Overview: the Le Puy Route
The old Via Podensis, this is one of the four main pilgrim routes through France, used by French pilgrims but also by others coming through Switzerland and from points further back in Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech and Slovak republics. It joins the routes from Paris and Vézelay on the French side of the Pyrenees.
View of Conques (Photo: Michael Krier)
The Route. 736km long, starting in Le Puy-en-Velay, passing through Conques, Figeac, Cahors, Moissac, Aire-sur-l’Adour and Navarrenx before it reaches the border town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Takes on average 4 - 5 weeks to walk the entire route.
Waymarking. Well-waymarked throughout (in both directions) as the GR65, with the red and white balises of the French Grande Randonée network.
Terrain. Very varied but fairly strenuous and rarely flat, starting in the volcanic Velay region, with constant ups and downs, passing through the mountainous Aubrac plateau (at 1300 metres) before descending to the abbey at Conques. Continues through the causse (hilly limestone scrubland) to Cahors and then through undulating farmland to Moissac and on to the Basque country in the foothills of the Pyrenees. For a height profile of the route (as well as a list of the stages), go to http://www.godesalco.com/iphp/perfil.php
Weather/When to go. The route is normally practicable (though not necessarily recommended) throughout the year. There is snow in the Aubrac and the Pyrenees in winter and early spring, the central part of the route is extremely hot in summer and it can rain torrentially in the Basque country in the spring. April-June and September-October are recommended.
What to see. Important cathedrals and abbeys in Le Puy, Conques, Figeac, Cahors, Moissac plus many interesting smaller churches and other historic monuments. Many pilgrim, St. James, St. Roch and other related references, art and architecture along the way.
Accommodation. Plentiful, at convenient walking distances along the way, and of all types: campsites, gîtes d’étape, chambres d’hote, hotels, plus one or two an increasing number of pilgrim-only facilities.
Les Haltes vers Compostelle is an association formed to ensure that pilgrims face less competition for places to sleep on the French pilgrim routes, and to promote a friendly and constructive dialogue between pilgrims and those who put them up. Membership, which is reviewed each year, depends on positive feedback from pilgrims. Most members are on the le Puy route, with three on the Arles route: the full list is here. Experience so far suggests that they set a very high standard. Their website is worth a visit, and the association deserves all our support. You can contact them at contact*haltesverscompostelle.fr (to use this address, copy it into your normal e-mail programme, but REPLACE THE '*' WITH THE CONVENTIONAL '@' BEFORE SENDING YOUR MESSAGE. This is an anti-spam measure.)
Distinctive features of the route/General. Once a fairly quiet route this is now becoming much more popular and accommodation may be problematic at busy times, especially since many French pilgrims in particular are now doing the route in sections and so book up all their overnight stops before they leave home.
* Le Chemin de St-Jacques du Velay aux Pyrénées, by J-P Siréjol & Louis Laborde-Balen, Rando Editions/FFRP, 2004. Route description and historical material with details of accommodation and services.
* Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, a 3 volume set with text and b/w IGN maps on facing pages, in the FFRP’s Topo-Guides des Sentiers de Grande-Randonée series. Provides route-finding material, historical and other background information and a guide to accommodation and services. Note: be sure to obtain the latest edition.
* Miam-Miam-Dodo, by Jacques Clouteau, Editions du Vieux Crayon. Very comprehensive guide to accommodation and services, updated annually. Schematic presentation makes it easy to use for non-French speakers. Available in our Bookshop.
* Way of St. James: Le Puy to the Pyrenees - A Walkers’ Guide, by Alison Raju, Cicerone Press 2010, 214pp, £12.95 ISBN: 978-1-852824-608-4. Covers the route with route finding description and both historical and practical information. Available in our Bookshop.
* Way of St. James: Le Puy to Santiago - A Cyclists’ Guide, by John Higginson, Cicerone Press 1999, 108pp. ISBN: 1-85284-274-1. Covers the entire route for touring cyclists, with route finding description and both historical and practical information. Available in our Bookshop.
* Le Puy to the Pyrenees, by Alison Raju (Pilgrim Guides to the Roads through France #3), Confraternity of St. James. Guide to accommodation and services, updated regularly. The guide is available in our Bookshop.
Other guidebooks also available in French.
Websites: St Privat-d'Allier has (March 2010) set up a website full of useful tips for pilgrims.
Discussion Forum. Visit the Camino de Santiago Forum to join in the current conversation.
Cyclists. The walkers’ route is NOT suitable for cyclists, even on mountain bikes, though cyclists can ride the route (2 weeks plus) using minor roads (see Guide Book section).
Language. Pilgrims without a reasonable command of French and an ability to use the telephone to book accommodation may find this route difficult at times.
Thanks to Alison Raju, January 2005 and June 2011.