Tag Archives: stages


Distance to Santiago: 765 km

Distance in phase: 26 km by Route of the Ports of Cize / 28 by Route of Valcarlos

Estimated time: 4-5 hours

Minimal height: 233 m in Saint Jean Pied de Port

Maximum height: 1480 m in Alto de Lepoeder by the Route of the Ports of Cize / 1057m, in Alto de Ibañeta by Ruta de Valcarlos

Route Difficulty: High / Very High

Places of interest: Saint Jean Pied de Port, Upper of Ibañeta, Roncesvalles

Itineraries on Google Maps: To see the route on Google Maps click here

Camino de Santiago stage 1 from Saint-Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

In this first phase we will face what may be the hardest route of all, but it as a reward to us we get one of the most spectacular views of the road. We will cross the Pyrenees from Saint-Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, an extraordinary landscape full of history in a stage in which we will overcome about 1250 meters of unevenness.

View of the Pyrenees during the french way, from Saint-Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles


At this stage we have two itinerary options:

  1. Choosing the traditional route that Pilgrims walk on foot, called “Route of the ports of Cize” or the “Route of Napoleon”
  2. Skipping this route and choose to hit the road, following the D399 and the N135. This route is known as “Ruta de Valcarlos”, because it goes through that place.

The considerations to take into account to choose one or another route are mainly weather, our physical form and the month of the year in which we peregrinate.

Due to the mountain accidents that some pilgrims have suffered during winter when crossing the traditional route by disinformation, or due to excess of confidence the transit by the Route of the Ports of Cize between the 1 of November and the 31 of March has been banned. If we pilgrimage during these months, we must obligatorily do it by the road route.

If you choose the Route of the Ports Cize…

Despite its difficulty, the Route of the Ports of Cize is the most spectacular and the effort to make it really worth it. If you are in a plenty physical form, you are able to deal with this sender. Always realize that at some points you’ll have to bike off and push, but it is more of having patience than fighting against exhaustion. In this road we will feel way more the weight of the saddlebags, when climbing some stretches with more than ten kilograms, can get noticed.

Even if you are there within the months allowed, if it is bad weather, either because it rains or snows, or because it is very windy or cloudy, do not take this traditional route. It can be very dangerous in bad weather, rain muds the ground and with lots of wind the effort ascending multiplies. If it is very cloudy we will not get any reward in views and landscapes speaking, therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to go by the Ports of Cize.

If you choose the Route of Valcarlos…

The road route is less spectacular but necessary in case of bad weather and easier. If your fitness is not so good, this may be a very good option for you. The route follows the route of the national road D933 until Arnéguy, where it crosses the border with France and enters in Spain by the N135. Pass through Valcarlos and continue to the mythical Alto de Ibañeta (1057 m.).

The general phase profile condition for the Cize Port Route is quite uneven. As we have already mentioned, they are almost 1250 meters of climbing. Still, we must keep in mind that the main slope will be found shortly after leaving Saint-Jean, where we will climb a slope of almost 13% over more than 4 kilometers. Although it is almost at the beginning of your path, do not hesitate to get off the bike if necessary, otherwise you could get exhaust and have problems to face the rest of the road. Also remember, completing the road in electric bikes is always a very good option and can help you in moments like these. When arriving at the viewpoint of Arbola Azpian the slope gets smoother and thus it will continue like that until the maximum quota of the phase, in the Height of Lepoeder (1480 m.). From that moment we will start a descent to Roncesvalles which is much enjoyed, although we must go down and not relax as it also requires some technical difficulty.

On the other hand, the phase profile on the Route of Valcarlos is smoother than the traditional route; in total it overcomes a difference of less than 900 meters. Leaving Saint-Jean Pied de Port we will take the D933 road and through the first eight kilometers the unevenness to overcome will be only about 200 meters. Arriving Arnéguy, where the French-Spanish border crosses, the D933 road becomes the N135 and the slope will become progressively steeper as we approach the Alto de Ibañeta, the highest point on this itinerary. The overall slope in that stretch will be about 6%. In this route we must be careful with cars/Trucks traffic. It is a general road and we always must take the necessary precautions, wearing the reflective vest, or lights if necessary.

Route variants

A third route option would be to combine both routes. We can take the Route of the Ports of Cize and when arriving at Collado Leopeder and take a detour that will take us direct to Alto de Ibañeta, where we continue along the N135 until arriving at Roncesvalles.

If you are an experienced rider and when you reach Roncesvalles you still see yourself with strength or you find that there is no place to sleep, you can continue to Zubiri. It is about 22 km more to go, but it is all downhill and it is a rather gently road. If there is no place in Roncesvalles but you do not see yourself able to get to Zubiri, there are intermediate places where you can stay overnight, such as camping in Burguete (which is only 3 km away from Roncesvalles).

Pilgrims going by bike in a green path


From Tournride we want to make easier your beginning of the journey. To do this, we gather here some tips and useful information for this first phase:

    • They always say that “beginnings are hard” and this phase is an example of it. If you decide to do it you will get an incredible experience and an incredible connection with nature, but you must do it calmly and listen to your body. If you feel that you should stop and push the bike at some point, do it.

    • Never forget that since 2015 it is prohibited to take the traditional route of the Ports of Cize between 1 November and 31 March.

    • Since that through the Route of the Ports of Cize does not pass practically by any population, a refuge has been enabled to spend the night in case of emergency. It is called Izandorre refuge, and it’s located in Lepoeder. Inside we will also find a communication system (TETRA network) that will always have coverage and that will put us in touch with the 112 with the push of a button

    • Bring food and water for the whole route, especially if we take the traditional route. Sometimes the sources are dry.

    • We always insist that it is necessary to find an appropriate balance between the weight of the saddlebags and what we need to carry with us. It may be the case that for being this first phase, you did not bring some things and think about picking them up when you need them. But if you choose the Route of the Ports of Cize it is interesting that you think a little more about bringing adequate provisions, both food and drink as shelter or tools in case you have to fix something on your bike. If you have rented a bike with Tournride, you will have the assistance insurance that can assist you and repair your bicycle, as well as a basic pack of tools in the saddlebags.

    • If you start the road in Saint-Jean, you can take the pilgrim’s card and get the first stamp in the office of attention to the pilgrim (number 39 Rue of the Citadelle).

    • Confusing signposting points along the route:

To leave Saint-Jean Pied de Port you have to cross the Rue d’Espagne, whatever route you want to take. At the end you will find a sign that marks the Route of the Ports of Cize, nailed next to the symbol of the shell (it is written in French and you can read Chamin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle). If you want to go along the Route de Valcarlos, obviate that sign and continue straight until you find the yellow sign that, pointing to the right, indicates the road to Arnéguy and Valcarlo.

During the Route of the Ports of Cize you have to be careful when crossing the border with Spain. From Saint-Jean Pied de Port we can follow the secondary road D428 but, when we reach that point, we have to abandon it and travel a little less than two kilometers along a grassy track. The detour is indicated by a wooden sign that points to the right, next to the road. In the grass, a few meters ahead, there is a cross of fenced wood with flowers and offerings around that can serve as reference. It is called the Thibault Cross.

Already in Spain, the Navarrese government has greatly improved signaling by installing series of numbered posts that serve as a good reference to never doubt that we are on the right path.

  • To get to Saint-Jean and start from there, you have several options:

  1. Take a bus from Pamplona to Saint-Jean Pied de Port. There are not available all year round, usually only until October. Always confirm before leaving on the Alsa (LINK) page. Average price is 20-22 € and depending on the month there are two to four daily departures

  2. Take a bus from Pamplona to Roncesvalles (Alsa or Conda from the page of Movelia LINK http://www.movelia.es/transicion_conda/venta.htm# ). When you arrive in Roncesvalles you can find people with whom to share a taxi to Saint-Jean, they are waiting for you to get off the bus.

  3. You can reach any nearby town in France or Spain and from there look on pages like BlaBlaCar (https://www.blablacar.es) or forums of the Camino de Santiago to get to Saint-Jean.

  • If you start the road in Saint-Jean remember that in Tournride we have a luggage pick-up service at the beginning of the road and delivery at the end (link) and delivery of bicycles (link). If you rent the bike with us, we will leave it in the place that you have already chosen or in the office of our partner Express Bourricout (http://www.expressbourricot.com/es/ ), which is next to the tourism office. There, Maialen will give you your bike with all the material (link) prepared to start the road and will pick up what you do not need for pilgrimage. When Arriving Santiago de Compostela your luggage will be waiting for you in your hotel or in our office (LINK), where we will also pick up the bike.

  • We inform you that in Roncesvalles there are no ATMs, although in Saint-Jean there are several. Since in Saint-Jean you can have extra charges for taking money from abroad, we recommend that you take the money you will need to spend that night in Saint-Jean and the next in Roncesvalles. The first ATM you’ll find will be when passing Roncesvalles, in Burguete.


As we have mentioned in other occasions, the French Way is a living and ever-changing story, a great millennial story carved in stone. During your tour you will be impressed by its large medieval and modern buildings. But in this first phase we will have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in natural landscapes so immense that will make us forget, at least for a day, the great achievements of Humanity and will remind us of the grandeur of nature.

View of the Pyrenees covered with snow

The Pyrenees: nature, mythology and important historical border

We’ll cross the Pyrenees, a mountain range of 415 kilometers long that naturally separates France and Spain. The names of some of its peaks of more than 3000 meters remind us of its magnificence and also its dangerousness: Monte Perdido or Pico Cursed almost lose the title of the highest before the Aneto (3404 m altitude)

Pico de Paderna in the Pyrenees in a sunny day

All the etymological explanations that come from the denomination “Pyrenees” come from ancient times. For some people the name of the mountain range was given in memory of the tragic love story of Pyrenees, a girl who fell in love with Hercules. Legend tells that he left her in this area and she, crazy in love, began to chase after him, but some wild animals devoured her. When Hercules heard her screams and came back to try to help her, it was too late. Feeling distressed and guilty, he built a grand mausoleum piling up rocks to form the huge mountain range we now call the Pyrenees.

Paint of Hércules in the Pyrennees

Other explanations relate the word “Pyrenees” to pyros, “fire” in Greek. Greek historians such as Strabo speak of such a colossal fire that it even melted the underground gold and silver mines, caused by the clearing of crops by some shepherds. It could also refer to another mythological history of Pyrenees. This one tells that she gave birth to a snake just before she died and that when she placed her body in a bonfire, she created a fire so monumental that made those who saw it, would call these blazing mountains the “Pyrenees”.

The Pyrenees have been since ancient times a very important natural border that has influenced the advance or retreat of conquests and civilizations. The route that pilgrims follow today, which we have called the Port Route of Cize, is based on what used to be a Roman road: Via Trajana, which linked Astorga with Bordeaux.

The same path was used by the Arabs when in the 8th century, after conquering the Iberian Peninsula; they crossed the Pyrenees to try to do the same with the rest of Europe. After losing to Carlos Martel in the Battle of Poitiers in AD 732, they had to retreat and the Pyrenees served as a natural border between the two sides. There Charlemagne put the “Hispanic Mark”, the border of his empire with Islam.

The same old Via Trajana was the one that the cleric Aymeric Picaud toured in the 12th century when he wrote his “guide” of the Way of Santiago, collected today in the Codex Calixtino. Also Napoleón crossed through it in the XIX century when he tried to conquer Spain, what triggered the War of the Independence, portrayed by Goya in its famous picture of the executions of the three of May.

The "Fusilamientos del 3 de Mayo" of Francisco de Goya

We leave from Saint-Jean visiting his main monuments

And which monuments can we find today as we traverse those paths loaded with history? Let’s start at the beginning of our stage: Saint-Jean Pied de Port, named for being “at the foot of the port” of the mountain. This small village was founded in the middle Ages and today, combining its mountain location and its antiquity, it becomes a picturesque place to start the journey. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 4 pilgrims arriving in Santiago have left or have passed over there.

Its main streets are two: the Rue d’Espagne and the Rue de la Citadelle. The town is divided by Nive River and La Rue d’Espagne links these two sections by a bridge. On the north bank is the church of the Assumption, also known as Notre Dame church du Bout du Pont, named after precisely because it is at the “end of the bridge”. The red stone church has the appearance of fortress and is medieval. Even it is Gothic style, its facade is quite compact and lack of decoration, although inside the fineness of its vaults and obsidian crystals that recall the so-called “Gothic light architecture of “.

In the northern part of the Rue de la Citadelle is the Gate of Santiago, declared World Heritage in 1998 along with the routes of the French Way. The town is walled and has several doors, but this one is the famous because since the 11th century all the pilgrims from Europe chose to take the route through Saint-Jean to enter Spain. If we go up all the Rue de la Citadelle we will arrive at the Ciudadela de Mendiguren, an old fortification of the S. XVII which has a breathtaking view of the surroundings.

What can you see on the route of the Ports of Cize…

If we take the traditional route of the Ports of Cize, along the way we will find three key points. First, at kilometer 11.3 on our left we will see the Biakorri Virgin. She is the protector of the shepherds to whom the thousands of pilgrims who see her along the way leave offerings. From there, there are good views, so if you want to rest for a while this could be a good time to sit and recover forces admiring the landscape

Following the road, at kilometer 16.5 you will find the Fuente de Roldán. Roldán is a mythical commander of Charlemagne’s army who, according to Carolingian texts and songs of deeds, died fighting the Basques in a battle that took place near Roncesvalles between the 8th and 9th centuries.

At kilometer 21.6 we reached the highest level of the stage in Collado Lepoeder. From here we can continue down this route descending a steep slope with impressive views until arriving at Roncesvalles, or, deviate to reach Alto de Ibañeta (km 24, 1). In Ibañeta we will see a chapel with angular roofs built in the 60’s. It was made in memory of what was formerly part of an old monastery, in which there was a bell that was touched to prevent the medieval pilgrims from getting lost. From there, we have little of the phase left, now that in less than two kilometers of descent we can reach Roncesvalles.

What can you see on the Route of Valcarlos

Instead of taking the Route of Napoleon we take the Ruta de Valcarlos, we will pass by Arnéguy and through the town that gives name to this itinerary: Valcarlos. Already Aymeric Picaud wrote in his “guide” of the road that through the valley called Valcarlos “also pass many pilgrims who go to Santiago and do not want to climb the mountain.” The place is related to the battle of Charlemagne’s army against the Basques. In fact, it is said that his name can come from that fact (“valley of Carlos”).

In Valcarlos we can see the church of Santiago Apostól, built between the XVIII and XIX centuries. In the lower part has a triple arcade and, to break with the predominant horizontal of its facade, in the middle stands a square tower with a pyramidal roof. If we decide to go inside, we will see how most of the decoration is centered on the neo-Gothic altarpiece (S. XIX) that adorns the apse.

Near the church facade, following a little street, we will see a sculpture by the artist Jorge Oteiza, thought as a monument to the pilgrim. Six geometric figures of different materials are embedded in a concrete base, resembling a row of pilgrims walking towards the same place

In Valcarlos is still practicing an ancestral dance declared of Cultural Interest of Navarre. Their dancers are called “bolantes”, due that they dance in the air making fly colored ribbons that they hang on their white suits. If you have the opportunity to witness one of their performances, do not hesitate to stop and rest for a while. You always dance on Easter Sunday during Holy Week, but you can also look at the page of the town council of Valcarlos (LINK http://luzaide-valcarlos.net/es/inicio/ ) if there is one programmed

Continuing along the Route of Valcarlos we also reach the Alto de Ibañeta and, from there, we descend to Roncesvalles. In this town, where about 30 people live, we can see different monuments in relation to the Camino de Santiago.


We visit the Collegiate Church of Santa María and the Chapel of St. Augustine

The most emblematic is the Collegiate Church of Santa María. The building was built in the 13th century and, within the Iberian Peninsula, is one of the few examples of French Gothic. During the following five centuries it underwent through different fires that ended up favoring that in the XIX century it was decided to rebuild it practically complete. During these works much changed in its original form, so today we can see how in spite of the fact that in the interior it conserves the gothic lines (oval arches, gothic forms, clerestory …) in the exterior there are many baroque elements. In this church every day at 20.00 there is a special Mass dedicated to the pilgrims. At the end of it, the names of the people who have arrived that day to the town and those who start the next day are read, blessing them and asking for them while enjoying organ music.

Near the apse of the collegiate church, bordering the lodge, we arrive at the Chapel of St. Augustine, original of the XIV century, but rebuilt at the beginning of the XX. On the outside it looks very solid, looks almost like the tower of a fortress. However, its interior vault, supported by four huge corbels, stands out for its elegance and for the elaboration in the carving of the nerves that compose it. In the center of the space is the sepulcher of the king Sancho VII “the Fort”, formed by a size reconstructed in S. XIX on the primitive one of XIII century.

We finish in the chapel of Santiago and the Charlemagne´s Silo

Near the house of priority is the group formed by the church of Santiago and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The church or chapel of Santiago is a small Gothic temple (XIII Century) of rectangular plant and simple cover, of vault of ribbed arcs. The exterior is also sober, consisting of a wall of irregular ashlar. The arch of the cover, given that the temple is Gothic, is aimed. In the tympanum there is a carving of a monogram of Christ. The Christ is a pictogram that represents Christ. It contains the first two letters of the name of Christ in Greek (X and P) and has the letters alpha and omega, which were the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet, representing Jesus Christ as the beginning and the end of all things.

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is also called Charlemagne’s Silo. It is the oldest building of the town, dating from the 12th century, although it is much transformed. It is said that Charlemagne built this building to bury his dead knights in the battle of Roncesvalles, among which was Roldán, from whom we already saw a commemorative fountain on the phase from Saint-Jean. It was built on a pit, in which the bones of the dead army members could have been thrown. In this ossuary it is said that during the centuries the remains of pilgrims were left. Over the pit was made the chapel, which is square and covered in a simple way. As this space was at a higher level it was decided in the XVII century to make a stone arcade on three sides. In it, under its semicircular arches, canons of the collegiate church of Santa Maria were buried.

Aerial view of the Pyrennees mountains

The French Route: Introduction and stage planning

The French Way is the route that has received more affluence of people since the pilgrimage to Santiago came up to be. It is the itinerary most mentioned in all historical sources, the best signposted and the one that is endowed with more services to the pilgrim.

With this presentation, we encourage you to know a little more about this millenary route and we help you plan your pilgrimage along the French Way.

Arrow formed with stones on a path of the French Way

Arrow formed with stones on a path of the French Way (photo courtesy of Paul Quayle)


The so-called French Way is the Jacobean route par excellence and, undoubtedly, the most traveled at all times in the history of the pilgrimage to Santiago. Several texts from the XI century speak of it and it is already described as a “mass phenomenon” in a text written by a monk in the 12th century, known today as the “Codex Calixtino” and considered the first tourist guide of history. 

The sponsorship of the Church and the Crown began to define an itinerary

Pilgrimage means going from an initial point to, in this case, Santiago de Compostela. It really does not matter which road you take as long as you get to the destination point, but the large number of people who went to the same place, since the Middle Ages, caused a series of infrastructures to arise to attend their necessities. The location of these infrastructures, the protection that some paths received by orders of knights who took care of the pilgrims and the morphology of the land ended up defining the different “roads” that today almost everyone continue to peregrinate.

The French Way and the towns by which it passes began to be defined from the moment in which the discovery of the relics of the apostle in the 9th century took place. It was a great help for the Crown to assure the territory that was recovered from the Arabs, sending Christian groups to populate the empty territories. That is why they created new villas and made the Way pass through them. The kings also gave the Order of Cluny support to create a whole network of monasteries throughout northern Spain. The Cluniac emerged in the 10th century in France and were a significant existence in Spain because of the large number of hospitals and shelters that they made available to the pilgrims. 

Monastery of the Order of Cluny in Carrión de los Condes in a sunny day during The Saint James Way by bike

Monastery of the Order of Cluny in Carrión de los Condes (photo courtesy of Miguel Ángel García on Flickr under the following conditions)

Moreover, when the pilgrimage started, one of the main problems of the travelers was undoubtedly security. For that reason, the specification of a marked way to peregrinate was important, since it allowed giving a greater protection to the pilgrims. This road was already fixed in the 11th century, mainly thanks to kings like Sancho III the Great or Alfonso VI.

France becomes the point of entry: the importance of the franks

The news of the discovery of the relics of Santiago began to spread throughout Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries. France, because of its border position, became the main place of passage for entry into the Iberian Peninsula.

Charlemagne’s court in the 10th century also served as an advertising spot for the pilgrimage to Santiago, since if the north of the peninsula were to become Christian again they would not have to worry about the pressure that the Arabs made in their border with the Pyrenees. The court went on to say that it was Charlemagne himself who had discovered the remains of the apostle. 

Capilla de Santiago and the well-known "silo de Carlomagno" in Roncesvalles

Capilla de Santiago and the well-known “silo de Carlomagno” in Roncesvalles (photo courtesy of José Antonio Gil Martínez on Flickr under the following conditions)

During the Middle Ages all those pilgrims who came through France were called francs, whether or not they came from Gaul territory (although most were). We have to take into account that today we can go home by train when we reach our destination, but at that time the people had to retrace their steps. For all the difficulties involved in the return, many francs remained in the Iberian peninsula.

In addition, from the 11th to the 13th century, kings gave many municipal charters to the Franks to settle in unpopulated places, causing the French Way to pass through these new locations. Municipal charters are real orders that grant tax or commercial advantages to a social group in exchange for being settled in a certain place.

Calle del Franco in Santiago de Compostela in the year 2013

Calle del Franco in Santiago de Compostela, 2013 (photo courtesy of Contando Estrelas on Flickr under the following conditions)

Even today we can find reminiscences of all this, as for example in the “Franco” neighborhood in Santiago de Compostela, named for its former residents, or in all the towns that grew along the French Way thanks to the services that they gave to the pilgrims. Places like Puente la Reina have their origin in a nucleus that is increasing in a linear way having the pilgrimage route in the middle.

El Códice Calixtino: the first “turistic guide” of the Camino Francés

We are sure that in the 12th century the routes of the French Way were fixed, since the Codex Calixtino is a conclusive evidence of that. The codex dates back to AD 1140 and is named like this because it begins with a letter from Pope Calixto II, addressed to the archbishop of Santiago (Diego Gelmírez) and to the monks of Cluny.

Book IV of the Codex Calixtino in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Book IV of the Codex Calixtino (photo courtesy of Manuel on Flickr under the following conditions)

The Codex Calixtinus is of great interest because besides including stories about miracles and the apostle, it also shows a book attributed to a French monk called Aymeric Picaud. This clergyman describes with great thoroughness the routes to Santiago de Compostela, as well as the sanctuaries that can be found in its ways; and also gives advice and anecdotes that could prove useful for pilgrims. It is what today we would call a kind of tourist guide and, because of its antiquity, the codex is invaluable. Unfortunately, it became known in recent years for its theft in the hands of a cathedral worker in 2011, although it was found and returned to his place in 2012.

A person with a costume of the Apostol Santiago infron of the CathedralA person dressed up with a costume of the Santiago Apostol and the Códice Calixtino in his hand

Inflow of the French Way during History


From medieval splendor to hiding relics

In his guide Aymeric describes the French Way as a mass itinerary, with thousands of people going towards Compostela. This splendor began to decay clearly in the sixteenth century, although already in the fourteenth century had been greatly affected by the great plague that ravaged Europe.

Theappearance of Protestantism also affected the pilgrimagesince even Luther tried to persuade the people not to go to Santiago. He doubted the authenticity of the relics, even saying that there the apostle could be as “a dead dog or horse.”

Luther sculpture in Berlin

Luther sculpture in Berlin

In addition, also in the S. XVI a series of pirate attacks occurs in Galicia, among them those of Francis Drake. This privateer had already expressed his intention to destroy the cathedral if he had the opportunity. Thus, the archbishop of Santiago, Juan de Sanclemente, decided to hide the relics of the apostle by burying them in the floor of the cathedral’s apse.

With him died the secret of the location of such precious treasure and it was not until 1879, almost three centuries later, when the Galician historian Lopez Ferreiro discovered the relics again. In the 19th century the pilgrimage lived its largest moment of decadence, also encouraged by the arrival of liberal governments to power, and this new discovery together with the papal declaration of authenticity of the relics five years later, contributed to give a push to the pilgrimage and the French Way.

This push was stopped by the state of total war that Europe suffered during the first half of the 20th century. But, in the postwar period, the French Way returned to welcome pilgrims who sought to recover in their paths the cultural unity of a Europe that had broken up due to internal fights. Associations began to emerge in relation to the Camino and the French Way is signposted properly.

Efforts since the 80s to revitalize the Way: from Elías Valiña to the Xacobeo Plan

Initially, this effort to energize the Way was carried out by people who, on an individual basis, decided to try to promote the pilgrimage and help all those who decided to undertake it.

The French Way was the first to be properly signposted and this is thanks to a parish priest of O Cebreiro named Elías Valiña, who was the creator of the yellow arrow symbol. Elías decided to rehabilitate the hospital of pilgrims in his parish and, as the pilgrims told him that they were lost on the way from France, in 1984 he bought the surplus paint to mark the roads and with a carriage and two horses he went from Roncesvalles to Santiago. It marked with an arrow all the places susceptible to create confusion for the pilgrims. Since then, that symbol of signaling, along with the scallop, has been maintained. 

Stone with yellow arrow on the Camino Frances during the Saint James Way

Stone with yellow arrow on the Camino Frances

In 1991, these institutional efforts were supplemented by the creation of the Xacobeo Plan by the Xunta de Galicia, an institution designed to investigate the Camino and strengthen the pilgrimage. Since then, the millenary route of the French Way has not stopped receiving more and more pilgrims, surpassing each year the record of pilgrims of the previous one.


We travel the same routes from the 12th century

The routes that the monk Aymeric Picaud defined in the 12th century for the French Way continue being the same nowadays. In his “guide” of 1140 the cleric defined four routes, which from Paris, Vezelay, Le Puy and Arles connected with the rest of the continent. The first three joined at Saint Jean Pied de Port and the last entered the border at Somport.

Map of the French route

Map of the Camino Francés routes

Today, many people opt to start their journey in Saint Jean,  climbing the hill that joins this small town with Roncesvalles in the first stage. It is a tough stage but it rewards pilgrims with spectacular views and scenery. From Roncesvalles, it crosses Navarra through Pamplona until it reaches the vicinity of Puente la Reina. 

Cross of the Pyrenees on the French Way in a sunny day

Cross of the Pyrenees on the French Way (photo courtesy of Emilio on Flickr under the following conditions)

If we start in Somport we will cross what is known as the Aragonese Way until near Puente la Reina, where the pilgrims of both routes coincide in the hermitage of San Salvador. The Aragonese itinerary follows, for the most part, the route of the Aragón River and in it we will find landscapes of singular beauty, across mountains, forests and prairies. We will also visit places of great patrimonial value, like the cathedral of Jaca or the monastery of Leyre.

It is necessary to take into account that the Aragonese Way is harder and of greater technical difficulty to peregrinate by bicycle, especially in the months of winter. Therefore, if it is the first time you feel like coming to Santiago, we advise you to choose the option of starting in Saint Jean or Roncesvalles. If you want to do it from Somport, depending on the weather you may have to take the road in some sections.

Aragon River in the Pyrenees surrounded by green trees

Aragón River in the Pyrenees

Number of stages, signs and services for cyclists on the French Trail

As for the number of bicycle stages both from Somport and from Saint Jean Pied de Port it takes, in general, about three days to pass through Puente la Reina. If we start at Somport we may want to add one more step to make the journey more relaxed.

In general, we pedal an average of 15 days from either of the two starting points. In kilometers, we will cross 785 from Saint Jean de Port and 820 from Somport. 

From Tournride we want to emphasize that, to enjoy the way, we should never take the pilgrimage as a race. There are people who make the French Way in 12 days and others who need 19 and, of course, the effort made is always just as commendable and everyone should feel proud of himself.

Pilgrim infront of the Cathedral of Santiago showing her  sealed credentialPilgrim in front of the Cathedral showing her sealed credential (photo courtesy of Paul Quayle)

What we do recommend is that you try to organize the stages and the time to not encounter obligations that make you leave the way halfway. Experience says that it is always much more comforting to reach the cathedral than to carry out intermediate stages without reaching the goal.

In addition, to obtain the Saint James’ Way accreditation, the “Compostella, you must made at least the last 200 kilometers by bicycle or 100 km on foot, and you have to get to Santiago. Of course, each one can chose their own timing or speed.

Credential of the Camino with the first stamp of a pilgrim

Credential with the first stamp of a pilgrim (photo courtesy of Juan Pablo Olmo on Flickr under the following conditions)

The French Way is well signposted and has many intermediate populations in which we will find the services that we need, so in each stage we will have a lot of flexibility to go and decide how far we want to go. On average, in the French Way there is a population every less than 4 km, most with some hostel. Many of them have enclosed places to store bicycles. Therefore, every day we will have several places that we can choose as end of stage. 

In addition to accommodation, in many of the towns we will find shops where we can buy things we need. Keep this in mind when filling your saddlebags because everything you put in at the beginning will accompany you as extra weight!

Proposal of planning stages for the French Road by bicycle

We have designed a plan of the Camino Francés for pilgrims on bicycle trying to make it suitable for most cyclists. Therefore, based on each profile of the terrain and its difficulty, the stages may have more or less kilometers. We have planned 14-day timing, traveling 26 kilometers a day in the shortest stage and 96 in the longest. The average will be about 58 km / day. Always remember that this is a suggestion, you can join or further divide the stages.

From Tournride we propose the following:

  • Saint-Jean Pied de Port – Santiago de Compostela:
  1. Saint-Jean Pied de Port – Roncesvalles (26 Km)
  2. Roncesvalles – Pamplona (48 Km)
  3. Pamplona – Estella (44 Km)
  4. Estella – Logroño (49 Km)
  5. Logroño – Santo Domingo de la Calzada (48 Km)
  6. Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Burgos (75 Km)
  7. Burgos – Carrión de los Condes (86 Km)
  8. Carrión de los Condes – León (96 Km)
  9. León – Astorga (49 Km)
  10. Astorga – Ponferrada (54 Km)
  11. Ponferrada – O Cebreiro (50 Km)
  12. O Cebreiro – Sarria (40 Km)
  13. Sarria – Melide (60 Km)
  14. Melide – Santiago de Compostela (56 Km)


  • Somport – Santiago de Compostela:
  1. Somport – Arrés (59 Km)
  2. Arrés – Sangüesa (49 Km)
  3. Sangüesa – Puente la Reina (56 Km)
  4. Puente la Reina – Logroño (76 Km)
  5. Logroño – Santo Domingo de la Calzada (48 Km)
  6. Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Burgos (75 Km)
  7. Burgos – Carrión de los Condes (86 Km)
  8. Carrión de los Condes – León (96 Km)
  9. León – Astorga (49 Km)
  10. Astorga – Ponferrada (54 Km)
  11. Ponferrada – O Cebreiro (50 Km)
  12. O Cebreiro – Sarria (40 Km)
  13. Sarria – Melide (60 Km)
  14. Melide – Santiago de Compostela (56 Km)

We will periodically publish information about each stage. You will be able to know the general profile of the terrain and what to see and do in that itinerary. We will also give practical advice on accommodation and access to services.


Art and architecture: a history carved in Stone

Since the discovery of the relics of the apostle in the 9th century, the paths of the French Way have been filled with history carved in stone. All these monuments today continue to receive visitors who decide to undertake the pilgrimage to Santiago and have become for themselves a reason to dedicate time and effort to the road.

Spire of the cathedral of Santiago, with a sculpture of the apostle Santiago as a pilgrim

Spire of the cathedral of Santiago, with a sculpture of the apostle as a pilgrim (photo courtesy of Contando Estrelas on Flickr under the following conditions)

In addition to this material heritage, the French Way has been in itself a generating element of culture. Through their routes traveled innovations, discoveries and ideas in the minds of those who passed them. Thanks to this, people from all walks of life and places in Europe were coming into contact and, for the first time in history, what we today can be understood as the “European identity” that, beyond economic explanations, gives Sense to our union. It is also because of the above that we can find for the first time an artistic style that extends beyond the local, encompassing different places of Europe: the Romanesque.

For all this the French Way was declared in 1987 “First European Cultural Itinerary”, in 1993 “World Cultural and National Heritage” by UNESCO and in 2004 they awarded the “Prince of Asturias Award to Concord”.

Poster of the Way of Santiago as European Cultural Itinerary during the French way by bycicle

Poster of the Way of Santiago as European Cultural Itinerary (photo courtesy Paul Quayle)

Besides the heritage that is specifically related to the road, we can see everything that Spain can offer us. The Iberian Peninsula is a territory that has been inhabited since ancient times eand the French Way allows us to visit places representative of many historical moments. From the archaeological remains of our predecessor hominids in the Burgos sierra of Atapuerca to the great contemporary constructions of cities like Burgos, León, Logroño or Astorga; Passing through different Roman, Visigothic and medieval remains.

The architectural and artistic religious heritage of cathedrals like Jaca or monasteries like the one of Miraflores of Burgos will be mixed with rest of civil architecture thought to facilitate the way of the pilgrims: medieval bridges like the one of Bridge the Queen or Templar castles like the one of Ponferrada Served to ease the way and protect the walkers.

Medieval bridge in Puente la Reina in Navarra

Medieval bridge in Puente la Reina, Navarra (photo courtesy of Aherrero on Flickr under the following conditions)

We will also find a multitude of pilgrim hospitals such as the impressive San Marcos hostel in León and we can satisfy our thirst in the different fountains built to help travelers. We will see them of different types, from the Gothic source of the Moors in Monjardín to the one of Bodegas Iratxe, that mana wine instead of water like homage to those medieval pilgrims whose base sustenance was the bread and the red one.

Parador de San Marcos during the night in the city of León

Parador de San Marcos in León (photo courtesy Antramir on Flickr under the following conditions)

Culture and folklore in the French Way

In addition to all the material patrimony already described, the French Way will cross a large number of towns in the north of Spain. This gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in its culture and traditions and, if we are lucky, to attend some of its popular festivals. We can match the famous San Fermines in Pamplona or even enter Santiago in full celebration of the Apostle.

San Fermines 2011 one of the most popular festivities in Spain

San Fermines 2011 (photo courtesy of Asier Solana on Flickr under the following conditions)

An added element to the experience of the road is to be able to taste the Spanish gastronomy. After hard days of pedaling we will enjoy as never of what many say is the best food in the world. You can try the typical sausages, such as chorizo and cecina; As well as the great variety of cheeses elaborated in traditional way. Popular dishes such as the cooked maragato, the Galician broth, the octopus, to the fair, etc., will help us to recover the strength to face the day the next day.

Galician octopus called "Pulpo a feira", an incredible spanish food

Galician octopus (photo courtesy of Santi Villamarín by Flickr under the following conditions)

In addition to food, we can also learn a very important element of Spanish culture: wine culture. The French Way runs through territories that are part of different denominations of origin like La Rioja, Bierzo or Ribeira Sacra and passes near others like Ribera del Duero or Toro. We can go touring Spain with our palate.

A pilgrim doing the saint james way on bike in Navarra during a sunny day

Camino Francés in Navarra (photo courtesy Paul Quayle)

Following the paths of the French Way will be part of a living history and in permanent transformation. It is the Way with capital letters and par excellence and, since the 9th century, has welcomed all the people who have wanted to leave their footprints in it. In addition, its good signage and quality of services facilitate its cycle route.Do you dare to become a franc and pedal with us?