The routes to Santiago de Compostela
|The historic routes|
From the 10th century to the present day, pilgrims have made their way to Santiago along four traditional routes. Tours (Paris), Vézelay, le Puy-en-Velay and Arles were named in the 12th century Pilgrim's Guide attributed to Aimery Picaud as the assembly points for pilgrims coming from all over Europe, including Britain and Ireland. Each of these was the site of a shrine celebrated in its own right, at which the pilgrims would worship before proceeding. The stages of the routes were marked by further shrines competing for patronage and for relics, for the interest of the pilgrims, and the business they brought with them. Monasteries and pilgrim hospices were built along the way to minister to the needs of pilgrims. The glories of Romanesque architecture and sculpture still mark these and other minor routes that parallel or converge on them.
In northern Spain the four routes merged to become the so-called Camino Francés that passed across Castile, through Burgos and León to Santiago de Compostela.
It is still possible to follow these medieval routes without too much trouble, though some of the original footpaths have become modern roads. They pass through some of the most beautiful, historic and interesting countryside in France and Spain, before arriving in the distinctive Celtic region of Galicia bordering the Atlantic.
Peter has analysed and mapped all available medieval pilgrim itineraries and adding the results to his website: work in progress is available here.
On this page, we aim to cover only the most popular routes, but Peter Robins maintains the most up-to-date overview of the development of all the modern routes to Santiago: he currently lists over 100 routes!
Another CSJ member runs http://www.santiago-compostela.net , which gives a comprehensive overview of the main routes in Spain, including the Camino Francés, Aragonés, Inglés, Finistere, Primitivo, Portugués, Via de la Plata, Camino del Norte, and the Tunnel route, with a useful map at http://www.santiago-compostela.net/caminomap.html . Each route is covered stage-by-stage in a page with 20-40 pictures. The captions of most pages are in English and Spanish, and often other languages; the Camino Francés pages are translated into 6 European and 3 Far Eastern languages. Alternatively, the pictures can be viewed as a slideshow without captions. You can send any of the pictures as electronic postcards to your friends, and you can register your Camino when you reach Santiago.
There is also a growing index of links to other websites classified by what they contain.
The Confraternity publishes Guides to most of the routes described on this page, which are frequently updated on the basis of reports from pilgrims who have followed them. They are your best source for more detailed information on any of the routes and are available from our on-line Bookshop.
In the brief descriptions below, the link More... will take you to a more detailed Overview of the route. For a full list of all our Overview pages, click here.
The Forum on Camino de Santiago has discussion threads about all the major routes.
For brief advice on maps, click here.
(Confraternity and other Guides to each of the 4 French routes are available from our on-line Bookshop)
The Paris route runs via Orléans, Tours, Poitiers, St Jean-d'Angély, Bordeaux and Dax. It has largely disappeared under tarmac, and is not really recommended for people setting out on the pilgrimage for the first time, although a Confraternity guide has been published on a walkers' route that includes the main towns and places of interest mentioned in the Pilgrim's Guide. More...
The route from Vézelay runs via Bourges or Nevers to St Léonard-de-Noblat, then to Limoges and Périgueux before crossing the Dordogne river at Ste Foy-la-Grande. Thereafter it goes via la Réole, Bazas, Mont-de-Marsan and Orthez to St Jean-Pied-de-Port. More...
It is not very difficult for the walker, and there is more and more accommodation for the pilgrim, because local associations of Amis de Saint-Jacques have been working hard in recent years to put it in place.
A new association was formed in 1999, dedicated to the development of the Vézelay route. The Association des Amis de Saint-Jacques et d'Etudes compostellanes de la Voie de Vézelay "Via lemovicensis" exists - "pour bien connaître la voie de Vézelay dans son historicité; pour la remettre à l'honneur à l'usage des pèlerins; pour la bien marcher; pour la dynamiser; pour la faire rayonner; pour l'embellir." All are invited to join the new association and support its work: details from la Mairie, Rue Saint-Pierre, 89450 VEZELAY, France (tel. +33 (0)3 86 32 38 11) or Belcayre, 24290 THONAC, France (tel. +33 (0)5 53 50 73 21; fax +33 (0)5 53 51 16 76). Their website is well worth a visit.
An excellent and detailed description of the Vézelay route, prepared by two members of the association, and with the essential parts translated into English, is available from our Bookshop:
CHASSAIN, Jean-Charles and Monique. Itinéraire du pèlerin de Saint-Jacques sur la voie historique de Vézelay: de Vézelay à Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port par Bourges et par Nevers en 36 étapes. - Vézelay: Association des Amis de Saint-Jacques de la Voie de Vézelay, 2011. - 121 loose leaves plus 115 maps, in a folder; with a waterproof map-case.
More details on the website, where you will also find:
an up-to-date account of the state of the waymarking on the Vézelay route;
latest news from the route, including reports of newly-available accommodation; and regular updates to the Itinéraire described above.
The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pedestre (FFRP) has published two Topoguides to the newly created GR654 (Namur in Belgium, through Vézelay, to Nevers; and Vèzelay - Montréal du Gers, where the route joins the le Puy route) but the route often departs widely from the more strictly historical one described and waymarked by the Association.
The le Puy route, which passes through Conques, Figeac, Cahors and Moissac before reaching St Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees, is quite the best developed. It coincides with the GR65 long-distance footpath (for which an excellent series of Topoguides are published), and there are gites d'étape at comfortable intervals all along it. In its early stages, it is quite rugged. A number of places offering a Christian welcome to pilgrims have also opened quite recently. They are listed in the spiritual guide (also available in our Bookshop) published by the Abbey at Conques and the Hospitalité St Jacques at Estaing. Especially in its first half, the GR65 passes through some very beautiful countryside. (More ...)
Quite recently, the Association Rhône-Alpes des Amis de Saint-Jacques has extended this route back to Geneva (More...) making the link to the route from Nürnberg to Konstanz (More...) and across Switzerland (More...).
The Arles route runs directly westward from Arles parallel with the Pyrenees, linking Montpellier, Lodève, Castres, Toulouse and Auch: here it turns south-west to Oloron Sainte-Marie, and then south up the Gave d'Aspe to cross the Pyrenees by the Somport pass. The route, mainly following the GR653, is flat as it crosses the Camargue as far as Montpellier, and fairly rugged thereafter. Basic facilities for walkers and cyclists exist all along the route, but will not become pilgrim-focused until the route is better frequented. For a brief view of the route, click here. More...
There is growing interest among the departmental associations in France in identifying and waymarking the routes which cross their territory. Peter Robins covers these in detail.
The Amis du Chemin de St Jacques des Pyrénées Atlantiques have very good descriptions of the routes in their area.
The 165km Voie Littorale or Voie de Soulac, or sometime "Voie des Anglais" (from the pilgrims from Britain who disembarked at Soulac, at the mouth of the Garonne, to continue from there on foot), now fully waymarked, runs down the Atlantic coast from the Gironde to the Spanish border. It now (September 2008) has a cycle route all the way - most of this is covered in an excellent leaflet (in full colour, clear symbols for campsites/info etc, English and French, very good maps) called 'Les Pistes Cyclables de Gironde' available from email@example.com tel: 05 56 52 61 40. More ...
The Association bretonne des amis de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle has recently (June 2008) added an English page to its site, which includes a link to a map of the way-marked routes through Brittany.
The French walking organisation, FFRP, publishes invaluable Topoguides for the GR footpaths.
(Confraternity Guides to all the main Spanish routes are available from our on-line Bookshop)
The first three of the French routes meet just north of St Jean Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees, which the path then crosses via the valley of Roncesvalles (ca 740 km from Santiago). The Arles route crosses the mountains by the Somport pass (ca 840 km from Santiago) to Jaca, and joins the other route at Puente la Reina, a little south-west of Pamplona. Thereafter the Camino Francés (More...) runs through Logroño to Burgos; then across the Castillian meseta to León; and finally over two more mountain ranges to reach Galicia. There is accommodation for pilgrims at frequent intervals all along this route, and it is thoroughly waymarked.
The subsidiary Ruta del Norte or Camino de la Costa runs along the north coast of Spain (More...), with branches at intervals down to the Camino Francés e.g. via the San Adrian Tunnel to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (More...) or from Oviedo to Lugo (More...), and thence to Palas do Rey. Much of the route follows roads. The waymarking is improving, but there is still little accommodation for the pilgrim. For more detailed information about the coastal routes, visit Eric Walker's website.
The Vía de la Plata runs north from Seville via old tracks and roman roads to join the Camino francés at Astorga (734 km from Seville). It is well waymarked, and there is adequate accommodation, though very few refugios(More...). For a full description, visit the Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Sevilla's Via de la Plata website. A variant route, the Via Sanabriense, which runs directly through Galicia via Puebla de Sanabria and Ourense is also fully waymarked. The Camino Mozárabe (More...) runs from Granada to join the Via de la Plata at Mérida. The Camino Portugues de la Vía de la Plata (More ...), a variant route from Zamora, runs through the northern part of Portugal, via Bragança and Verín, to rejoin the Via Sanabriense at Ourense.
As this route develops, and the Camino francés becomes ever more crowded, we are encouraging first-time pilgrims to chose it as a much more peaceful alternative to the traditional route. Click here ...
The much shorter Camino Inglés runs from La Coruña and Ferrol to Santiago: it is the route which British and other pilgrims arriving from northern countries by sea followed to reach Santiago. The waymarking is slowly being improved on the two main branches of this route. More...
The route from Madrid (676 km from Santiago) runs 320 km via Segovia to join the Camino Francés at Sahagún (More...). For a full description of the route (in Spanish), with details of facilities available, visit the website of the Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Madrid.
The Cami de Llevant or Camino de Levante runs from Valencia via Albacete, Toledo, Avila and Zamora to Santiago (1300 km) (More...). The Valencia Association publishes a Guide in English and click here for a variant of the route starting in Alicante.
The 85 km. path from Santiago through the mountains to Finisterre and on to Muxia (Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Ship) is now well waymarked. (More ...)
You will find fuller descriptions of all the Spanish routes (in Spanish) on the website of the Spanish Federation of pilgrim associations.
(The Confraternity Guide to the Portuguese route is available from our on-line Bookshop. A Guide by John Brierley is also available.
The Camino portugués/Caminho português is waymarked from Lisbon to Porto to Santiago via Tui, where it crosses the border into Spain. Originally there were two pilgrim routes from the south coast of Portugal to Santiago, one following the Atlantic coast, the other passing through the interior on the eastern side of the country. More...
This page describes only the routes in France and the Iberian peninsula, but pilgrims came, and come, from further afield. One of our members, Peter Robins, maintains a website with information on routes from Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries, with particular emphasis on their suitability for present-day walkers. Probably the most up-to-date overview of the development of the routes as a whole. Click here to visit his site.
On Peter's site you will also find a link to Weather Online, giving current conditions and 5-day forecasts for Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León, and Santiago itself; plus 30-year averages for places along the Camino from the Instituto Nacional de Meteorlogía. Follow this link.
For comprehensive information on St Olav and the St Olav Ways, go to ‘Pilgrim Ways to Nidaros’ http://pilegrimsleden.no/en/ . The English version is under construction; Information about St Olav; a photoalbum; and pilgrim tales, can be found. The site is managed by Nidaros Diocese. The CSJ description of the Nidaros route is here.
In Denmark the old Haervejen ("Army Road") - not in itself a pilgrim road - has been waymarked so that there is a complete route from Padborg to Frederikshavn, and thus a link from Nidaros (the burial place of St Olav) to Rome and Santiago.
And we are aware of a growing interest in the Via Francigena (Canterbury to Rome) (More ...)