Advice on choosing the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago

Advice on choosing the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago

There are several routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela. The choice of route depends on several factors: time of year, days available, but above all personal preference, as each route offers a different experience. Below is a brief introduction to the different routes to help pilgrims make their choice.

The French Way

It starts in Saint Jean Pied de Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, and ends in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. It is about 880 km long and can be done in 30/35 days, depending on your pace. It passes through four beautiful Spanish regions, rich in history and charm: La Navarra, La Rioja, La Castilla y León and La Galicia. It is undoubtedly the most famous and beaten route among the Camino de Santiago routes because:

  • It is suitable for everyone, including less experienced walkers. It does not present any particular technical difficulties and does not require any great physical preparation.
  • It has an extensive network of refuges and services for pilgrims. This makes it possible to tailor the stages to suit individual abilities.
  • It is one of the best signposted routes: yellow arrows lead you safely to Santiago without the risk of getting lost.
  • It can be walked in all seasons. Even in winter, when there is snow, there are alternative routes at lower altitudes.
  • It is a route rich in culture: it passes through some of Spain's most beautiful cities, such as Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and Astorga.
  • It is also a route suitable for those who want to walk alone, but would like to share it with others. In fact, during the summer months it is a very popular pilgrimage route.
Start of the French Way of St. James in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

The Way of the North

It starts in Irun, in the Basque Country, on the border between Spain and France. It continues along the Cantabrian coast, then crosses the Asturias until it enters Galicia. It then rejoins the French Route at Arzua to reach Santiago de Compostela. It is about 825 km long and takes 30/35 days to complete. Much of it runs along the sea, which is why it is also known as the Coastal Way. It is ideal for those who:

  • The cool climate of northern Spain is ideal for walking in the warmer months, and even inland the days are always softened by the sea breeze.
  • He wants to explore lesser known regions of Spain. You will pass through areas with a great variety of food and wine and famous cities of art and culture such as Bilbao, San Sebastian, Santader and Gijón.
  • Want to be conquered by breathtaking landscapes overlooking the sea and routes immersed in greenery, of unique beauty that make this route an unforgettable experience for those who walk it.

It is a difficult and less travelled than the French Way, but it gives great satisfaction to those who walk it. A good physical fitness and a minimum preparation are required: the constant ups and downs and the obligatory length of some stages can put the pilgrim to the test.

Pilgrim along the Camino del Norte, on the Cantabrian coast

The Primitive Way

It starts in the city of Oviedo in northern Spain, crosses the Principality of Asturias and rejoins the French Way in the town of Melide to reach Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It is 315 km long and takes about 15 days to complete. It is a demanding and rather lonely mile, It is believed to be the oldest Jacobean Way. It follows in the footsteps of Alfonso II, King of Austria, who travelled to Santiago de Compostela in the 9th century after hearing of the discovery of the Saint's remains. Hence the name "Primitivo", which means the oldest way. Why choose the Primitive Way? What are its characteristics?

  • It is a spectacular walk from a scenic point of view: you walk mostly on dirt roads and paths, surrounded by mountains and immersed in green forests and pastures.
  • It is characterised by beauty and tranquillity: never overcrowded, you walk long stretches alone, immersed in nature. It is therefore ideal for those seeking a moment of introspection.
  • It can be walked all year round: in fact, there is a variant at the bottom of the valley that guarantees access even during the winter months.
  • The magic of this path is in the people you meet: The Asturians are a simple, cheerful and easy-going people. They know their way around and are always ready to welcome pilgrims and show them the way.

It is a demanding walk, with few flat stretches. The mountain trails you will cross are characterised by constant ups and downs, and for long stretches you will not come across inhabited centres. For these reasons, it is necessary to be in good physical condition to do this route.

Santa María del Naranco, symbol of Oviedo: starting point of the Pilgrim's Way

The English Way

This is the route taken by pilgrims arriving by sea and landing at ports on the coast north of Santiago de Compostela. It was mainly used in the Middle Ages by people of Anglo-Saxon and Nordic descent. The main ports of call were the ports of Ferrol and A Coruña. Due to their strategic location, they became the starting points of the two alternatives of the English Way. The route from the city of Ferrol is about 113 km long and is travelled in 6 days, while from the port of Coruña it is 75 km long and is travelled in 3 stages. The two routes meet at the Hospital de Bruma, about 36 km from Santiago. Why choose the English Way?

  • The English Way is the shortest of the Jacobean routes to Santiago: ideal for those with a week to spare who want to do the whole thing.
  • It is considered an easy route: it crosses flat and hilly areas and has no great differences in altitude.
  • It can be walked all year round: the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean and the mythical climate make it pleasant even in summer.
  • It is a route that crosses many rural areas, passing through small villages and characteristic coastal towns, such as Ferrol, Betanzos, Neda, Pontedeume, offering stages that are not too long or strenuous.

Most pilgrims prefer Ferrol as their starting point, because it covers the 100 km necessary to reach Compostela. However, from 2017, those who arrive on foot from the port of La Coruña will also be able to receive the Compostela, provided they meet the following requirements:

  • They must have walked 25 kilometres of a section of the Jacobean route in their own country, in order to reach the 100 kilometres required to reach Compostela. The Pilgrim's Office recommends the presentation of a certificate of the route taken.
  • Resident in A Coruña or the surrounding areas.

The English Way has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. The ancient route of the Way, which has been recovered since the 1990s thanks to the work of the Friends of the Way Association, has recently been altered by the Xunta de Galicia. In some places, more direct but paved roads were favoured. There was much debate about whether to include the new official route in the guidebook, but as of September 2017 all the signs for the old route have been removed. Without the help of arrows and the monjones it is difficult for pilgrims to intuitively follow the old route and it is easy to get lost. For this reason, we have decided to stick to the new official route, which is presented in the guide as follows.

Church of Santiago de la Coruña on the English Route