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Le Puy to Santiago: a few random thoughts

MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
 

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alhartman

2005-2017 Delightful 346 days in Spain and France.
Year of past OR future Camino
2017
A very insightful write-up on what I think is the premier trip--France plus Spain. I did this for 75 days in 2013 and absolutely the best walk ever. Strongly recommend for anyone who has the time!! It is an extremely varied experience. All good. All worthwhile. And we bring our spirituality with us!
 
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Thank You @MichaelC What a great post.
I'd love to walk from Le Puy one day, but on reading this, I might have to be prepared to switch routes from St Jean.
My 3rd CF (or part of) next year, maybe I'll have had enough by then.

I just love the idea of a really long walk. So maybe from Le Puy or the VDLP.
Better get on with it whilst I'm still able :rolleyes:
 
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karenhypes

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (09), Chemin Le Puy (10/11), hospitaleros (11), Chemin Arles (Apr 13), Caminho Portuguese (15).
Very well said Michael. We walked both CF and Le Puy but at different times. Lots of great insight. I like your thoughts on not trying to make the Le Puy route the CF and vice versa. They are completely different experiences and that adds to the beauty of it.

Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts.
Dayton and Karen
 

Felipe

Veteran Member
Great and fair post. Took some mental notes...still not in the stage that I start looking for train schedules from Paris to Le Puy, but who knows?
I walked two years ago the Piedmont way, along the Pyrinees, meeting a few fellow pilgrims only by nights, at the gîtes. Some miles before Saint Jean le Vieux this way intersects with the Podiensis, and after so many days of solo walking I had to resist the impulse to go and hug the pilgrims...The feeling of being with somebody else in the Camino was exhilarating. Then I met others...and others...and arriving at SJPP I felt almost overwhelmed by the crowds. But I also enjoyed the social vibe -mostly.
The CF is a very different experience, yes, but in perspective, to me, they were complementary.
 
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fransw

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances 2012; Le Puy - Conques 2014;Camino Aragonese Oloron Ste Marie - Puenta la Reina 2018
Indeed, the CF and the Via Podiensis are very different. I loved the Célé-route.
On the Via Podiensis one walks often though very old isolated villages from the Middle Ages and the churches and chapels are mostly Romanesque with a very sober interior , whereas on CF many churches are build in baroque style with goldplated altars. This has much to do with the history of Spain when these churches were build and the then massive import of gold from the Americas.
On the CF one meets more history with cities like Burgos and Leon..
It is just great that both routes are so different !
 

Man in Black

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Finisterre (2017)
Chemin St Jacques (2018)
Rota Vicentina (2019)
Michael:

The Figeac picture alone is inspiring.

Thanks for this detailed post and comparisons between the two caminos. We travelled the Camino Frances in September and then early October 201, and also felt that there was some "tourist fatigue" being exhibited by albergue and bar staff. However, the heartfelt "buen camino's" that we received from the Spanish locals, particularly the older women for some reason, made us still feel welcome.

As we are in the initial planning stages for the Le Puy camino this post could not have come at a better time.

Merci et muchas gracias.
 

gittiharre

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
CF Austria Czech Le Puy Geneva RLS V. Jacobi V. Regia V. Baltica/Scandinavica Porto Muxia
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
Thank you very much for your amazing post. My thoughts exactly, having done the Le Puy rote twice and Frances once.
I met people on the Frances who had started in Le Puy and echoed your sentiments.
 
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MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
I agree completely with Felipe, the two routes are complementary. And I met a few people who walked from Germany and Austria, and their first third was a whole different experience again.

On my third day I got some advice from L., who started in Vienna. At that point I was still pushing on through until my destination, without taking long breaks. She told me I was killing myself, that it was ok to arrive later in the afternoon, and that it would be much healthier to take long lunches, and long siestas, and finishing that day's stage later in the day. It made sense ... but it still took me a three more weeks to become comfortable doing that on a regular basis. Once I did life became so much easier, and my camino so much more relaxed and peaceful.

I tried to pass on this advice to those who started in SJPP, but, like me, it took a couple weeks before people started walking this way! I think one of the reasons I enjoyed Galicia more, and one of the reasons Fisterra is so important, is that it takes this long for people to relax and find their perfect 'camino' pace.

One big thing I forgot in the original post: noro virus swept through the camino after León. It was brutal. For me, it meant waking up at 4 am and rushing to the bathroom for an intense hour of purging. I didn't like where I was staying, so I tried to walk the next morning. It took a full day to walk 9 km. The next day I felt weak, though I was able to walk and eat. I thought it was food poisoning, but I met more and more pilgrims who also caught the virus around the same period. I don't see this talked about much, but some veterans tell me that it's not rare. I'm glad I had a stash of electrolytes to add to my water during my recovery.

Last night I also realized that I completely forgot about the forum meet-up in Santiago! I don't know how this happened, as I was looking forward to it.

As for timing, I did the Le Puy route in 37 days. Two more days would have been nice. I finished the CF in 34 days. Two more days would have been nice here.
 

MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
One more important note: A lot of the smaller albergues were already closing the last two weeks in October - even the ones that were advertised as "open until November 1." There were still plenty of beds in the municipal albergues, but there were a few times I had to back-track a few kilometers to the last open albergue.
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
I'm on my way out of the house and just saw your write up on Le Puy. I haven't read it yet, but can not wait to devour your input later this evening. I'm walking Le Puy to Mossiac in June 2018!
 

JulieandPeter

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances Spring 2015
Frances Fall 2017
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kelleymac

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
March/April 2015, Late April 2016, Sept/Oct 2017, April 2019.
Thank-you for taking the time for writing this. Here are a few rather disjointed thoughts in response.

I have been trying to sort out my feelings and experiences since I returned in mid-October from walking Le Puy to Conques. --I walked the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago (early Spring 2015) and from SJPP to Burgos (mid Spring 2016). The Le Puy Route (G65) was very different from the Camino Frances. I walked completely alone when I went on the alternate route to Bonneval Abbeye. I did not see a single walker for three days. (Of course there were people at the Abbeye.) The land was beautiful-- There was a close camino family that I drifted in and out of. There were 5 from Quebec, a man from Switzerland, and two men from Burgundy. They were all very kind and took me in, as I came and left and then joined up with them again. A few times I felt I drifted into a tourist world and not a pilgrim world, especially as most people had their packs carried for them, and sometime took the bus when they got tired of walking and wanted a day off. -- We all did cook together one night, which I really enjoyed. I did spend more money at the gîtes than at albergues. But I did not find the welcome and energy from the Spanish to be less than that of the French. Perhaps this is because we walked in the Spring, and also stayed at non-Brierly stops along the camino. I attended mass when I could. Actually, spirituality/religion was one reason I drifted in and out of the Camino Family-- One of the members of the family was rather preachy about his spiritual beliefs and as my French is minimal, we couldn't really talk. He kept going up on the altar in churches to feel the energy lines-- I found that rather disrespectful and I didn't know how to say that respectfully to him! But also, I wanted to walk at my own pace, and that is difficult in a large group. ---The big difference for me between my caminos was that in France I was without my teenage son, who had accompanied me on both my previous Caminos in Spain; I missed him sorely. I am torn now between walking more in France, finally walking the Meseta, or shifting the the Northern route.
 
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Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
I just finished reading your lengthy review and loved all the many details you included in your post. Thank you for all the thought and effort you put into sharing your experience with all of us who love this forum!
 

MissWOR

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Going in April (2018)
Thank you for your extremely informative and well written post and for possibly (no, PROBABLY) changing the course of the Camino I intend for spring 2018. I speak French well but nary a word of Spanish and now that I know about this option in lieu of the Saint Jean to Santiago, I have changed my plans. I've bookmarked your post and know I will refer back to it time and time again.

Looks like Le Puy to Moissac!
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
Thank you for your extremely informative and well written post and for possibly (no, PROBABLY) changing the course of the Camino I intend for spring 2018. I speak French well but nary a word of Spanish and now that I know about this option in lieu of the Saint Jean to Santiago, I have changed my plans. I've bookmarked your post and know I will refer back to it time and time again.

Looks like Le Puy to Moissac!
Me, too. I will be walking LePuy to Moissac in June 2018 and I can count the words I know in French on just one hand. Guess I have some studying to do!
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
Thank-you for taking the time for writing this. Here are a few rather disjointed thoughts in response.

I have been trying to sort out my feelings and experiences since I returned in mid-October from walking Le Puy to Conques. --I walked the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago (early Spring 2015) and from SJPP to Burgos (mid Spring 2016). The Le Puy Route (G65) was very different from the Camino Frances. I walked completely alone when I went on the alternate route to Bonneval Abbeye. I did not see a single walked for three days. (Of course there were people at the Abbeye.) The land was beautiful-- There was a close camino family that I drifted in and out of. There were 5 from Quebec, a man from Switzerland, and two men from Burgundy. They were all very kind and took me in, as I came and left and then joined up with them again. A few times I felt I drifted into a tourist world and not a pilgrim world, especially as most people had their packs carried for them, and sometime took the bus when they got tired of walking and wanted a day off. -- We all did cook together one night, which I really enjoyed. I did spend more money at the gîtes than at albergues. But I did not find the welcome and energy from the Spanish to be less than that of the French. Perhaps this is because we walked in the Spring, and also stayed at non-Brierly stops along the camino. I attended mass when I could. Actually, spirituality/religion was one reason I drifted in and out of the Camino Family-- One of the members of the family was rather preachy about his spiritual beliefs and as my French is minimal, we couldn't really talk. He kept going up on the altar in churches to feel the energy lines-- I found that rather disrespectful and I didn't know how to say that respectfully to him! But also, I wanted to walk at my own pace, and that is difficult in a large group. ---The big difference for me between my caminos was that in France I was without my teenage son, who had accompanied me on both my previous Caminos in Spain; I missed him sorely. I am torn now between walking more in France, finally walking the Meseta, or shifting the the Northern route.
My first Camino in 2015 I skipped the Meseta, but in 2017 I had the time to do the whole Frances route, including the Meseta and enjoyed it immensely. In 2016 I walked the Norte/Primitivo combo and loved it too, so beautiful and different. I walked all of these with my adult son.

I plan to walk the LePuy route in June with two Camino friends and I know it will be an entirely different experience being in a new country, and walking with women.
 

MartinPE

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Done : Le Puy to Saint Jean ( June 2017)
Planning: Saint Jean to Santiago (June 2018)
Great read, thanks.

I did the Le Puy to Saint Jean in June 2017 by bicycle ( and serious sport injuries and knee is non- functional)
Planning to start in Saint Jean end of June 2018 and continue through to Santiago.
Now my questions:
1) Can I do day one, Napoleon Route, with my Mountain bike and panniers? ( thus the walking route ..)

2) How are “cycling pilgrims” seen in Spain? ( in France we where treated no different.)
Thanks !
Martin
 
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MartinPE

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Done : Le Puy to Saint Jean ( June 2017)
Planning: Saint Jean to Santiago (June 2018)
Great read, thanks.

I did the Le Puy to Saint Jean in June 2017 by bicycle ( and serious sport injuries and knee is non- functional)
Planning to start in Saint Jean end of June 2018 and continue through to Santiago.
Now my questions:
1) Can I do day one, Napoleon Route, with my Mountain bike and panniers? ( thus the walking route ..)

2) How are “cycling pilgrims” seen in Spain? ( in France we where treated no different.)
Thanks !
Martin
 

MartinPE

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Done : Le Puy to Saint Jean ( June 2017)
Planning: Saint Jean to Santiago (June 2018)
Great read, thanks.

I did the Le Puy to Saint Jean in June 2017 by bicycle ( and serious sport injuries and knee is non- functional)
Planning to start in Saint Jean end of June 2018 and continue through to Santiago.
Now my questions:
1) Can I do day one, Napoleon Route, with my Mountain bike and panniers? ( thus the walking route ..)

2) How are “cycling pilgrims” seen in Spain? ( in France we where treated no different.)
Thanks !
Martin

---
TMA: Thu Nov 16 2017 14:14:37 GMT+0200 (SAST).jpg
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
Great read, thanks.

I did the Le Puy to Saint Jean in June 2017 by bicycle ( and serious sport injuries and knee is non- functional)
Planning to start in Saint Jean end of June 2018 and continue through to Santiago.
Now my questions:
1) Can I do day one, Napoleon Route, with my Mountain bike and panniers? ( thus the walking route ..)

2) How are “cycling pilgrims” seen in Spain? ( in France we where treated no different.)
Thanks !
Martin

---
View attachment 37392
Hi Martin, I had to chuckle when you asked how pilgrims on bicycles are seen in Spain. The majority of male cyclists I encountered were flying by with no warning and if I didn't stay diligent about my surroundings could easily have been knocked down. That said, probably the worst offenders were locals out for some exercise and fun, not necessarily pilgrims. I believe there are several threads addressing this issue, although I don't know how to provide that link from my phone. Other forum members will be happy to provide you with those threads if you need assistance.

P.S. In Spain the cyclists are usually not allowed to check in to the albergues until a set later time as the walkers are given first priority.
 
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MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
There were lots of bikes after SJPP. The vast majority of the ones I met were Italian or Spanish. If you can read Italian then Ivar's other forum has a lot of discussions on biking the Camino. For the most riders were respectful. For me, the 'worst' offenders were the folks who weren't regular riders, and just rented bikes to get across the meseta. Luckily none of them were very fast. Unluckily, not all of them could ride in a straight line.

MartinPE - How in the world did you bike from Le Puy??? So many of the trails were narrow rocky paths, or muddy paths through the fields. I met one couple who were using one of those wheeled chariots to carry their packs, and they were having to stick to the main roads.

As for the Route Napoleon, if you've got the legs for it you can do it.
 

MartinPE

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Done : Le Puy to Saint Jean ( June 2017)
Planning: Saint Jean to Santiago (June 2018)
We followed the route in “a Cyclists guide” by John Higginson” which was more than 90% good road surface / tar.
Bike was n tourer model and my travel companion was fit but not a regular cyclist.
On the French Route adventure (June 2018) we are accomplished mountain bikers. But because we want full freedom, we want to keep our gear with us, resulting in use of panniers, which is cumbersome on technical sections.
We are also not planning on bringing our own bikes ( South Africa ) but rather acquiring bikes in Biarritz or Saint Jean.
Legs for climbing are fine, more the rideable Road/ surface on day one that in need more info on.
I don’t want to take the “cycle route” and miss the majestic views ( and challenges) of the Napoleon route
 
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MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
Legs for climbing are fine, more the rideable Road/ surface on day one that in need more info on.

The path was mostly paved, On the descent you have a choice between the 'dangerous' steep section and a longer section. The pilgrim's office in SJPP was cautioning everyone to avoid the dangerous descent. I took it anyway, and it was fine - there were many sections in France that were far more technical.

Maybe a hundred cyclists passed me on the Route Napoleon. It's definitely doable.
 

MartinPE

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Done : Le Puy to Saint Jean ( June 2017)
Planning: Saint Jean to Santiago (June 2018)
Thank you very much MichaelC!
 

PeregrinoRoberto

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Sept/Oct (2014)
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
Hi MichaelC. This is Robert. I walked with you quite a bit in France. Thanks for posting this. I have been wondering about your thoughts concerning the Via Podiensis and the Camino Frances. Enjoyed hiking with you and reading this very informative post!
 

MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
Aloha Robert! Hope your reentry is going well. Did you cure your Camino-addiction, or are you already fantasizing about another one?
 

Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
Fantastic write-up @MichaelC. Thank you for the time and effort. It has me thinking about a return to France!
 
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Bornean

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2015)
Chemin Le Puy/Camino del Norte/Camino Primitivo (2018)
Thanks for this write-up. Much appreciated.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
CF- Finisterre-Muxia 03/17; Camino SK 10/17; Norte 03/18; Ingles 11/18; Augusta 03/19
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!

Thank you for taking the time tim share such useful insight.
 

Jopoke

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances September 2015
Lisbon to Santigo May 2016
Porto coastal route to Santiago Oct 2016
Wonderful writing and info, thank you. We are planning to walk Le Puy next year and really looking forward to it. Unfortunately like my Spanish (that I've tried to learn) is very little. I'm hoping I can get by with translate on the phone that I'm now quite good at.
 

Glenshiro

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy - León, Camino Frances (2012 - 2019)
As someone who has taken 5 years to walk from Le Puy to SJPDP, thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories. I'm walking the CF again next year, Los Arcos to Burgos, (I've crossed the Pyrenees twice, as it was raining the first time) but I'm pretty sure I'll return tp Le Puy and walk at least as far as Cahors, to my mind some of the finest walking in Europe. And the food in Spain isn't a patch on the French!
 
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Glenshiro

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy - León, Camino Frances (2012 - 2019)
Oh, and yes, you will struggle if you don't speak at least some French. In 5 years I met precisely 2 Brits, the only other English speakers being the occasional Aussie, Kiwi or (rarely) American. In small French towns very few people speak English.
 

lunna

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
frances; lisboa-muxia; norte+bayonne; vdlp; le puy; voie d'arles+aragones; geneva to ales
Very nice write up (I focused on your description of the Le Puy trail) - spot on about (almost all) the chapels and churches being open in France, unlike many in Spain (for fear of theft, I heard) - I found the Le Puy walk, which I took in Sept-Oct this year, very spiritual, and I'm not even a Christian! I absolutely loved it, just about every single thing on the trail - I think there were only two persons the entire time who left less than a positive impression with me.

Since I had already walked the SJPP trail, I was one (I think I was the only one, that day) of those who veered off the main trail at Navarrenx and headed to Oloron and then over Col de Somport, ending, due to having to get back to work, at Jaca, Spain. That last part was very different than the main Le Puy route, much more solitary, but absolutely incredible. There were so many highlights of my walk in general, that I can't say any one part was best - but the last part somehow resonates with me still... And the food along the entire route - to die for, and I'm a vegetarian! I walked the Vallee de Cele as well and it was well worth the detour - there were days along that variant where I had almost the entire gite to myself!

I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.



Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
 
Last edited:

dqduncan

Director, Canadian Company of Pilgrims
Year of past OR future Camino
2015:Francés
2016:Hospitalero training
2017:Hospitalero @Arrés.
2018:Joined CCoP
2019:el Norte
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.


I really enjoyed this thoughtful summary. Here I am taking a detour from editing and backing up pictures INCLUDING my CF trek in 2015 and my hospitalero time this year on Camino Arragonés...I should be finally finishing that up but this was a very pleasant diversion. Thank you. I'd imagined for quite some time after my CF walk that Le Puy would be next. Then, after my hospitalero time, I came back to an original intentions to do El Norte and add Primitivo. Your summary has me pondering time in France again!

This was a well laid out summary. Your insights are very helpful and I like the comparisons and contrasts. I'm bookmarking it for sure as i will come back to this when the Camino calls me once again.

Bon chemin! Buen camino!
 

PeregrinoRoberto

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Sept/Oct (2014)
Aloha Robert! Hope your reentry is going well. Did you cure your Camino-addiction, or are you already fantasizing about another one?
For the moment I've had my Camino fix, but this addiction is hard to shake. The Camino is an essential part of my life and I wouldn't be surprised if you see me walking again in a year or two. How about you?
 

Jim_Hyde

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Walked Le Puy - Navarrenx April/May 2018 Planning to walk RLS Trail & GR78 Carcassonne - SJPDP 2020
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
A very interesting and thought provoking article, I am setting off on my 1st Camino in April 2018 Le Puy - Santiago, I know some of the Le Puy route having taken a few holidays in the Lot Valley. I'm interested in which route to take after SJPP, I prefer to walk alone as I enjoy the solitude, given time to think and you also see more wildlife on your own and do not have to try and keep pace with others, I'm happy to walk 40 km+ per day if needed but happier around the 30 km mark, I much prefer to be off the tarmac following paths. Having a few people to chat to over dinner would be nice but eating alone is also fine, I prefer smaller places to larger hostels. Would I be better taking GR10 from SJPP and then Camino Norte or sticking with the Camino Frances? any help would be most welcome. I'm 60 but fairly fit, I have walked 1,000 miles (1,600 km) in each of the past two years since retiring and I am experienced in walking in remote mountain areas.
 
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Risky

Member, Brisbane Australia.
Year of past OR future Camino
Portuguese, VDLP, Le Puy, Del Norte, Primitivo, Vezelay, Frances & Via Francigena - C'bury to Rome
Hi MichaelC,

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and the similarities of our experiences.

Over the last couple of years my wife and I have walked the Portuguese and the Via de la Plata. When we walked these routes we really loved the countryside remoteness and the intimacy of small villages. This year we walked from Le Puy en Velay to SJPdP and then along the Pyrenees to Irun to pick up the Norte and then the Primitivo.

I agree with your summary of the Le Puy route with the stunning walking, nice people and fantastic food. A couple of the latter stages had too much road but other than that it was fantastic. Photo's do not do the experience justice and the Cele variant is a must do.......! Confit de Canard and Malbec.....c'est une combinaison fantastique.

The walk along the Pyrenees was really good as well but from Irun the large cities on the Norte were too much for us and we were very happy to get back to small villages and mountains of the Primitivo. Our struggle on the Norte was as much to do with us as it was the way........there were some nice bits but it was very different, touristy and we weren't ready for the size of the cities. It was a very welcome return to simpler ways on the Primitivo which was great.

We haven't walked the Frances due to concerns about foot races and overcrowding so in reading your summary those concerns haven't been allayed..........but....... we have been thinking this is about us and how we manage our headspace, each way is different, so we do plan to walk from Vezalay or Tours to SJPdP and then the Frances in 2018.

Look forward to reading more from you. Thanks.
 

Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
"I had confit du canard three nights one week!"

You were lucky - I had duck 4 nights running on this leg. By the time I got to Cahors, I was quacking.

It was walking through the Lot that we were introduced to all the various culinary names for, essentially, duck. Sometimes it seemed like whatever we ordered, it turned out to be - duck. Canard, margret, gesiers, aiguillettes, cuisse, confit, tournedos de canard, salade fait mason and plat de jour assiette.

I love duck. But perhaps not every night.

On the Arles and walking the Canal du Midi we had a similar experience with cassoulet. We were told many times "tonight we are serving the specialty of this region; cassoulet". Always delicious. But after three nights in a row we were ready for something different.

The one thing we have only ever had once, and it was absolutely scrumptious, was wild asparagus. Tiny little tender tendrils, with an amazing taste.
 

jim neujahr

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Ponferrada to Santiago, (October 2017)
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
What resources (such as Brierly) do you recommend for walking from Le Puy?
 

MtoM

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Arles route (in part) 2013 - planning Le Puy route
Thanks for a great account of the Le Puy route. I plan to walk it next May and June, and am looking forward to it all the more. Like Iunna I plan to go from Navarrenx across to the Arles route at Oloron-Ste-Marie and cross over Somport, ending at Jaca.

One thing I was wondering - from your account and other posts the Vallee du Cele sounds like a great option. The only guide to Via Podiensis that I have at the moment (the Lightfoot Guide) gives some general directions on going that way, but no detailed route instructions or accommodation information. Did you have any trouble finding the way or finding places to stay in Vallee du Cele? I'll probably get the Miam Miam Dodo guide for the trip, and maybe it has better information.

On that subject, do you have any thoughts about a good guide for the Le Puy route?
 

Debora

Beautiful Burgos
Year of past OR future Camino
SJPdP to Santiago May (2016)
SJPdP to Belorado May (2019)
Thank you so much for all the insight. I've been trying to find out more about the Le Puy route and the info you provided was a great help. I was wondering if you felt it was a safe route for a woman to walk alone?
 
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Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017
Hi Michael, I’m the Peregrino from Hawaii. We met recently during your last Camino, and my first. I saw you briefly at one of the masses in the Cathedral in Santiago, but I didn’t get a chance to talk again.

I’m wondering... I think my next Camino will be part of theFrench route, beginning in Paris, going to charter, and then onward. But while I’m in Paris (now) I’d like to spend a day walking from Notre Dame and returning to Point 0, just to cap off the wonderful walk I just finished recently.

I can’t find a Paris route map nor Can I locate Camino association near Notre Dame. I vaguely remember you saying something about there being one near Notre Dame but it was difficult to find

Have you any suggestions for how I might look, either online or by going to a physical location in Paris.

Thank you, and I greatly enjoyed our conversations along the Csmino.

Marianne, AKA Nancy Drew to the Ivar group.
 

pudgypilgrim

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Year of past OR future Camino
voie de tours 2015

mspath

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Nancy Drew,

Nor am I Michael but these other earlier Paris links may be of help to you.

A useful organization for pilgrims near the Sacre Coeur basilica is this --
http://compostelle2000.org/

Check out these other threads for more about pilgrim sites in Paris and the camino in Paris.

Visit the Tour Saint Jacques and perhaps dine nearby at the Auberge de Nicolas Flamel , 51 rue de Monmorency, a restored medieval house in the marais built by and named for a man who donated much of his wealth to help pilgrims.

When on the parvis or place facing the Notre Dame cathedral below you underground lie Roman ruins and visible to your right across the Seine begins the medieval rue Saint Jacques which pilgrims followed to leave the city; walk it a bit and ponder history.

Take a deep breath, relax and just enjoy it! As an American who has lived more than 35 years in France both in Paris and Champagne even after all this time for me as Thomas Jefferson wrote “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”

Bon Chemin and Buen Camino!
 
Last edited:

Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017

pudgypilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
voie de tours 2015
Forgot to say that while you'll kind of need to figure out your own best route, from Paris to the Abbaye St Louis du Temple de Limon in Vauhallan is a nice day's walk with pilgrim accommodation at the Abbey. And you can get back quickly to central Paris on the RER from Igny if you don't want to walk both ways.
 
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Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017
Thank you for your helpful remarks, both of them! I’m still in Paris and today will locate 11, Rue Hermès today.
 

Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017
Nancy Drew,

Nor am I Michael but these other earlier Paris links may be of help to you.

A useful organization for pilgrims near the Sacre Coeur basilica is this --
http://compostelle2000.org/

Check out these other threads for more about pilgrim sites in Paris and the camino in Paris.

Visit the Tour Saint Jacques and perhaps dine nearby at the Auberge de Nicolas Flamel , 51 rue de Monmorency, a restored medieval house in the marais built by and named for a man who donated much of his wealth to help pilgrims.

When on the parvis or place facing the Notre Dame cathedral below you underground lie Roman ruins and visible to your right across the Seine begins the medieval rue Saint Jacques which pilgrims followed to leave the city; walk it a bit and ponder history.

Take a deep breath, relax and just enjoy it! As an American who has lived more than 35 years in France both in Paris and Champagne even after all this time for me as Thomas Jefferson wrote “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”

Bon Chemin and Buen Camino!
Gr
 

Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017
Thank you for the generous and helpful information. I’m visiting Notre Dame today and will begin from there.
 

BlackRocker57

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy route 2014; Le Puy route continuation 2016; Le Puy route 2017; Le Puy route 2019 [incl. Célé]
Thank you so much for all the insight. I've been trying to find out more about the Le Puy route and the info you provided was a great help. I was wondering if you felt it was a safe route for a woman to walk alone?

Hi Debora ... the Le Puy route is a very safe route for a woman to walk solo, no probs ... in fact, now, it might almost be my preference
 
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MichaelC

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2023
Hi Michael, I’m the Peregrino from Hawaii. We met recently during your last Camino, and my first. I saw you briefly at one of the masses in the Cathedral in Santiago, but I didn’t get a chance to talk again.

I’m wondering... I think my next Camino will be part of theFrench route, beginning in Paris, going to charter, and then onward. But while I’m in Paris (now) I’d like to spend a day walking from Notre Dame and returning to Point 0, just to cap off the wonderful walk I just finished recently.

I can’t find a Paris route map nor Can I locate Camino association near Notre Dame. I vaguely remember you saying something about there being one near Notre Dame but it was difficult to find

Have you any suggestions for how I might look, either online or by going to a physical location in Paris.

Thank you, and I greatly enjoyed our conversations along the Csmino.

Marianne, AKA Nancy Drew to the Ivar group.

Hi Marianne! It's nice to hear from you again!

I actually didn't go to Paris this trip. There was an association in Le Puy en Velay ... that's probably the one I mentioned.

And apropos of our talks in Galicia ... have you seen the recent NY Times magazine profile of Emily Wilson? (The First Woman to Translate the 'Odyssey' Into English: The classicist Emily Wilson has given Homer's epic a radically contemporary voice). The article is great; her translation is now in my reading queue.
 

Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017
Hi Marianne! It's nice to hear from you again!

I actually didn't go to Paris this trip. There was an association in Le Puy en Velay ... that's probably the one I mentioned.

And apropos of our talks in Galicia ... have you seen the recent NY Times magazine profile of Emily Wilson? (The First Woman to Translate the 'Odyssey' Into English: The classicist Emily Wilson has given Homer's epic a radically contemporary voice). The article is great; her translation is now in my reading queue.
 

Nancy Drew

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Beginning last week of September 2017
Michael, I posted to you accidentally a few moments ago. Starting over, sorrt of: Am in Paris and doing a day/walk from St. James Tower, then to Notre Dame and Point 0, then along Rue St. James for some of its length, aka Rue St. Michael. (The path is less clear). Leaving it to travel by train out of the city to visit an Abby identified as a stop along The Way. When I return Colorado next week and have a real computer at my fingertips, I’ll write up what I’ve learned and post it. ... Thanks for your thoughtful info on the new Homer translation! Will follow up. —Oh yes, your observations about the Le Puy route were most interesting and helpful I’m sure to others with an interest. Thank you for them. ... Need I say Paris is quite wonderful!
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, April, 2016
Frances: SJPP to Ponferrada April & October, 2017
Le Puy 2018/19
Hi Michael,
I simply want to say thank you for putting in the considerable thought and time to share q bit of your camino experience and observations. I have found it immensely helpful as I am on the fence whether to walk two or three weeks next Spring along the Norte or, perhaps, to get underway along the Chemin du Puy.
Again, thank you for your excellent post.
 

Martha Moreno

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
March 2017
oh my goodness - Your post makes me want to leave the United States for the Camino RIGHT NOW! It's impractical, of course, but your narrative was a joy to read both because of it's well-written content and the fantastic esprit that it exuded!!


Thank you . Merci Beaucoup de tout mon Coeur!




I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
 
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Den from Down Under

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy to Santiago
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
 

Glenshiro

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy - León, Camino Frances (2012 - 2019)
What resources (such as Brierly) do you recommend for walking from Le Puy?
I used a combination of Alison Raju's "The way of St James" (Cicerone books, a bit out of date on detail, but invaluable for background) and Miam Miam Dodo.
 

Den from Down Under

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy to Santiago
Hi
I walked from Le Puy to Conques from 17th August and walked in the very hot period, wasn't an issue as most of my walking is in summer in Australia. Met very few English speakers and walked mostly on my own. Loved the solitude, scenery, food and serenity. Definitely back next year to finish from Conques to Saint John, so found your epilogue well worth while to read.
 
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MacGlynn

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Plan to walk in April/May, 2016
What a great story/description! Did you pre-book accomodation, calling ahead each day or days? If so, how fluent would one have to be?
 

taozenqi

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances: Sept/Oct (2014)
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
Truly appreciate your experiences and direct communication. If you find the time , I would appreciate seeing your detailed Excel plan. As you mentioned. Probably will not adhere to it strictly, but use it as a rough outline/reference. ☯️
 

inmari

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy - Pamplona (2013)
El Camino de San Olav, Burgos - Covarrubias (2014)
Pamplona - SdC (2015)
In June 2013 I did the Via Podiensis, for the first time I waøked outside Norway, and it was breathtaking! I continued to Pamplona before I went home and reconnected with the Camino two years later (might as well do the Pyrenees when I had worked up my muscles in France). I didn't prepare very much for the walk, but did short days in the beginning - also because the weather at that time wasn't too good (wearing woolen underwear was almost a must the entire first week!). Via Podiensis was far from crowded in June, although we were more than 50 pilgrims attending the morning mass in the Le Puy Cathedral. I met a few people in the gîtes in the evenings, but I didn't socialize much due to my limited ability speaking French (I am a very good listener, though!).
The Spanish part of my 2013 walk was quite different - a lot of people from around the world seem to start in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, and both the walks and the evenings were quite different form Via Podiensis.
The July 2015 part of Camino Frances was HOT! A heat wave was covering most of Spain for weeks, and it wasn't until I reached Galicia that the temperature became more walking-friendly.
Do I miss the routes? Not sure. Will I ever return? Absolutely, but probably not by the same Camino - more likely El Norte. Have I turned into a pilgrim way of thinking and living? Absolutely, over the past 10 years I have walked several routes in Norwau and abroad, and I definitely will find other routes to walk.


I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
 

Paul nelson

Sauntering through life
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances-2015..Podiensis-2018
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago
. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
 

Paul nelson

Sauntering through life
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances-2015..Podiensis-2018
What a terrific review of your camino. We walked the CF in 2015 and just completed the Podiensis this Fall, including a nostalgic trip back over the Pyrenees again. Camino Francis is the mother of all caminos but I would never repeat it again, especially now with over 300,000 in 2017. It was a terrific virgin experience but to misquote Thomas Wolfe "you can't go home again."I would do Podiensis again for all the reasons that Michael mentioned, especially the beauty and solitude with a fond memory of the cuisine as well.Yet there are so many other routes in Spain and Franceand Norway to experience.Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.
 
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KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
Michael thanks for this wonderful account which I am sure many will find useful. I walked Le Puy to Santiago in 2008, and I have to say I was nodding in agreement through all of your writing. I also found the transition to Spain difficult- it really was like two quite different walks- and I think I had reached Leon(!) before I started to feel at home in Spain, without pining for France! However, in 2012 I returned for another walk- I walked for four weeks in France first, from Cluny to Conques, and then I had a two week break from walking. I then restarted in Pamplona and walked two sections of the Camino Frances, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it was because of the 'break' or maybe it was just that I was more relaxed about walking in Spain second time around, but it was great.
Margaret
 
Year of past OR future Camino
CF- Finisterre-Muxia 03/17; Camino SK 10/17; Norte 03/18; Ingles 11/18; Augusta 03/19
Truly appreciate your experiences and direct communication. If you find the time , I would appreciate seeing your detailed Excel plan. As you mentioned. Probably will not adhere to it strictly, but use it as a rough outline/reference. ☯️
A very interesting and thought provoking article, I am setting off on my 1st Camino in April 2018 Le Puy - Santiago, I know some of the Le Puy route having taken a few holidays in the Lot Valley. I'm interested in which route to take after SJPP, I prefer to walk alone as I enjoy the solitude, given time to think and you also see more wildlife on your own and do not have to try and keep pace with others, I'm happy to walk 40 km+ per day if needed but happier around the 30 km mark, I much prefer to be off the tarmac following paths. Having a few people to chat to over dinner would be nice but eating alone is also fine, I prefer smaller places to larger hostels. Would I be better taking GR10 from SJPP and then Camino Norte or sticking with the Camino Frances? any help would be most welcome. I'm 60 but fairly fit, I have walked 1,000 miles (1,600 km) in each of the past two years since retiring and I am experienced in walking in remote mountain areas.

Hi Jim, in the end did you walk Le Puy to Santiago and what Spanish Camino,did you decide on? I finished a very wet & solitary El Norte March 2018. I walked SJPDP to Santiago in March 2017. I too retired at 60 and walking is a way of life for me now. So much to see, some days when I’m walking my dog I think I should just keep going and see how far I get
 

Jim_Hyde

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Walked Le Puy - Navarrenx April/May 2018 Planning to walk RLS Trail & GR78 Carcassonne - SJPDP 2020
Hi Jim, in the end did you walk Le Puy to Santiago and what Spanish Camino,did you decide on? I finished a very wet & solitary El Norte March 2018. I walked SJPDP to Santiago in March 2017. I too retired at 60 and walking is a way of life for me now. So much to see, some days when I’m walking my dog I think I should just keep going and see how far I get

Hi Colette, I walked from Le Puy to Navarennx just short of SJPDP in 4 weeks, the accommodation ahead was filling up as it was a holiday weekend. I had already decided against going all the way to Santiago due to the crowds, I don't like walking in parades, also I was a little homesick. Enjoyed my walk immensely, the scenery and the people I met. I'm planning on doing another long walk next year, maybe the Robert Louis Stevenson trail, or the Cathars Trail or maybe the Brittany Coast Path. I'm still out walking locally most weeks, enjoy your walks, I need to get another dog, maybe after we are back from Botswana & Namibia in October.
 

Leadell

Canadian Company of PIlgrims
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances('13) VDLP ('16) Sanabres ('17) Portugues ('17) Podiensis ('18) Norte ('18) Mozarabe ('20)
Thank you for your fabulous "random thoughts", MichaelC. My partner and I plan to walk the Le Puy route in September/October, and this is exactly the read I needed to inspire me! Can't wait to experience it for myself!
 
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Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
I just returned from nearly a month of walking from Le Puy to Auvillar last week and I posted my recap of the experience, titled "I'm back home!" It was another amazing walk, although completely different from Spain.
 

Sagiberg

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
Michael,
Thanks for this lovely post . We are going to start from Le Puy on the second half of September. We wander if it is necessary to book in advance a place in the gites along the way?

Thank you:)
Sharon
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Currently; St Jean to Fisterra
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
I completed the Camino Frances on October 17, 2017 (from St. Jean) in just shy of 6 weeks. I also walked to Finestere and Muxia. The journey was life changing and I can't wait to go again. I'm planning Le Puy to Santiago in 2020. So, thank you for your post. It was extremely helpful. I'm 67 (now) and I travel solo. It helps me to know what I should do to prepare (French lessons!) and what I have to look forward to.
 

Pville

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy (Aug/Sept 2018)
CF (Sept 2017)
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different. ...

Michael, I just read your detailed review of your journey. Merci beaucoup! I arrive in Le Puy on Aug 9, bound for SJPdP. If my experience is half what yours was, it will be fabulous. Thank you for the encouragement!
 

Ângela Massa

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le-Puy + CF (2020)
hi! See my attached files please.
All I read is about doing Figeac-->Béduer-->Cajarc-->Vaylats-->Cahors...
what you recommend is Figeac-->Béduer-->Vallée du Célé--> Cahors, right?
it is this alternative path really well marked? In your opinion, a smartphone with GPS is enough? (and with all the "homework" done). Also want to know if you think that the Le-Puy route to SJPdP is ok and safe to do "alone"?
Last question: do you recommend learn some french?
 

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BlackRocker57

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy route 2014; Le Puy route continuation 2016; Le Puy route 2017; Le Puy route 2019 [incl. Célé]
Hi Angela! Just very quickly, in response to your questions, my answers are Yes! Yes! and Yes! The Célé route is beautiful and unmissable imho ... I have recently walked that Way for the third time :) I also walked the traditional route this year : enjoyed that too BUT the scenery on the Célé is more dramatic ... and there is the wonderful Pech Merle cave at Cabrerets and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie village. No problems regarding safety ... unless you walk well out of season you will never be alone ...

Definitely recommend learning some french even if just the niceties i.e. polite expressions. Célé route is very well waymarked ... it is a GR so it it maintained by local volunteers ...
 

Sagiberg

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
Hi Angela,
We just came from our second part on Le puy way . We went through the cele valley and loved it. You might find the details in our blog helpful( I haven't written all the days yet but most of it is done).

I think that it is safe to walk alone and we met many single women on the way
Sharon
 

Ângela Massa

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le-Puy + CF (2020)
Hi Angela! Just very quickly, in response to your questions, my answers are Yes! Yes! and Yes! The Célé route is beautiful and unmissable imho ... I have recently walked that Way for the third time :) I also walked the traditional route this year : enjoyed that too BUT the scenery on the Célé is more dramatic ... and there is the wonderful Pech Merle cave at Cabrerets and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie village. No problems regarding safety ... unless you walk well out of season you will never be alone ...

Definitely recommend learning some french even if just the niceties i.e. polite expressions. Célé route is very well waymarked ... it is a GR so it it maintained by local volunteers ...
Thank you very much! Those places are nice!! The village is unbreathing. I am planning everything, and I have 1 year yet to do it, I'm open to any suggestion
Yes is an alternative path, Célé is GR651.. I think.
 

Ângela Massa

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le-Puy + CF (2020)
Hi Angela,
We just came from our second part on Le puy way . We went through the cele valley and loved it. You might find the details in our blog helpful( I haven't written all the days yet but most of it is done).

I think that it is safe to walk alone and we met many single women on the way
Sharon
Nice! I will check frequently your blog
Oki, now I just have to convince my friends and specially family about that 😅
 

Ângela Massa

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le-Puy + CF (2020)
Hi Angela! Just very quickly, in response to your questions, my answers are Yes! Yes! and Yes! The Célé route is beautiful and unmissable imho ... I have recently walked that Way for the third time :) I also walked the traditional route this year : enjoyed that too BUT the scenery on the Célé is more dramatic ... and there is the wonderful Pech Merle cave at Cabrerets and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie village. No problems regarding safety ... unless you walk well out of season you will never be alone ...

Definitely recommend learning some french even if just the niceties i.e. polite expressions. Célé route is very well waymarked ... it is a GR so it it maintained by local volunteers ...
Sorry to bother you again. Do you have any recommendation of place do stay at night in Vallée du Célé?
 
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BlackRocker57

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy route 2014; Le Puy route continuation 2016; Le Puy route 2017; Le Puy route 2019 [incl. Célé]
Sorry to bother you again. Do you have any recommendation of place do stay at night in Vallée du Célé?
Bonjour Angela! I can give you lots of recommendations, no problem BUT please tell me : what style of accommodation do you prefer? how much do you want to pay € per night?? I am in France now : I will send to you when I arrive home in Australia in two weeks ... okay??
 

Ângela Massa

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le-Puy + CF (2020)
Bonjour Angela! I can give you lots of recommendations, no problem BUT please tell me : what style of accommodation do you prefer? how much do you want to pay € per night?? I am in France now : I will send to you when I arrive home in Australia in two weeks ... okay??
yes, ofc. When you arrive we talk walk, I also have another doubts
Good travel back home
 

BlackRocker57

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy route 2014; Le Puy route continuation 2016; Le Puy route 2017; Le Puy route 2019 [incl. Célé]
yes, ofc. When you arrive we talk walk, I also have another doubts
Good travel back home

Bonjour Angela! I am back home now and very happy to answer your questions 😊 Please feel free to contact me by PM ... kind and best regards, BR
 

ShellyAnn

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Planning to walk Le Puy in March (2020)
Exceptional summary! Exactly the kid of information I was looking for. Thank you for posting
 

lunna

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
frances; lisboa-muxia; norte+bayonne; vdlp; le puy; voie d'arles+aragones; geneva to ales
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
A nice write up - I would just suggest, in response to your question "Where to Start?" by saying - in Geneva, as the walk from there to Le Puy is absolutely stunning, and amazingly, very little used by the French or indeed, others as well (the majority of the very few walkers on this portion of the route are from Switzerland, Germany and Austria). This walk is a hidden gem, exceptionally well marked, and great preparation for the Via Podiensis (or to the Stevenson/Regordane).
 
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David Scutts

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2016
A nice write up - I would just suggest, in response to your question "Where to Start?" by saying - in Geneva, as the walk from there to Le Puy is absolutely stunning, and amazingly, very little used by the French or indeed, others as well (the majority of the very few walkers on this portion of the route are from Switzerland, Germany and Austria). This walk is a hidden gem, exceptionally well marked, and great preparation for the Via Podiensis (or to the Stevenson/Regordane).
I want to do the walk from Geneva to le Puy - can you or anyone point me in the right direction regarding route plus accommodation etc

thanks in advance
David
 

Lexicos

Jimmy
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
I'm glad you posted this Michael. I've often wondered if it's a good idea to start at Le Puy. Obviously it is. I'm convinced. I was planning to start at SJPDP next time but you've just changed my mind. Thanks.
 

BlackRocker57

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy route 2014; Le Puy route continuation 2016; Le Puy route 2017; Le Puy route 2019 [incl. Célé]
I want to do the walk from Geneva to le Puy - can you or anyone point me in the right direction regarding route plus accommodation etc

thanks in advance
David
Bonjour David,
There’s an excellent and comprehensive guide to the «Via Gebennensis» aka the GR65 from Geneva to Le Puy published by the «Association Rhône-Alpes des Amis de Saint-Jaques» or Friends of Saint-James ...

it is a volunteer organisation that seeks to advise / assist and encourage pilgrims on this path and other variants that cross the region ...

you can buy the guide [Guide Jaune 2020–21] from their excellent website boutique at : <https://boutique.amis-st-jacques.org/achat-guides/> ... they have a number of options for delivery depending on where you live ...

I recommend this guide unreservedly 😊 A particular feature of this guide is the comprehensive listing of «accueil jacquaire» accommodations in private homes.
 

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BombayBill

Still Learning
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
I did Le Puy via the Cele to Pamplona. You captured my feelings exactly. After the very careful and polite theatre of the French communal table I was shocked by the boisterous Spanish version.
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
2022
It's so nice to see talk of Caminos starting back up in earnest. I had planned to walk SJPdP to SDC last spring, 2020, but, of course, all was stopped. Now, I'm back on for starting next spring, 2022. Since I've done SJPdP to SDC and Lourdes to SDC, I was trying to come up with another moderately challenging Camino. This might be it. I'm OLDer, but wiser, and if my body can keep up, my head and heart are ready. I think about the Camino every day. The obsession has restarted.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances (2017), Primitivo (2019)
I recently finished walking from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (August 21 to October 31). It was absolutely amazing ... and I'll probably be posting my thoughts and reflections a lot over the coming months. For now, I'll just focus on some practical advice for those planning a camino in 2018, and try to answer some of those questions that we see over and over. Sometimes my experiences and opinions match the majority opinion; sometimes they are going to be quite different.

Days 1 - 11: Le Puy to Conques. This alone would have been one of the more incredible experiences I've had. It was challenging, but not so hard that my body felt wrecked. It was non-stop beauty the whole way, and we passed through intact medieval villages, isolated farm settlements, the the Aubrac highlands. The people were friendly, the food incredible, and the weather was mostly perfect at the end of August. Mostly - there was a heat wave that passed over for a few days, and temperatures hit a brutal 36 celsius / 96 fahrenheit on the Aubrac.

Thoughts

All my pre-Camino anxiety melted away within the first hour of walking.

When people ask where to start, the answer for me is easy. Start in Le Puy. The only caveats I would add are:
- Because it is more rugged, it would be more challenging for those with knee or hip problems.
- You should also be comfortable being in an environment where the dominant language is French.
- You should be comfortable walking on your own, without a 'camino family' by your side. I met great people every night in the gîtes, and there was a genuine sense of community, but most people walk at their own pace. I didn't see any 'families' forming in the same way I did in Spain.

A lot of people do this section in nine or ten days. I am very glad that I started off slow; I didn't have my first 20 km-day until the fourth day of walking.

Days 11 - 22: Conques to Moissac (including the Vallée du Célé). Amazingly, this was even more beautiful than the first part. The crowds thinned out as we moved into September. This was the first big transition, as a lot of people ended their Camino for the season, while new people started walking. Most people took the direct route from Figeac to Cahors, skipping the Célé. There were sections where I only saw two or three people all day. And the food was ridiculous: I had confit du canard three nights one week! We started to joke that this should be renamed the chemin culinaire.

Days 23 - 30: Moissac to Aire sur l'Adour. More stunning landscapes. More historic towns. More great food. One of the nicer things about the Le Puy route is how intact the cultural regions are in France. Every couple days we'd enter a new valley with new food, new architecture, and new accents.

Days 31 - 37: Aire sur l'Adour to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On clear days you could see the wall of the Pyrenees, getting closer and closer every morning. This was, by far, the highlight of this section. The walking was much easier. There was less sense of history, as a lot of the area had been malaria-filled wetlands until recently. The Pays Basque were beautiful, though the trail followed roads more than at any point so far. I missed the meandering trails of the earlier stages. This was also the stage where we saw the first large groups; this made finding accommodation tricky for the first time since the first couple days.

Thoughts

I was worried that I'd be physically, mentally, and emotionally spent by the time I reached Saint Jean. Not even close. I had absolutely zero desire to stop walking. I was ready for a change from the Le Puy route, but not even close to being ready for it to end.

I wouldn't skip anything, but ... if you were absolutely short on time then this would be the place to cut out some days.

There were some variations in this section. In theory you can connect from the Via Podiensis to Saint Palais to the Camino del Norte. However, I've since heard that this section isn't well marked. I met others who went south to Lourdes, and from there connected to the Arles route and then crossed the Pyrenees at Somport. I don't know the exact route they took, or at what point they left the Le Puy route. I can tell you that they loved it, though!

*** I'd strongly recommend that those only walking the Francés give some serious thought to starting in one of the Pays Basque towns like Navarrenx. This will give you three days to warm up your body before the big climb. More importantly, it will give you three days to think about all the things in your backpack that you want to ditch; you'll have a lighter pack for the big climb.

*** Saint Jean is almost completely geared towards people starting their Camino, not ending. I don't know if I would have felt a sense of closure if I ended here. For those only walking the Le Puy route, I'd recommend crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Roncesvalles, or even Pamplona. It's only a few more days!


Day 38 - 40: Saint Jean to Larrasoaña. Even after five weeks of walking the crossing from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles was a hard day! The main difference I noticed is that, at this point, I knew my own pace. I knew that I could take lots of breaks, and relax when I wanted, and that I would still get to Roncesvalles in time. So even though it was physically hard, I think it was much less mentally stressful for me than for the new walkers.

And it was stunningly beautiful. We lucked out with the weather. I crossed the pass on September 28, and it was a warm day with blue skies. There was a lot of wind towards the top, but even that just helped to keep us cool

I liked the energy of all the new people on the trail, I liked being able to speak English again, and I loved the complete change in scenery as we passed into Spain. For the first two days I loved Francés.

That would end soon. For the record (spoiler alert), I'm glad I walked it and did love it later, but it was a rough transition.

Days 41-47: Larrasoaña to Nájera. In Le Puy I noticed that some camino veterans (no one on this forum!) were having trouble adjusting to the culture on the Via Podiensis. They were trying to walk the CF in France, rather than accepting it on it's own terms. I told myself that I wouldn't do the same thing, that I would accept the CF for what it was and not try to walk the Via Podiensis in Spain. And yet that's exactly what I did.

Before I start grumbling, there were things I liked right off the bat. I loved the social vibe, and all the people I met while walking. The coffee was better. I liked that there were more supply stops along the way, and that I didn't need to carry extra kilos of food. I never got tired of empanadas and the tortillas, and miss them now that I'm home.

But something was off, and the more I walked the more I felt that something was broken. Part of it was the route itself: there were too many roads for my taste, and too many suburbs and industrial areas. I missed walking in nature, and for the first time started walking with my headphones on to drown out the sound of the trucks and cars. The harvest had just happened, so we didn't even have the vegetation to buffer us from the nearby autoroutes. And, surprisingly, towns like Pamplona and Logroño took me out of the spirit of camino. I usually love urban areas, and did not see this coming.

And some of it, I think, was a result of having so may pilgrims pass through this past summer. A lot of the locals I interacted with seemed burned out, as if they were just over the whole thing. And most gravely, the connection between hospitalero and pilgrim seemed broken. In France the patrons of the gîtes were in an integral part of the community. You'd spend a half hour drinking menthe à l'eau with them in the kitchen before you checked in; in half the gîtes you ate at the same table as the patron and his or her family; and after dinner you'd struggle to keep your eyes open while everyone drank herbal tea (or armagnac if you were lucky) and gossiped into the night.

In contrast, a common hospitalero welcome in La Rioja and Navarre was, in it's entirety, "Hola. Credencial? 10 Euro. Your room is upstairs." The donativos and municipal albergues had wonderful volunteers, but they often seemed so overwhelmed taking care of pilgrims' needs that they didn't have time to just relax and drink tea with us.

I didn't realize how much the hospitaleros were part of the 'camino family' until I had lost them. And while I might grumble about the roads, or the pilgrims' meals, or any of a number of things, this ... this feels like a critical issue.

For about a week I felt like I was on the 'camino express,' a pre-packaged commodified experience, and I was having a hard time fighting my way out of it.

I did not want to end my Camino in any way shape or form. I just wanted a different one, and made plans to jump on to another route once I hit Burgos. I wasn't alone; I know of at least four groups that went north to Santander and the Norte, or just bussed ahead to Sarria.

Days 48-57: Nájera to Sahagún. I slowly started to warm to the Frances after the first week. The volunteers at the albergue in Grañón worked hard to create a community, which was nice antidote to the sometime insular 'camino families' that had formed. The bar owner in Villambístia was the first hospitalero in Spain to agree to only speak to me in Spanish (no one else had the time or the patience), and cooked us a great homemade meal. In Burgos I stayed at a hostal across the river, and ate at a non-pilgrim bar ... and felt more like a pilgrim than in any of the pilgrim-oriented places.

And then I entered the meseta, and it was beautiful. This was the only time where I'd actually get up and walk before the sun was up, just to be able to watch the colors change as the day progressed.

There was still occasional weirdness, to be sure. I thought one hospitalero was mute, as he didn't even respond to 'buenas dias' or 'hola.' He stamped our credencials in total silence. Turns out he could speak fine, he was just rude. Three times one night I had people break off a conversation, and leave me alone to go join their own camino families. That would have given me a complex, except that it never happened before or after.

I was short on time, so took an evening train from Sahagún to León. Even though I liked the meseta, I have no regrets about skipping the last two stages.

Days 58-72: León to Santiago. I enjoyed the previous section, but it wasn't until this final two weeks that I really felt the 'camino spirit' that others talk about. The camino-families had broken up and reformed and broken up again, people were much more relaxed and less stressed about trying to stick to the official Brierly stages, and I felt that there was a much stronger sense of overall community among everyone who was on the path. It helped that there were now far fewer people walking. We never had crowds or a bed race, even after Sarrià. This stretch was also the prettiest part of the Spanish camino, by far, and it was nice to be back in the hills again.

*** I had timed the walk to end just before All Saints' Day, Dia de todos los Santos. The vast majority of people I'd met from SJPP on were also trying to arrive on October 31 or November 1. This turned out to be an excellent time to end. So many of us had the same goal that it felt like a genuine reunion in Santiago of all the people (or most of them) I had met over the past month. I'm not sure if I would have had the same experience if I had arrived on a random Monday. If you're walking in the fall, I'd highly recommend trying to end at the same time!

Thoughts

I wasn't ready to end when I reached Saint Jean, but I was done after the mass on November 1 in Santiago. Not in a bad way, but more that I had a feeling of closure, of completeness. I really didn't feel the need to continue to Fisterra. At least, not this round! In part, I think it was because I had already had lots of quiet time on the trail in France. I got the sense that the final, more quiet, walk to the coast was far more important to those that had started in Saint Jean and had always been surrounded by other pilgrims.

Despite all my grumbling above, Camino Francés is the iconic camino. It's the one common reference point most of us have. I'd still recommend it as a first camino, although I doubt I would ever walk it again myself.

I am, however, already looking at future caminos along other routes ...

Advice on Planning

Online you would think that everyone is winging it on the Camino Francés, and is just taking each day is it comes without planning ahead. Yeah. In my experience 95% of the people followed the stages in their guidebook. There are far fewer free spirits than you’d think. There were amazingly few of us who stayed some of the non-Brierly stops. Some nights in Galicia there were only between three and five of us in town.

I'm a fan of planning. I think it makes the way easier, especially when it comes to hills. I'd generally try to time it so that I spent the night at the bottom of a big hill, and then climb it in the morning when I was fresh and strong. I guarantee you that I suffered less than the people who faced a long climb after a long day of walking!

I had an excel spreadsheet with stages marked out. I ended up not following it, but it was nice to have benchmarks. I would at least know when I was ahead or behind my estimated schedule, and this helped a lot.

I stayed in a few hostals along the way, and it was nice to have a private room and bathroom once in awhile. I didn't even think about casa rurales, but I think a few of those would have been a wonderful treat.

********************

Myth Busting

The Le Puy route is harder than the Francés. Yes and no. Physically it is much harder. It's a real trail, and can be rugged. It seems to constantly be going either up or down. My muscles were often sore at the end of the day. This was compensated for by the sheer beauty of the route, and the genuine warmth we felt at the gites at the end of the day. Muscles can recover, though, and get stronger. I found a lot of the road walking in Spain to be more of a wear on my body over the long term, especially on the feet and joints. These don't recover in the same way that muscles do. On some days in Spain the cars, suburbs, dusty fields, and indifferent hospitaleros were much more mentally draining.

The Le Puy route is more expensive than the Francés. Again, yes and no. France doesn't have the budget options that Spain does. It will cost more, definitely. However, I found that Le Puy was far more value per euro. 35 euro gets a single bed, a five course meal fresh from the farm, and a breakfast with fresh bread and homemade jams. I have no idea what that would cost in Spain; I think you'd have to stay in the more expensive casa rurales to got the same experience.

The Le Puy route is less spiritual than the Francés. No way. It's different, to be sure. It's more personal; I don't ever recall discussing spirituality or religion at the table in France. But every chapel along the way is unlocked, and a lot of pilgrims would stop at each one to reflect and pray. It's a quieter spirituality than you find in Spain.

The Francés is more social than the Le Puy route. Sort of. There were more nights of cooking together and drinking, and a lot more people forming tight groups and friendships. That was fun. But this can be isolating, too. In France I never ate alone; everyone always ate at the same table. In Spain there wasn't a bed race, but there was definitely a kitchen race, and if you arrived late (I like walking in the late afternoons) you will arrive after the camino-families have formed their dinner plans. I ate alone close to 1/4 of the nights.

********************

For those who don't have the time to walk for a month or more, I think that ten to twelve days would still make for an amazing experience. For myself, I don't think anything less would have felt 'complete.' A week just wouldn't have been long enough to feel fully immersed. With that, my recommendations for the best 'short caminos' would be:

- Le Puy to Conques.
- León or Astorga to Santiago.
- Conques to Moissac, via the Vallée du Célé. So pretty. So amazingly pretty.
- Cahors to Aire sur l'Adour

The first three begin and end in a historically important cathedral town, which offer a nice framework for a camino.

********************

More posts to come!
Excellent and comprehensive post Michael. If I had more time and this virus wasn’t a game changer, I would walk the Le Puy to SJPP and keep right on going to Santiago, via the Invierno on the final section. As I have a month, I think it may be Le Puy to the middle of your second section and then onto the Invierno... i hope October is a good time to do this! REALLY looking forward to walking through a medieval, rural , French landscape - and the dining appeals mightily as well
 

Debora

Beautiful Burgos
Year of past OR future Camino
SJPdP to Santiago May (2016)
SJPdP to Belorado May (2019)
Excellent and comprehensive post Michael. If I had more time and this virus wasn’t a game changer, I would walk the Le Puy to SJPP and keep right on going to Santiago, via the Invierno on the final section. As I have a month, I think it may be Le Puy to the middle of your second section and then onto the Invierno... i hope October is a good time to do this! REALLY looking forward to walking through a medieval, rural , French landscape - and the dining appeals mightily as well
Richmond - Is the Le Puy to SJPP a safe walk for a woman on her own?
 
Original artwork based on your pilgrimage or other travel photos.
Peaceable Projects Inc.
Peaceable Projects Inc. is a U.S.-based non-profit group that brings the vast resources of the wide world together with the ongoing needs of the people who live, work, and travel on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail network in Spain.

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