The French Route (or Camino Frances to Santiago)
In this article, we would like to give you our guide to the French Route on the Camino de Santiago (The Camino Frances). One of the most popular pilgrimage routes.
The itinerary known as the Camino Frances (also known as the French Route) is the one that unites Saint Jean Pied de Port and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It is the only pilgrim route that has been catalogued as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The French Route of the Camino de Santiago has always been one of the busiest itineraries, both in the Middle Ages and today. This fact is partly due to the fact that most of the pilgrim routes that come from Europe, crossing France, enter Spain following the Camino Frances, hence its name.
However, also the sections of the Camino de Santiago that cross the Iberian Peninsula end up joining the French Route, to reach the tomb of Santaigo the Apostle. The only ones which do not share stages with this route are: the Camino Ingles, as it comes from Ferrol, and the two routes that cross from Portugal.
If you are interested in any of the French routes, we would recommend the Camino de Santiago from Sarria. Just leave us your information and some details about the adventure you want to complete and we’ll organize the rest for you.
In this short guide on the Camino Frances to Santiago, we will talk about the characteristics of its stages, as well as its different variants and detours. Of course, we’ll also provide you with information on what to see and what to do on the French Route.
Guide to the stages on the Camino Frances
From Saint Pied de Port, France, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Camino Frances has a distance of 763.5 kilometres, through the interior of northern Spain. In our guide to the Camino de Santiago Frances we advise you to divide the route into 33 stages.
However, as we discussed in the article on stage planning for the Camino de Santiago, there are some factors to consider when planning your route. Check the article if you want to modify the distribution of stages that we propose in our guide on the Camino Frances.
Since the French Route on the Camino de Santiago is quite long, this post has been organized into sections. Below we talk about the main sections of the Camino Frances, as well as the most popular starting points.
From France to Pamplona
The first section of the Camino Frances is the one that unites the town of Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, with the city of Pamplona, in Spain. This section consists of three stages:
- Saint Jean Pied de Port – Roncesvalles (24 km)
- Roncesvalles – Zubiri (21 km)
- Zubiri – Pamplona (20 km)
These first three stages of the French route are only made by those pilgrims who are clear that they want to do the full tour. That is why this section of the Camino Frances is one of the quietest on this busy route.
However, many pilgrims, even if they plan to complete the entire Camino Frances, start the journey from Roncesvalles. The first stage on the Camino Frances, the one that crosses the border between France and Spain, is especially demanding.
Whether you start from France, or decide to start from Roncesvalles, the first Spanish town on this route, you will have the opportunity to enjoy excellent views over the Pyrenean mountain range. Another of the great milestones in this section of the Camino Frances is Pamplona, the capital of Navarra.
The city is internationally known for the San Fermin festival, which is celebrated every year during the first fortnight of July. However, the rest of the year the city of Pamplona provides pilgrims with a beautiful old town and excellent gastronomy.
Guide to the Camino Frances: from Pamplona to Logroño
The second section on the French Route of the Camino de Santiago is the one that unites the city of Pamplona, with the capital of La Rioja: Logroño. This section is 94 kilometres long and in our guide to the Camino Frances, we advise to divide it into 4 stages, as shown below:
- Pamplona – Puente la Reina (24 km)
- Puente la Reina – Estella (22 km)
- Estella – Los Arcos (21 km)
- Los Arcos – Logroño (27 km)
These stages are much simpler than the previous ones. The biggest challenge is the climb and descent of Alto del Perdón, at an altitude of 770 metres.
The unevenness is quite pronounced, but it is progressive. In exchange for your effort, Alto del Perdón offers excellent views over the city of Pamplona, The Pyrenees and the cereal fields that you will cross during the next stages.
Both Navarra and La Rioja are wine-growing areas, so this stretch on the Camino de Santiago is one of the favourites for wine lovers. It is during this section of the Camino Frances that is one of the best locations related to wine on the Camino de Santiago.
We refer to the Irache Fountain, located on the stage that links Estella with Los Arcos. From this fountain emanates wine and water throughout the day. According to the tradition on the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims must stop at it to toast happiness.
Linking to other Caminos
In Puente la Reina the Camino Frances joins the route that comes from Somport, following the Camino Aragones. This is another entry point of the European routes and one of the variants that can be followed by the pilgrims who have been doing the Catalan Camino de Santiago from Barcelona.
The section from Logroño to Burgos
120.1 kilometres separate Logroño from Burgos. In our guide to the Camino Frances, we suggest dividing this section into the following 5 stages:
- Logroño – Nájera (28 km)
- Nájera – Santo Domingo (22 km)
- Santo Domingo – Belorado (22 km)
- Belorado – San Juan de Ortega (23,7 km)
- San Juan de Ortega – Burgos (24,4 km)
The difficulty on these stages continues to decrease, as the plains of Castile become more and more present. Flat stages for pilgrims to regain their strength before entering Galician lands.
This section on the French Route of the Camino de Santiago is especially interesting because of the change that occurs in the landscape. The characteristic vineyards of La Rioja gradually give way to the golden fields of cereals that dominate the landscapes of Castile and León.
Throughout these 5 stages you will find various visits to places of interest, from medieval castles to monasteries. This entire section of the Camino Frances is dotted with charming little towns and villages.
One of the towns that arouses the greatest interest among pilgrims in this section of the Camino Frances is Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The church in this village is the only Christian temple in which animals live.
A rooster and a hen located in a niche of the church reminds all the parishioners that Santo Domingo de la Calzada was the setting for one of the most famous Jacobean miracles: the hen that sang after being roasted. If you want to know more details about this legend you can consult the article we dedicate to the legends of the Camino de Santiago.
This section ends in front of the Gothic cathedral of Burgos. One of the favourite places to begin the Camino Frances. So from here, you’ll find many more pilgrims along the way.
Guide to the Camino Frances from Burgos to León
The section of the Camino Frances that separates Burgos from León is the simplest on the route. The 178.7 km that separate one city from another are fundamentally flat and are characterized by the endless straights. In our guide to the Camino Frances, we advise to divide this part of the tour into 8 stages.
- Burgos – Hornillos del Camino (21 km)
- Hornillos del Camino – Castrojeriz (19,9 km)
- Castrojeriz – Frómista (24,7 km)
- Frómista – Carrión de los Condes (18,8 km)
- Carrión de los Condes – Terradillos de los Templarios (26,3 km)
- Terradillos de los Templarios – Bercianos del Real Camino (23,2 km)
- Bercianos del Real Camino – Mansilla de las Mulas (26,3 km)
- Mansilla de las Mulas – León (18,5 km)
In popular wisdom these stages are often referred to as “the psychological test” of the Camino de Santiago. The absence of shade, the long stretches, without intermediate locations, and the monotony of the landscape make it hard for some pilgrims on these stages especially on a psychological level.
Throughout these 8 stages, on the French Route of the Camino de Santiago, you will have the opportunity to visit charming villages such as Hornillos del Camino, cradle of the Network of Hospitaleros Voluntarios (Volunteer Hospitallers) or Carrión de Los Condes. Of course, a visit to the city of León is essential.
Linking to other Caminos
In León you will find the option to deviate onto the Camino del Salvador, to set course for Oviedo Cathedral. From there you can complete your pilgrimage to the tomb of Santiago the Apostle, following the Camino Primitivo.
The French Route from León to Ponferrada: stages
100.9 km separate the city of Leon from Ponferrada. In our guide to the Camino Frances, we propose to divide this section into 4 stages:
- León – San Martín del Camino (24,6 km)
- San Martín del Camino – Astorga (23,7 km)
- Astorga – Foncebadón (25,8 km)
- Foncebadón – Ponferrada (26,8 km)
In this section, the French Route of the Camino de Santiago leaves the flat routes of Castile to return to the mountains, and increasing in difficulty. On stage 24 of the distribution that we propose in our guide to the Camino Frances, the path reaches its highest point, at 1,500 metres of altitude.
The well-known Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) marks this milestone on the route. Pilgrims have a habit of throwing a stone at the base of the cross, as a symbol that the burdens of the past are left behind. This tradition is so widespread that many people carry the stone from their place of origin.
Linking to other routes
In Astorga, pilgrims join the Camino Frances who have previously been doing the Camino de Santiago on La Vía de la Plata. When they arrive in Granja de Moreruela, will be able to deviate towards Ourense, and follow the Camino Sanabres, or set course for Astorga, to join the French Route.
When you arrive in Ponferrada, you will find the option to deviate onto the Camino de Invierno to reach Santiago de Compostela. It is a route that pilgrims from the Middle Ages used, as the name suggests, during the winter.
If you decide to do the Camino de Santiago in winter, we recommend that you take this detour to avoid the mountain pass at O Cebreiro, where you will probably find snow. However, if you make pilgrimages at another time of year, it is also worth considering the option to follow the path of the Camino de Invierno, especially in summer, and you want to escape the masses on the final stages of the Camino Frances.
The last section: From Ponferrada to Sarria
The penultimate section of the route has a total of 90.6 kilometres. In our guide to the Camino Frances, we suggest dividing this section into four stages, as shown below:
- Ponferrada – Villafranca del Bierzo (24,2 km)
- Villafranca del Bierzo – O Cebreiro (27,8 km)
- O Cebreiro – Triacastela (20,8 km)
- Triacastela – Sarria (17,8 km)
On this part of the Camino Frances, the tour continues to gain in difficulty and faces one of the most feared stages by all pilgrims: the climb to O Cebreiro. The ascent is hard, but the effort is worth it.
From the O Cebreiro mountain pass, you can enjoy stunning views over the El Bierzo region and spectacular sunrises. In addition, this mysterious village is the scene of another well-known legend of the Camino de Santiago: that of the Holy Grail.
Arrival in Sarria is another great milestone for all those who start the Camino Frances from its earliest stages. From Sarria, you will find many more pilgrims along the way and you will miss the sweet calm of the previous stages.
Guide to the last kilometres on the French Route
The last section has a total of 114.2 kilometres, but is popularly known as the last 100 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago. In our guide to the Camino Frances, we recommend dividing this last section into 5 stages:
- Sarria – Portomarín (22,2 km)
- Portomarín – Palas de Rei (24,8 km)
- Palas de Rei – Arzúa (28,5 km)
- Arzúa – O Pedrouzo (19,3 km)
- O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela (19,4 km)
These last kilometers are the busiest on the Camino Frances. 27% of people arriving in Santiago de Compostela begin their pilgrimage from Sarria.
Stage 30 concludes in Portomarín, one of the most beautiful villages on the Camino Frances. This village is crossed by the River Miño, and was flooded by the Belesar Reservoir and moved stone by stone, so that many of its monuments were saved from the water. If you want, you can check our guide to Portomarín to know a little more about this emblematic place.
Linking to other Caminos
In this section of the Camino Frances, the main pilgrim layouts converge: The Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo. The Camino de Santiago Primitivo joins the French Route in Melide and, the North, in Arzúa.
The end of the French Route on the Camino de Santiago
Needless to say, the itinerary ends in front of the Cathedral of Santiago. After meeting the various customs of reaching the goal of your pilgrimage, we recommend that you take a day or two to visit Santiago de Compostela.
We hope that this summary of our guide to the Camino Francés will help you get an idea of everything that awaits you on this fantastic pilgrimage route. You can find the complete guide here.
We do not want to say goodbye without first telling you that if you want to have the support of an agency specialized in the Camino de Santiago, one that will help you organize your trip on the Camino Frances, do not hesitate to contact us.
In Santiago Ways, we offer logistic support on your travel as well as guided trips on the latter stages of the Camino Frances. There are many pilgrims who have trusted us and we can say that everyone has had an unbeatable experience.
To contact our team you can use the contact form on our web, leave a comment, or write on our chat page in Facebook. We’ll be waiting for you!