The Camino Francés, or The French Way, is the path that you think of when you think of the Camino de Santiago. If you think that the Camino has only one route, this is the route you’re thinking of.
Most pilgrims chose this route because of the opportunity to travel among the stunning scenery of northern Spain. They’ve also read about it in books and seen it featured in films.
Martin Sheen took the Camino Frances when he starred in the film directed by Emilio Estevez, ‘The Way.’ Shirley MacLaine wrote about it in her book ‘The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit‘
Travel through the streets of Pamplona, where the Festival of San Fermín (the running of the bulls) happens every year, Burgos, and Leon.
On the French side of the Border, pilgrims start in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port then move on to Logrono and Sarria.
You’ll get a little bit of everything on this route. You get amazing scenery, mountains, flat roads, cities and small towns.
The history of the route has something to do with it, too. Some believe that it’s the original pilgrimage route because it was mentioned in the Codex Calixtinus.
If you’re not familiar with the Codex Calixtinus, it’s the Book of St. James, written by Pope Callixtinus II in the 12th Century. Think of the Codex as the first guidebook of the Camino de Santiago.
It’s full of liturgies, miracles, and stories associated with St. James. It details how the body of St. James got to Santiago de Compostela and how pilgrims collected seashells along the Galician Coast.
Advantages of the Camino Francés
You certainly will get a variation of views along the Camino Francés. The French Way offers a little bit of everything.
You’ll see the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees, the amazing views of O Cebreiro. You’ll experience villages that haven’t changed much in hundreds of years and you’ll experience thriving cities. You’ll see nature close up in the vast fields and in the close wooded areas.
Along the Camino Francés, you’re going to experience France, and the amazing regions of Galicia, Cataluna, Castilla y Leon, and Basque Country. Each region has its own cuisine, so your pilgrimage can also serve as a Spanish food and culture tour.
Disadvantages of the Camino Francés
The major disadvantage of taking the Camino Francés to Santiago is the crowd. It’s not like you’re walking in a major city crowded, but if you’re looking for alone time on your journey, it will be hard to come by.
It can also be challenging to find accommodations. If you need a flexible schedule, finding rooms can be a challenge, particularly over the summer months.
The Camino Francés is one of the more challenging routes to take as you climb through the Pyrenees in France and then through the rugged terrain of Northern Spain.
How to Get To Camino Francés
There are so many popular routes to get to the Camino Francés. It depends on your starting point. Some pilgrims choose to go the entire Way, starting in France at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, while others start in Ponferrada for the last 100+ km of the journey.
There are a few ways to go about getting to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It really depends on where you’re coming from. Many pilgrims will come from Pamplona, in which case a bus can get you there.
It’s much easier to start from the northern side of the Pyrenees, coming from Biarritz or Paris. The train can get you there in either case.
To get to Ponferrada, you can get there via train or bus. Renfe operates trains to here from Santiago de Compostela, León, and Madrid. Buses are operated by Alsa from Oviedo, Madrid, Santiago de Compostela, and A Coruña,
Sarria, a small but densely populated town in Galicia is about 100km from Santiago. Many pilgrims will take this shorter route to get the Compostela Certificate.
You can get to Sarria by train from Barcelona or Madrid, with a connection in Lugo. You can also get to Sarria by bus. Monbús is the bus company that serves Sarria from Lugo and Santiago de Compostela.
You have a number of options to get to Somport, it all depends on what you want to experience before your journey. It’s not a straightforward journey to get to Somport.
From Madrid or Barcelona, you can take the AVE high-speed train to Zaragoza. You’ll then take the train to Canfrac in Huesca, which is just on the Spanish side of the border. From Canfrac, you’re pretty close to Somport and can take a bus across the border to Somport.
If you choose to go this way, get a window seat and be prepared for an absolutely gorgeous train ride.
Another option is to go to Pamplona and take the bus from Pamplona to Jaca. From Jaca, you can take the train or bus to Somport.