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Camino Frances? Via de La Palta?

Ariel Mallett

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino del Norte
Hello! I walked the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago in the spring of 2015 and am looking to go back for seconds - this time I'm considering walking the Camino Frances, but am concerned about the crowding. I am looking for a more spiritual experience and have heard that nothing compares to the Camino Frances but don't want to feel like one in a sea of a million. Any words of advice?
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (1989 and 2016), Portugues - from Porto (2018)
Hello! I walked the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago in the spring of 2015 and am looking to go back for seconds - this time I'm considering walking the Camino Frances, but am concerned about the crowding. I am looking for a more spiritual experience and have heard that nothing compares to the Camino Frances but don't want to feel like one in a sea of a million. Any words of advice?
I'm not of the opinion that complete solitude is necessary for spirituality. Some of the deepest spiritual epiphanies that I've received from my Caminos have emerged from my interactions with other pilgrims. That said, there are things you can do to reduce the "crowding":
- Walk in the "off season". I've read that May and September have the most international pilgrims and August has the most Spanish pilgrims. If you travel in April or October, you may encounter fewer pilgrims. If you travel in February, who knows, you may experience the same solitude you found on the VDLP. If you do some searches in pilgrim stats, you are likely to find good information about the times to travel with the least company.
- Plan your resting stops "between stages". Brierley (especially) and many other guidebooks are organized into recommended "stages" for walking. If you stop before or after their stage endpoints, you will find fewer people. You'll find fewer amenities, too, but that goes with a less crowded Camino. And if the town you are staying at doesn't have a grocery store or an ATM, you can always use the one in the Brierley town when you pass through it.
- Start your walk before or after the "pilgrim rush". There is a window in the morning when most pilgrims set off. Then they walk along the Camino like a big meal in a snake. If you start before or after them, you won't see them when you walk. This approach has its risks. On the one hand, if you start much earlier than everyone else, there is likely to be a LOT of walking in the dark, which doesn't necessarily make for the best Camino experience, and you may be walking through villages and/or towns when nothing is open. On the other hand, if you start much later than everyone, you increase the risk of arriving at your destination only to find all of the albergues are full, if you haven't reserved. And, on the gripping hand, this can intersect with the previous approach of stopping between guidebook stages in interesting ways. You may start later than everyone where you were staying only to find yourself in the middle of a large group of pilgrims who stayed at the guidebook endpoint a few kilometres before where you stayed.
- If you are REALLY concerned, you could walk the Camino Frances until Sarria and then transport yourself to a spot 100 km from Santiago on a different Camino (say, the Primitivo or the Norte). That way you avoid the busiest part of the Frances but still get plenty of classic Frances experience. The stats seem to show a decline in traffic on the Frances before Sarria in recent years, in fact. Of course, this way you are not walking the complete Frances.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about it too much. But if solitude on the Frances is your priority, I think those are the best ways to achieve it. I wouldn't really advise other methods (being anti-social, ignoring personal hygiene, etc.)

PS. You will be one in a sea of millions. Millions of pilgrims over thousands of years. That's part of the charm of the Frances.
 

omar504

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016,2017,2018
I went from Le Puy to Santiago about 10 years ago and was horrified at the mad rush from SJPD onwards. I walked on and off with a French girl from Le Puy. She emailed when she got home that she was in tears with the mad rush,inconsiderate bag rustlers, loud talking etc of 'pilgrims' on the Frances. Frankly I hated the Frances..overrated and over crowded. On the other hand recommend the Levante,Mozarabe,VDLP...in fact any other camino!
 
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
Portugues, Muxia-Finist(2015)
St Olavs Way(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF (2019)
The Camino Frances is where many people (including myself) discover their passion for this type of travel/journey. I'm glad I did it as my first but now, after experiencing other trails..whether they be Caminos, pilgrimage or non-pilgrimage paths, I couldn't do it for the very reason you mention. However, I will always encourage others as its such an amazing experience. Yes, lots of people will be on the path, approaching it in different ways & for different reasons, but even being there shows a level of like-mindedness. Another aspect to consider is personality type; introverts may struggle with the highly social vibe of this most popular of walks. My suggestion is go...give it a shot...& if you don't like the sheer volume of participants, there are many alternative paths you could divert to. Ultreia! 👣 🌏
 

Anamiri

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
Hello! I walked the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago in the spring of 2015 and am looking to go back for seconds - this time I'm considering walking the Camino Frances, but am concerned about the crowding. I am looking for a more spiritual experience and have hear d that nothing compares to the Camino Frances but don't want to feel like one in a sea of a million. Any words of advice?
I walked the Frances twice, I never felt like one in a sea of a million. Up until Sarria in fact it was not busy at all, I walked on my own sometimes for hours. On the Meseta for instance I often felt quite solitary.
And I come from a country with a pretty sparce population of only 4 million.
I'm walking it again this year - I am nowhere near done with with it yet. And I'm taking my husband who is way less intrepid but much more social than me.
The Frances has great infrastructure, a sense of history, and also a sense of 'pilgrimage " which I love. (and until I walked my first Camino I didnt even know I was a people person)
You can always divert off at Ponferada if at that point you want a quieter path.
But I dont think the Frances will fail you, it is a wonderful experience.
 
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Anamiri

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
Hello! I walked the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago in the spring of 2015 and am looking to go back for seconds - this time I'm considering walking the Camino Frances, but am concerned about the crowding. I am looking for a more spiritual experience and have hear d that nothing compares to the Camino Frances but don't want to feel like one in a sea of a million. Any words of advice?
I've walked the Frances twice in the last few years, I never felt like one in a sea of a million. Up until Sarria in fact it was not busy at all, I walked on my own sometimes for hours. On the Meseta for instance I often felt quite solitary. And I come from a country with a pretty sparce population of only 4 million.
I'm walking it again this year - I am nowhere near done with with it yet. And I'm taking my husband who is way less intrepid but much more social than me.
The Frances has great infrastructure, a sense of history, and also a sense of 'pilgrimage " which I love. (and until I walked my first Camino I didnt even know I was a people person)
Statistics quoted earlier this week show that numbers starting earlier than Sarria are decreasing so you can always divert off at Ponferada if at that point you want a quieter path - Ive been considering that too.
But I dont think the Frances will fail you, it is a wonderful experience.
I have read on other threads that the Frances has more of a pilgrimage /spiritual vibe - whereas the others are more like long hikes.
The Frances also has foot/knee friendly walking surfaces (except in and out of cities) which is a key consideration for me
 

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
For most of us who are repeat offenders and return for a second or third or fourth or... whatever Camino I think that our first experience sets a baseline. Something about that first journey touched us and we return to recapture that essence. And that is probably what we compare our later journeys with. If your first experience of a Camino was walking the Camino Frances sometime in the past 5 years or so then the large numbers you encountered are probably just "normal" for you and nothing to worry about. But Ariel's baseline is walking the Via de la Plata in 2015 - a year in which 9,221 people received Compostelas for walking the VdlP. In that same year 172,243 Compostelas went to people who walked the Camino Frances. Almost twenty times as many. It is very common to hear people speak of "culture shock" when walking the Camino Primitivo and then joining the crowds on the Frances at Melide. It becomes a vastly different experience. Not necessarily a worse one - that is very much a personal judgement though I myself prefer the quieter paths. I think it is important to understand what it is that you valued so highly in your first Camino before deciding where and when to walk in future. For me the things I treasured most on my first Camino Frances are now far more easily found elsewhere.
 
Camino(s) past & future
CF Sep/Oct 2015
C Primitivo Sep / Oct 2016
Portugese Sep/Oct 2017
VdlP, Muxia 2018
I thoroughly 'enjoyed' my Camino Frances experience in September/October 2015. It was my first Camino de Santiago after many years of contemplation and planning. I do not see myself walking it again, specifically because the experience could not be repeated. And I mean this from a positive perspective and because of the respect and memories I hold for the beautiful people I met. My only negative experience was in Burgos. I walked a very long day with a fellow pilgrim and arrived at the Municipal Albergue at close to 3.00pm at the end of September. It was 'completo', full, no accommodation available. I was told that a bus tour dropped off two groups before noon who took all the remaining beds. All albergues contacted in Burgos that day were full. It was the most unsettling experience during my Camino Frances. Finally I got to share an apartment with another pilgrim. Apart from that I was walking alone but was blessed to meet a number of wonderful camino friends and small groups at different times that enhanced my experience. I walked alone for many days and although I encountered pilgrims along the way, it was my choice to socialise or not. It was particularly special to meet people with whom we could share each others experience and support each other at differing times. I know I met pilgrims from at least 35 different countries. They bring a lot of spiritual depth! There are other discussions on this forum dealing with the "spiritual" aspect specifically. However, I can honestly say that I had no problem finding peace, tranquillity and the space I required in the midst of almost 172,000. It is important to remember that the 172,000 or even 300,000 are not all together, every day! (except maybe in Melide, Hahaha). Buen Camino. P.S. I walked VdlP last autumn - awesome!
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (1989 and 2016), Portugues - from Porto (2018)
For most of us who are repeat offenders and return for a second or third or fourth or... whatever Camino I think that our first experience sets a baseline. Something about that first journey touched us and we return to recapture that essence. And that is probably what we compare our later journeys with. If your first experience of a Camino was walking the Camino Frances sometime in the past 5 years or so then the large numbers you encountered are probably just "normal" for you and nothing to worry about. But Ariel's baseline is walking the Via de la Plata in 2015 - a year in which 9,221 people received Compostelas for walking the VdlP. In that same year 172,243 Compostelas went to people who walked the Camino Frances. Almost twenty times as many. It is very common to hear people speak of "culture shock" when walking the Camino Primitivo and then joining the crowds on the Frances at Melide. It becomes a vastly different experience. Not necessarily a worse one - that is very much a personal judgement though I myself prefer the quieter paths. I think it is important to understand what it is that you valued so highly in your first Camino before deciding where and when to walk in future. For me the things I treasured most on my first Camino Frances are now far more easily found elsewhere.
My first Camino was 1989 and I was happy with the Camino in 2016. It probably helped that it had been so long between the two and I was very aware of the increased numbers before I walked in 2016, so I had no expectations of repeating the experience. It also probably helped that some of the things I was really looking for in 1989 were to walk through the same places and towns that the medieval pilgrims had walked through and see the medieval churches etc. that had been built for them, to have something of their experience, rather than specifically setting out for a solitary walk. Those things I had been looking for in 1989 were still there in 2016. That essence was still there.

Not to say that I'm not ready to try out some of the other routes. :)
 

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
It also probably helped that some of the things I was really looking for in 1989 were to walk through the same places and towns that the medieval pilgrims had walked through and see the medieval churches etc. that had been built for them, to have something of their experience, rather than specifically setting out for a solitary walk. Those things I had been looking for in 1989 were still there in 2016. That essence was still there.
I am very glad that you found what you were looking for. Although it had not been in my thinking at all before I started my first journey I discovered then just how important solitude is for me while I walk and it is amongst the most defining characteristics of my first Camino. Whole days spent without encountering another pilgrim - sometimes for three or four days at a time. The scarcity of pilgrims and their relative novelty also meant that I had far more contact with local people on that first journey: casual encounters in the street and invitations to join families or groups of friends at their table rather than eat alone in a restaurant. A generosity which I had not expected and received very gratefully. My 2016 Camino Frances had many rich moments and experiences but the sheer pressure of numbers and the awareness of the Camino existing in its own self-referential "bubble" made it a very mixed blessing for me. Especially when I compare it with other routes I have walked in recent years such as the Primitivo, the Ingles, the VdlP and others further afield in Europe and Japan. No point in trying to force this square peg into that particular round hole.
 

CdnDreamer

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (2012, 2015 & 2018) San Salvador (2018)
If you think of people as part of your spiritual journey, it may give you peace. Every encounter is a blessing whether it goes well or not. You get a chance to see how you feel about your personal space, what you believe is right and wrong, polite or rude, how to accept help from others etc. I have walked parts of the Camino Frances 3 times and I am so much more content with my life now. I can accept what comes, rather than fighting decisions made by others, and I appreciate the differences between people. Life would be so boring if we all liked the same things, had the same values etc.

If you don't want to walk with a lot of people, you can find spaces where you don't see people in front of you or behind you. Not every day, but I was often alone while walking. It helps to stay in smaller places, to either get ahead of the group of people coming out of the larger towns, or by staying behind them.

The people walking the Camino can give you so much to think about. You hear heart breaking stories and stories about how people are trying to put their lives back together. People really pull together to help one another whether it is to listen, to help with blisters, sharing meals, finding places to sleep etc. It really is an amazing trip if you relax and accept what comes to you (the good and bad).
 

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