The Camino de Santiago is an ancient track: from at least the middle ages pilgrims were making their way to the Spanish city renowned as housing the bones of St James, one of Jesus’ apostles. In contemporary life it is the first European Cultural Itinerary and is walked by tens of thousands each year.

What we didn’t know when we set off was that the Camino is more than just one way; it’s a network of paths, all leading to Santiago. We were walking the Camino Francés, which runs from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees, through Roncesvalles (on the Spanish side) on to Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and a host of smaller cities and towns along the way. The Francés is the most popular of all the Ways of St James, and when people talk about doing the Camino, they usually mean this one.

We were pressed for time after missing a flight from Vienna and Craig doing a boating course in preparation for an upcoming houseboat trip in France, so we decided to start three stages in, in Pamplona. As it turned out, we would have had plenty of time to start in St Jean, but we were quite glad we didn’t — it was March and the Pyrenees were covered in snow. We even walked through snow on our first day, as we climbed a hill when leaving Pamplona.

Weather

The weather was a major presence in our journey. Walking in March was a good idea in that we avoided the hordes of pilgrims that walk in summer, but it was cold. We both took polypropylene underwear and waterproof jackets, overtrousers and pack covers, and even so were wet through on more than one occasion. Being caught in a hailstorm once or twice (all right, four times) was an experience we will never forget, especially as we were always in the middle of nowhere when the hail started to fall. Definitely pack your belongings in waterproof bags within your pack if you are walking at this time of year, and don’t stint on the warm layers.

Marker! A scallop shell points the way on the Francés
Marker! A scallop shell points the way on the Camino Francés.

Food

As New Zealanders, we are used to carrying all the food we need for an entire hike — that wasn’t necessary on the Camino! There are towns every five to ten kilometres along the route; the longest stretch with no villages was about 16km. We tended to visit a supermarket or shop in the evening to pick up food for dinner, breakfast, and a snack for the next day, and lunch was a bocadillo (sandwich made from a loaf of bread like a thick baguette) often filled with tortilla española (a fat omelette filled with potatoes). However, there are lots of bars and restaurants to eat at if you don’t want to cook for yourself, and many offer a three-course pilgrim meal, with wine included, for around €10.

We walked through many, many villages.
We walked through many, many villages.

Accommodation

There are plenty of places to sleep along the way, with pilgrim albergues (hostels) catering exclusively to the people walking the way. You’ll need a credencial (pilgrim passport) and to show identification when you check in to these hostels, which usually cost between €5 and €10. Some are council-run, others are privately operated, and they are all different! You’ll need a sleeping bag if you don’t want to freeze, though some do provide blankets.

Santiago cathedral
The goal: Santiago cathedral.

Friendship

One of our favourite aspects of the Camino was meeting people. We didn’t often walk with other pilgrims, but we quite often showed up in an albergue and found familiar faces. They were people to share stories, blister remedies, and a glass of wine or two with, and they really made the Camino special.

We highly recommend the Camino de Santiago. It’s a life-changing experience.

Check out our Camino page for more information about the various casinos, or listen to our podcast on preparing for the Camino, below.

Your thoughts on "The Camino de Santiago de Compostela — the Camino Francés"

  • Hi Guys, welcome back!! I was beginning to think you had run off and were enjoying traveling too much to post anything. Looking forward to getting caught up with your travels. (BTW, the volume for this podcast is rather low. Maybe it's my computer, but I can't tell. Anyone else have the same problem?)

    on April 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm Reply
  • Ah, much better! Have a great time in Istanbul. I love that place. Good to have you back!

    on April 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm Reply
  • Hi David, thanks -- it's good to be back again. Volume's low? I'll run it through the system again and try to sort that out. Let us know if it happens again on tomorrow's episode.

    on April 17, 2008 at 5:41 pm Reply
  • I've just replaced the mp3 file having boosted the sound. You were right Dave, the mp3 levelling had failed to work.

    on April 17, 2008 at 6:17 pm Reply
  • Hello, In a way I envy you for going to Istanbul at this time. I have enjoyed every minute spent walking through the old Byzantine and Ottoman core of the city. On 16 June I will be on my way to Datça in the MuÄŸla province. I will spend two weeks at Ak-Tur with people whom I consider family, although we are not related. My web site is currently under construction, so there is little there to see. I hope to have it updated by the end of this week, and will certainly have it in good condition by 1 June.

    on April 20, 2008 at 5:36 pm Reply
  • Hi Mac, nice to have you drop by. Istanbul is still a fantastic city, but prices seem to have gone up in the 12 months since we were last here. The 4 lira espresso has arrived! I don't understand why I can get great espresso for 50 euro cents in Spain and 2.20 in Britain, but Turkey has found out about ridiculous coffee prices too. It's going to be a busy day for me: I want to get some interviews from around Sultanhamet: the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, Roman cistern, around the Grand Bazaar. Should be fun. Mid-June will be HOT, Mac. I hope you have a great time though -- let us know how it goes.

    on April 22, 2008 at 8:30 am Reply
  • […] main route taken by today’s pilgrim is the Camino Francés, which crosses the Pyrenees at St Jean Pierre de Port the follows a route east to west, at around […]

    on July 28, 2015 at 5:31 am Reply
  • […] are walked or cycled by thousands of pilgrims every year. We’ve walked four caminos now: the Camino Francés, which is the way most people think of when they hear the words “Camino de Santiago”, […]

    on September 7, 2015 at 12:04 pm Reply
  • […] are walked or cycled by thousands of pilgrims every year. We’ve walked four caminos now: the Camino Francés, which is the way most people think of when they hear the words “Camino de Santiago”, […]

    on September 7, 2015 at 10:30 pm Reply

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