One of the four medieval pilgrim routes described by Aimery Picaud in his 12th c Pilgrim's Guide, this route was used by Jacobean pilgrims from southern and eastern Europe and in reverse, by Spanish, Portuguese and French pilgrims to Rome. It is also known as the Via Tolosana, as the most important town along the way is Toulouse.

The Route: Starts in Arles (Provence) and continues broadly westwards, through Montpellier (Languedoc) and Toulouse (Midi-Pyrénées) to Oloron-Sainte-Marie (Béarn). Here it swings south up the Aspe valley to cross the Pyrenees into Aragón by the Col du Somport. In Spain, the route, now the Camino aragonés, follows the valley of the river Aragón south to Jaca and then west, still following the river, through Aragón and Navarra to join the Camino francés at Obanos just before Puente la Reina. For a map of the route, click here.

Length: 970 km of which 800 km is in France and 170 km in Spain. Can be walked in 5-6 weeks, plus rest days and sightseeing.

Waymarking: A footpath/forest track/small farm road route, for the most part waymarked clearly throughout. In France, designated GR 653, part of the network of Sentiers de Grande Randonnée waymarked with red and white bars. In Spain, waymarked by yellow arrows but also with red and white bars as GR 65.3, part of the Spanish network of Senderos de Gran Recorrido. Mostly a single route in France but in Aragón and Navarra with variants mainly to famous monasteries.

A very varied, more isolated and more demanding route; later stages have splendid vistas of the Pyrenees. Between Arles and Montpellier, the route crosses the Camargue (drained marshland of the Rhône delta). Between Montpellier and Castres are the steep hills of Haut-Languedoc: initially the causses (dry, steep-sided limestone hills and gorges) and later vast areas of often commercial forest, largely conifers or oak. Between Castres and Oloron-Sainte-Marie the terrain is flatter with low hills and open plateaus dotted with trees and mixed farming. The valley of the Aspe and the northern slopes of the Pyrenees are clothed with verdant forest and pasture, while beyond the Col du Somport, the southern slopes and the valley of the river Aragón are more stark, bare and rocky. After Jaca comes the Canal de Berdún, extensive arable farmland, anticipating the meseta ahead; you pass dramatic rocky moonscapes and the vast reservoir of the Embalse de Yesa.

Weather: Strongly influenced by the Pyrenees, so be prepared for variable mountain weather. It can be very hot in Languedoc and Aragón and is often wet in Midi-Pyrénées and the French side of the Col du Somport. Haut-Languedoc and Aragón can be very chilly and windy, even in summer and the Col du Somport is snow-covered in winter. 

When to go: Walkable throughout the year despite temperature and rainfall extremes. Spring (long daylight hours, beautiful flowers) and autumn are best. Summer is too hot while winter journeys over the higher hills of Haut-Languedoc or the Col du Somport in snow or mist are not advised, except possibly for experienced mountain walkers. There is a relatively frequent train and bus service over the Pyrenees (Oloron-Sainte-Marie to Jaca) as an alternative to the path.

Where to stay: It is now possible to walk virtually the whole route using only pilgrim accommodation, gîtes d’étape in France and albergues in Spain. In France such accommodation is often private, or may be provided and subsidised by the local Mairie, but in both cases is not as cheap as the albergues de peregrinos in Spain. If the gîte does not provide food, pilgrims must plan to reach a food shop when it is open, bearing in mind variable French opening hours. There are, of course, many hotels, chambres d'hôtes, and camp sites in France, some offering pilgrim discounts; it is wise to phone in advance, especially at weekends and holiday times. One or two monasteries, priests, and a few kind families put up pilgrims, but pilgrims must fit in with their day-to-day lives.

Distinctive features of the route: As indicated, this is a solitary but very rewarding route with relatively few pilgrims, although the number is increasing year by year. Although some days are fully exposed to the sun (if sunny), overall there is a lot of shade from trees on this route on the French side. The hills and mountains between Montpellier and Castres are quite isolated and strenuous; on some days there are long stretches of (attractive) forest - pilgrims need to be able to cope with loneliness! Eighty percent of the way is in France, which is still more expensive than Spain and there is no free accommodation. The route passes through cities Arles, Montpellier and beautiful Toulouse (La Ville Rose), as well as attractive towns Castres, Auch and Oloron-Sainte-Marie. 

Guide books

  • Arles to Puente la Reina (Pilgrim guides to France and Spain), by Michael Gaches, The Confraternity of Saint James, 2016. Published in 2 parts and available in our Online Shop by following the links for the individual titles: Part 1 Arles-Toulouse and Part 2 Toulouse to Puente la Reina.  These guides are very comprehensive (though without maps – see below) and the only ones in English.
  • Should you wish to buy a French guide, there are several good ones, the first is outstanding for accommodation, eating, shops… Miam Miam Dodo La Voie d’Arles/ Camino Aragones 2018/19   Les Editions du Vieux Crayon Available here through the online shop.
  • There is a Spanish guide for the route from the Somport to Sangüesa,  which can be translated into English using a web page translator.

Discussion Forum: Visit the Camino de Santiago Forum to join in the current conversation.

Websites: There are many sites, some more up-to-date than others. Fuller details be found in the in CSJ Arles guidebooks.

In English: 

  • Arles Route  information by pilgrims including suggestions for stages, photos, forums, links; has version in English.
  • Mundicamino  English version for description of Spanish stages; maps, profiles and other info.

In French, local associations: