The Camino Francés or the French Way is one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the tomb of Apostle St.James in Santiago de Compostela. The Camino Francés is the most popular route, according to the Pilgrims’ Attention Office in Santiago in 2018 more than 180 000 people walked this Camino starting from different places along the route, the majority walked the last 100km from Sarria.
General info about the Camino Francés
The total distance of the Camino Francés (from St.Jean Pied du Port to Santiago de Compostela) is 780km.
The route goes through four Spanish regions; Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León, and Galicia.
The Camino can be walked, cycled or done on a horse.
Every pilgrim needs a Credential or a Pilgrim’s passport that got stamped at every albergue you stay on the Camino. It can be obtained at a regional pilgrims’ office in your home country, in St.Jean Pied du Port and in some major starting points along the route.
After finishing the Camino in Santiago every pilgrim can get the Compostela, a certificate confirming that you’ve completed the pilgrimage. In order to get it, you have to walk at least 100km to Santiago de Compostela collecting stamps in your Credential along the way. For the entire route, it’s 1 stamp per day that you can get at every place you stay. For the last 100km from Sarria, it’s two stamps per day, one you get in your albergue and another one in any restaurant or bar along the route.
You can start walking the French Way from any place not necessarily from the beginning but to get the Compostela you have to walk at least the last 100km to Santiago.
The Camino is a physically and mentally challenging walk, especially for those who have never done a long-distance walk before, don’t underestimate it.
It’s possible to walk the Camino without a backpack there are several luggage transfer services that can deliver your backpack from albergue to albergue every day. It costs between 4€-5€ per backpack per stage. Some of the companies that do luggage transfer are Correos, Xacotrans, Pilbeo.
It’s possible to walk the Camino over time if you can’t commit to walking for the whole month and want to complete the entire route. This way is quite popular among Spanish pilgrims many of them walk the route bit by bit over a couple of years, all you need is just to keep your Credential.
The whole route is marked with yellow shells and arrows it’s not difficult to follow it, just pay attention to signs.
Spain like most European countries has 2 round pronged outlets (Type C/F) if the standard in your country is different you’ll need a power adaptor for charging your devices.
Tap water is drinkable pretty much everywhere in Spain but I’d heard before some people had stomach problems after drinking tap water somewhere in the Meseta when I walked there I used my filter for drinking, you can buy bottled water as well.
If you want to buy a guidebook on the Camino I can recommend
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés) 2019 by John Brierly. We used these guides for several routes, they’re easy to use, very detailed and helpful.
The most popular starting points of the Camino Francés
The main starting point of the French Way is St.Jean Pied du Port (France) but you can start the walk basically from any place on the Camino depending on how much time you have and how far you can or want to walk. There are no strict rules. You can walk the whole route in one go or over a couple of years doing small parts of it at a time. From St.Jean it’s 770km to Santiago.
If you want to get the Compostela (the certificate that says that you’ve walked the Camino) the required minimum is to walk at least the last 100km to Santiago de Compostela or to cycle 200km, not any 100km on the Camino but the last 100km. For this very reason, many people start walking the Camino Francés in Sarria, a town that is 116km away from Santiago. It’s an option if you don’t have much time or not sure you’ll be able to walk the whole route.
If you have a lot of time and are keen on walking for a couple of months starting in Le Puy (France) is a good option for you. Le Puy is 1500km from Santiago, St.Jean Pied du Port is about halfway. I haven’t walked the French part yet but I’ve met some people who have. From what I’ve heard the French part of the Camino is quite different, first of all, because there are very few people which might be great if you’re seeking solitude. Second, there are fewer albergues which means your accommodation expenses will be higher.
In general, France is more expensive than Spain you’ll notice it even in St.Jean, everything from private albergues to restaurants costs more. As for the scenery on the part Le Puy – St.Jean it’s mostly fields, small towns, and villages a typical European countryside landscape.
I’ve noticed that many Spanish people start the walk from Roncesvalles (746km from Santiago) skipping the first stage from St.Jean. I guess the main reason is that everybody knows about the tough walk with a very steep ascent and a subsequent descent on the way from St.Jean to Roncesvalles and many people don’t want to start the Camino with such a demanding walking day. I personally enjoyed that part but I’m used to hiking in the mountains and for me, it wasn’t tough but some people after the first day had knee problems and it almost spoilt their entire Camino experience.
My advice if you start in Roncesvalles and get there by bus book your accommodation ahead, there is one huge albergue for 200 people, one or two fancy hotels and nothing else. I met some people that arrived in Roncesvalles late and had to start walking straight away because there was no place to sleep there. You can book it here online.
Starting in one of the big cities like Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, Leon or Astorga (check distances from these cities to Santiago in the table below) is quite a popular option. You can choose any of these cities depending on how much time you have and how far you want to walk. It’s quite easy to get to any of these cities from anywhere in Spain or from other European countries.
Another popular point to start the Camino Francés is O Cebreiro though getting to this little village hidden in the mountains might be a bit tricky. There are no public buses going to O Cebreiro the best option is to get first to Lugo, then to take a bus to a small town Pedrafita do Cebreiro which is 4,5km away from O Cebreiro and from there walk or take a taxi. There are a couple of daily buses from Lugo going that way.
Best time for walking the Camino
If you want to have the best weather not too rainy and cold and not too hot May, June and September are the best months for walking this route. Temperatures are comfortable around 25°C, there are not many rainfalls. Spring in general and May, in particular, is our favorite time for walking the Camino in addition to the good weather and long days you get to see fields covered in flowers. September is a good month too but the day is getting shorter and if you like to start walking early in the morning you’ll have to walk in the dark for an hour or so.
Of course, the good weather attracts a lot of people, May, June and September are the busiest months on the Camino. You might have to book accommodation in some places in advance and deal with many people on the route but on the bright side, it’s very social good for those who walk alone.
In August and July, it can get very hot and dry, especially in the part of the Meseta, you’ll have to start walking really early to be finished before midday. I used to think that August was the peak season for this Camino (maybe because August is the peak tourist season for Europe in general) but it’s not. In fact, there are not many people walking the route in August everybody knows that it’s very hot and not many people, especially foreigners, want to walk in the heat.
Walking the Camino in October, March or April you can be lucky and get nice weather though it’ll be pretty chilly and dark or very unlucky and get a lot of rain. There will be still some pilgrims but significantly fewer than in summer months.
As for walking completely off-season November to February, it’ll be cold and wet, some albergues might be closed as well as some parts of the Camino, two in particular where you have to go over the passes; from St.Jean to Roncesvalles and through O Cebreiro. You’ll have to take an alternative winter route or skip the stage. The only advantage of walking the French Way in winter is that there will be no people in case you want to have a solitary walk.
Walking the Camino in fall vs walking the Camino in spring
Cost of the Camino Francés
The Camino can be done on a very tight budget spending less than 20€ per day. If you don’t mind paying more for having more comfort your cost can be about 50€ per person per day. Here is a detailed breakdown of the Camino cost.
The cheapest accommodation option on the Camino is municipal albergues (a dormitory with bunk beds) they cost between 5€ and 7€, private albergues (a dormitory with bunk beds or normal beds) are between 10€ and 12€. Prices for private accommodation start from 20-25€ for a single room and 30€ for a double room. The accommodation makes a huge difference to your budget. If you stay in municipal albergues your walk will be really cheap and on the contrary, if you choose to stay in private rooms your budget will be comparable to a normal holiday budget.
Sleeping every night in a dormitory with many other people and using shared facilities is quite tiring, everybody needs some privacy from time to time. I used to book at least once a week (every fourth or fifth night) a private room where I could have a nice sleep, take a long shower and just enjoy being alone.
Not surprisingly that it works out more expensive if you eat out compared to making your own food but sometimes on the Camino you’re too lazy or tired to make food or just want to go out with other pilgrims. A standard breakfast (coffee, orange juice, croissant/sandwich/toast) that you find pretty much everywhere on the Camino Francés costs 3,5€. Most of the day I stopped for breakfast because I just didn’t feel like making food at 6am.
Menú del Día or Menú del Peregrino is the most popular lunch option on the Camino, you get it everywhere in the afternoon, some places serve it for dinner as well. It’s a set lunch with the first (soup, salad or pasta), the main (meat, chicken, fish, vegetarian with garnish), wine/beer/water/cool drink, dessert or coffee and bread. Menú del Día usually costs 10€ sometimes it’s really good and big, sometimes not amazing and not that much. My advice, ask in your albergue/hotel about a good place to eat they usually know.
Coffee, beer, and wine are quite cheap in Spain even if you’re on a tight budget you definitely will be able to afford a daily cup of coffee or two and a glass of wine or beer. A cup of coffee is 1€-1,5€, a glass of wine/beer – 1€-2€ (depending on the size and brand).
The cheapest food option is to buy stuff in a supermarket and make your own food. Staying in albergues will help with spending less on food because most of the albergues have a kitchen, unlike hotels. Most of the places you stop on the Camino have supermarkets, shops or at least small grocery stores. Depending on what you buy prepare to spend between 7€ and 10€ per person per day on groceries.
Extra services on the Camino
Backpack delivery service that many people use on the Camino, costs between 4€ and 5€ per backpack per stage. You don’t have to use it every day I know some pilgrims use it when it’s a long walking day or a difficult one with many hills or a steep climb.
Many pilgrims wash their clothes every day by hand many albergues have washing machines as well as driers that work with coins. One load of washing is usually 3€, drying – 3-4€. These machines are usually big you can share one load between two or three people.
My detailed budget breakdown for the Camino Francés
In 32 days on the French Camino I spent;
- Accommodation – 494€, 8 nights in private rooms (including 1 night in a spa hotel), 8 nights in dorms in municipal albergues and 16 nights in dorms in private albergues. If you stay in albergues only you can do it for under 350€ per person for 32 days.
- Grocery shopping – 178€
- Eating out – 298€, if you make your own food and eat only breakfast or a sandwich you can save about 100€.
- Coffee, wine, beer – 49€
- Transport – 84€, bus Barcelona – Pamplona – 28€, bus Pamplona – St.Jean Pied du Port – 22€, train Santiago – Madrid – 34€.
- Laundry – 23€
- Other (SIM card, entrance fees, toiletries, etc.) – 50€
Total: 1152€ or 36€ per person per day.
What to pack for the Camino
My main tip here is not to pack too much unless you’re planning to use a backpack delivery service than it doesn’t matter and you can take the entire closet with you. Two essential things that you want to be good and comfortable are your shoes and your backpack. Make sure you wear your shoes before and your feet are used to them if you buy a new pair of shoes your chances of getting bad blisters are pretty high.
We have a detailed Camino packing post where you can find what to pack for the Camino for differnet seasons for men and women.
Accommodation on the Camino Francés
Finding accommodation on the Camino is very easy, there are many albergues, hotels, and pensions along the route. As I already mentioned albergues are the cheapest accommodation on the Camino. Albergues can be municipal which means they’re run by local municipalities and private. Municipal albergues are usually cheaper, bigger and a bit less comfortable compared to the private ones. Most albergues have a couple of dormitories with bunk beds (sometimes one huge room with many beds) and shared facilities like a kitchen, toilets, showers. Often in municipal albergues, you get disposable bedding (a bed sheet and a pillow casing).
Challenges you may encounter in albergues, especially in municipal as they’re usually bigger and accommodate more people;
- Snorers, make sure to pack earplugs you’ll definitely have people snoring in your dorms.
- Lining up to use showers, washing machines, cooking utensils, checking-in, etc. My advice, after you checked-in don’t make your bed or unpack your backpack, grab your stuff and go to the shower sometimes there are only two or three of them for 30 or 40 people.
- Being woken up at 4.30am because some people start walking at 5am and even if they try to be quiet they still wake you up.
If staying in dormitories doesn’t sound very appealing and you rather pay extra money to have more comfort and privacy you can stay in hotels and pensions. If you’re planning to walk the route in high season (May to September) I’d recommend booking hotels in advance from my experience (I walked the French Way in September) private rooms were usually fully booked and in many places it was very difficult to find a good priced private room on arrival. You’ll definitely have more comfort if you stay in hotels but just for the experience, I’d suggest spending at least one night in the albergue.
As for booking in advance, I’d recommend doing it in peak season particularly in some places that I know people who arrived later couldn’t find anything available and had to keep walking. First of all in Roncesvalles (there is only one albergue for 200 people and two expensive hotels) especially if you’re starting from there and arriving late by bus. Zubiri (the municipal albergue is currently closed) a small town and a very popular stop on the second day. O Cebreiro another small town with one municipal albergue and a couple of pensions.
Camino de Santiago tips
Tip #1. Don’t overpack your backpack it’s better to have less and buy whatever you need on the way (there will be shops all along the way) than to pack a lot of stuff and end up not using half of it.
Tip #2. Don’t chase other pilgrims walk your own pace and distance regardless of other people, guide books, itineraries, etc.
Tip #3. Don’t be judgemental it doesn’t matter if somebody walks without a backpack, skip stages, walks very fast, walks only the last 100km to Santiago and so on. Everybody has different possibilities, time limits, physical conditions there is no right way of walking the Camino every person should find the right way for him or her. Believe me, it will make your Camino more enjoyable if you don’t judge others.
Tip #4. If you’re not feeling well, have blisters or any pain don’t push yourself it can get only worse. Instead, have a break, stay in one place for a couple of days, rest, go to the doctor and start walking again when you feel better. And don’t worry about falling behind or not having enough time to finish the Camino in the worst-case scenario you can always take a bus or a train to catch up a couple of stages.
Tip #5. If you’re planning to walk the Camino Francés in high season and don’t want to rush every day in order to get a bed I’d suggest booking accommodation in advance, especially in small towns and villages. I don’t want to scare you I personally never had a problem with finding accommodation but I walk very fast and always arrive early but I started booking in advance in the second half of the walk just because I was a bit tired of being worried about finding a bed or a room.
Some people say booking in advance takes away a part of the Camino experience so does rushing through the day and stressing out. I didn’t book weeks beforehand but a day or two and it was great I could start walking later and take my time.
Walking the Camino Francés vs walking a different Camino route
Our readers often ask us “What is your favorite Camino?”. These kinds of questions are always difficult to answer but after walking seven different Camino routes over the last two years we have got our favorites. We liked different Camino routes for different reasons, some for the breathtaking scenery, some for being off the beaten track, some for offering great cultural experience and so on every Camino has something special.
If we have to choose we’d say for the scenery the Camino del Norte is probably our favorite. Walking next to the ocean for at least half of the way is an amazing experience. The Camino Primitivo was another route that we really enjoyed despite the rainy weather and the muddy path. We do a lot of hiking in the mountains and the Primitivo was the closest you can get on the Camino to real hiking. The Portuguese Camino was a great experience because you get to walk through two countries; Portugal and Spain and if you choose the Coastal Route you walk next to the ocean.
I haven’t mentioned the Camino Francés not because I didn’t like it but because for the mentioned above reasons, I enjoyed the other Camino routes more. It doesn’t mean there is nothing great about the French Way I’d say the cultural experience it offers is fantastic. You walk through some incredible Spanish cities with great history and architecture like Pamplona, Burgos, León, Astorga. Their astonishing cathedrals and fortresses just blow you away. I remember when I saw the cathedral of Burgos I couldn’t find the right words to express my admiration.
As for the scenery on the Camino Francés, I really enjoyed the very beginning of the walk, the mountain part from St.Jean Pied du Port to Pamplona as well as the part from Astorga to Molinaseca and the walk to O Cebreiro. I really enjoy walking in the mountains. As for the famous Meseta a long and flat stretch from Burgos to Astorga through plains and fields I’m not a big fan of this kind of scenery. I know many pilgrims enjoy this particular part but for me, it got quite monotonous after a couple of days.
Another reason in favor of choosing the French Camino is social life you never alone, it’s easy to find a company or a friend to walk with or just to talk in the evening. I walked this Camino alone and definitely was never bored or lonely.
Will I be lonely if I walk the Camino alone?
The French Camino was the only Camino route that I walked alone without my husband. In the beginning, I had to adjust to it but I definitely can say I didn’t feel lonely. There are many pilgrims walking this route and your chances of not seeing a person for a couple of hours are pretty small. By the end of the first week you know quite a lot of people and always can find somebody to walk, to talk, to eat lunch or to drink a glass of wine. I sometimes felt overwhelmed by all the people and talking.
Is it safe to walk the French Way of St.James alone as a woman?
I walked alone for 780km and never felt unsafe on the Camino Francés. As I said you hardly ever walk alone there are usually other pilgrims on the route but even when I had an hour or so walking on my own I never felt any danger. If for whatever reasons you feel intimidated or unsafe you always can team up with another pilgrim there are many people walking the Camino solo.
Will it be difficult to communicate on the Camino if I don’t speak Spanish?
If you don’t speak any Spanish don’t worry about it most pilgrims are not Spanish. The majority of people I met on the Camino could speak pretty good English. In fact, on this route, there were really many pilgrims from the US, Canada, and the UK compared to the other Camino routes English here was probably the most spoken language. As for local people, many of them don’t speak English though those who work in albergues or hotels do but there is always someone around who can help and translate for you.
Which Camino route is the best to walk for a first-timer?
Out of the long-distance routes I’d say the Camino Francés is probably the best because it has the most infrastructure for pilgrims, distances between albergues are not that long you can easily walk 20km a day and find a place to sleep. If you want just to try the Camino and aren’t ready to commit to walking for one month you can choose a shorter route like the Camino Inglés or the Camino Finisterre or walk the last 100km on the Camino Francés from Sarria.
Recommended books and guidebooks for the Camino