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To all pilgrims who have walked in France

thetimman

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Inglés, March 2018
#1
I am setting aside the time to walk another Camino. I have walked the Inglés first, due to time constraints, and now want to walk the Francés. But I want to start from France, about a month out or so from St. Jean. Can set aside 65-70 days. Therefore, the choice boils down to starting from Le Puy, Vezelay, or Arles. I can think of reasons for starting from each. I also have religious and historical reasons for each. So, pilgrims who have walked in France, which would you choose and why?
 

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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015); Camino Norte/Primitivo (2016); Camino Frances (2017); Le Puy (June 2018)
#3
I recently walked the Le Puy route. It is the most popular walk I think of the three you mentioned. I totally loved it, yet it is quite difficult. There are far less pilgrims than on the famous Frances route, yet I hear there is more companionship on the Le Puy compared to the Arles and Vezelay routes, if that would be a concern for you. I took the Cele variant and it was incredible, yet saw only a few pilgrims walking that section. France is a beautiful country with great architecture, whichever route you choose!
 
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JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#4
If I had to follow one of the major routes, from somewhere where I don't live, I'd choose the Vézelay.

The Basilica at Vézelay has remained the purest to its origins, from the religious perspective, and the Vézelay Way is quieter, gentler, easier than the others (though the route from Paris, Chartres, Orléans and/or Tours is hardly a difficult one either, but it can be harsh in other ways), perfectly scenic, and the heartlands of France that it goes through are perhaps more representative of the country as a whole than you'd find on the more southerly Ways. It's a good Camino to keep a fast pace along, if that's a factor.

Though the Arles Way, particularly if you take the Piedmont via Lourdes instead of the typical Way up through Toulouse, is perhaps a smidgeon more religiously-oriented.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Past? Not enough.
Future? Sure!
#5
I'm not neutral, as I already walked twice from Vézelay;)
But I still recommend it: few up and down, very quite, locals are very helpful...
One point: Vézelay to Santiago is roughly 1700 km, so it can be tough in 70 days.

Buen Camino, Jacques-D.
 

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caminka

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
#7
having walked arles, le puy and piedmont (at least from le mas d'azil), it's a tough choice you are asking.

arles has some really nice scenery in the first part, a flat section around toulouse, gentle hills and the lovely valley at the end. I would've been mostly solo, except I happened to coincide with a group of really cool teachers for a week. people were nice, with an odd exception in angles.

le puy had perhaps the best mix of cultural, natural and 'companional'. it's the most busy, there's some stunning scenery (I too took the cele variant, and some others), people were friendly (some amazing), and I was meeting with the same pilgrims regularly. I would venture that le puy has the most cultural sites, if you are into that.

piedmont was the most mountaneous and had the most solitude (I haven't met a single pilgrim till lourdes) - this means I loved it -, with some truly amazing poeple.

but no matter which one you choose, I'm sure you'll have a great time.
 

Glenshiro

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy - Burgos, Camino Frances (2012 - 2018)
#8
I have only walked the Le Puy route in France. It is scenically beautiful, and correspondingly hard going in places, but nothing a reasonably fit person can't tackle, and the effort is rewarding. Although busy by comparison with other French routes, it is very quiet compared with the CF and you should be prepared for more or less complete solitude during the day, with companionable, though (usually) mainly French-speaking fellow walkers in the evening. There are many religious sites on the Chemin, as it is called in France. The food is excellent!

Avoid French holiday periods if possible, as the gites can be fully booked.

Le Puy to SdC is 1500km, so it is doable in 70 days, but most people would recommend the occasional rest day!

An excellent guide is Alison Raju's The Way of Saint James, Le Puy to the Pyrenees, which is especially good on the cultural, historical and religious backgrounds to the Chemin.
 
Camino(s) past & future
please see signature
#9
@thetimman , an interesting question

I have only walked from Le Puy. That was in April 2016, and it was my first major multi-day trip in many decades.

Before I left home I was nervous about my ability and about language.

The latter partly resolved itself in the train down from Charles de Gaulle. In the seat next to me was a French mid-wife who spoke excellent English - a very enjoyable two hours. And that experience continued over the next four weeks, regardless of whether it was French, German, Italian or Swiss nationals I encountered. And the one exception was totally resolved by a translation app on my tablet.

As to the route. I enjoyed it more than the Frances in Spain. None of the hills worried me as I had included elevation gain in my training. Except for the mountain goat climb up a slippery outcrop an hour or so after Espalion. After a while I tended to walk the roads rather than a path that seemed, like those where I live, to be made "interesting".

And it was companionable. I stuck out as I was much older than most, but found other pilgrims always ready to include me at the table, whether self catering at municipal gite or shared meals at a privately owned one. And the first person I met about an hour out of Le Puy I encountered often at gite over the next three weeks and was the last pilgrim I spoke with at Burgos as I was going to the bus station to 'retire hurt' from a temporary injury received on the descent from Alto del Perdon.

And I found more churches and chapels open than on the Frances: in a number of cases with a weekday/Sunday missal open at the relevant page for the day.

Hope one day to read noy only which you chose, but a summary of your experiences.

@thetimman , kia kaha (you take care, be strong, get going)
 

SYates

Camino Fossil AD 1999
Camino(s) past & future
First: Camino Francés 1999
...
Last: Camino Inglés 2018

Now: http://egeria.house/
#10
Arles, without any doubt ;-)

Bon Chemin, SY
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances: Sarria to Santiago ( Sept 2013)
Via Podiensis: Sept/Oct 2014 - 2017
Upcoming: Arles (2018)
#12
Le Puy because if you are new to this, it is the most traveled, the most supported, and best-waymarked. It is also beautiful. I would take the Célé Valley variant to extend the fantastic Aubrac experience a little further. Ultreïa and bon chemin!
1534598014964.jpeg
 
Camino(s) past & future
Francesx2, Le Puy, Primitivo,Mozarabe,Arles,Norte to Bilbao,Rota Vicentina,Porto to SdeC,Stevenson
#13
Hi Tinman. Spoilt for choice and each will have its own challenges and rewards. As above replies show, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, for what it’s worth, this was my experience, noting that things may have changed since I walked these routes.

I walked Le Puy in April 2014 and Arles in April 2016, and then Aragonés to Obanas, where it connects to the Frances. Both Le Puy and Arles Way are beautiful walks - le Puy more challenging terrain, at least first 10 days. We met far far fewer people on the Arles Way and almost all we met were French. So if you speak little or no French, and / or are concerned about not having sufficient company, you might prefer Le Puy. You will likely find more English speakers on the Le Puy.

Bon Chemin, Buen camino.
Jenny
 

thetimman

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Inglés, March 2018
#14
Merci to everyone who replied! I will certainly check back in here when the route is chosen and taken. I’m hoping for June— I suppose waiting too late in the Fall brings dicey weather into play? Anyone who has walked these routes, is Fall walking too chancy? Starting Sept, or Oct?
 

Rowena

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015), Chemin de Saint Jacques (2016), Geneva Way (2017), Camino Portuguese (2018)
#15
I walked from Le Puy to St Jean in 2016 and the following year from Geneva to Le Puy, both times in September. The weather tended to be on the cool side both times. I did find though that pilgrim accommodations and cafés were starting to close so I wouldn’t advise waiting until October.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances: Sarria to Santiago ( Sept 2013)
Via Podiensis: Sept/Oct 2014 - 2017
Upcoming: Arles (2018)
#16
Le Puy is fine in September--one of the busiest months, and is great in October except some of the gîtes start to close after the first week (of October). If you don't mind walking a few extra kilometers or staying in more expensive places, walking later in October is fine--I loved it. 19989479_1523993867664674_7350708883069048763_n.jpg Occasionally there is a heat wave in September and afternoon walking can be warm.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#18
They're all beautiful, each in their own way. Mostly, Le Puy probably has more ruggedness to its character than the others.
I should probably elaborate by means of comparison.

The Paris/Chartres/Orléans/Tours Way is characterised by the wide swathes of flatlands and fields and forests and gentle hills and agricultural beauty that it cuts through, which can be quite spectacular indeed in the vibrancy of colour and the clearness of light that can arise in those regions, whilst also being -- from a hiker's/pilgrim's perspective -- the easiest and the fastest of the major routes to the Pyrenees, the only seriously major geographical obstacle to take into account being the Gironde/Garonne river system. No O Cebreiros on that route, but quite a few 30K+ stretches of nothing but fields or forest 'til the next watering hole. Food is also very good, if a bit standard bourgeois French, and if you correct your course properly, the spiritual & religious aspects of that Way are quite meseta-like in their depth and purpose. Approaching, nearing, entering, then praying and sleeping at Chartres in particular is a matter of humble majesty.

The Vézelay is a kind of smorgasbord of all of the other French Ways -- its gentle and hillier sections from Burgundy through the northern foothills of the Massif Central are as the Tours Way, with perhaps more engaged hiking, but less opportunity for meditative spirituality. It's rockier sections are muted, not violent nor hateful towards your knees. Food, cheese, and wine also much better, obviously. But it has not the escarpments of the more southerly ways either, for even the passage through the Dordogne is more moving feast than daily hiking plan. It's the Way of choice for the more fleshy-minded among we pilgrims, who like something perhaps not too harsh, but challenging enough ; same distances and hiking, but all facilities and mod cons to get into it more gently and at leisure ; happy for all budgets from the el cheapo up to the full tourigrino 5-star package ; and you get to see Burgundy, the Loire valley, the fat Dordogne, down through the Gers, and more vineyards than stamp-places on the blankest of your credenciales.

Le Puy I'll simply leave to the fine descriptions of others elsewhere.

The Arles is basically just the South of France route. Mediterranean diet, hills, valleys, mountains, plains, deserts, forests, fields, vineyards, villages, mountains, lakes, cities, superficial and cheeky southern French with a twinkle in their eye and a sing-song accent, the rougher southern wines and their equally silly cheeses and peasant fare, all lashed down with gallons of olive oil and dodgy apéritifs, dead serious involved discussions about the silliest and most frivolous matters, and no, they won't really give a fig that you're a pilgrim either, though they will also gladly give you figs galore to feed your belly with, and happily give you and your mad quest the best help they can give along the Way.

The Piedmont is fundamentally a more rural, more mountainous, more solitary, not necessarily more difficult (it's a lot rougher, but also much shorter), more Catholic, more solitary, less superficially friendly, cleaner-aired, often frustrating but equally often most pilgrim-like variant of the Arles. (it is the oldest of the Ways through France, as it is the traditional Camino from Navarra and beyond to Rome, older than the discovery of the Apostle's remains at Compostela) It has the beauty, particularly as you begin to approach Lourdes, of its gradual transition from pure hiking concerns towards the more spiritual, then religious, then Christian, then very powerfully Catholic as you reach Lourdes and walk beyond, a Pilgrimage in its full merits, and yet still within your pilgrimage on the Way of Saint James. Arles Way cheekiness also, but with a certain mountain-people's thoughtfulness perhaps not encountered elsewhere at length.

---

But, all things being equal (which obviously they aren't), I'd still always recommend the Vézelay. It's as much North and South, material and spiritual, deeply beautiful and hikingly easier, and really is just a general combination of the qualities of the others.

But if you are looking for a less messy Camino, in whichever way, all the others are wonderful in their own purposes and beauties.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015); Camino Norte/Primitivo (2016); Camino Frances (2017); Le Puy (June 2018)
#19
Wow, Jabba! What a fantastic, descriptive narrative. You paint a wonderful picture of each of those French routes.

Although you chose not to write about the Le Puy as there is much more info on the this route, I would still love to hear what would be another eloquently written post on by you. Having just walked it in June, I'm sure your words would bring me right back to my many memories of that incredible route!
 
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thetimman

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Inglés, March 2018
#21
I should probably elaborate by means of comparison.

The Paris/Chartres/Orléans/Tours Way is characterised by the wide swathes of flatlands and fields and forests and gentle hills and agricultural beauty that it cuts through, which can be quite spectacular indeed in the vibrancy of colour and the clearness of light that can arise in those regions, whilst also being -- from a hiker's/pilgrim's perspective -- the easiest and the fastest of the major routes to the Pyrenees, the only seriously major geographical obstacle to take into account being the Gironde/Garonne river system. No O Cebreiros on that route, but quite a few 30K+ stretches of nothing but fields or forest 'til the next watering hole. Food is also very good, if a bit standard bourgeois French, and if you correct your course properly, the spiritual & religious aspects of that Way are quite meseta-like in their depth and purpose. Approaching, nearing, entering, then praying and sleeping at Chartres in particular is a matter of humble majesty.

The Vézelay is a kind of smorgasbord of all of the other French Ways -- its gentle and hillier sections from Burgundy through the northern foothills of the Massif Central are as the Tours Way, with perhaps more engaged hiking, but less opportunity for meditative spirituality. It's rockier sections are muted, not violent nor hateful towards your knees. Food, cheese, and wine also much better, obviously. But it has not the escarpments of the more southerly ways either, for even the passage through the Dordogne is more moving feast than daily hiking plan. It's the Way of choice for the more fleshy-minded among we pilgrims, who like something perhaps not too harsh, but challenging enough ; same distances and hiking, but all facilities and mod cons to get into it more gently and at leisure ; happy for all budgets from the el cheapo up to the full tourigrino 5-star package ; and you get to see Burgundy, the Loire valley, the fat Dordogne, down through the Gers, and more vineyards than stamp-places on the blankest of your credenciales.

Le Puy I'll simply leave to the fine descriptions of others elsewhere.

The Arles is basically just the South of France route. Mediterranean diet, hills, valleys, mountains, plains, deserts, forests, fields, vineyards, villages, mountains, lakes, cities, superficial and cheeky southern French with a twinkle in their eye and a sing-song accent, the rougher southern wines and their equally silly cheeses and peasant fare, all lashed down with gallons of olive oil and dodgy apéritifs, dead serious involved discussions about the silliest and most frivolous matters, and no, they won't really give a fig that you're a pilgrim either, though they will also gladly give you figs galore to feed your belly with, and happily give you and your mad quest the best help they can give along the Way.

The Piedmont is fundamentally a more rural, more mountainous, more solitary, not necessarily more difficult (it's a lot rougher, but also much shorter), more Catholic, more solitary, less superficially friendly, cleaner-aired, often frustrating but equally often most pilgrim-like variant of the Arles. (it is the oldest of the Ways through France, as it is the traditional Camino from Navarra and beyond to Rome, older than the discovery of the Apostle's remains at Compostela) It has the beauty, particularly as you begin to approach Lourdes, of its gradual transition from pure hiking concerns towards the more spiritual, then religious, then Christian, then very powerfully Catholic as you reach Lourdes and walk beyond, a Pilgrimage in its full merits, and yet still within your pilgrimage on the Way of Saint James. Arles Way cheekiness also, but with a certain mountain-people's thoughtfulness perhaps not encountered elsewhere at length.

---

But, all things being equal (which obviously they aren't), I'd still always recommend the Vézelay. It's as much North and South, material and spiritual, deeply beautiful and hikingly easier, and really is just a general combination of the qualities of the others.

But if you are looking for a less messy Camino, in whichever way, all the others are wonderful in their own purposes and beauties.
Thank you so much for your kindness in that thoughtful, detailed description! I am very grateful for it, and my yearning to get going is intense!

Every time I think I‘ve settled on one, I think again. I may or may not have a companion on the way. My wife and I have travelled frequently to Europe, and though my French is strictly menu/polite conversational/basics, the language barrier doesn’t scare me. I speak rudimentary Spanish, and will simply look forward to that. Thanks again, and to everyone for their insights! Ultreia!
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#22
Although you chose not to write about the Le Puy as there is much more info on the this route, I would still love to hear what would be another eloquently written post on by you. Having just walked it in June, I'm sure your words would bring me right back to my many memories of that incredible route!
It's the one Way in France that I feel myself not competent to say anything about, sorry. I only write of what I know.
 

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