Although Paolo Coelho wrote about it first, it was Harpe Kerkeling who introduced “the” Way of Saint James 20 years ago and made it popular in the German-speaking area.
The French Way of Saint James
The overall 800km of the French Way of Saint James are diverse and exciting and besides the Pyrenees very doable for unexperienced hikers. The infrastructure is good, apart from the stores on the first 100km usually being closed outside the season – but that is an exception and overall, you will be provided with accommodation and options of food and beverages.
It is the most frequently visited Way of Saint James, not only because of its long history, but it is also known through media.
Unfortunately that can also be a disadvantage for the Camino Francés – It is so famous and popular that it is often run over and crowded. The timing of your journey should therefore be chosen wisely. Even if you are a fan of meeting people and being with others it will not be the best experience to be pushed around by a group of others.
Even in unpopular times for pilgrimages you will not be able to hike in peace on the last 100km of the journey, due to Coaches filled with hikers and their belongings gathering to hike in big groups and get the Compostela.
But until then you found enough inner peace to see all of this with a calm spirit 🙂
The Camino Francés starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and is quite a hard first stage for hikers due to the crossing of the Pyrenees. Once you are past them the most difficult bit can be left behind even though there will be multiple ascents ahead of you, it won’t be overwhelming.
The Way of Saint James is diverse – you will hit exhausting inclines, desert like landscapes, fairy-tale looking woods, a soft up and down between stonewalls, endless country roads, old towns, cities worth being seen, dreamlike nature, villages…
I found the Camino Francés stunning. Yes, there are stages on which you are walking on a country road for half the day. However, that is accompanied and compensated by dreamy mountain panoramas, or desert like, red gravel roads.
Since the Pyrenees are only 1-2 stages and then only a relevant mountain waiting for you (which you can, however, quite legally on horseback up, at least the steep climb at the beginning), the French Way of St. James is also quite suitable for beginners.
The Pyrenees themselves I had imagined myself worse than they were in the end. Yes, if one pulls through the 24km in one day, then that is already rather something for sporty people. But there are ways to prevent overexertion – unfortunately not on horseback, but by dividing the stage into two days.