneurs', have sometimes booked months in advance. If you don't book you will find something, but you might end up in a chambre d'hote (like a bed and breakfast) and end up paying quite a lot more. The Miam Miam Dodo guide (available from CSJ) lists all accommodation available to pilgrims, with prices etc.
We found it stressful in the latter part of May, from Aire-sur-l'Adour south, as we happened to coincide with a large group from Dijon, with two vans and 17 people. (If you have walked in Spain, 17 may not sound like many, but in France, 17 could book out a whole gite sometimes.) We could have solved the problem by waiting a day for them to out-walk us...but by that stage we were keen to push on to SJPP. But while we shared the route with them, we often found that our 'first choice' of accommodation was already full, and we needed to think laterally. Vehicle-supported groups in France are quite normal - and they will nearly always have pre-booked.
If you don't speak French, the tourist offices in France are widespread and will usually be willing to book ahead for you. Alternatively, I met someone who took a phone with her Miam Miam Dodo guide (which is carried by almost everyone seeking accommodation on the Le Puy route) and she always found fellow French-speaking walkers who were willing to use her phone to book ahead for her.
When I walked this route in 2007 (in August - peak time) I would stop at a tourist office and they would very kindly book one or two days ahead for me. I was always grateful for their kindness, and never had any problems except for one occasion. This was when the lass doing the booking for me failed to warn me that the gite was a couple of kilometres off the track. We did not discover this until we were in the next town - 7 kms further on! Again the tourist office to the rescue. They cancelled our booking (at 5.30 p.m. we were disinclined to retrace our steps 7 + 2 kms!) and found a cheap hotel for us in the town. All of this was done with good grace, and we were particulalry glad as the next day it rained and so we were actually at our next gite before it really set in!
On another occasion, we were bailed up by a local woman who marched us off to the tourist office and had the poor girl behind the desk running around making bookings for us, again glad of the help but in this case we weren't even ready to start planning!
The gites and Chambre d'Otes in France are a delight. Regards, Janet
I wouldn't stress too much about accommodation on this route. When I walked from Le Puy in late june last year I didn't pre book but as others have said the tourist offices were good and I met the occasional French walker who often booked for me. I don't recall any Gite being full
I realised pre-booking is the norm but feared that the increase in pilgrims each year might have led to a shortage of accommodation in 2008. You have given me confidence that this is not the case. Thank you for your help guys.
It probably depends on which month you walk in how much pressure there is on beds. May is apparently a really popular month for the French to walk - and this year it was chokka full of public holidays = long weekends. There were always beds, but not always in your first choice of place. in Moissac, the lovely Irish people who ran a gite there (Ultreia) said that July and August were quiet months for them, as people don't tend to walk in the south of France then, as it is too hot.
The Tourist Offices in France, and some gites, often work really hard to find pilgrims a place if accommodation is tight. In Aire-sur-l'Adour, where we hit a 'bulge' in numbers, and "everything" seemed full, the woman at the tourist office spent 20 minutes ringing around to eventually find a place for two friends who hadn't reserved. And we heard of some young ones who ended up in tents, as a gite had put them up to accommodate the overflow.
I've been walking the last 2.5 weeks from Le Puy (I'm in Cahors now). I haven't had any problems, but I usually book the night before. (I usually struggle through in my very limited French, but gite owners or French-speaking pilgrims have also been happy to call for me.) I've met a few people who rarely if ever book ahead, but I've seen a few "complet" signs, especially on weekends, so unless I'm going somewhere with a lot of beds, I feel more comfortable calling ahead.
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We found accommodation not too difficult to find in September this year. The thing to do is buy Mia Mia Do Do and take your phone. Once you're settled in your accommodation in the afternoon get busy booking the next night up. If you leave it thill the next morning, the gites might be full. And the Abbeys have strange rules that I can't fathom. I tried to book in Estaing but they said they don't take bookings, despite the fact that a French group we met in St Come had booked the previous day. And in Conques they allow huge queues to build up for registration - get in soon after 2, when the office opens.
The night I stayed they had a room set aside for solo women walkers, and there were four of us in it. It was a great way to have an evening where I could talk to others in the same situation as myself.