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I dont speak French - so how did I cope on the GR65

Ed Skelly

New Member
Hello from Ed
My first pilgrimage walk to Santiago was the Camino frances starting in Saint-Jean. I was keen to relive this experience but wanted to make it a bit more difficult, something that would match my need.
For my second trip I chose to walk from Le Puy.

I dont speak any other language (the British are very lazy) and found it wasnt a problem that first time, but walking in France was a bit more daunting.
My biggest concern was the gite system of booking ahead, it may be a good system but it was something that was beyond me. I considered the options.
I could learn some basic French.
I could get some assistance and book it all in advance before I leave home, covering about 35days or so.
I could try to find a French speaking companion.
I could walk in the quieter months.

I chose the latter and left Le Puy in mid April (it meant I got some snow). Being retired, when I started wasnt a problem.
It worked out fine, the gite's were quiet, I simply arrived unannounced and generally had a pick of the beds. The only other travellers were fellow pilgrims, mosty doing it in stages but one or two going all the way to Santiago. The path was also quiet, but there were more pilgims than I expected. I met very few walkers who were simply walking the GR65 as a holiday.
Everything went well until I arrived at Cajarc (day 13) to find the gite fully booked. I managed to find another gite not listed in my guide book and was ok, but it did make me think.
The accomodation never became a big problem but on a couple of occasions I did ask French speaking pilgrims to book ahead for me when I considered the gite's were getting busy.
In all the 5 weeks walking in France only on 3 occasions could I look around and see that the gite was full, but remember this was April.

Although very few locals speak English I had more laughs than problems.
The French people (certainly those in the country) are the most friendly I've ever met, no one passed without a smile and saying hello, I was very impressed.

I arrived in Santiago after 79days and I'm going back this year to do it all again.

I hope this info is of some use.

Always be prepared to try something new.

Cheerio: Ed Skelly
Catalina Camino Oct 29 to Nov 4
Hike the 80km Catalina Camino Oct 29 to Nov 4 on California’s Santa Catalina Island
It is interesting to read about your experiences in France regarding language. I had similar experiences in Spain (Santiago de Compostela) when I moved here almost two years ago.

I did not know much, just a few words, but not enough to create a sentence.... I found that if the locals saw that I was trying to speak Spanish, they would also try to understand and help me. Always very friendly and helpful.

What I did before entering a store would be to practice a few key words, maybe create the first sentence with my dictionary before entering. I would then go in and "perform" my newly created sentence (that most likely had more errors than words). Then, I got ready for the response... many times the reply was spoken very fast... so learn how to say "more slowly por favor". From then on your need to use your hands, eyes and dictionary to communicate... it is amazing how much you learn doing it this way. I only went a few weeks to a Spanish class to get some basic grammar; the rest was done this way.

Of course for you, needing to call ahead and reserve you needed to use the phone... this is much more difficult... you can't use your hands to "talk".

Was there no way to have the owner of the gite you woke up at to call to the next one for you?
My French is very basic. When we walked the Le Puy route i found Tourist infomation centres very helful in booking gites. I usually booked for about 3 days in advance and it worked well. My own attempts on the telephone were rather problematical!! :D
Great post Ed. I hope to take this route in a couple years. The mid-April timing sounds right, though I'm a bit insecure about finding a place to stay. No matter, I'll take it as part of the adventure ~

Take care,

John P.
I walked the GR65 with my donkey, always found a place to stay , just called in the morning for the evening except for pilgrim refuges, where I just arrived. OK, I had a tent, but did't use it much until I got into spain on the camino del norte. :) I didn't find tourist info centres very helpful, but my situation was a little out of the ordinary. I think it helps if you can learn some french, at least enough to get people to phone ahead for you if you think you will need that. April everything is open, weather shoud be good, if maybe a little chilly at altitude.
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